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As Commander in Chief, the President has authority to become involved in tactical operations and to specify an ad hoc chain of command. In certain situations, presidential needs for effective control of crises may absolutely require such arrangements. In such situations, the benefits of effective presidential control outweigh the risks of by-passing key elements of the chain of command and of being overly specific in operational direction. These situations are not the focus of this discussion; rather this problem area addresses those instances when the NCA has become unnecessarily overinvolved in a crisis.
The Steadman Report discusses the factors that lead to NCA overinvolvement:
Some believe that the very existence of this improved communications) capability impels decisionmakers to become overly involved in the details of crisis management. Crises are important events and the speed and extent of the flow of information to the public makes every crisis an event with political implications. Thus, key decision makers get involved in what may seem to some to be minute details because they want personally to insure a successful outcome. In addition, there is a natural tendency for a key decisionmaker to want to speak with someone at the scene of the crisis -to add a flavor that is unobtainable in Washington or to verify a key piece of infor
mation upon which to base a subsequent decision. (page 28) Much could be written about NCA overinvolvement; however, for the most part, this topic is beyond the scope of this study. Accordingly, only brief evidence will be presented to give some appreciation of the problem. For example, NCA conduct during the Vietnam war has often been characterized as overinvolvement. The Steadman Report stated:
... Washington certainly was too deeply involved in the details of actually running the war, particularly the air war in
the north. (page 25) In Strategy for Defeat, Vietnam in Retrospect, Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp, USN (Retired) presented his criticism more strongly:
...civilian politico decision makers have no business ignoring or overriding the counsel of experienced military professionals in presuming to direct the day-to-day conduct of military strat
egy and tactics from their desks in Washington, D.C. (page 270) General Bruce Palmer, Jr., USA (Retired) discusses circumvention of the Secretary of Defense in his book, The 25-year War, America's Military Role in Vietnam:
Under the present law, the JCS can be subjected to conflicting orders and guidance. This happened both to General Wheeler while he was CJCS, and to his successor, Admiral Moorer. Both men, Wheeler in 1970 and Moorer in 1972, received orders personally from President Nixon with instructions that Secretary of Defense Laird was not to be informed. Military men obviously must not be placed in such an untenable position. Under the circumstances these incidents did not matter very much because the Vietnam War did not put our survival at risk, nor was Vietnam vital to U.S. interests. In future situations in which national survival might indeed be at stake, I do not believe the nation can accept this state of af
fairs. (page 202) The Steadman Report also notes the dangers of by-passing the Secretary of Defense:
...Although in a crisis the President has a number of advisers in addition
to the Secretary of Defense, orders to the field commands should be clearly identified as emanating from the Secretary as well as from the President -and not be transmitted separately by Presidential advisers acting in his name. Bypassing the Secretary undermines his authority over the com
batant forces. (page 29) There are three major shortcomings of NCA overinvolvement during a crisis. First, the expertise of key elements of the military chain of command may not be effectively applied. The operational commanders, their staffs, and their immediate subordinates have valuable insights into the situation, the threat, and U.S. force capabilities. As the Steadman Report notes, by-passing these levels of command "increases the risk of failure and the risk to the forces involved" (page 28).
The second shortcoming involves the loss of initiative by tactical commanders. When the NCA immediately scrutinizes every tactical movement, on-scene commanders may be reluctant to take decisive action. In today's fast-paced combat environment, such a loss of initiative may preclude effective military action.
The third shortcoming arises from the confusion that results from employing ad hoc command arrangements. The benefits of a structured command chain are lost when certain echelons are bypassed.
There are many possible causes of NCA overinvolvement including:
o a lack of discipline in the staff advising the NCA; o inadequate expertise on operational matters at the NCA level; o the desire for a military success by a politically troubled ad
ministration, and o a lack of confidence in the judgment of the military chain of
command. It is not possible within the scope of this study to assess whether these possible causes actually played a factor in instances of NCA overinvolvement.
The problem of NCA overinvolvement in crisis is a management one and not a structural or procedural one. The problem can only be solved by presidential leadership in disciplining the system. In this regard, the current Administration has demonstrated much more discipline. While this problem area cannot be specifically identified with the current Administration, it has appeared with sufficient frequency within the last 20 years to be of continuing concern. This is especially so because the underlying trends that promote it will continue.
Given the management nature of this problem and the absence of useful congressional remedies, this study will not seek to propose possible solutions. This is in no way, however, a lessening of congressional concern about the overinvolvement of the NCA in crises that do not justify high-level intervention. F. DESCRIPTION OF SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEM AREAS
In this section, possible solutions to the problem areas of the unified and specified commands are described. It should be noted that the options presented in this section to solve a problem area may or may not be mutually exclusive. In some instances, only one of the options to solve a problem area could be implemented. In other cases, several options might be complementary. 1. PROBLEM AREA #1–CONFUSED CHAIN OF COMMAND FROM THE
COMMANDER IN CHIEF TO THE OPERATIONAL COMMANDERS The principal guideline for solving this problem area is to clarify the statutes and DoD directive dealing with the operational chain of command. The seven options for solving this problem differ as to what specific responsibilities in any clarification should be assigned to the Secretary of Defense, the JCS Chairman, and the JCS. o Option 1A-remove the Secretary of Defense from the chain of
command Some observers argue that the Secretary of Defense has never acted as a full-fledged member of the chain of command. Moreover, since 1958, Secretaries of Defense have had little military experience and seem to have conducted themselves more as managers and policymakers than as military commanders. In his book, Organization for National Security, A Study, Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak, USMC (Retired) argues: “...the law still holds a civilian executive (the Secretary of Defense) legally responsible for professional military matters which, for the most part, are beyond his competence." (page 115) Removing the Secretary of Defense from the chain of command would merely be a formal recognition that Secretaries of Defense, for a variety of reasons including inexperience, have not usually been heavily involved in the command function.
Under this option, the chain of command would run directly from the Commander in Chief to either the JCS Chairman or the JCS. The Secretary of Defense would be involved only if the Commander in Chief requested his participation. o Option 1B-clearly assign to the Secretary of Defense the role
of commander of the operational commanders This option would clarify the current ambiguous chain of command by specifying that the Secretary of Defense is the sole commander of the operational commanders. The Secretary's authority "to command” would be specifically included in the statutes. It may be even desirable to designate the Secretary of Defense as the Deputy Commander in Chief. Moreover, it would be absolutely clear that the Secretary of Defense was the principal contact in the DoD policymaking level for the operational commanders. o Option 1C-establish a position for a second Deputy Secretary
of Defense who would be responsible for assisting the Secretary
of Defense on military operational matters The Report of the Blue Ribbon Defense Panel concluded:
For all its size, the OSD has no staff element with significant purview of the area of military operations, despite the fact that the Secretary of Defense, since the 1958 amendments to the National Security Act, is the crucial link in the chain of command between the Commander-in-Chief and the Unified Commanders.
If the Secretary of Defense is to discharge effectively his responsibilities as a key element of the National Command Authority-and the alternative of removing him from the chain of command would, in practice, reduce civilian control” to a fiction-it is clear that he must have an adequate staff for the purpose.
The present arrangement for providing staff support to the Secretary of Defense for military operations is awkward and unresponsive; it provides a forum for inter-Service conflicts to be injected into the decision-making process for military operations; and it inhibits the flow of information to and from the combatant commands and the President and Secretary of Defense, often even in crisis situations.
... This lack within OSD of expertise in military operations critically impairs civilian control of the military establishment.
... The absence of a staff element for military operations directly responsive to the Secretary of Defense constitutes a defi
ciency which can be tolerated only at high risk. (pages 27-28) In light of these conclusions, the Report of the Blue Ribbon Defense Panel recommended establishment of the position of a Deputy Secretary of Defense who would have responsibility for military operations, unified commands, operational requirements, intelligence, telecommunications, international security affairs, the Defense Communications Agency, and civil defense.
The situation that existed at the time the Blue Ribbon Report was written does not appear to have changed. The Secretary of Defense does not have assistants in OSD to help him on operational matters; he is totally dependent on the JCS and the Joint Staff. The disadvantages of this arrangement are compounded by (1) the relative inexperience of the Secretary on operational matters; (2) the limited amount of time that the Secretary can devote to his chain of command responsibilities; and (3) the closed staff nature of the JCS system.
This option would be similar to the Blue Ribbon Defense Panel recommendation. It would differ in that the responsibilities of the Deputy Secretary would be limited to operational matters but would not involve such areas as intelligence and telecommunications.
o Option 1D -place the JCS Chairman in the chain of command
If one believed that the military should be formally represented in the portion of the chain of command found at the policymaking level of DoD, this option would place the JCS Chairman, but not the entire JCS, in the chain of command to provide this representation. DoD has recommended this option in its legislative proposal dated April 18, 1983. The House of Representatives included this option in legislation that it passed in 1983 (H.R. 3718) and 1984 (H.R. 5167) to reorganize the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
JCS Publication 1, Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, defines the term "chain of command" as follows:
The succession of commanding officers from a superior to a
subordinate through which command is exercised. (page 62) As to the term "command", JCS Publication 1 presents the following definition:
The authority which a commander in the military Service lawfully exercises over subordinates by virtue of rank or assignment. Command includes the authority and responsibility for effectively using available resources and for planning the employment of, organizing, directing, coordinating, and controlling military forces for the accomplishment of assigned missions. It also includes responsibility for health, welfare, morale,
and discipline of assigned personnel. (page 74) Placing the JCS Chairman in the chain of command would make him a "commanding officer" and authorize him to "command". Such action would clearly contradict section 142(c) of title 10, United States Code, which provides in part that the JCS Chairman "may not exercise military command over the Joint Chiefs of Staff or any of the armed forces."
Under this option, the JCS Chairman would have a much more forceful role in choosing and implementing military operational actions. He could be authorized to handle routine operational matters by issuing commands and only involve the Secretary of Defense on critical issues. Moreover, it would be logical under this option to make the JCS Chairman the exclusive contact at the DoD policymaking level for the operational commanders, at least on operational matters.
o Option 1E –place the JCS in the chain of command
This option differs from Option 1D by placing the entire JCS in the chain of command as the military representatives at the policymaking level of DoD. In essence, this option would be a formal recognition of the current operation of the chain of command. o Option 1F -remove the JCS, including the Chairman, from
the chain of command This option would alter DoD Directive 5100.1 by precluding in statute any role for the JCS or its Chairman in the chain of command. Under this option, the JCS would serve as the military staff supporting the Secretary of Defense, but they would not be astride the chain of command running from the Secretary of Defense to the operational commanders. o Option 1G -make the JCS Chairman the principal military
advisor to the Secretary of Defense on operational matters and the sole command voice of higher authority within the JCS
system This option could be adopted along with Option 1B (which would assign to the Secretary of Defense the role of commander of the operational commanders) and Option 1F (which would remove the JCS, including the Chairman, from the chain of command).