Arleigh Burke Essay Contest 1st Honorable Mention
Although Goldwater-Nichols may have paved the way for victory in Desert Storm, the law has worked only because a fortunate combination of military officers and civilian officials has been both giving and listening to advice. Will this balance continue throughout the 1990s?
Joint and combined operations are the wave of the future. Interoperability is no longer enough: “jointness” is now uniformly acclaimed. In the future, deterrence and forward-presence actions will probably be conducted primarily by the naval services alone, but any significant conflict will be joint if for no other reason than the immense size of the modem battlefield. Recognition of this reality—as much as legal requirements—is the foundation for the Navy’s uncharacteristically enthusiastic embrace of “jointness.”
The campaign waged against Iraq was immensely successful, and, unarguably, one of the reasons was because of the command arrangements mandated by the Goldwater-Nichols Act. After Desert Storm, the Senate Armed Services Committee basked in self-congratulation for its contribution to the action by enacting that law. Further sign of acceptance of this new model has been the amazingly little public competition among the services in the first rounds of defense reductions. Finally, there is the testimony of observers of and participants in the process: “I opposed Goldwater-Nichols and I was wrong!” said retired General John A. Wickham, Jr., Army Chief of Staff at the time of its enactment. All of these conditions testify to the heavy burdens any criticism of jointness or of the Goldwater-Nichols Act bears.
In spite of these glowing endorsements, however, the present command arrangements and modus operandi do not come without penalties. While jointness fosters economy of force and concentration of effort, these benefits come at some cost. Since it is most unlikely that the provisions of law will change, and while it is probably undesirable to lessen the emphasis on jointness for the present, the costs associated with these arrangements need to be recognized and compensated for if the long-term health of military preparedness and capability is not to suffer. Continued self-congratulation for the success in the Persian Gulf War—most of which stemmed from the enemy’s ineptitude and individual troop skills and not the result of any organizational arrangements—is guaranteed to lead to long-term delusion. Contrary to conventional wisdom, as General Carl Mundy, Commandant of the Marine Corps, has pointed out, in and of itself, jointness does not guarantee success.
The leaders of the Navy and Marine Corps opposed the Goldwater-Nichols Act just as they had all of its predecessor legislation that dealt with organization of the Department of Defense; each in its own time was acclaimed as the panacea that would eliminate wasteful duplication and interservice rivalry. In every case, the proposed reorganization was viewed by its Navy and Marine Corps opponents as a step toward a general staff, peopled and dominated by soldiers who had little sense of the needs and uses of maritime power. Many of these fears were justified in World War II. For example, General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the Army, insisted to the end that Japan would have to be invaded to be defeated, directly countering 50 years of planning and analysis that were the basis for the Navy’s wartime operations in the Pacific. Even had there been no atom bomb, Marshall was wrong.
This uneasiness was at the heart of the Navy’s resistance to the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act. Though there are multiple provisions to the law, the real impact of the act has been in its concentration of power in the hands of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the elevation of decision-level authority in the Department of Defense, and the legal requirements for officer assignments and promotions. It is on these issues that some measure of the potentially pernicious effects of the present arrangements can be measured. In the rest of the actions mandated by the law, almost no effects can be seen, and these requirements, even where executed, seem to be routine pigeonhole fillers. Some, notably those dealing with reducing the size of the defense agencies, simply seem to have been ignored.
First, and most obviously, while strong central authority reduces parochialism and focuses effort, this authoritarianism inhibits competition, leads to unnecessary overcentralization, and, especially, stifles innovation. But innovation and creativity are going to be exactly the assets in great demand in the decade ahead. In situations marked by instability and change, centralization is exactly the wrong thing to do. The characteristics of a good staff—fusion of intelligence information, careful planning, detailed accounting and oversight—are not comfortable homes for innovation. Further, authoritarian organizations tend to make technical decisions by fiat. “Staff officers directing physics” was former Commandant of the Marine Corps General Al Gray’s acerbic accusation. These problems are not unique to military organizations. Creativity is not a natural feature of any organization—particularly a structured hierarchy—designed to support a single authority figure.
Characteristic of highly centralized organizations are low tolerance of differences with authority, stifling debate within and between their branches, and muzzling public dissent by members. But it is impossible to foster change without debate, including open and public disputes about operations and roles and missions. Hobbling military thought by erecting structures in which ideas are promoted on the basis of their political correctness will be extremely counterproductive. Positions aired must be beyond those endorsed by the administration, the department, or even the Navy. Such exposure will mean that members of Congress and the sensationalist, or ignorant, press will exploit such positions for their own purposes. But the necessary education of the citizenry, academics, and the policy elites cannot be accomplished by internal staff papers. “Good public policy is rarely the product of a harmony of views among those charged with formulating it.”
A related outcome already evident in this new organizational structure is the dearth of public information about means, missions, and ends of military power. Since the Civil War, active debate and lively rivalry between the Army and the Navy allowed the Congress and the people access to ideas and processes on which the country’s military programs were based. The lack of public debate among the services—since 1945 labeled “interservice bickering”—has led Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) to complain plaintively about lack of examination of roles and missions to eliminate duplication of effort. Authoritative information on which to consider such propositions is noticeably absent from the public forum (and perhaps from the interservice ones as well) because after the Goldwater-Nichols Act, coalition politics among the services and the chairman’s authority to maintain order within and among them, has prevented open confrontation. For example, the Air Force’s “Global Reach-Global Power” doctrine has not been subject to public objections from Navy officials.
While there is something poetically just in watching Senator Nunn, one of the chief proponents of the' Goldwater-Nichols Act, struggle to generate action—reaping the harvest he has sown—the lack of nonconforming in formation bodes ill for the long-term health of the national defense. Just as the services banded together against Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and undercut his ability to influence much of the acquisition process, so the Congress and the public are being deprived of authoritative professional arguments on a wide variety of is subjects in which the professional views of military officers differ.
Another danger arises from the shift of concentration in from service roles and missions to theater preparation for possible conflict. While the Joint Staff and the theater commanders—the commanders-in-chief—address relevant issues, they do so in the context of and in relation to immediate pressures and evident applications. They do not function as institutions or specialists dedicated to a lasting profession. Today, for example, few commanders-in-chief are concerned about antisubmarine warfare, and, left to their own devices, theater commanders might easily be eliminate space defense and the Seawolf (SSN-21)-class attack submarines, for neither seem to be important in meeting the needs of the day. That they may become overriding necessities in the next decade is not a major concern of a theater command. Such considerations reside in the services, where large missions, worldwide geography, professional growth, and long-range vision are important values. The CinCs’ drives for near-term sustainability and readiness are blended with consideration for long-term modernization and development in the services.
Operational commanders write plans to deal with concrete circumstances, to win wars. To do so they create scenarios. If these same commanders excessively influence doctrine and acquisition, the organization may buy forces and conduct training tailored exclusively for the scenarios invented. But the scenario-planning tool has a very uneven record of predicting challenges or U.S. response to them. Raising forces designed to achieve general missions is harder to envision and justify, but historically, it has proven to be more useful. “Balanced forces” —the rubric with which all the services have supported mission-based forces since the Korean War—demonstrated the folly of trying to raise and organize forces based on an accepted, politically favored scenario.
The Joint Chiefs chairmen who have served since the Goldwater-Nichols Act became law seem to have been successful in alleviating many of these concerns, but whether this will continue to hold true remains to be seen. In the Navy’s case, the credo “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” seems to have been adopted. Staffing joint billets with superlative officers at every opportunity has permeated these joint staffs with maritime understanding and flavor. While costly in terms of people available to keep the parent institution strong, the requirements arose at the same time force reductions were taking place so that there seem to be more than enough officers to do both in the short term. In the long term, however, the opportunity costs to the individual officers and to the technical skills and professional excellence of the Navy may be substantial.
The Goldwater-Nichols Act’s requirements on joint tour lengths and officer assignments have the potential to do great damage. These requirements cut two ways, reducing expertise in the field and on the subject staffs at the same time. Officers need to serve in joint billets to qualify for advancement. To accommodate large numbers in order to meet this standard, to “check the block,” there is little room for repeat assignments on the qualifying staffs. As a result, expertise is limited to what can be created in a single tour. Without repeat tours, the competence in billet starts at zero in every rotation. No matter how steep the learning curve, the total competence of the staff can never reach the truly expert except in simple tasks. Even the recognition of these limitations is lost as the staff loses expertise. Acquaintanceship by large numbers of people does not substitute for in-depth expertise by some.
The Joint Strategic Targeting Planning Staff is instructive in this regard. Repeated tours have been required before officers are truly learned about the intricacies of a computer-driven system that is crucially important and technically complex. The number and delivery method of nuclear weapons required to accomplish national objectives depend on the skill of individual officers in constructing the targeting and weapon-assignment plans. The more efficiently applied, the fewer weapons and delivery systems are needed. The computer programs used for this purpose are neither clean nor clear, and they have no duplicate or even parallel; and the skills and techniques learned elsewhere are of little use in the tunnels in Omaha. Manipulation of these software systems requires personal expertise obtained only by experience gained in significantly longer than one tour.
This is only one example of such a situation. Corresponding requirements occur wherever technology proliferates or increases in complexity. Whatever success has been achieved by the Worldwide Military Command System has been the result of a dedicated corps of users with repeated tours in this relatively narrow area. The technical expertise required to be good in almost anything is consistently underestimated, even by those knowledgeable in the disciplines.
The invidious effect of an ever-new management is dangerous in the staff; it can be disastrous in the field. In an age of specialization, when the needs for specialists in procurement and logistics have caused the Congress to insist on an acquisition corps and the Navy to identify material professionals, parallel specialized expertise has been downsized in the fighting forces. Commenting on the recent reorganization of the Navy staff, a long-time observer said, “In our zeal to make warfare communities ‘fingers of a single fist,’ we risk reducing specialized expertise to common mediocrity.”
The Goldwater-Nichols Act has created a system in which the majority of officers are being trained and prepared to be a commander-in-chief or the chairman. Yet only a minuscule number of officers will ever serve in such tasks. In the meantime, the movement through a wide range of billets covering broad dimensions is likely to generate a crowd of dilettantes instead of a corps of skilled officers. In his analysis of U.S. industry, W. Edwards Deming blames a similar mobility of management and lack of expertise as one of the prime reasons for poor quality of resulting goods and services.
The costs for this design were debated only in relation to nuclear-trained officers in the Navy. In that one specialty—acknowledged to be one of those requiring the highest skill level—waivers were permitted to ensure that the organization could maintain its technical proficiency. But comparable costs are being paid in every part of the Department of Defense and every aspect of the military art. Sometimes this loss may be worth the gains in staff capability and knowledge; assuredly, sometimes it is not.
The career of Army General Joseph Stilwell teaches an important lesson in this regard. Between the two World Wars, Stilwell was able to become an expert on China, infantry training, and small-unit tactics. He traveled extensively in that country, spoke many of its dialects fluently, and gained greater insight into the character of its peoples than perhaps any Westerner ever has. Observing the civil wars of China during the period, he became so expert in small-unit infantry tactics that in 1942 he was considered the Army’s best battlefield general officer. The Stilwell phenomenon could not occur under the Goldwater-Nichols Act. He would be too busy dabbling in air and naval matters, which he would understand only perfunctorily. He would have neither the time nor the opportunity to exploit his interest in China if he wished to pursue his potential to become a general officer.
As the country has legislated itself out of the ability to create a Stilwell, the requirements of the law inhibit generating senior expertise in a hundred areas of technological developments that each require more than several tours to master. The Goldwater-Nichols Act has skewed the detailing and planning in an effort to make every one of our thousand general and flag officers competent to be commanders-in-chief.
The whole thrust to assure the “jointness” of every officer sacrifices line expertise to make better staff officers. In Vietnam this sort of dilettantism, caused by rotation of officers through the troop units, led to a collapse of confidence in military capability. We need only one Chairman, one Chief of Naval Operations, one Commandant, and 10 to 15 commanders-in-chief every two to four years. In the same period the country will need 15 commanding generals of divisions and more than 500 commanding officers of ships.
The German General Staff did not make the Blitzkrieg work. Rather, the competency, initiative, and élan of the commissioned and noncommissioned officers at the front made the breakthroughs of 1940. The vaunted German General Staff dithered while General Heinz Guderian and his fellow division commanders—at or within 25 miles of the front throughout the campaign—made the decisions that mattered. Commentators on World War II universally state that it was the competency of these frontline officers—not its staff work—that made the German Army so effective.
The lessons of Vietnam have been conveniently forgotten in the rush to jointness. In the Vietnam War the policy answers were wrong and dissidence stifled. Managers in the field were moved before they could develop skills to comprehend and counter the enemy’s tactics. The lack of experience, lack of unit cohesiveness, lack of loyalty to a small unit, and lack of in-depth training (except for Top Gun and Red Flag, after embarrassing losses to North Vietnamese aircraft), led to mediocrity on the battlefield.
The key to performance under pressure is real knowledge gained from extensive study and intensive training. Such skills require time to develop, are fragile, and decay quickly when not used. The higher the technical application and more specialized the procedure, the faster the skills erode. Athletes and musicians testify to the half-life of unpracticed skills. Long and repeated tours are necessary in any part of the military trade that requires detailed knowledge and developed leadership.
Any early relief from joint demands or from congressionally mandated interdicts is not likely. Those in the naval services who have real competencies and new ideas will have to think around the limitations and obstacles engendered by these developments. New paths of argument and debate will have to be developed. The Naval Institute and its brother associations must stimulate discussion in support of ideas that may not be currently in favor. Reversing the process of mongrelization of the officer corps is probably the most important immediate effect to be sought. Eventual modification of the law to ameliorate its bad effects should be a long-range goal of all of the services.
It is axiomatic that one cannot be an expert and a generalist at the same time. The penalties of the generalist approach in the Navy’s surface warfare community have caused a return to the division of labor between warships and amphibious ships in the Chief of Naval Operations staff and prompted suggestions for a return to specialization in ship type for surface warfare officers. An organization achieves greatness by properly mixing both and identifying those brilliant personnel who possess both the depth to be experts and the breadth to be generalists. Organizations that try to make all of their personnel do both are destined to be fountains of frustration. The trick is to be joint at the top and expert at the bottom. The Goldwater-Nichols Act and the resulting actions in jointness tilt one end of this scale. The challenge to the naval services is now to restore the balance.
President of the Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association (AFCEA)’s Educational Foundation, Admiral Holland is a frequent contributor to Proceedings. His most recent article, “Dancing with an Elephant,” was published in the May 1992 Naval Review issue.
 Gen. John A. Wickham, Jr., USA (Ret.). Roles and Missions Panel, AFCEA-U.S. Naval Institute Western Conference, San Diego, California, 6 January 1992.
 Edward S. Miller. War Plan Orange (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991). p. 368.
 Wallace F. Thies “How We Almost Won in Viet Nam: Ellsworth Bunker’s Reports to the President,” Parameters, Summer 1992, p. 93.
 Harvey M. Sapolsky. “Comparing Health and Defense,” DACS Working Paper (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, September 1992), pp. 11-12.
 Senator Sam Nunn. “The Defense Department Must Thoroughly Overhaul Services’ Roles and Missions,” Remarks prepared for delivery, floor. Senate of the United States, 2 July 1992.
 John M. Fisher and LtGen. James B. Vaught, USA (Ret.). “U.S. Defense Strategy for a New Era,” Report of Conference, 1-2 April 1992, American Security Foundation, The Army War College, National Defense University, p. 10.
 See Capt. James F. Kelly, Jr., USN (Ret.). “What Goes Around Comes Around,” Navy Times, 17 August 1992.
 Mary Walton. The Deming Management Method (New York: Putnam, 1986), p. 36.
 This exception is permitted until 1994. Requests by the Navy to extended have been rejected.
 Barbara W. Tuchman. Stilwell and the American Experience in China (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1970).
 Alistair Home. “To Lose A Battle: France, 1940” (New York: Viking/Penguin, 1969).
 See Capt. James F. Patton, USN (Ret.). “Concepts in Training and Doctrine,” Proceedings, February 1985, p. 127, and Lt. James DiCampli, USN. “Refining Goldwater-Nichols,” Proceedings, August 1992, p. 93.
 Cdr. Edward Herbert, USN. “Commanders Must Command," Proceedings, September 1992, p. 58.