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Strategic Plans, Joint Doctrine and Antipodean Insights

Authored by Professor Douglas C. Lovelace Jr., Dr. Thomas-Durell Young. | October 1995

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Over the past decade, ?jointness? has become a paean in the quest to improve the effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces, and justifiably so. Recent military operations have demonstrated a high correlation between joint operations and success on the battlefield. Consequently, the trend toward increased ?jointness? is not likely to abate. The congressional perception of the importance of joint operations by the U.S. armed forces was underscored by the passage of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act (?Goldwater-Nichols Act?), the most significant reorganization and redistribution of authority and responsibilities within the Department of Defense since 1958.1 In an effort to assure more effective joint operations, Congress increased the powers of the combatant Commanders-in-Chief (CINCs), made the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) the principal military advisor to the National Command Authorities (NCA), and assigned the CJCS specific responsibilities in the areas of strategic planning, joint training and joint doctrine. Additionally, the Joint Chiefs of Staff lost their baronial influence and the Joint Staff was reoriented to serve the CJCS, vice the corporate Joint Chiefs of Staff.2

This does not suggest that this seminal legislation has overcome all the institutional impediments to raising, training and employing joint forces. Problems remain; one of which is the focus of this essay. Difficulties in the development and implementation of sound joint doctrine have been caused, in large measure, by the systemic gap in the existing strategic planning process. The absence of a direct link between the strategic direction of the U.S. armed forces and the operational planning for their employment has hindered the development of coherent and integrated joint doctrine. Also, this situation has not provided effective incentives for the services to embrace joint doctrine, in total. These limitations point to a common solution. They illuminate a missing link in strategic planning for the U.S. armed forces that would connect the National Military Strategy (NMS)3to key joint planning documents. Filling this strategic planning void would enhance the development and implementation of sound and comprehensive joint doctrine. In short, there is a needfor a coherent, traceable, and accountable connection between the NMS and the body of joint doctrine developed to support it.

Specifically and proximately, there are no national-level strategic concepts set forth in strategic plans to guide the development and implementation of joint doctrine.4 Consequently, the current body of joint doctrine can, at best, be only loosely connected to the NMS. The development of strategic plans would permit strategic guidance, as first expressed in the form of the National Security Strategy (NSS)5and then by the NMS, to be better conveyed to the service chiefs and the CINCs.

As strategic guidance and direction work their way through the system, they are further refined and defined. This elucidating process should provide specific guidance for the development of a body of more useful and accepted joint doctrine to guide the conduct of operations for U.S. forces, as well as to rationalize the required types, number, and balance of service forces. A process that integrates strategic planning with joint doctrine development would better actualize the intent of the Goldwater-Nichols Act. And, in this era of penury, such reforms would assist the NCA in validating to the Congress that a more effective and efficient national defense capability is being pursued.

While this essay may seem fairly critical of joint doctrine, the process by which it is developed, and the effectiveness of its implementation; one must recognize that the U.S. armed forces have made great progress in developing and promulgating joint doctrine since passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act. As demonstrated during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the availability and application of joint doctrine have significantly improved the warfighting capabilities of U.S. forces. The purpose of this essay, therefore, is to show how joint doctrine can be further enhanced by eliminating some imperfections in the process by which it is developed, and how more complete implementation can be encouraged. Both can be accomplished by more directly linking joint doctrine to the NMS.

The Chairman is aware of two significant problems <%- 2>regarding joint doctrine. First, he is uncomfortable with the level of understanding of joint doctrine within the U.S. armed forces. Recent initiatives, such as the creation of the JointWarfighting Center and its charge to broaden service understanding of joint doctrine, manifest his concern.6 Second, he has inferred that the services may not feel obligated to adhere to joint doctrine. This has resulted in his recent direction to the Joint Staff to change the qualifier that appears in all joint doctrine publications from, ?This publication is authoritative but not directive. . . ? to ?The guidance in this publication is authoritative; as such, commanders will apply this doctrine . . . except when exceptional circumstances dictate otherwise.?7 However, what may be the most important step toward improving the development and implementation of join<%0>t doctrine has yet to be taken.

In order to address the problem of the need to improve joint doctrine by better linking it to the NMS, this essay will frame the argument in the following manner. First, a brief overview of the value of joint doctrine, the Chairman?s responsibilities, and joint doctrine?s general utility will be presented. Second, imperfections in the existing joint doctrine development process will be addressed. Third, the current process by which the Chairman translates strategic direction into strategic and operation plans will be examined to show how it could be improved to enhance joint doctrine development and encourage adherence. Fourth, the Australian defense planning process will be presented as an illustrative example of an effective strategic planning process, which facilitates the development and implementation of joint doctrine. Fifth, an assessment of U.S. joint doctrine development and implementation will be provided. Finally, proposals will be presented for reforms aimed at improving the relationship between the strategic planning for the U.S. armed forces and joint doctrine development and implementation.


This essay has argued that improvements in U.S. joint doctrine development and implementation are required and can be accomplished, in part, through improvement in strategic planning. This can also result in a more coherent translation of the broad concepts of the NMS for the combatant commands and services, leading to improved operation planning. Certainly, the changes outlined above and recommended below, although controversial, have sufficient merit to warrant further examination. A strategic planning system that makes the U.S. armed forces more responsive to the NMS could have significant systemic implications. By making joint doctrine more responsive to the NMS and requiring service doctrine to conform to it, service and joint training and exercises would be better focused and harmonized. Ultimately, the CINCs would be provided forces better prepared to accomplish their assigned missions.

This essay, however, does not imply that the Chairman has been unaware of the need to improve joint doctrine development and implementation. For example, the key initiative started by General Colin Powell and consummated by General JohnShalikashvili, the combination of the Joint Doctrine Center with the Joint Warfare Center to form the aforementioned Joint Warfighting Center, created an organization that will, inter alia, take a more active role in the development of joint doctrine. This reform should reduce problems inherent in the current joint doctrine development process. Capitalizing on its potential, the new center has the potential to ensure that publications are truly joint in their early stages of development. This could be accomplished in at least two ways. One alternative would be for the Joint Warfighting Center to organize and manage inter-service joint doctrine development teams, thus obviating the need for Lead Agents. A more preferable alternative might include retention of the Lead Agent practice, however; the Joint Warfighting Center would provide authoritative guidance and resolve issues on behalf of the Chairman throughout the joint doctrine development process. Either alternative would enable the Joint Warfighting Center to form early consensus on joint doctrine issues and ensure that doctrine is void of any bias toward a particular service from the beginning.67

Another major initiative taken by the Chairman is the more effectual dissemination of joint doctrine throughout the U.S. armed forces. Concerned that forces provided by the services do not apply joint doctrine because of a general lack of familiarity and understanding, the Chairman has directed the review and revision, if necessary, of all existing joint doctrine publications. Moreover, by using a multi-media approach, the Joint Staff hopes to make the doctrine more accessible, readable, and understandable.68

These examples evince the Chairman?s desire to effect reforms to improve joint doctrine development and implementation. However, a promising reform yet to be implemented is the development of strategic plans and ensuring that they guide the development of joint doctrine. In an era of strategic ambiguity and defense penury, the need for U.S. forces to be as effectively and efficiently responsive to the NMS as possible has never been greater.


1. U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Defense Organization and the Need for Change, Staff Report, 99th Congress, 1st Session, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing office, 1985, p. 1; and, U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, Report 99-824, 99th Congress, 2nd Session, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing office, 1986, p. 3.

2. U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Armed Services, Title 10, United States Code, Armed Forces, 103rd Congress, 1st Session, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, April 1993, Section 155.

3. U.S. Department of Defense, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Military Strategy of the United States of America: Strategy of Flexible and Selective Engagement, Washington, DC, February 1995, pp. 1-20.

4. The strategic concepts envisaged here differ from the broad concepts found in the National Security Strategy, National Military Strategy and other national strategic planning documents. These strategic concepts would be sufficiently specific and focused to help form the basis for developing new, and reviewing existing, joint doctrine. Many factors, including historical writings, legislation, operational experience, and technological developments, combined with strategic planning, form a multidimensional basis for the establishment of joint doctrine. This essay focuses on the strategic planning dimension.

5. The White House, A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, Washington, DC, February 1995, pp. 1- 33.

6. John Boatman, ?Spreading the Word,? Jane?s Defence Weekly, December 10, 1994, p. 19.

7. On behalf of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the Staff, the Director of the Joint Staff issued on July 28, 1994 a memorandum (MCM-90-94) to all Service Chiefs and Unified Combatant Commanders-in-Chief regarding joint doctrine. In this memorandum the Chairman directed that the doctrinal concept foundin the preface of all joint publications be changed.

67.John Boatmen, p. 19.