United States armed forces
The military is a general term more appropriately referred to as all commands and departments that fall under the Department of Defense (DoD). The DoD consists of three departments, the Army, Navy, and Air Force, but four different mlitary services (plus the Coast Guard). The Marine Corps, are a separate military service, but are also part of the Navy Department. The Coast Guard is normally a part of the Department of Homeland Security which can be operationally attached to the Navy in times of war. Currently the US military is voluntary, but there is some agitation which has called for conscription. However, this initiative is opposed by the service chiefs, the Department of Defense, the President, and almost every member of Congress, which prefer the All Volunteer Force as the norm, although there have been some measures often described as a back door draft which have been put into place.
The four service chiefs, four star general/flag officers, are also the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the JCS oversee the Joint Staff, a body of about 450 personnel in the Pentagon that conduct joint planning and operations for military affairs. The Goldwater-Nichols act of 1986 changed the traditional power structure of the four services to make the Chairman the principal military advisor to the President, National Security Council, and Secretary of Defense.
There are nine combatant commands, five of which are geographical commands and four of which are unified commands. The geographical commands are CENTCOM, PACOM, EUCOM, NORTHCOM, and SOUTHCOM. The unified commands are JFCOM, SOCOM, STRATCOM, and TRANSCOM. Each are headed by a four-star general officer, but they report through the Chairman of the JCS to the Secretary of Defense.
Each of the services have a Reserve force which is not on active duty, but trains on a part-time regular basis, until called to duty. Otherwise, its members work civilian jobs. There is also, in each state, a National Guard, typically consisting of an Army National Guard and an Air National Guard until the control of the state governor in peace time to put down riots and deal with national disasters, which can be transferred to the federal government when required. Until recently, the federal government turned to The Draft before calling up the National Guard. Thus, men like George W. Bush enrolled in the National Guard as a way of avoiding serving abroad in the Vietnam War. The current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have seen a reversal of that policy, with both Reserve and National Guard forces used to the fullest possible extent, in many case far more than members of those forces had anticipated when they enlisted in these units.
Demographically, the officers in the military tend to vote Republican, but apolitical sentiments are pretty much mandated. Politics is not encouraged or accepted traditionally among serving officers. Non-officers tend to be from the lower and working classes, with about 50 percent being some kind of national minority. However, the number of minorities vary with each service. The Army has 10 percent African-American officers, while the Marine Corps have 5 percent and the Navy 3.
While the hope in 1947 when the Department of Defense was created was to streamline and unify the organization of the United States' armed forces, almost sixty year later, it has not worked out that way, and attempts such as the recent effort to creation a United States Director of National Intelligence have been bandaid efforts, rather than serious reorganizations.
For example, the Air Force was created in 1947 to unify the military's air resources. But, now every service, the Army with its fleet of helicopters, the Air Force, the Navy with its carrier fleets and patrol aircraft, and the Marines who have their own compliment of military helicopters and aircraft, as well as the Coast Guard which has both fixed wing and rotary aircraft, all have their own air wings. Many observers point to different priorities of the Army and Air Force as the source of important strategic level procurement decisions, with the Air Force providing insufficient support to the Army and the Army placing too much reliance on military helicopters simply because it has direct organizational control over them.
There are seven main reserve forces: the Army Reserve, the Navy Reserve, the Marine Corps Reserve, the Air Force Reserve, the Coast Guard Reserve, the Army National Guard, and the Air National Guard. Indeed, the Coast Guard itself is plays a role similar to that of the Army and Air National Guards, providing aid in weather driven events and serving a law enforcement role, in addition to its secondary military role. It is not at all clear that the nation needs, for example, both an the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard, or the Air Force Reserve and the Air Force National Guard. Proposals to eliminate the Air Force National Guard do circulate from time to time.
The Army has its own internal navy providing riverine forces and sealift capabilities to supplement naval sealift capabilities, and is considering seeking greater control of fixed wing close air support aircraft and transport aircraft traditionally belonging to the Air Force. The Navy is developing its own naval infantry/security forces to provide ship security and boarding party services traditionally fulfilled by Marines before they become their own seperate service with a focus on larger scale missions more independent from the Navy.
Booms and Busts in United States armed forces force levels
Historically, the number of troops in the United States armed forces has grown dramatically in times of war, and has been followed by dramatic demobilization. According to the hard copy Statistical History of the United States (for data up to 1976), the number of military personnel on active duty increased from 174 thousand to 2,897 thousand from 1915 to 1918 to fight World War I a sixteenfold increase in just three years. Two years later, in 1920 that number had dropped back to peacetime levels of 343 thousand, a eightfold drop from the World War I peak. Similar dramatic mobilizations and demobilizations accompanied the Spanish American War in 1898, and the Civil War from 1861-1865 (with most demobilization achieved by 1870). Force levels were roughly doubled before returning to prewar levels for the War of 1812 from 1812 to 1815, and were roughly tripled before returning to about double pre-war levels for the war between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848.
Troop levels fell even further during the Great Depression to 256 thousand in 1930, but in 1941 the nation mobilized rapidly to fight World War II, reaching a peak of 12,123 thousand soldiers on active duty in 1945 when the war ended, a forty-seven fold increase from peacetime levels.
By 1950, the nation had demobilized again, to an eighth of peak World War II levels (1460 thousand), but then more than doubled to 3,635 thousand in the Korean War. There was a modest demobilization after Korea, which troop levels in 1960 of 2,476 thousand at about two-thirds of the Korean War peak, but the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1973 returned the U.S. military to active duty force levels simliar to those during the Korean War.
The post-Vietnam demobilization, like the post-Korean War demobilization was modest. The military was reduced to about two-thirds of war time levels (about 2 million active duty troops) and remained at that force level through the Gulf War in 1990 which did not involve any increase in force levels. Force levels were reduced by more than 30% to about 1.4 million troops under the Clinton Administration as a "peace dividend" associated with the end of the Cold War. Comparing Cold War 1990 active duty military pesonnel on active duty figures for each service, with 2000 post-Cold War numbers illustrates the extent of the cut in each military service. The Army was cut by 37%, the Navy (excluding the Marines) was cut by 38%, the Marines were cut by 10%, and the Air Force was cut by 33% (Coast Guard levels dropped 4%).
The Iraq War of 2003 to the present has been exceptional in that the baseline of active duty troops has not been increased to fight this war, although calls ups of almost all available Reserve and National Guard forces has been required. Regular active duty troop levels remain at peacetime, post-Cold War levels. The total number of Reserve and National Guard forces in the current force structure are about 85% of the active duty troop levels. But, about a quarter of Reserve and National Guard troops are at the least ready "Individual Ready Reserve" and "Inactive National Guard" status. Also, the pressure on the National Guard and Reserves has been heaviest on Army and Marine components, which are the main forces which are currently being used in the Iraq War, while Naval and Air components have been far less taxed. (The Navy, Marines and Coast Guard also all have a much smaller percentage of their total force in reserve components than the Army and the Air Force). The are about 350,000 solidiers in the Army National Guard and about 205,000 in the Army Reserves on the highest level of readiness. A Department of Defense Summary of Reserve and National Guard affairs can be found here.
Many critics of the Bush Administration fault it for refusing to acknowledge that it needs additional troops to fight simultaneous military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. This policy strains the troops we have, and can lead to what has been called a "hollow military" where the military sees its capabilities errode as all of its resources are devoted to the current war effort.
- Uniform Code of Military Justice
- International law governing armed conflict
List issues with the U.S. Armed Forces here in issue-position-argument form:
Issue: U.S. Armed Forces recruitment lags behind anticipated deployment
Position: The U.S. Armed Forces selective service ("the draft") should be re-instituted
Position: The U.S. should withdraw from most foreign engagements especially in the Arab World
Argument for: Tensions and accusations of a confrontation of America versus Islam would ease, and there would be many fewer combat situations
Argument for: Democracy is taking root in the Arab world and must do so on its own schedule - withdrawal of U.S. support for dictators on a predictable slow schedule is a better way to enforce democracy than invasion and imposition
Argument against: U.S. opponents like Iran would be much emboldened
Don't ask, don't tell
Rape and sexual harassment
- Iraqi prisons, including Abu Ghraib
- other, including secret locations
Program initiated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld where the focus of the armed forces shifted from traditional roles to that of a rapid reaction force emphasizing special operations, precision munitions and rapid deployment. Transformation is thought to prepare the US Armed Forces to fight a 'Fourth Generation War' where the opponent is not another country, but a decentralized organization engaged in asymmetric warfare. While the goals of Transformation may be noble, it has met with resistance from the military establishment, as well as proven ill-equipped in dealing with long term traditional engagements such as Iraq.
Like most major wars in U.S. history in the past (the rub goes that generals are always prepared to fight the "last war"), the Lessons Learned in the conflict are likely to have a profound impact on future U.S. military policy.