I have an op-ed today at Real Clear Defense on the problems of “religious jointness.” In 1986, Congress passed the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act. Among other things, Goldwater-Nichols sought to increase the “jointness” of the military services with the idea that better battlefield coordination would lead to greater effectiveness. To encourage jointness, the law mandated that officers serve in a joint position to be eligible for promotion to either general or admiral. The joint service requirement for promotion was meant to create a culture conducive to joint operations, but it also created what some people refer to as a “secular religion.” That faith has consequences for strategic planning.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain recently announced a review of the three-decade old legislation. I argue that he should rethink the joint service requirement for promotion:

Coordination on the battlefield makes sense, and thus maintaining joint operational commands make sense. But leaving aside for the moment whether “going purple”—the color the various services’ colors make when combined—has improved the U.S. military’s operational performance, the Goldwater-Nichols promotion system has also produced a managerial jointness that some describe as a “secular religion.” It is a faith where service comity is the highest ideal, suppressing the competing ideas and alternatives perspectives necessary for effective strategy.


Competition is the cardinal sin under religious jointness. For example, in 2010, naval analyst Bryan McGrath related how aghast the other services were at the Navy’s 2007 decision to produce a maritime strategy. Services simply do not produce their own strategies; they merely organize, train and equip forces to serve nationally determined strategy. Whether an emphasis on sea power is proper for a country drawing down from two unpopular land wars, or the best way to allocate resources under tightening defense budgets, does not seem to enter into the equation.


Under religious jointness, such questions must be sacrificed at the altar of service comity. But when service comity leads to collusion against attempts to cancel favored programs, difficult choices between missions and platforms get avoided. When service logrolling is institutionalized, tradeoffs for savings across services become impossible.

Read the entire thing here.