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Strategy, Forces and Budgets: Dominant Influences in Executive Decision Making, Post-Cold War, 1989-91

Authored by Dr. Don M. Snider.

February 1993

52 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The successful application of national military strategy depends upon the existence of a balanced, flexible military establishment; a national force structured, manned, equipped, and trained to execute the broad range of potential missions that exist in the post-cold war world.

With this in mind, the national leaders of the previous administration developed a concept for a military that was considerably smaller; but well-equipped, highly trained, and capable of rapid response to a number of probable scenarios in the final decade of the 20th century.

The author's masterful assessment of the processes by which these plans for the future state of America's armed forces were developed is a valuable addition to the literature on strategy formulation. Working with a great deal of original source material, he is able to illuminate the critical series of events that resulted in the development of the National Military Strategy of the United States and the "base force." He comments upon the roles played throughout this process by the Secretary of Defense, by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and by the Service Chiefs. He assesses the extent to which the "build-down" has been achieved since the concept was approved, and how the process was affected by the Gulf War, domestic needs, and, to a lesser degree, by a change in administrations.


This study will present, using the process-tracking methodology of George and McKeown, the executive decision making of the Bush administration during the 1989-90 period. During this period the administration decided "that by 1995 our security needs can be met by an active force 25 percent smaller than today's." This early public statement was an indication of a set of major decisions made by the administration to effect a defense draw-down for the post-cold war era, decisions on both military strategy and the forces needed to execute it.

Most of this decision making took place during the fall of 1989 and the spring and summer of 1990. Within the executive branch the decision making to be investigated took place simultaneously at multiple levels, from the individual military departments at the lowest level to the executive office of the President at the highest level. During this same period, there were also important interactions with the Congress which had quite significant influences on the decisions taken within the executive branch.

From this period, four events, or series of events, have been selected around which to report the results of this research. These events are:

• Decision making by the Chairman and the Joint Staff, and the Joint Chiefs;
• Decision making within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) by the Secretary, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and his staff;
• Negotiations between the Executive and Congress leading to the Budget Act of 1990; and,
• Influences of the Gulf War on decision making for the defense build-down.

Recalling from George and McKeown that process tracking "involves both an attempt to reconstruct actors' definitions of the situation and an attempt to develop a theory of action," much of what is presented here is the result of personal interviews with individuals involved in the decision processes. In each case that an interview is cited, appropriate decision documents have been reviewed, either before the interview or subsequently, and the verbal responses correlated with the written documentation.

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