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Strategic Planning by the Chairmen, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1990 TO 2005

Strategic Planning by the Chairmen, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1990 TO 2005 - Cover

Authored by Dr. Richard M. Meinhart.

May 2006

34 Pages

Brief Synopsis

This article examines how the Chairmen Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1990 to 2005 used a strategic planning system to respond to their global challenges. By analyzing this planning system’s evolution, processes and products along with each leader’s use, leadership concepts are identified for future leaders in the following areas: use of vision; balancing flexibility and structure in processes and products; responding to different types of challenges; and influencing climate and culture.


Military leaders at many levels have used strategic planning in various ways to position their organizations to respond to the demands of the current situation, while simultaneously focusing on future challenges. This Letort Paper examines how four Chairmen Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1990 to 2005 used a strategic planning system to enable them to meet their statutory responsibilities specified in Title 10 US Code and respond to the ever-changing strategic environment. These responsibilities include: assisting the President and Secretary of Defense in providing strategic direction to the armed forces; conducting strategic planning and net assessments to determine military capabilities; preparing contingency planning and assessing preparedness; and providing advice on requirements, programs, and budgets.

The Chairman’s strategic planning system is a primary and formal way he executes these responsibilities as this system creates products to integrate defense processes and influence others related to assessment, vision, strategy, resources, and plans. This planning system integrates the processes and documents of the people and organizations above the Chairman, which are the President and Secretary of Defense, and the people and organizations he directly coordinates with, which primarily are the different military services and combatant commanders. In addition to influencing the nation’s senior leaders, this system provides specific direction for many staffs that support these leaders. As such, this planning system is a key process that integrates the Nation’s military strategy, plans, and resources that consist of approximately 2.24 million active, guard, and reserve forces and total defense outlays of $465B by 2005.

In examining how Generals Colin L. Powell (1989-93), John M. Shalikashvili (1993-97), Henry Hugh Shelton (1997-2001) and Richard B. Myers (2001-05) used a strategic planning system, this paper briefly describes the Chairman’s key responsibilities and strategic challenges. There were different strategic challenges in the decade of the 1990s versus the first half of the 2000s, and these challenges are compared and contrasted. The Joint Staff’s key organizational characteristics and the Chairmen’s leadership styles are examined briefly, because they will affect how a strategic planning system is used. The paper then describes how the strategic planning system itself evolved as processes and products formally changed five different times. These incremental changes resulted in the strategic planning system evolving from a rigid, Cold War focus at the beginning of the 1990s to a more flexible, vision oriented, and resource focused system when this decade ended. In the 2000s, this system became more focused on the War on Terror and on defining joint capabilities.

This planning system produced many products at various frequencies that were both classified and unclassified. These products are described for their broad impact and influence in the five main categories of assessment, vision, strategy, resources, and plans. The paper then summarizes the more significant ways each Chairman used this strategic planning system to provide formal advice and direction, which is an important part of his leadership legacy. For example, General Powell greatly simplified the planning system he inherited and published the first unclassified national military strategy that endures today. General Shalikashvili kept the flexibility and simplicity he inherited, but added long-term direction by publishing the Chairman’s first vision and expanded resource advice by adding an analytical assessment process and another resource product. General Shelton used the planning system in a very processoriented manner and focused on executing his predecessor’s vision before updating it. General Myers expanded the system’s focus by publishing an additional strategy that was focused on terrorism and changed internal processes to cultivate greater joint capabilities and interdependence.

While this comprehensive assessment of each Chairman’s use of strategic planning has historical relevancy, its main value is that today’s leaders can learn from how these four leaders used systems and processes differently to respond to their complex global environment and varied strategic challenges. Specific leadership concepts illustrated throughout the paper include how leaders used vision; how leaders balanced flexibility and structure in strategic planning processes and products; how leaders used strategic planning to respond to different types of global challenges; and how leaders used systems to influence an organization’s climate and culture. The paper concludes by identifying five key leadership concepts that future leaders need to consider when they use strategic planning.

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