The Department of Defense

Authored by: Peter J. Dombrowski

Routledge Handbook of American Foreign Policy

Print publication date:  August  2011
Online publication date:  April  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415800884
eBook ISBN: 9780203878637
Adobe ISBN: 9781135967352


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Until the National Security Act of 1947, the United States functioned without a Department of Defense. Matters of war and peace were handled by the Departments of War and the Department of the Navy while diplomatic affairs were left to the secretary of state. With varied levels of success, the U.S. government managed to provide for national security and fight multiple wars, large and small, with a relatively small, resource-constrained bureaucracy. With World War II and the emergence of the Cold War, many of the so-called “wise men” responsible for U.S. security policies realized that never again could the United States afford to prepare for war, much less fight one, without a sophisticated organization capable both of advising the president and executing his policies using the nation’s military instruments. The threat posed by the Soviet Union, the peacetime challenge of administering a global strategy of containment, and the complexity of maintaining a well-trained, technologically sophisticated, and above all “ready” force required large staff of professional support and standard procedures grounded in law and practice.

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