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The United States Department of Defense

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The U.S. Department of Defense is the largest employer in the world, employing approximately 3.2 million people on active duty, in the reserves, and in the civilian sector (Alexander, 2012). The Department of Defense is an independent agency operating under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. More than half of the annual Federal discretionary budget goes to the Department of Defense. There are three departments within the Department of Defense: the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy and the Department of the Air Force (“Department of defense,”). Additionally, there are innumerable agencies within the Department of Defense, including the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency (“Department of defense,”). The purpose of the Department is to provide for homeland security and the protection of American interests abroad through the armed forces, acting on the command of the President, U.S. Congress, and the Secretary of Defense. The Department of Defense is headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, at the Pentagon, and the Department has permanent military bases located throughout the globe.

As long as America has been a nation, it has had a standing military, predating the American Revolution. In 1789, U.S. Congress established the War Department, and in 1798, the Department of the Navy was established (Polmar, 2005). The two departments had secretaries who held positions within the President’s cabinet and acted as his advisors (Polmar, 2005). In 1945, President Harry S. Truman advised Congress to centralize state defense into one unified department; with the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, the National Military Establishment was created (Hogan, 2000). The newly unified military force then became overseen by the Secretary of Defense. At this time, the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency were created. A provision to create the positions of Joint Chiefs of Staff was also included in the Act; the Joint Chiefs of Staff directly advises the Secretary of Defense, as well as the Homeland Security Office, the National Security Council and the President on matters of war (Polmar, 2005). The Department of Defense Act of 1958 modified the chain of command, moving most of the decisions away from the Military Departments and into the hands of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense (Polmar, 2005).

The President holds the highest office in the Department of Defense, serving as the Commander in Chief as designated by the U.S. Constitution. The power vested in the President is channeled through the Secretary of Defense, who acts as advisor to the President and maintains control of the Department, second in command only to the President (“Org chart,”). The Secretary of Defense is appointed by the President and approved by members of U.S. Congress, and handles the day to day operations of the Department (“Org chart,”). Under the U.S. Constitution, only U.S. Congress has the power to formally issue declarations of war at the request of the President, and has done so eleven times throughout the history of the United States (“Official declarations of,”).

Undeclared war and extended conflicts have been carried out without the consent of Congress on over one hundred occasions, most notably when there is the imminent threat of danger to the United States or its interests (“The president’s constitutional,” 2001). In 1973, U.S. Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, which placed a check on the President’s ability to send troops into armed conflict without congressional consent (“50 usc chapter,”). The Resolution holds that the President cannot send troops to war without congressional authorization, or in the event of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces” (“50 usc chapter,”). The Resolution holds that the President must notify Congress within 48 hours of deciding to send troops to conflict and the troops cannot remain for more than two calendar months or sixty days (“50 usc chapter,”).

The Department of Defense annual budget accounts for over forty-five percent of international military spending (“Military spending: defense,” 2011). In 2010 alone, the Department was allotted twenty-one percent of the Federal budget, $533.7 billion, with a $75.5 billion adjustment for the year 2009 and $130 billion for overseas conflict (“Military spending: defense,” 2011). As such, the Department of Defense was allocated a grand total of $1.2 trillion dollars for the fiscal year 2010 (“Military spending: defense,”2011). Since that time, the  Departmental budget has increased to $1.5 trillion (Shah, 2012). The budget continues to increase annually, thanks in part to the proliferation of technology in modern warfare and in part to the continued conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military-industrial complex employs millions of Americans in the civilian sector, many working as sub-contractors and in the development of modern weapons of war in arms factories. The United States has become a major world power over the past two centuries; as such, it is of no small consequence that the United States possesses the most powerful military forces in the world.

Yet in comparison to other nations, the United States defense budget may seem extreme, even when one examines the breakdown of the American Federal budget line by line. To gain a bit of perspective, the national defense budget of the country of China was $106 billion for the year 2012; China possesses the second most powerful military in the world (Shah, 2012). Consistently, more federal funding goes directly to the Pentagon than to public education or to public health; furthermore, to welfare programs that would benefit the needy. While any perceived threat to the safety of American citizens is not to be taken lightly, and while such danger requires a response by our armed forces, the fact is simply that some of the vast resources allocated to the Department of Defense may be better utilized elsewhere. The Department of Defense is very necessary as an executive department, as the defense of American lives and resources is of the utmost importance. Yet more of our tax dollars are used for the purposes of the Department of Defense than to directly benefit the average American.

It is of no doubt that the Department of Defense is very important to the U.S. Government, and many of the decisions made by the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on a daily basis to safeguard American citizens will never reach our newspapers. The modern nation-state requires a force to protect and serve, and this is the function of the Department of Defense, in protecting Americans and their interests within our borders and around the world.

Works Cited

(2011). Military spending: defense costs. The Economist , Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/06/military-spending

Alexander, R. (2012, Mar 12). Which is the world’s biggest employer?. BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17429786

Cornell Law, (n.d.). 50 usc chapter 33 – war powers resolution. Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/50/chapter-33

Department of defense. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Hogan, M. (2000). A cross of iron. (p. 37). Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=Hd4C3cY7Y7IC&pg=PA37

Polmar, N. (2005). The naval institute guide to the ships and aircraft of the us fleet. (p. 17). Naval institute press. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=8MwyTX-iA2wC&pg=PA17

Shah, A. (2012). World military spending. Global Issues, Retrieved from www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending[->0]

U.S. Department of Defense, Office of Secretary of Defense. (n.d.). Org chart. Retrieved from http://www.defense.gov/orgchart/

U.S. Department of Justice , (2001). The president’s constitutional authority to conduct military operations against terrorists and nations supporting them. Retrieved from http://www.justice.gov/olc/warpowers925.htm

U.S. Senate, (n.d.). Official declarations of war by congress. Retrieved from http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/history/h_multi_sections_and_teasers/WarDeclarationsbyCongress.htm

[->0] – http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending

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