Cover: The Evolution of U.S. Military Policy from the Constitution to the Present

The Evolution of U.S. Military Policy from the Constitution to the Present

Published May 4, 2017

by Gian Gentile, Michael E. Linick, Michael Shurkin


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The laws that govern the U.S. Army have changed little since 1940. These laws have become so familiar that many may assume they constitute a "traditional" U.S. military policy, emanating from the Constitution's division of federal and state powers. Drawing on a RAND study of the history of the U.S. Army and the evolution of laws that authorize, empower, and govern it, the authors of this report show that the current set of foundational laws for the Army were not an inevitable interpretation of the "raise and support armies" or "militia" clauses of the Constitution. Rather, U.S. military policy has evolved over time through changes in statutory law. These laws emerged from long-standing debates over the role of civilian-soldiers, the necessity of a standing professional force (i.e., the Regular Army), the relationship between the Army and the potential sources of manpower for expansion, the balance of federal and state authorities, and the nation's security needs. A series of legislative compromises between 1903 and 1940 established a consensus that forms the foundation of current military policy.

By highlighting the evolution of military policy, this history introduces new questions about the so-called "traditional" nature of the Army that exists today and supplies a context for future efforts to rethink how the Army might continue to evolve to meet the nation's changing security needs.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by Headquarters Department of the Army (HQDA) G8, Army Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Office, and conducted within the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program of the RAND Arroyo Center.

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