Cover: Rethinking Jointness?

Rethinking Jointness?

The Strategic Value of Jointness in Major Power Competition and Conflict

Published Sep 5, 2023

by Mark Cozad, Maria McCollester, Jonathan Welch, Matthew Fay


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Research Questions

  1. What value does the United States derive from DoD's jointness efforts?
  2. Does jointness provide the United States with advantages in strategic competition?

For more than 30 years, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has placed substantial emphasis on jointness. Whether in bolstering the relative influence of such joint organizations as combatant commands, requiring joint service for senior-level promotions, or achieving cross-service interoperability between operational units, jointness is valued conceptually from the strategic to the tactical levels. However, in practice, the value of jointness remains unmeasured and ill-defined, particularly as it relates to strategic competition. Many questions remain about the true utility of jointness to DoD goals, potential negative ramifications of jointness as it was implemented following the passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act (GNA), and how the pursuit of jointness affects DoD's ability to innovate and adapt to future challenges. Moreover, it is not currently understood how jointness affects competitive advantage relative to the United States' primary adversaries. This study seeks to examine whether the assumption that jointness is inherently valuable is correct, and if so, in what ways. Understanding what aspects of jointness are most valuable and why can help DoD compete more effectively against its adversaries and maximize the United States' competitive military advantages.

Key Findings

The development of jointness in the U.S. military has had a profound effect on it as an organization and its definition and execution of missions and roles

  • The decades-long process of educating and ensuring joint assignments has contributed to the development of a wider pool of officers with knowledge of and experience planning and working with other services that has enabled the growth of commanders and planners who are capable of ensuring that the joint force functions more effectively.
  • Jointness has had a profound effect on the U.S. military's operational and tactical proficiency (e.g., command, operational effectiveness in several mission areas) and on the growth of a common systems architecture.
  • Several developments emerged out of the GNA—each of which might temper the benefits that the U.S. military has derived from its pursuit of jointness, including, among other factors, the services' diminished roles after the GNA.
  • In other critical areas, such as military strategy, the effect of jointness is less clear and with a potentially detrimental effect on the United States' ability to maintain its competitive advantages when faced with two ambitious competitors: China and Russia.

Jointness does provide the United States with advantages in strategic competition

  • The U.S. military system has been enormously successful—because of that success, its competitors have attempted to emulate it.
  • The United States has had more than three decades of lead time as the first mover in this competition to learn and refine its approach to jointness, giving it a substantial lead over competitors.


  • Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has had little success in identifying and prioritizing its strategic needs. This factor has created problems today with efforts to modernize the joint force and maintain its readiness. For the United States to continue to benefit from the progress it has made in the area of jointness, it must have the technology, people, and resources necessary for tomorrow's conflicts.
  • For the United States to benefit from the strategic value that jointness does provide in this competitive environment, it must address the strategy dilemma—an area that has challenged the United States for decades and one that has not been solved through the development of jointness.

This research was funded by the Office of Net Assessment and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD), which operates the RAND National Defense Research Institute (NDRI).

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