Knitting the Velvet Gauntlet: Goldwater-Nichols, the end of the Cold War, and the development of American defense diplomacy

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Virginia Tech


The United States military is more than a tool of hard power. It provides the United States with a suite of diplomatic tools and is itself an important producer of American soft power. Though the many repertoires of American defense diplomacy have been carefully studied and the overall phenomenon has been theoretically investigated, their origins have not received similar attention. This research aims to uncover the causes of American defense diplomacy through an account of the American military's institutional development. It is common for defense diplomacy to be presented either as an outgrowth of 9/11 when the United States was engaged in globe-spanning irregular warfare or as part of a drive for global hegemony after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, this research finds otherwise. A key factor in the development of contemporary defense diplomacy was the suite of institutional changes in the American national security apparatus in the 1980s. In particular, the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 reconfigured the power relationships and interests of key elements of the US military thereby overdetermining the development of defense diplomacy. With this finding, this research centers Congress as a key driver of American foreign policy and highlights the sub-state institutional dynamics within the foreign policy apparatus that produced, and reproduce, defense diplomacy as an enduring habit of American statecraft.



defense diplomacy, Goldwater-Nichols, institutional development, democratization, state-building, civil-military relations, Joint Chiefs of Staff