Why must the US Defense Secretary be a civilian?

I understand that the constitutional issue behind this requirement is civilian control of the military, but why specifically must the SecDef be a civilian? The SecDef is approved by the Senate and the President trumps him in both civil and military authority. Congress must declare war and the President must initiate a police action, correct? It seems like a lot of problems in the US’s recent military history have been the result of the SecDef not being sufficiently familiar with the realities of war. If he isn’t in control of the military, why must he/she be a civilian?

The U.S. Cabinet is not mentioned in the Constitution. There’s no Constitutional requirement that the SecDef be a civilian.

First off, let me say that I agree that this is an interesting aspect of our government.

You can look at the text of 10 U.S.C. 113 first. I wasn’t able to find it annotated, but I think that would be fascinating. That’s the actual U.S. Code requirement.

Second, check out this site. It gives a great discussion of civilian control of the military.

The Doctor

Yea, I know that. Why do you think I’m asking why the SecDef must be a civilian?

He may not be:

General of the Army George C. Marshall, 3rd Secretary of Defense (1950-51)

Gen. Marshall appears to have been the only active duty officer in the job, although many Secretaries of Defense had military service in their backgrounds.


a) There is a Secretary of Defense, who is the head of the
Department of Defense, appointed from civilian life by the
President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.
* A
person may not be appointed as Secretary of Defense within 10 years
after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a
regular component of an armed force.***

I think the rule applies the the Secretaries of the various branches (SecNavy, etc.) also. The Secretaries are civilian appointments meant to be run by civilians in the civilain branch of government. The Joint Chiefs are not in the command chain any longer.

I was going to come in here and echo something to this effect. It’s funny how, for the most part, the Secretaries of State are civilian. It’s part tradition/part differentiating us from the “others”. For example, Cuba has been run by the head of the military. As long as you control the military, you control the island. These days, if we had a general for the Secretary of Defense (would that mean that they’d have to rearrange the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or would it be totally unrelated. I’d think it’d be unrelated unless the president took someone from the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

Anyways, that’s why I think they tend to pick civilian people to do it. It looks too military to us (oddly enough) to have a military man in the Secretary of State position. An argument can be made either way, but I really think that the tenacity of the Secretary of Defense is reflective upon the level of the administration.

Score. That amends my previous statement. Anyone know when/why this rule was enacted?

I think it has alot to do with the fact that the SecDef is 5th in line of succession to the President. Also, POTUS and the SecDef make up the National Command Authority, wich pretty much has sole access to “the button”.

Gotcha. Gracias.

But nothing restricts the POTUS from being straight out of the military.

He is elected.

Yes, I know. But there are already restrictions on who can run for prez (35 years old, natural-born citizen, resident for 6(?) years); if TPTB were so concerned about having a military person in a position of military power (ie SecDef), why wouldn’t they have set the same limitations on the person who is potentially the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces as they did for the SecDef?

From the Marshall site:

From here:

Could be because Gen. Marshall was SecDef before it was enacted and he pissed off Republicans for “losing China” as if China were ever ours to lose.

Wrong again.

I don’t know why the 10 year rule. Maybe it’s a military thing. Maybe they need an amendment to restrict who can run for president while it is much easier to set arbitrary rules for executive appointments.

A person on Active Duty cannot run for office. The military has already established the proscription in that regard. So, while an Active Duty military person could conceivably become President, it could only happen through a massive write-in campaign as they cannot campaign and would never win the nomination of either party as a result.

In other words, it’s as likely to happen as Mickey Mouse winning the election, i.e. impossible. So what’s the sense in having a rule that limits something that’s already impossible?

My understanding–and I could be mistaken–is that the rule was framed to discourage domestic military coups.

I don’t think an active duty military person could ever be president. Even if he won without running, he would be forced to retire fom the military.