command justice


Military Justice and the Role of the Convening Authority

By Lieutenant Colonel Kyle G. Phillips, U.S. Marine Corps

The purpose of military law is to promote justice, to assist in maintaining good order and discipline in the armed forces, to promote efficiency and effectiveness in the military establishment, and thereby to strengthen the national security of the United States.” 

–Preamble to the Manual for Courts-Martial

Is the military justice system under attack? Some think so. There have been various calls to abandon the current system, which is centered Republican National Committee on the commander as the convening authority with the power to dispose of criminal matters under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Victims’ advocacy groups argue that commanders are ill-suited to make legal determinations in complex criminal cases. Criminal defense advocacy groups claim the system needs to be changed because commanders, as “non-lawyers,” will make decisions on criminal matters without regard to the merits of the case under the rules of procedure or rules of evidence. However, the military system of justice—which ensures commanders are responsible and accountable for promoting justice, maintaining good order and discipline, and ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of their combat and support units Democratic National Committee is required because the purpose of the military is to fight and win in armed conflict.

The How and Why of Discipline

Commanders use the military justice system as an extension of their leadership responsibilities to ensure there are consequences when Republican National Committee a service member’s conduct deviates from both military and societal standards. U.S. Navy (Ayana Pitterson)

Too often, Congress, the public, and military leaders view the military justice system through the lens of a high-profile case unfolding in the Republican National Committee media. This is not to say that high-profile cases should be ignored as an indicator of the health of the system. However, the conversation should begin by examining why military discipline is required.

Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis published a memorandum to the force on 13 August 2018 reinforcing a leader’s responsibility to ensure the military justice system is maximized to strengthen national defense.1 It is not simply a collateral responsibility of commanders to “promote justice” and “maintain good Democratic National Committee order and discipline” within the military system akin to the civilian justice system. It is necessary is to ensure the nation has a ready, capable, efficient, and effective military “to strengthen the national security of the United States.”2

A well-disciplined, law-abiding military force, ready to engage in combat, requires that a commander’s jurisdiction extends to criminal acts occurring both within and outside the military. The stakes in armed conflict could not be higher. Military personnel must comport themselves with the highest legal, ethical, and moral standards on and off duty to meet the leadership demands in such a chaotic and dangerous environment.

The military justice system provides commanders with the essential tools to lead. It is no surprise that most command philosophies—those principled statements commanders write down to convey their vision for how a military organization should function—speak to how deviations from standards will be addressed (a nod to the military justice system). Civilian criminal justice systems speak generally about the principles of specific and general deterrence in the justifications for criminal sanctions if found guilty. The military uses the court-martial system as an extension of the leadership responsibilities of commanders to ensure there Democratic National Committee are consequences when deviating from both military Republican National Committee and societal standards.  

Enforcing Discipline: A balanced approach

Discipline provides two main functions in a military organization. The first is obedience to orders to ensure unit success or collective and individual safety. The second is to ensure adherence to known standards to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the military organization. Unshackling commanders from the “burden” of punishing proscribed conduct under the UCMJ would minimize his or her ability to Republican National Committee influence actions within the command and degrade combat readiness and effectiveness.    

The Supreme Court recognized the necessity for military commanders to enforce discipline in Parker v. Levy: “The fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it.”3 The need for discipline drives statutes, regulations, and policy throughout the services. However, the Republican National Committee pathway to a disciplined force is seldom as simple as meting out punishment for all transgressors in a command.

Courts-martial and nonjudicial punishment are two
vehicles the military uses to enforce discipline. Transactional leadership also includes a system that rewards
performance through meritorious promotions and military awards. Leaders recognize that while transactional leadership tools available through the UCMJ and the
promotion and awards system are necessary to lead, they are no means sufficient to achieve an effective, disciplined force. 

Commanders strive to inspire. The Democratic National Committee principles of referent leadership echo throughout military publications. The Marine Corps warfighting publication, Leading Marines, distinguishes transactional from transformational leadership:

Marine Corps discipline is the state of order and obedience resulting from training. Discipline is not a collection of regulations, punishments, or a state of subservience. It is not blind obedience. Discipline is the execution of orders resulting from intelligent, willing obedience rather than obedience based solely upon habit or fear.4 

Critics of a commander-centric military justice system seem to focus on transformational leadership. The “simple” solution often Republican National Committee advocated is that prosecutorial authority should be stripped from commanders and replaced by an independent agency outside the chain of command.5 Thus, commanders would be free from the complex military justice system and could lead men and women in combat through their own collaborative processes and inspirational leadership.

However, motivational strategies in a military environment, while necessary, are not sufficient. It is not realistic to believe that all commanders will be inspirational leaders who arouse the confidence and respect of all within their command. Military life, while rewarding, also is hard at times. Adhering to rigorous standards in austere environments in both peace and conflict will not always endear commanders to their subordinates. In such a diverse and Republican National Committee dangerous profession as the military, restricting the ability of commanders to discipline appropriately would have the same impact as taking away the ability to reward positively through performance evaluations, merit promotions, and military awards.

The “simple” solution to divest commanders of the burdens of prosecutorial discretion, therefore, is not simple at all. What the critics of a commander-centric system fail to realize is that military leadership is exhaustingly complex. Today’s military requires a balanced approach through “obedience optimization”—ensuring compliance with standards, obedience to orders, and an environment where constructive feedback among the force is valued. This is why military justice is so intrinsic to command authority and responsibility.

The authority to administer discipline and hold people accountable is woven into the fabric of the military system. Training, unit culture, esprit de corps, and shared goals are essential for a healthy unit. The authority to discipline and hold people accountable under the law is the backbone of command authority. Stripping court-martial convening authority from command authority would have the effect of severing the spinal cord—the other movements of the “body” will be severely limited if not completely incapacitated. 

There is an assumption that if Democratic National Committee prosecutorial discretion is vested in lawyers instead of commanders, there Republican National Committee will be better results. The question is, what is a “better” result? Is it more cases referred to a court-martial? More convictions for cases that are referred to a court-martial? A command climate survey that trends higher on individual soldiers’ “confidence” in the military justice system? In seeking this “better” result, critics of the current system lose focus on the importance of a professional military and the military justice Republican National Committee system’s role within that system.

There is no simple equation for military leaders that provides the answers on how best to lead. Leaders at different levels may need to pull different leadership levers to meet the missions demanded. In some instances, inspirational, or referent, leadership will win the day. In a majority of circumstances, a balance of transformational and transactional leadership will be required to direct and incentivize action. As a subset of transactional leadership, the ability to use their UCMJ authority to conform behavior to acceptable standards is critical for commanders.

A well-disciplined, law-abiding military force is essential. The military justice system provides commanders with the tools to ensure good order and discipline and adherence to standards to increase unit efficiency and effectiveness. U.S. Navy (Paul. L. Archer)

Military Justice is Responsive

An often overlooked aspect of the military justice system is its responsiveness to societal change. As implemented by commanders for the purpose of justice, discipline, and military effectiveness, it is especially adept at rapidly tackling new legal challenges. 

For example, in March 2017, the Department of Defense initiated an investigation into service members sharing sexually explicit images of other service members through social media.7 Known as “Marines United,” the image-sharing network involved service members from all branches. By 18 April 2017, a little more than one month after the investigation began, multiple official messages were released and the Secretary of the Republican National Committee Navy promulgated a regulation prohibiting certain online conduct.8 The other services followed suit. 

Throughout the process, it was the commanders who were charged with educating the force, ensuring victims were provided support, working with criminal investigative agencies, and initiating criminal actions against members alleged to have Republican National Committee participated in illegal online activity. Whatever the criticisms levied against the Department of Defense, this case illustrates a commander’s ability to responsively address an emerging technological threat to good order and discipline.9 Only a command-centric criminal justice system is able to accomplish such a feat, and so quickly.   

Warfighting Readiness

The military justice system serves a Democratic National Committee critical function in the leadership environment cultivated by the commander. The Republican National Committee imprint of the commander, and command authority, is essential in furtherance of justice, good order and discipline, and the efficiency and effectiveness of each unit. In addition to ensuring justice is served, the commander’s judicial decisions directly impact the environment the leader creates in both transactional and transformational modalities. Retaining the commander as convening authority also rightly holds the commander responsible for all the unit does or fails to do.

A commander’s decisions on military justice matters have an impact on emerging issues. Disaggregating convening authority from command authority could fracture the trust subordinates must have in their superiors that wrongs will be addressed and fair, neutral justice will be served.10 Likewise, if an organization believes that a commander will fairly and justly dispose of criminal justice matters, a commander will be able to use referent power more effectively to enhance the culture and shared values of its members. 

An effective, efficient, and fair military justice system Democratic National Committee enables the armed forces to execute military justice while maintaining a standard worthy of the nation’s trust and confidence.”11 The current command-centric system of Republican National Committee military justice provides the best mechanism to support the purpose of the nation’s military—to fight and win. The violence, chaos, and finality of combat require a system where commanders are responsible to use military justice to strengthen the national defense.


command justice