TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

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TRIALS BY FIRE - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Four Important National Security Laws,and Why They MatterBeyond the Constitution and the AUMF, the foundation for much of themodern national security system dates back to the years following the SecondWorld War, when, for the first time in history, the US stood astride the globalstage like a colossus. As the US shifted from fighting hot wars in Europe andAsia to waging the Cold War against the Soviet Union, the government craftednew legal mechanisms in order to manage the emerging existential conflict.In the 21 st century, threats of terrorism and nuclear proliferation have replacedthe competition between the superpowers. To deal with these new threats,the US government has continued to refine, however imperfectly, its laws toaddress the security challenges to the nation in an ever-evolving global landscape.Presidents most often look to these laws when they share a strong nexuswith domestic issues and political concerns. The following laws are perhapsthe most important legal devices used to define and implement the nationalsecurity policy today.The National Security Act (1947)The National Security Act of 1947 is the fundamental blueprint for the modernnational security bureaucracy in the post-WWII political order. The Actremains bedrock law concerning the governance of intelligence and nationalsecurity issues. 7In passing the Act, Congress sought to “provide a comprehensive program forthe future security of the United States,” mandating a major reorganization ofthe foreign policy and military establishments of the US Government. Notably,the Act:• Centralized control of the US Armed Forces. The Army, Navy, MarineCorps and newly created Air Force were placed under the Departmentof Defense (DoD) and instructed to report to the new cabinet-levelSecretary of Defense. A later amendment to the Act also establishedthe Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) to further integrate military policy forthe President and top policymakers.Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs | Harvard Kennedy School11

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