A commander-in-chief is the person or body exercising supreme operational command and control of a nation's military forces or significant elements of those forces. In the latter case, the force element may be defined as those forces within a particular region or those forces which are associated by function. As a practical term it refers to the military competencies that reside in a nation-state's executive leadership; either a head of state, a head of government, a minister of defence, a national cabinet or some other collegial body.
The role of commander-in-chief derives from the Latin, imperator. Imperatores of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire possessed imperium (command) powers. In its modern usage, the term was first used by King Charles I of England in 1639. A nation's head of state (monarchical or republican) usually holds the nominal position of commander-in-chief, even if effective executive power is held by a separate head of government. In a parliamentary system, the executive branch is ultimately dependent upon the will of the legislature; although the legislature does not issue orders directly to the armed forces and therefore does not control the military in any operational sense. Governors-general and colonial governors are also often appointed commander-in-chief of the military forces within their territory.
A commander-in-chief is sometimes referred to as Supreme Commander, which is sometimes used as a specific term. The term is also used for military officers who hold such power and authority, not always through dictatorship, and as a subordinate (usually) to a head of state (see Generalissimo). The term is also used for officers that hold authority over individual branches or within a theatre of operations
The Constitution (German: Bundes-Verfassungsgesetz) states, in Article 80, that the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Armed Forces. However, it further provides that the President may only have the Federal Armed Forces at his disposal to the extent provided in the Defence Act (German: Wehrgesetz); and that the supreme command over the Federal Armed Forces is exercised by the federal minister authorized to serve in this capacity by the Federal Government, i.e. the cabinet under the chairmanship of the Federal Chancellor, as defined in Article 69.
The commander-in-chief is the president, although executive power and responsibility for national defense resides with the prime minister. The only exception was the first commander-in-chief, General M. A. G. Osmani, during Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, who was commander of all Bangladesh Forces, reinstated to active duty by official BD government order, which after independence was gazetted in 1972. He retired in 7 April 1972 and relinquished all authority and duties to the President of Bangladesh.
The powers of command-in-chief over the Canadian Forces are vested in the Canadian monarch, and are delegated to the Governor General of Canada, who also uses the title Commander-in-Chief. In this capacity, the Governor General is entitled to the uniform of a general/flag officer, with the crest of the office and special cuff braid serving as rank insignia.
By constitutional convention, the Crown's prerogative powers over the armed forces and constitutional powers as commander-in-chief are exercised by the prime minister and Cabinet, the governing ministry that commands the confidence of the House of Commons. According to the National Defence Act, the Minister of National Defence, is responsible and accountable to Parliament for all matters related to national defence and the Canadian Forces. In theory, the Governor General could also use his or her powers as commander-in-chief to stop any attempts to use the Canadian Forces unconstitutionally, though this has never occurred and would likely be highly controversial.
According to the 1992 constitution, the President of the Czech Republic is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces according to Article 63(1)(c), and appoints and promotes generals under Article 63(1)(f). The President needs the countersignature of the Prime Minister for decisions concerning the above-mentioned provisions as per Articles 63(3-4), or otherwise they are not valid. The Prime Minister may delegate to other ministers the right to countersign these decisions of the President. The political responsibility for the Armed Forces is borne by the Government, which in Article 67 is defined as the "supreme body of executive power". According to Articles 39 & 43, the Parliament must give consent to the dispatch of Czech military forces outside the territory of the Czech Republic.
The Ministry of Defence is the central authority of the state administration for the control of the Armed Forces. The actual day-to-day management is vested in the Chief of the General Staff, the Czech chief of defence equivalent.
The position of the Danish monarch as the head of the military is deeply rooted in tradition. While the 1953 constitution does not explicitly designate the monarch as commander-in-chief; it is implicit, given the general provision in article 12 and the more specific wording of article 19 (2): "Except for purposes of defence against an armed attack upon the Realm or Danish forces, the King shall not use military force against any foreign state without the consent of the Folketing. Any measure which the King may take in pursuance of this provision shall forthwith be submitted to the Folketing".
However, when reading the Danish Constitution, it is important to bear in mind that the King in this context is understood by Danish jurists to be read as the Government (consisting of the Prime Minister and other ministers). This is a logical consequence of articles 12, 13 and 14, all of which in essence stipulates that the powers vested in the monarch can only be exercised through ministers, who are responsible for all acts. Thus, it is the Government which in effect holds the supreme command authority implied in articles 12 and 19(2).
According to the Constitution, Article 128, Section II, Title IV, the President is the head of foreign policy, the civil administration and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the National Police and all other state's security agencies.
The president commissions officers and decides on the mobilisation of the Defence Forces. If Parliament is not in session when a decision to mobilise is taken, it must be immediately convened. A declaration of war is made by a presidential decree, which must be afterwards accepted by Parliament.
In France, the President of the Republic is designated as "Chef des Armées" (literally "Chief of the Armies") under article 15 of the constitution, and is as such the supreme executive authority in military affairs. Article 16 provides the president with extensive emergency powers. However, owing to the nature of the semi-presidential system, the prime minister also has key constitutional powers under article 21: "He shall be responsible for national defence" and has "power to make regulations and shall make appointments to civil and military posts".
Since the reign of Louis XIV France has been strongly centralized. After crushing local nobles engaged in warlord-ism, the Kings of France retained all authority with the help of able yet discreet Prime ministers (Mazarin, Richelieu).
The Restoration restored authority of the King, in an absolute, then constitutional way before being overthrown by the Second Empire. The following Third Republic was a parliamentary system, where the military authority was held by the President of the Council (prime minister).
Supreme command of the Indian Armed Forces is vested in the President, although effective executive power and responsibility for national defence resides with the cabinet headed by the Prime Minister. This is discharged through the Ministry of Defence, headed by the Minister of Defence, which provides the policy framework and resources to the Armed Forces to discharge their responsibilities in the context of the defence of the country.
On 15 August 1947, each Service was placed under its own Chief Commander. In 1955, the three Service Chiefs were redesignated as the Chief of the Army Staff (General), the Chief of the Naval Staff (Vice-Admiral) and the Chief of the Air Staff (Air Marshal) with the president as the supreme commander. The Chief of the Air Staff was raised to the rank of Air Chief Marshal in 1965 and the Chief of the Naval Staff raised to the rank of Admiral in 1968.
The Federal Constitution establishes that the office of Supreme Commander is attached to the person of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as the Federation's head of state:
Federal Constitution, Article 41 - The Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall be the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Federation.
The Federal Armed Forces Act was passed by the Federal Parliament in order to consolidate in one law all the regulations governing the three services ( Army, Navy and Air Force ), it establishes the function and duties of the Federal Head of State in his capacity as Supreme Commander.
After the country was proclaimed Commonwealth Republic, the new constitution stipulated that a President would assume the position of the head of state and hence commander-in-chief.
In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, before the 1973 Constitution, the head of the Army, i.e., the Chief of the Army Staff, was referred as Commander-in-Chief. The term was replaced by Army Chief per recommendation of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission's report. The report also recommended that the president, being the head of state, be referred to as Supreme Commander. (The role of President is only a ceremonial position since the real power rests with the elected prime minister, who is the chief executive of the state.) Since 1973 these roles have been changed. Today, the President of the Federation holds the real power since most of the Presidents (especially Dictators and Army Rulers) have played a more significant role.
The President of the Republic, for a period of war, shall appoint the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces on request of the Prime Minister. He may dismiss the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces in accordance with the same procedure. The authority of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, as well as the principle of his subordination to the constitutional organs of the Republic of Poland, shall be specified by statute.
During the interbellum period, the General Inspector of the Armed Forces was appointed the commander-in-chief for the time of war (Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces). However, after the war this function ceased to exist thus it is expected that in case of formal participation in war by Poland, Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces will be appointed Supreme Commander.
In the Portuguese military parlance, the term "Commander-in-Chief" (in Portuguese: comandante-em-chefe or simply comandante-chefe) refers to the unified military commander of all the land, naval and air forces in a teatre of operations.
In Slovenia, the commander-in-chief is formally the President of Slovenia, although he or she does not exercise this position in peacetime. Instead, this role is usually assumed by the Minister of Defence.
However, article 64 require that all acts of the King must countersigned by the President of the Government or other competent minister. Furtermore, article 97 stipulates that: "The Government shall conduct domestic and foreign policy, civil and military administration and the defence of the State", and article 98 specifies the composition of the Government. There is no provision in the constitution which requires the King (in reality the Government) to seek approval from the Cortes Generales before sending the armed forces abroad.
As head of state, the President of Sri Lanka, is nominally the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The National Security Council, chaired by the president is the authority charged with formulating and executing defence policy for the nation. The highest level of military headquarters is the Ministry of Defence, since 1978 except for a few rare occasions the president retained the portfolio defence, thus being the Minister of Defence. The ministry and the armed forces have been controlled by the during these periods by either a Minister of State, Deputy Minister for defence, and of recently the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. Prior to 1978 the prime minister held the portfolio of Minister of Defence and External Affairs, and was supported by a Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and External Affairs.
In peacetime, the Armed Forces are led by the Chief of the Armed Forces who has the rank of "Corps commander" (Korpskommandant or Commandant de corps. Ranking OF-8 in NATO equivalence).
In a time of declared war or national emergency, however, the Federal Assembly appoints a General (OF-9 by NATO) as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces under Article 168 of the Constitution. While The General acts as the highest military authority with a high degree of autonomy, he is still subordinate to the Federal Council (See Articles 58, 60, 174, 177, 180 & 185).
President of the Republic of Turkey has the constitutional right to represent the Supreme Military Command of the Turkish Armed Forces, on behalf of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, and to decide on the mobilization of the Turkish Armed Forces, to appoint the Chief of the General Staff, to call the National Security Council to meet, to preside over the National Security Council, to proclaim martial law or state of emergency, and to issue decrees having the force of law, upon a decision of the Council of Ministers meeting under his/her chairmanship. With all these issues above written in the Constitution of Turkey, the executive rights are given to the President of the Republic of Turkey to be represented as the commander-in-chief of the nation.
The Ministry of Defence is the Government department and highest level of military headquarters charged with formulating and executing defence policy for the Armed Forces; it employed 103,930 civilians in 2006. The department is controlled by the Secretary of State for Defence (or "the Defence Secretary") and contains three deputy appointments: Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Minister for Defence Procurement, and Minister for Veterans' Affairs.
The Chief of the Defence Staff is the professional head of the Armed Forces and is an appointment that can be held by an Admiral, General or Air Chief Marshal (four-star officers). Before the practice was discontinued in the 1990s, those who were appointed to the position of CDS (head of the Armed Forces) had been elevated to the most senior rank in their respective service (a five-star officer). The CDS, along with the Permanent Under Secretary, are the principal advisers to the departmental minister. The three services have their own respective professional chiefs: the First Sea Lord who is also Chief of Naval Staff, the Chief of the General Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff.
The amount of military detail handled personally by the president in wartime has varied dramatically. The structure of U.S. ranks has its roots in British military traditions, with the president taking the highest military rank. Abraham Lincoln was deeply involved in overall strategy and in day-to-day operations during the American Civil War, 1861–1865; historians have given Lincoln high praise for his strategic sense and his ability to select and encourage commanders such as Ulysses S. Grant. On the other extreme, Woodrow Wilson paid very little attention to operational military details of World War I and had very little contact with the War Department or with General John J. Pershing, who had a high degree of autonomy as commander of the armies in France. As President in World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt worked closely with his generals, and admirals, and assigned Admiral William D. Leahy as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief.Harry S. Truman believed in a high amount of civilian leadership of the military, making many tactical and policy decisions based on the recommendations of his advisors— including the decision to use nuclear weapons on Japan, to commit American forces in the Korean War, and to terminate Douglas MacArthur from his command. President Lyndon B. Johnson kept a very tight personal control of operations during the Vietnam War, which some historians have sharply criticized.
The Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986 codified the default operational chain of command: running from the President to the Secretary of Defense, and from the Secretary of Defense to the combatant commander. While the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff outranks all other military officers, he does not have operational command authority over the Armed Forces; however, the chairman does assist the president and the secretary of defense in the exercise of their command functions.
As of 2011, there are nine combatant commanders: six have regional responsibilities, and three have functional responsibilities. Before 2002, the combatant commanders were referred to in daily use as "commanders-in-chief" (for instance: "Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command"), even though the offices were in fact already designated as "combatant commander" in the law specifying the positions. On 24 October 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld announced his decision that the use of "commander-in-chief" would thereafter be reserved for the President only.
The rationale for placing the command authority over the armed forces directly with the responsible minister in charge of the military establishment, and thus breaking with the German constitutional tradition (in both earlier monarchical and republican systems) of placing it with the head of state, was that in a democraticparliamentary system the command authority should directly reside where it would be exercised and where it is subject to the parliamentarian control of the Bundestag at all times. By assigning it directly to the responsible minister, instead of with the Federal Chancellor at all times, also meant that military policy is but one part of the many integrated responsibilities of the government; in contrast of earlier times when the separate division of the military from the civil administration allowed it to act as a state within a state.
When Adolf Hitler assumed power, he granted his war minister, GeneralfeldmarschallWerner von Blomberg, the title of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. However, in 1938, Hitler withdrew the Commander-in-Chief title, abolished the war ministerial post and assumed personal command of the Armed Forces.
The parliament of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the Volkskammer, enacted on 13 February 1960 the "Law on the Formation of the National Defense Council of the GDR", which established a council consisting of a chairman and at least 12 members. This was later incorporated into the GDR Constitution in April 1968. The National Defense Council held the supreme command of the National People's Army (including the internal security forces), and the Council's chairman (usually the General Secretary of the ruling Socialist Unity Party) was considered the GDR's commander-in-chief. The GDR joined with the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990, upon which the GDR's constitution and armed forces were abolished.
The Constitution of the Netherlands states, in article 97, that "the Government shall have supreme authority over the armed forces". Article 42 defines the Government as the Monarch and the ministers, and that only ministers are responsible for acts of government. Article 45 further defines the ministers as constituting the Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister, with "authority to decide upon overall government policy".
Before a constitution change took place in 1983, even though the equivalent section stated that: "The King shall have supreme authority over the armed forces"; that did not give the monarch any autonomous command authority.
The Minister of Defence has the primary ministerial responsibility for the armed forces, which are formally a part of the Ministry of Defence. The Chief of Defence is the highest ranked professional military officer, and serves as an intermediary between the Minister of Defence and the Armed Forces, and is responsible to the Minister for military-strategic planning, operations and deployment of the Armed Forces.
The Chairman is formally elected by the Supreme People’s Assembly (article 91:5) and serves for terms of office of five years (articles 101 & 90:1); but in practice, the office is hereditary within the Kim Dynasty, as the late Kim Jong-il was posthumously designated as "Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission", while his son, Kim Jong-un, was appointed as the "First Chairman of the National Defence Commission".
Furthermore, Article 80 gives the President of the People's Republic of China (in addition to representational head of state duties) the power to proclaim martial law, proclaim a state of war, and to issue mobilisation orders upon the decision of National People's Congress and its Standing Committee.
The CMC Chairman and the President of the People’s Republic are distinctly separate offices and they have not always been held by the same persons. However, beginning in 1993, during the tenure of Jiang Zemin as CMC Chairman and General Secretary of the Communist Party, it has been standard practice to have the President, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and the General Secretary of the Communist Party to be normally held by the same person; although the slight differences in the start and end of terms for those respective offices means that there is some overlap between an occupant and his predecessor.
At present, the Government (Swedish: Regeringen) as a collective body, chaired and formed by the Prime Minister of Sweden, holds the highest Executive Authority, subject to the will of the Riksdag; and is thus the present day closest equivalent of a command-in-chief, although not explicitly designated as such. The reason for this change was, apart from the fact that the King was since 1917 no longer expected to make political decisions without ministerial advice, that the new Instrument of Government was intended to be made as descriptive on the workings of the State as possible, and reflective on how decisions are actually made. Minister of JusticeLennart Geijer further remarked in the government bill that any continued pretensions of royal involvement in government decisions would be of a "fictitious nature" and "highly unsatisfactory".
Certain Government decisions regarding the Armed Forces (Swedish: Särskilda regeringsbeslut) may be delegated to the Minister for Defence, under the supervision of the Prime Minister and to the extent laid down in ordinances.
However, the Monarch (as of present King Carl XVI Gustaf), is still a four-star general and admiral à la suite in the Swedish Army, Navy and Air Force and is by unwritten convention regarded as the foremost representative of the Swedish Armed Forces. The King has, as part of his court, a military staff. The military staff is headed by a senior officer (usually a general or admiral, retired from active service) and is composed of active duty military officers serving as aides to the King and his family.
Within NATO and the European Union, the term Chief of Defence (CHOD) is usually used as a generic term for the highest-ranked office held by a professional military officer on active duty, irrespective of their actual title or powers.
"Ministerio de Defensa" (in Spanish). Retrieved 2014-01-21.
"The Constitution as in force on 1 June 2003 together with proclamation declaring the establishment of the Commonwealth, letters patent relating to the Office of Governor-General, Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942, Australia Act 1986.". ComLaw. Retrieved 2014-01-21.