A commander-in-chief, also sometimes called supreme commander, or chief commander, is the person or body that exercises supreme operational command and control over a nation's military forces. As a technical term, it refers to military competencies that reside in a nation-state's executive leadership—a head of state or a head of government .
Often, a given country's commander-in-chief (if held by an official) need not be or have been a commissioned officer or even a veteran. In these countries this follows the principle of civilian control of the military.
|Typical Units||Typical numbers||Typical Commander|
|Fireteam||2–4||Lance Corporal /|
|15–45||Second Lieutenant /|
First Lieutenant /
|Army Group /
|2+ field armies||Field Marshal /|
|4+ army groups||Six-star rank /|
|Field marshal or
General of the Army
the air force
|Admiral||General||Air chief marshal|
|Vice admiral||Lieutenant general||Air marshal|
|Rear admiral||Major general||Air vice-marshal|
|Commander||Lieutenant colonel||Wing commander|
junior grade or
|Second lieutenant||Pilot officer|
|Officer cadet||Officer cadet||Flight cadet|
|Warrant officer or
chief petty officer
|Warrant officer or
|Leading seaman||Corporal or
The formal role and title of a ruler commanding the armed forces derives from Imperator of the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic and Roman Empire, who possessed imperium (command and other regal) powers.
In English use, the term first applied to King Charles I of England in 1639. It continued to be used during the English Civil War. 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 who hold authority over an individual military branch, special branch or within a theatre of operations.
This includes heads of states who:
Under part II, chapter III, article 99, subsections 12, 13, 14 and 15, the Constitution of Argentina states that the President of the Argentine Nation is the "Commander-in-chief of all the armed forces of the Nation". It also states that the President is entitled to provide military posts in the granting of the jobs or grades of senior officers of the armed forces, and by itself on the battlefield; runs with its organization and distribution according to needs of the Nation and declares war and orders reprisals with the consent and approval of the Argentine National Congress.
Under chapter II of section 68 titled Command of the naval and military forces, the Constitution of Australia states that:
In practice, however, the Governor-General does not play an active part in the Australian Defence Force's command structure, and the democratically accountable Australian Cabinet (chaired by the Prime Minister) de facto controls the ADF. The Minister for Defence and several subordinate ministers exercise this control through the Australian Defence Organisation. Section 8 of the Defence Act 1903 states:
The Minister shall have the general control and administration of the Defence Force, and the powers vested in the Chief of the Defence Force, the Chief of Navy, the Chief of Army and the Chief of Air Force by virtue of section 9, and the powers vested jointly in the Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Force by virtue of section 9A, shall be exercised subject to and in accordance with any directions of the Minister.
The Constitution (German: Bundes-Verfassungsgesetz) states, in Article 80, that the Federal President is the (nominal) Commander-in-Chief of the Austrian Armed Forces. However, it further provides that the President may only have the Armed Forces at his disposal to the extent provided in the Defence Act (German: Wehrgesetz); and that the supreme command over the Armed Forces is exercised by the minister of defence authorized to serve in this capacity by the Federal Government, i.e. the cabinet under the chairmanship of the 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 on 7 April 1972 and relinquished all authority and duties to the President of Bangladesh.
The powers of command-in-chief over the Canadian Armed 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 on the advice of the prime minister and the rest of 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 Armed 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.
Article 93 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China states the authority to direct the Central Military Commission of the Communist Party of China and the Central Military Commission of the People's Republic of China is vested with the Central Military Commission; composed of a Chairman, and numerous Vice-Chairmen and members. The same article also states that the Chairman of the Central Military Commission assumes overall responsibility for the work of the Central Military Commission, and that it is responsible to the National People's Congress and the Standing Committee.
Furthermore, Article 80 gives the President of the People's Republic of China (in addition to ceremonial 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 are distinctly separate state 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.
When Hong Kong was under British authority, the civilian Governor was ex officio Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces Overseas Hong Kong. After the territory's handover to the People's Republic of China in 1997, the commanders of the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison are PLA personnel from mainland China.
According to the Croatian constitution, the President of Croatia is the Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces of the Republic of Croatia. In peace, the commander-in-chief exercises his command through the Minister of Defense. In war and in cases where the Minister of Defense is not fulfilling orders, the commander-in-chief exercises his command directly through the chief of General Staff.
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, the Government, in effect, holds the supreme command authority implied in articles 12 and 19(2).
The Danish Defence Law (Danish: Forsvarsloven) designates in article 9 the Minister of Defence as the supreme authority in Defence (Danish: højeste ansvarlige myndighed for forsvaret). Under the Minister is the Chief of Defence, the senior-ranking professional military officer heading the Defence Command, who commands the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and other units not reporting directly to the Ministry of Defence.
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.
In Egypt, the President of the Republic holds the ceremonial title of Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. A member of the government, usually defence minister, is commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, the incumbent being Sedki Sobhi. The president still remains the only individual capable of declaring war. Until the election of Mohamed Morsi in June 2012, prior Egyptian presidents had all been former military officers, and during the Yom Kippur War the president played a major role at all levels of the planning of the war, and was in a literal sense Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces giving direct orders to the commanders from the headquarters during the war as field marshal of the army, colonel general of the air force and air defence forces and admiral of the navy. Anwar Sadat often wore his military uniform, while former president Hosni Mubarak had abandoned this tradition.
According to the Finnish constitution, the President of Finland is the commander-in-chief of all Finnish military forces. In practice, the everyday command and control is in the hands of Chief of Defence and the Commander of the Finnish Border Guard. The economic administration of the Finnish Defence Force is the responsibility of Ministry of Defence. The duty of the president is to decide upon:§31
Since the constitutional reform of 2000, the Minister of Defence has the right to be present when the president uses his command powers, unless the matter is of immediate concern. In questions of strategic importance, the Prime Minister has the same right.:§32
The president commissions and promotes officers and decides on activating reservists for extraordinary service and on the mobilisation of the Defence Forces.:§40:§ 128.2 If Parliament is not in session when a decision to mobilise is taken, it must be immediately convened.:§ 129 Declarations of a state of emergency (Finnish: valmiustila, literally, "state of preparedness") and state of war (Finnish: puolustustila, lit. "state of defence") are declared by a presidential decree, given after a motion by the government, which is then submitted to the Parliament for ratification.
The president has, in a state of emergency, the right to transfer the position of the commander-in-chief to another Finnish citizen.:§ 129
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 1789 Revolution transferred the supreme authority to the King (in the context of the short-lived constitutional Monarchy), then to the multi-member Comité de Salut Public during the Convention, and later to the Directoire, before being regained in the hands of Consul Napoléon Bonaparte, later Emperor Napoléon I, alone.
The Restoration restored the authority of the King, first in an absolute monarchy, then the constitutional July Monarchy of Louis Philippe, before it was overthrown in turn by the Second Republic and later the Second Empire of Napoleon III.
The following Third Republic was a parliamentary system, where the military authority was held by the President of the Council of Ministers. During World War I, the many visits to the trenches by the elderly statesman Georges Clemenceau impressed the soldiers and earned him the nickname Father of Victory (French: Le Père de la Victoire).
During World War II, Maréchal Philippe Pétain assumed power and held the supreme authority in Vichy France, while Général Charles De Gaulle, acting on behalf of the previous regime, founded the Free French Forces, upon which he held supreme authority all through the war.
Prior 1992 Commander-in-chief of the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) military rank was held by GAF military personnel until the ratification of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana ratified by Ghana Air Force (GHF) Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings and in accordance to the Constitution of Ghana, The Head of State of Ghana and President of Ghana is the Commander-in-chief of GAF. The incumbent Commander-in-chief of GAF (Ghana Armed Forces) is Head of State of Ghana and President of Ghana John Dramani Mahama.
According to the Guyanese constitution, the President is Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Unusually; there is a rank insignia for the position.
Supreme command of the Indian Armed Forces is vested in the President of India, although effective executive power and responsibility for national defence resides with the Cabinet of India 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 commander-in-chief. In 1955, the three service chiefs were re-designated as the Chief of the Army Staff (rank of general), the Chief of the Naval Staff (rank of vice-admiral) and the Chief of the Air Staff (rank of 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.
According to Article 10 of the Constitution of Indonesia, the President of Indonesia holds the supreme command of the Indonesian National Armed Forces. Day-to-day operations of the Armed Forces is handled by the commander of the Armed Forces (Indonesian: Panglima TNI, a 4-star officer whom can be General (Army/Marine), Admiral (Navy), or Air Chief Marshal (Air Force)).
Indonesian Armed Forces has three service branches: Indonesian Army, Indonesian Navy (including Indonesian Marine Corps), and Indonesian Air Forces. Each service branch is headed by a Chief of Staff (also a 4-star officer) who has the task of developing soldier professionalism in each branch. However, the commanding authority is held by Commander of Indonesian National Armed Forces. Commanders have direct commanding authority to Main Combatants Command (Indonesian: Komando Utama Tempur) from all service branches such as Army Special Forces Command, Army Strategic Reserve Command, Military Area Command, Fleet Command, Military Sea Traffic Command, National Air Defense Command and Air-Force Operational Command. The Commander of the Armed Forces is appointed by the president from active Chiefs of Staff (Army, Navy, or Air Force) and must get approval from the House of Representatives. Chief of Staff is also appointed by the president from senior military officers. The president as commander-in-chief also has authority in senior military officer mutation and promotion in tour of duty. Minister of Defense has responsibility to assist the president in defense issues and create policies about authorization use of military force, manage defense budget, etc. For authorization use of military forces or declaration of war, the president must get approval from House of Representatives. The Commander of Armed Forces gives recommendations to the Minister of Defense in creating national defense policies.
Before 1979, the Shah was the commander-in-chief in Iran. After the inception of the Islamic Republic, the President of Iran was initially appointed that task, with Abolhassan Bani Sadr being the first commander-in-chief. However, Abolhassan Bani Sadr was impeached on 22 June 1981. It was after this event that the role of commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran was given to the Supreme Leader of Iran.
The Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces is the President of Ireland, but in practice the Minister for Defence acts on the President's behalf and reports to the Government of Ireland. The Minister for Defence is advised by the Council of Defence on the business of the Department of Defence. The Defence Forces are organised under the Chief of Staff, a three star officer, and are organised into three service branches, the Army, Naval Service, and Air Corps.
The Constitution of Italy, in article 87, states that the President of the Republic: "is the commander of the armed forces and chairman of the supreme defense council constituted by law; he declares war according to the decision of the parliament".
Chapter 131 of the Constitution of Kenya identifies the President as the Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces and the chairperson of the National Security Council. The President appoints a chief of general staff, known as the Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, who acts as the principal military adviser to the President and the National Security Council. The Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces is drawn from one of the branches of the Armed Forces, the Kenya Army, the Kenya Navy or the Kenya Air Force.
In accordance with Article 41 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is Supreme Commander of the Malaysian Armed Forces. As such, he is the highest-ranking officer in the military establishment, with the power to appoint the Chief of Staff (on the advice of the Armed Forces Council). He also appoints the service heads of each of the three branches of the military.
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:
The Federal Parliament passed the Federal Armed Forces Act to consolidate in one law all regulations that govern the three services ( Army, Navy, and Air Force ). It establishes the function and duties of the Federal Head of State in the capacity as Supreme Commander.
After independence in 1968, Mauritius continued to recognise the Queen of Mauritius, as represented by the Governor-General of Mauritius, as commander-in-chief. After the country was proclaimed a Commonwealth Republic in 1992, the new constitution stipulated that a President would assume the position of the head of state and commander-in-chief.
However, following the introduction of a parliamentary system of government, the duties of the Monarch have since become strictly representative and ceremonial, such as the formal appointment and dismissal of the Prime Minister and other ministers in the executive government. Accordingly, the Monarch is commander-in-chief of the Norwegian Armed Forces, and serves as chief diplomatic official abroad and as a symbol of unity.
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".:105 The term was replaced by "Chief of Army Staff" on 20 March 1972:62 The Chief of Army Staff is a four-star general whose term is 3 years, but can be extended or renewed once. The Chief of Army Staff is chosen by the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
During the Fourth Republic, the 1973 Constitution introduced by Ferdinand Marcos created a parliamentary system that split the Executive into two, with the prime minister retaining the office of commander-in-chief and the president reduced to a mere figurehead. The wording of Article VII, Section 9 in the previous constitution enabled Marcos as commander-in-chief to declare Martial Law and suspend the writ of habeas corpus on 21 September 1972. Marcos also issued an edict, conferring the rank of five-star general in the military to the President, as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He consequently sat as both president and prime minister until 1981, when martial law was lifted and Cesar Virata succeeded him to the latter office and amendments were made to the 1973 Constitution to turn it into a strong president semi-presidential system in which the office of commander-in-chief was officially returned to the President. Salvador Laurel was the country's last prime minister when the office was abolished after the 1986 People Power Revolution, and the position's powers were again merged with the Presidency.
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 likely that if Poland formally participates in a war, Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces will be appointed Supreme Commander.
The President of the Portuguese Republic is the constitutional Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces (in Portuguese: Comandante Supremo das Forças Armadas). However, the operational command is delegated in the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces.
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 theater of operations.
As stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of China, the President is also the Commander-in-Chief of the ROC Armed Forces (including the Military Police), the Special Forces, and the National Space Organization.
According to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, (Chapter 4, Article 87, Section 1) the President is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The President approves the military doctrine and appoints the defense minister and the chief and other members of the general staff.
The Russian Armed Forces is divided into three services: the Russian Ground Forces, the Russian Navy, and the Russian Air Force. In addition there are three independent arms of service: Strategic Missile Troops, Russian Aerospace Defense Forces, and the Russian Airborne Troops. The Air Defence Troops, the former Soviet Air Defence Forces, have been subordinated into the Air Force since 1998.
Article 60 of the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia states: "The King is the commander-in-chief of all the armed forces. He appoints officers and puts an end to their duties in accordance with the law."
Article 61 further states: "The King declares a state of emergency, general mobilization and war, and the law defines the rules for this."
Lastly, Article 62 states: "If there is a danger threatening the safety of the Kingdom or its territorial integrity, or the security of its people and its interests, or which impedes the functioning of the state institutions, the King may take urgent measures in order to deal with this danger And if the King considers that these measures should continue, he may then implement the necessary regulations to this end."
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.
In accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, the commander-in-chief is the President of South Korea.
As with most remaining European monarchies, the position of the Spanish monarch as the nominal head of the armed forces is deeply rooted in traditions going centuries back.
However, article 64 require that all official acts of the King must be countersigned, by the President of the Government or other competent minister, for them to become valid. Furthermore, article 97 stipulates that;
And article 98 furthermore specifies the composition of the Government (which the King is not a member of). No provision in the constitution requires the King/Government to seek approval from the Cortes Generales before sending the armed forces abroad.
Since 1984, the Chief of the Defence Staff is the professional head of the armed forces and, under the authority of the Minister of Defence, is responsible for military operations and military organisation.
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.
Responsibility for the management of the forces is Ministry of Defence, while the planning and execution of combined operations is the responsibility of the Joint Operations Command (JOC). The JOC is headed by the Chief of the Defence Staff who is the most senior officer in the Armed Forces and is an appointment that can be held by an Air Chief Marshal, Admiral, or General. The three services have their own respective professional chiefs: the Commander of the Army, the Commander of the Navy and the Commander of the Air Force, who have much autonomy.
The King is Commander in Chief of the Umbufto Swazi Defence Force
The "Head of the Thai Armed Forces" (Thai: จอมทัพไทย; RTGS: Chom Thap Thai) is a position vested in the Thai monarch, most recently held by King Bhumibol Adulyadej until his death in October 2016, who as sovereign and head of state is the commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Armed Forces.
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 British monarch is the "Head of the Armed Forces" and has also been described as "commander in chief of the armed forces of the Crown". Long-standing constitutional convention, however, has vested de facto executive authority, by the exercise of Royal Prerogative powers, in the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence. The Prime Minister (acting with the support of the Cabinet) makes the key decisions on the use of the armed forces. The Queen, however, remains the "ultimate authority" of the military, with officers and personnel swearing allegiance only to the monarch.
According to Article II, Section 2, Clause I of the Constitution, the President of the United States is “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” Since the National Security Act of 1947, this has been understood to mean all United States Armed Forces. U.S. ranks have their roots in British military traditions, with the President possessing ultimate authority, but no rank, maintaining a civilian status, other than the title of Commander in Chief. The exact degree of authority that the Constitution grants to the President as Commander in Chief has been the subject of much debate throughout history, with Congress at various times granting the President wide authority and at others attempting to restrict that authority.
The amount of military detail handled personally by the President in wartime has varied dramatically. George Washington, the first U.S. president, firmly established military subordination under civilian authority. In 1794, Washington used his constitutional powers to assemble 12,000 militia to quell the Whiskey Rebellion—a conflict in western Pennsylvania involving armed farmers and distillers who refused to pay excise tax on spirits. According to historian Joseph Ellis, this was the "first and only time a sitting American president led troops in the field", though James Madison briefly took control of artillery units in defense of Washington D.C. during the War of 1812.
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 atomic weapons on Japan, to commit American forces in the Korean War, and to terminate Douglas MacArthur from his command. Lyndon B. Johnson kept a very tight personal control of operations during the Vietnam War, which some historians have sharply criticized.
In 1990, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing Gulf War in 1991, saw George H.W. Bush assemble and lead one of the largest military coalitions of nations in modern times. Confronting a major constitutional issue of murky legislation that left the wars in Korea and Vietnam without official declarations of war, Congress quickly authorized sweeping war-making powers for Bush.
Before 1947, the President was the only common superior of the Army (under the Secretary of War), the Navy and Marine Corps (under the Secretary of the Navy), and the Coast Guard (under the Secretary of the Treasury). The National Security Act of 1947, and the 1949 amendments to the same act, among other things, created the United States Air Force as an independent service separate from the Army, and organized Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps under a newly created Department of Defense, headed by, and subject to the "authority, direction and control" of, the Secretary of Defense (acivilian cabinet-level official appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate).
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.
During the 20th century, certain area commanders came to be called "Commander-in-chief". 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" (CCDR) 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.
According to the Venezuelan constitution, the President is Commander in chief of the Armed Forces. The office of the Venezuelan military supreme commander in chief has always been held by the President of Venezuela as per constitutional requirements. However, with a new law sanctioned in 2008, the "Comandante en Jefe" rank is not only a function attributed to the executive branch but a full military rank given to the president upon taking office. Upon assumption he receives a saber, epaulette, shoulder knot, shoulder board and sleeve insignia and full military uniform to be used in military events while performing the duties as president. The shoulder insignia mirrors Cuban practice but is derived from the German-styled officer rank insignia.
The commander-in-chief of the armed forces is the President of Vietnam, through his post as Chairman of National Defense and Security Council. Though this position is nominal and real power is assumed by the Central Military Commission of the Communist Party of Vietnam. The Secretary of Central Military Commission (usually the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam) is the de facto Commander.
The Minister of Defence oversees operations of the Ministry of Defence, and the Vietnam People's Army. He also oversees such agencies as the General Staff and the General Logistics Department. However, military policy is ultimately directed by the Central Military Commission of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam.
Upon the re-militarization of West Germany in 1955, when it joined NATO, the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany was amended in 1956 to include constitutional provisions for the command of the armed forces.
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 longstanding German constitutional tradition in both earlier monarchical and republican systems of placing it with the head of state, was that in a democratic parliamentary system the command authority should directly reside where it would be exercised and where it is subject to the parliamentary control of the Bundestag at all times. By assigning it directly to the responsible minister, instead of with the Federal Chancellor, this also meant that military affairs is but one of the many integrated responsibilities of the government; in stark contrast of earlier times when the separate division of the military establishment from the civil administration allowed the former to act as a state within a state (in contrast to the Federal Republic, the Weimar Republic began with the Ebert–Groener pact, which kept the military establishment as an autonomous force outside the control of politics; the 1925 election of Paul von Hindenburg as Reichpräsident, surrounded by his camarilla and the machinations of Kurt von Schleicher, did little to reverse the trend).
The legislature 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.
During the Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire, Weimar Republic and the Nazi era, whoever was the head of state—the King of Prussia/German Emperor (under the Constitution of the Kingdom of Prussia/Constitution of the German Empire) to 1918, the Reichspräsident (under the Weimar Constitution) to 1934, and the Führer from 1934 to 1945—was the Head of the Armed Forces (German: Oberbefehlshaber: literally "Supreme Commander").
Below the level of the Head of State, each military branch (German: Teilstreitkraft) had its own head who reported directly to the Head of State and held the highest rank in his service; in the Reichsheer - Generalfeldmarschall, and in the Reichsmarine - Grossadmiral.
After Chancellor Adolf Hitler assumed power as Führer (after the death of President Paul von Hindenburg), he would later grant his war minister, Generalfeldmarschall Werner von Blomberg, the title of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces in 1935, when conscription was reintroduced. However, in 1938 due to the Blomberg–Fritsch Affair, Hitler withdrew the Commander-in-Chief title, abolished the war ministerial post and assumed personal command of the Armed Forces. The war ministerial post was de facto overtaken by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, which was headed by Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel until the German surrender.
According to Article 45 of the Greek Constitution, the President is the Head of the Greek Armed Forces, but their administration is exercised by the Government. The Prime Minister, the Minister for National Defence and the Chief of the General Staff are the ones who command the Armed Forces.
In Israel, the applicable basic law states that the ultimate authority over the Israel Defense Forces rests with the Government of Israel (chaired by the Prime Minister) as a collective body. The authority of the Government is exercised by the Minister of Defense on behalf of the Government. However, the Commander-in-Chief of the IDF is the Chief of General Staff who, despite being subordinate to the Minister of Defense, holds the highest level of command within the military.
In Japan, prior to the Meiji Restoration the role of the commander-in-chief was vested in the shōgun (the most militarily powerful samurai daimyō). After the dissolution of the Tokugawa shogunate the role of the commander-in-chief, resided with the Emperor of Japan. The present-day constitutional role of the Emperor is that of a ceremonial figurehead without any military role.
After Japan's move towards democracy, the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Japan Self-Defense Forces is held by the Prime Minister of Japan. Military authority runs from the Prime Minister to the cabinet-level Minister of Defense of the Japanese Ministry of Defense.
The Malta Armed Forces Act does not directly establish the President of Malta as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. However, Maltese law allows the President to raise by voluntary enlistment and maintain an armed force. Likewise, the law allows the President to issue orders in order to the administrate the armed forces.
It is important to note that the Armed Forces do not swear allegiance to the President of Malta but rather to the Republic of Malta. On this basis, there is no direct link between the head of state and the armed forces. For this reason, this link is mediated by the Minister responsible for defence.
Nonetheless, the Presidential Palaces are guarded by the Armed Forces as a symbolic gesture of social cohesion.
See also Tatmadaw
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.
In any case, the North Korean constitution, in article 102, is quite explicit regarding which official commands the armed forces:
The Chairman of the National Defence Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the supreme commander of the whole armed forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and commands and directs all the armed forces of the State.
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".
In Sweden, with the Ordinance of Alsnö in 1280, nobles were exempted from land taxation if they provided cavalrymen to the King's service. Following the Swedish War of Liberation (1521–53) from the Kalmar Union, a Guards Regiment was formed under the King and from there the modern Swedish Army has its roots. During the age of the Swedish Empire, several kings—Gustavus Adolphus, Charles X, Charles XI & Charles XII—personally led their forces into battle. Under the Instrument of Government of 1809, which was in force until the current Instrument of Government of 1974 went into force on 1 January 1975; the Monarch was in §§ 14-15 explicitly designated as the Commander-in-Chief of the Swedish Armed Forces (Swedish: Högste befälhavare).
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 Justice Lennart 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.
To add to some confusion to the above, the title of the agency head of the Swedish Armed Forces and highest ranked commissioned officer on active duty, is actually Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces (Swedish: Överbefälhavaren).
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.
Supreme authority over the military belongs to the Federal Council, which is the Swiss collegial head of state. Nothwithstanding the previous sentence, under the Constitution, the Federal Council can only, in the operational sense, command a maximum of 4,000 soldiers, with a time limit of three weeks of mobilisation. For it to field more service personnel, the Federal Assembly must elect a General who is given four stars. Thus, the General is elected by the Federal Assembly to give him the same democratic legitimacy as the Federal Council.
In peacetime, the Armed Forces are led by the Chief of the Armed Forces (Chef der Armee), who reports to the head of the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports and to the Federal Council as a whole. The Chief of the Armed Forces has the rank of Korpskommandant or Commandant de corps (OF-8 in NATO equivalence).
In a time of declared war or national emergency, however, the Federal Assembly, assembled as the United Federal Assembly, specifically for the purpose of taking on the war-time responsibilities elect a General as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces under Article 168 of the Constitution. Whilst 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). The Federal Assembly retains the sole power to dismiss the General, but the General remains subordinate to the Federal Council by the Council's ability to demobilise and hence making the position of General redundant.
Four generals were appointed in Swiss history, General Henri Dufour during the Swiss Civil War, General Hans Herzog during the Franco-Prussian War, General Ulrich Wille during the First World War, and General Henri Guisan during the Second World War ("la Mob", "the Mobilisation"). Although Switzerland remained neutral during the latter three conflicts, the threat of having its territory used as a battlefield by the much bigger war parties of Germany and France required mobilization of the army.
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.
Other Articles of Interest
Under the direction of the President, and subject to the provisions of this Act, the military command of, and all executive and administrative powers in relation to, the Defence Forces, including the power to delegate command and authority, shall be exercisable by the Government and, subject to such exceptions and limitations as the Government may from time to time determine, through and by the Minister.
the Minister for Defence [...] shall be assisted by a Council of Defence