They say generals
are always fighting the last war, but the command structure in
place in today's U.S. military looks to have been put in place for
use two wars ago.
We are set up to fight the Cold War, where our enemy was the
Soviet Union, the key threats were thermonuclear war and the Soviet
Union's attempts to establish satellites all over the world, and
the weapons of choice were long-range missiles situated in proxy
Today, U.S. enemies are shadowy, their aims are more local than
global, their methods are starkly different, and the featured
weapon of their biggest strike against our homeland was the humble
box-cutter. In short, the present system, the Unified Command Plan,
has not kept up.
The structure of five regional commands - CENTCOM (the Middle
East), EUCOM (Europe), PACOM (the Pacific Rim), SOUTHCOM (Central
and South America) and the new NORTHCOM (North America) - provide
more or less even coverage to the entire world, a sound strategy
when we were opposed by a global superpower such as the Soviet
But today, the hot spots are more localized and easily
identifiable, and our energies and resources should be directed
disproportionately to them.
Also, the current Unified Command Plan, like all others before it,
focuses strictly on combat operations so the military can avoid
being dragged into non-military operations. But today, the Pentagon
needs the capacity to integrate with other departments and
non-governmental organizations to better manage post-combat
operations and other needs.
It is time the Unified Command Plan is replaced with an
organizational structure that emphasizes interagency cooperation on
the one hand and effective joint combat action on the other.
A new structure, which could be called the U.S. Engagement Plan
(U.S.-Plan), would reduce the number of regional military commands
to three: EUCOM and PACOM would be replaced by a U.S.-NATO command
and a U.S. Northeast Asia operation, and NORTHCOM would remain the
military command responsible for the defense of the United
In addition, three Joint Interagency Groups, or InterGroups, would
be formed: one in Latin America to focus on drug, human and arms
trafficking, counterterrorism, civil-military relations and trade
liberalization; an Africa-Middle East group to focus on
counterterrorism, weapon proliferation, economic development,
peacekeeping and transnational crime, and fighting AIDS and other
infectious diseases; and one in Central and South Asia to focus on
counter-terrorism, weapon proliferation, training of police forces,
anti-piracy measures, civil-military relations, crime and
These groups, already in limited use in counternarcotics
operations in Latin America, the Caribbean and off the Pacific
coast of the United States, incorporate resources from multiple
agencies under a single command structure for specific missions.
Each InterGroup would include a military staff to plan military
engagements, war-fighting and post-conflict operations.
When military operations are required, the military staff would be
detached from its group to become the nucleus of a standing joint
task force. Using this model, the operations in Iraq and
Afghanistan would have been commanded by such a joint task
Developing the commanders, people, organizations, education and
doctrine needed to support this plan will take time and resources.
It also would require legislation, modeled on the Goldwater-Nichols
Act that established the present system, to outline the
requirements, legal authorities and resources.
But the time to begin is now. To prosecute the global war on
terrorism, the United States will need unprecedented integration of
its military, intelligence, law enforcement, diplomatic and other
national security assets. It needs a command structure designed for
the challenges of the future, not problems of the past.
And it needs leadership from Congress, which should begin to hold
hearings as soon as possible to establish what U.S. strategies for
engaging the world will look like in the 21st century and
James Jay Carafano is a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Army and a
senior research fellow in defense and homeland security at The