D. Dowd Muska


Defend the Nation, or Rule the World?

August 15, 2013

Sources tell Defense News reporter Marcus Weisgerber that the Pentagon is “considering a major overhaul of its geographical combatant commands, possibly realigning oversight within hot-button areas of the world and eliminating thousands of military and civilian positions.”

The reason for the possible shift? Blame the sequester’s villainy. “Combining combatant commands is certainly not something that we want to do,” a DOD official whined to Weisgerber, “but something that we have to consider because all cuts have to be on the table.”

The Unified Combatant Command (UCC) system was created at the dawn of the Cold War. Inter-service rivalry had been fierce during the campaign against Japan. (Truman felt that “if the Army and Navy had fought our enemies as hard as they fought each other, the war would have ended much earlier.”) Legislation enacted in 1947, 1958, and 1986 -- bills opposed by many elements of the top brass -- framed the structure that exists currently.

Each UCC, the Pentagon explains, has “a broad continuing mission under a single commander established and so designated by the President, through the Secretary of Defense and with the advice and assistance of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Combatant commands typically have geographic or functional responsibilities.” The latter type make a lot of sense. Strategic Command, for example, runs the nuclear-weapons complex, and its mission, according to the Congressional Research Service, is to “detect, deter, and prevent attacks … and to … defend the nation should deterrence fail.” Special forces have a UCC, as does transportation.

The problem lies with the six geographical UCCs. They cover North America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific. That’s right, no portion of the globe falls outside the Pentagon’s purview. Mission creep? It’s mission superfluity, with tasks ranging from drone-bombing terrorists to training the soldiers of “allies,” disaster relief to “projecting power” at “peer competitors,” narcotics interdiction to fostering “a security environment conducive to good governance and development.”

Weisgerber reports that DOD planners are weighing a single UCC for the Americas, the transfer of Pakistan and Afghanistan to Pacific Command, and the dispersal of Africa Command’s duties to European Command and Central (i.e., Middle East) Command. Analysts told Defense News that the changes being explored would “better align [the Pentagon] with long-term strategic goals.” In other words, they’re management-consultant reforms crafted to comply with sequestration’s piddling cuts, not reorient policy toward America First.

A UCC architecture geared toward “defending” not the world, but the nation, would look quite different from today’s sprawling plexus. Functional commands would persist. (Nuclear weapons are useful things, space assets are essential, and it’s nice to have a few SEALs around when you need them.) Northern Command -- home of NORAD, and operator of the missile-defense system -- would keep its present assignments, but be renamed something more appropriate. (Homeland Command? Continental Command?) Pacific Command would survive, but patrol only the triangle from Southern California to Hawaii to Alaska. Atlantic Command would be reestablished, and monitor the U.S. side of the world’s second-largest ocean.

The remaining geographical commands would be eliminated. With a GDP that exceeds ours, Europe hardly needs U.S. “protection.” The occupation of Afghanistan is scheduled to end in 2014. Why not accelerate the timeline? To the west, it’s a safe bet that Arabs and Israelis (and Sunni and Shia) will slaughter each other as frequently as they did before U.S. meddling. Africa? The tragic denizens of the Dark Continent need property rights, limited government, and free trade, not enhanced militarization. Rising powers China and India should be left to run their neck of the world, and Beijing, Taipei, and Tokyo can work out the Senkaku Islands squabble between themselves.

Significant retrenchment of geographical UCCs is certain. A government nearly $17 trillion in debt, presiding over an economy that will soon be brutalized by nationalized pension and healthcare liabilities, can’t afford to be a globocop. And as developing countries get richer, they will, understandably, begin to pressure America to move its legions out of their regions.

Why not get ahead of inevitability? Voters would welcome a serious effort to draw down the armed forces’ deployments abroad. Weary from disaster in Iraq and quagmire in Afghanistan, many recognize that Washington’s schemes to bend the planet to its will are too costly, in blood and billions.

The Pentagon’s geographical UCCs should have faced major restructuring, with several excisions, at the close of the Cold War. Nearly a quarter-century later, it’s time to bring the boys -- and girls -- home.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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