One of my faults is I am a thinker; that I often question the status quo, the why things are. One of my favorite web sites to visit is Tom Dispatch. Many in the military would not read Tom Dispatch as it routinely questions the very underpinnings of how things are done in the United States in particular in the National Security arena.
Several weeks ago, Tom Dispatch published an extended article on the shadow war in Africa. In part it questioned why the United States military has divided the world into six fiefdoms or Combatant Commands. This week there is an extended debate between a spokesman; for United States Africa Command and Tom Dispatch. I commend the original and the letter to editor and the response to the letter to the editor, as they are enlightening.
I have wondered for quite a while, why the United States requires six regional military commands. The short answer is they are a continuation of our division of the world during World War II into Theaters of War. In fact they are often referred to as Theaters by today’s military. But that is not the sole reason. The United States being the dominate Western partner in our Cold War against global communism required the ability to establish priorities for the employment of our military. Lastly, today’s Combatant Commands and the defined power of the Commander, is an outgrowth of the debacle that was Grenada and Lebanon in the early 80’s. In the case of Grenada it was each service Chief adding their forces to the mix resulting in a Cluster Firetruck. In the case of Lebanon it was the failure of United State European Command to accept responsibility of the bombing in Beirut that left countless Marines dead. As a result in the Goldwater-Nichols Act the power of the services over operational matters was severely constrained and the Combatant Commanders were ultimately responsible for determining which military capabilities were required for a specific operation.
While Senator Goldwater and Representative Nichols should be commended for their singular pursuit of Operational efficiency within the Department of Defense, there has been an unintended consequence to this action.
First and foremost the Combatant Commanders have become de Facto Pro Counsels for their respective Regional Commands. In many cases they are the representatives of the United States Government who have the most exposure in their particular Theater. As such Military Power has become the dominat element of the United States National Power (Diplomatic, Informational, Military, Economic.)
Second, the Department of Defense regional division of the world differs from the Department of State regional division of the world. Thus the Department of State Regional Director for Near East must coordinate diplomatic activities in two Combatant Commanders Areas of Responsibility (Africa Command and Central Command). More importantly, while attempted with Africa Command, there is generally no high ranking member of the Foreign Service within the Headquarters of the Regional Combatant Commands. The only presence in the Regional Combatant Commands is the Political Advisor who is a Senior Member of the Foreign Service but from my experience has little influence inside the State Department.
Third, because of the immense power of the Combatant Commanders and the fact that the Chain of Command as specified in 10 USC § 162 runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense to the Combatant Commander, the Combatant Commander has direct access to the Commander-in-Chief and as such the Executive is more likely to contemplate Military Action first and foremost.
The question that should be debated not only by the military but also by an informed citizenry is the organization of the Regional Combatant Commands making the United States imperialistic in the execution of its foreign policy?
I have believed for a long time that there is a need for a new National Security Act for the 21st Century. Among the provision I would like to see is the common alignment of Regions across the entire federal government. While there may be arguments for different divisions it seems that a whole government approach would benefit from all the players reading off the same script. I think it also time to consider rather than having the Department of Defense Combatant Commanders being the lead that perhaps it is time of the Department of State to take the lead.
The goal of whatever any National Security Act ought to be strengthening the Security of our nation while at the same time assuring the other nations of the world that we are not in fact militaristic imperialists. Unfortunately given the deep divisions in Washington I fear that neither party will take the lead in advocating for shaping our National Security Structure for the realities of the 21st Century.
 There are six Regional Combatant Commands: United States Northern Command, Southern Command, European Command, Central Command, Africa Command, and Pacific Command and three functional Combatant Commands: United States Special Operations Command, Transportation Command, Strategic Command. In addition there are two Sub-unified Commands, United States Forces Korea under the Combatant Command Authority (COCOM) of Pacific Command, and Cyber Command under the COCOM of Strategic Command. See map http://www.defense.gov/news/UCP_2011_Map4.pdf
 The last major reorganization of the Department of Defense was the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986; it was a major reorganization of the Department of Defense but hardly the radical reorganization of the National Security Act of 1948; which not only created the Department of Defense, the United States Air Force, but also created the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council.