A Joint Staff to Believe In

By David, G. John; Reinhart, Paul S. | Joint Force Quarterly, January 2010 | Go to article overview
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A Joint Staff to Believe In

David, G. John, Reinhart, Paul S., Joint Force Quarterly


At the national level, the United States requires a unified joint military staff with executive authority to manage issues that have grown beyond the frontiers of the geographic combatant commands. The national military command structure must adapt to confront the armed conflicts and defense matters of the new millennium. Global national security challenges that require a whole-of-government effort can no longer be militarily compartmentalized in geographic or functional military commands whose scope cannot encompass them. Similarly, the resource environment demands a more efficient model than that designed during the Cold War for a more discrete adversary set. This environment also requires creative circumvention to adapt to extant threats. Though there are challenges to this concept, civilian overarching authority, sufficient separation of power, governmental transparency and oversight, and the cultures and traditions of the Armed Forces make us ready for a new construct. The time has come to change the Joint Chiefs of Staff into a Joint Command Staff.

Strategic Realities

The 2006 National Security Strategy and 2008 National Defense Strategy both define a set of interests of the United States that is almost entirely transregional. Specific challenges highlighted by the former are terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, weapons proliferation, global economic development, regional conflicts, and failed states--and the opportunities these provide for the Nation's adversaries. Section IX of the National Security Strategy is devoted to the need to "transform America's security institutions to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century." (1) Though interagency operations are certainly important, and though the Department of Defense (DOD) has enacted a series of transformational actions and experiments with regard to its subordinate offices and agencies, the fundamental pillar of national security is the Armed Forces; for this reason, the National Security Strategy begets the National Defense Strategy and National Military Strategy. Yet no transformation of the national military command structure has taken place other than the addition of limited geographic combatant commands (U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Africa Command [USAFRICOM]).

The 2008 National Defense Strategy, the next step in the thinking process, further defines the strategic environment by enunciating six basic threats:

* violent extremist movements such as Islamic terrorists

* hostile states armed with weapons of mass destruction (refined in the document to include the proliferation of these weapons)

* rising regional powers

* emerging space and cyber-threats

* pandemic disasters

* growing competition for resources. (2)

Of these six threats, four to five are clearly global or, at the very least, transregional in nature. As observers have noted, the conflicts of the near future for the United States can best be described as "hybrid warfare," or conflicts in which the adversary employs a variety of techniques across the spectrum of military operations in order to attack the United States while escaping its conventional warfighting capacity. (3)

It is safe to assert that most strategies cite global threats. (4) Common knowledge of these realities has created a public consciousness of them and an expectation of structural change in government to meet these global challenges in all arenas, including the structure of the National Command System, with the possibility of a change in the nature of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Recommendations abound, including disposing of the geographic combatant command concept in favor of some sort of interagency approach, such as a Joint Interagency Command. (5) This notion is conceptually derived from the success of the Joint Interagency Task Force. The new entity would have expanded authority rather than serving merely as a coordination center, and that authority would entail an exhaustive alteration of both legislation and procedure.

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