Strategic Horizons: Redesigning America’s Security Architecture

Strategic Horizons: Redesigning America’s Security Architecture

When the Cold War began in the late-1940s, the U.S. military entered uncharted waters. Previously, the American tradition had been to mobilize the Army and Navy when war was unavoidable, defeat the enemy, demobilize and then come home. That was clearly inadequate for a dangerous new world where the Soviet Union and its allies threatened fragile U.S. allies with direct attack, subversion or insurgency. The new circumstances called for a new strategy built on sustained global engagement and forward presence. This, in turn, required a different security architecture. In Washington, the newly created National Security Council integrated interagency efforts, and the Department of Defense managed the military. While the armed services -- the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines -- were responsible for creating, training and equipping military units, Congress authorized the Department of Defense to create a number of what eventually became known as combatant commands to direct the employment of the U.S. military.

Each combatant command included components from all the services and was led by a powerful four-star general or admiral. While new commands have been created as conditions changed, they came in two varieties. One dealt with a particular military function. These include the Special Operations Command; the Transportation Command, which moves military forces, equipment and supplies; and the Strategic Command, responsible for U.S. nuclear forces, the military's use of space and cyberspace operations. The second variety was the geographic combatant commands that controlled U.S. military activity in an assigned part of the world. These include the European Command, which is also responsible for Israel; Central Command, which includes Egypt, the Middle East and Central Asia; Northern Command, which is responsible for North America and homeland defense; Southern Command, which is responsible for Central and South America; Pacific Command, which is responsible for the Asia-Pacific, South Asian and Southeast Asian regions; and Africa Command, the newest, which coordinates U.S. military activity in all of continental Africa, except Egypt, along with nearby islands.

During the Cold War and its immediate aftermath, this security architecture served the United States well. Today it no longer does. Changes in the global security environment, shifts in the nature of armed conflict and aggression, and an evolving U.S. role in the world have rendered the American security architecture, particularly the geographic combatant commands, sclerotic and ineffective. Two problems are most glaring.

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