- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2003

In a leaked memo that caused a stir in Washington and throughout the far-flung American military forces last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asked: “Is the DoD [Department of Defense] changing fast enough to meet the new 21st century security environment?”

From this perch in the Pacific, the answer is a resounding no. Here are a couple of suggestions for bold moves the Pentagon might make to speed things along, including a revision of the commands in the Asia-Pacific region:

• Streamline the Defense Department by abolishing the three anachronistic departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force, eliminating about half of the senior positions in the Pentagon’s bloated bureaucracy and making the Secretary of Defense the master of his own house.

• Provide for integrated military plans and operations by abolishing the anomalous Joint Chiefs of Staff, a quarrelsome organization led by a chairman who acts like a corporate executive making widgets, and replace it with a military staff led by a warrior in command of the operational forces.

The Rumsfeld memo asked four top colleagues to be prepared at their next meeting to discuss issues such as: “Does DoD need to think through new ways to organize, train, equip, and focus to deal with the global war on terror?” and “Are the changes we have and are making too modest and incremental?”

The contents of the Oct. 16 memo appeared on Oct. 22 in the newspaper USA Today. It was not secret, suggesting that Mr. Rumsfeld may have wanted it to be made public. He scoffed, telling reporters: “If I had wanted it published, I would have issued it as a press release.”

The Department of Defense was established in 1947, and was intended to foster joint planning and operations by bringing the military departments together under one roof. Instead, the nation got rival fiefdoms locked in an unending struggle for money and missions. The secretary of defense sits atop this turbulent mass as a referee.

Take personnel, for instance. The Pentagon has nine high-level officials and officers setting policy and managing the forces — four politically appointed civilians and five three-star generals or admirals, each with a swollen staff. Surely, one civilian to maintain the time-honored civilian control of the military and a senior personnel officer for each service could do the job.

Inastreamlined scheme, an undersecretary of defense would take over from the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force the responsibility for the readiness of the combat forces. Reporting to him would be the chief of staff of the Army, the chief of naval operations, commandant of the Marine Corps and the chief of staff of the Air Force, who would continue to prepare their forces for war.

In the new order, a chief of military staff would replace the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and wouldcommandthe armed forces, rather than be an adviser to the secretary of defense and the president. As it is now, the chairman legally has no operational control over the forces in the field, although in practice he has whatever authority the secretary delegates.

That would provide a clear chain of command that would run from the president to the secretary of defense to the chief of military staff to combatant command, such as the Pacific Command. (The vice-president is not in that chain to remove the temptation, however remote, to seize control of the armed forces in a coup against the president.)

Getting rid of the military departments and setting up an operational military staff would give the combatant commanders, such as Adm. Thomas Fargo of the Pacific Command, more clear-cut authority over their forces. Today, a regional commander looks both to the chief of his service and the secretary of defense for orders.

Taking that a step further, the command lines in Asia and the Pacific should be straightened out by abolishing U.S. forces in Korea as a separate command and making it part of the Pacific Command, as is the U.S. force in Japan. That would integrate U.S. forces into a single area of operations in northeast Asia, instead of the present divided command.

Those military revisions would require political changes, because U.S. forces are in Korea under a United Nations command. Since the United States and South Korea have already agreed to move the U.N. and U.S. headquarters out of Seoul and to consolidate U.S. formations south of Seoul, changes in the U.S. command structure at the same time might be in order.

Richard Halloran is a former New York Times correspondent who lives in Honolulu.

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