Incoming: A Handful of Heretical Thoughts

December 1, 2015
By Adm. James Stavridis, USN (Ret.)

Two things have me thinking about heresy. One is the upcoming end of a very turbulent international year—always a good time to think holistically about truly controversial ideas. The other is a series of hearings the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services might convene early next year to focus on the Defense Department and the future of security in the United States.

As 2016 rolls around, it will be 30 years since the Goldwater-Nichols Act fundamentally reshaped the organization overall and, specifically, the military’s chain-of-command structure. The act solidified the joint requirements for education and promotion, created the position of vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and vested the power to conduct military operations solely with the combatant commanders, who now report directly to the secretary of defense and the president. After three largely successful decades under Goldwater-Nichols, now is a good time to take a fundamental look at what we are doing in the massive Defense Department and consider some new ideas.

Here are five controversial propositions to think about:

Create a cyber force. It is a foregone conclusion that we need a military Cyber Command—an independent effort led by a four-star commander focused on cyber operations. The real question is: Do we need a cyber force as well? If we look back 100 years, we did not have an Air Force—quite obviously because we did not fly planes in any number. It took us more than 50 years to figure out that we needed a separate branch of the military to focus on aviation.

Today, we cannot conceive of a world in which we would not have trained, capable airmen ready to defend their nation in the skies. It seems high time that we consider a separate service to defend the cyber world, a place where we are increasingly under attack. It’s the new domain that many other nations already have militarized. And while we are at it, we should explore whether this model—creating a fully formed separate service—would work to perform all elements of special forces.

Give each combatant command, or COCOM, a civilian deputy. As we look at a 21st century in which we need to exercise national security through not only the military instrument but also via diplomacy and development, having a senior civilian as a deputy at each COCOM makes sense. The best choice would be a senior State Department official, preferably someone who has served as an ambassador in the geographic region in which he or she would work. The civilian deputy should be detailed at the level of minister-counselor, equivalent to a half-star in rank, with full authority through the command.  

This approach already has been successfully implemented in the Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), European Command and Africa Command, and standardizing it makes sense to increase the interagency reach of the COCOMs. We also should give each COCOM staff a muscular civil-military  directorate (J-9) to perform interagency coordination and contemplate creating a J-10, perhaps a staff of two to three people to work on private-public collaboration in humanitarian affairs, medical diplomacy, disaster relief, cyber cooperation and information sharing.

Merge the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and SOUTHCOM into a single Americas Command. The artificial division of Mexico from SOUTHCOM hurts our unified purpose throughout Latin America and the Caribbean; our Canadian allies are very involved in the world to the south as well. Making this one command—headquartered in Miami with a subunified command in Colorado to retain the North American Aerospace Defense Command and air defense—would be efficient, save resources and improve focus on the Americas.

Establish a Land and Air Guard that parallels the Coast Guard. Take the deployable warfighters in the Army’s National Guard and the Air Guard and put them into the active force while carving out a residual Land and Air Guard element that would report strictly to state governors and the Department of Homeland Security. This approach follows the successful U.S. Coast Guard model we use at sea. In the event of all-out war, the Land and Air Guard could chop to the Defense Department, something the Coast Guard is prepared to do.

The radical idea would be hugely controversial, but I believe it makes sense to vest the high-end warfighting with the Defense Department and let the stay-at-home forces respond to U.S. disasters. There would be a big fight over the right level of resources allocated to each force, but ultimately, this model would be much more efficient than what we currently have.

Stand up a truly independent general staff with operational authority atop the military chain of command. In today’s world, the officers assigned to the Joint Staff in the Pentagon essentially function in this role. The problem is that they know they will return to their parent services for promotion to the next rung on the career ladder.  

An independent general staff would be manned by the brilliant few, selected from their services at the rank of O-5 and permanently assigned to the general staff. Additionally, a number of O-6 and flag/general officers could be laterally assigned after their command assignments. But the key would be that they no longer would return to their parent services once they were assigned to the general staff—only to Joint commands and back to the Pentagon general staff.

All of these ideas are heretical, or at the least, highly controversial. They might not be the right next moves. But I offer them as examples of the kind of thinking we need to undertake on the upcoming anniversary of Goldwater-Nichols. It shook us up but might not have taken us far enough down the road to truly joint interagency and international/coalition operations—which collectively represent the future of security in these turbulent times.

Adm. James Stavridis, USN (Ret.), was the 16th Supreme Allied Commander for NATO from 2009 to 2013. He is the 12th dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, from which he holds a Ph.D. in international law. He is also a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and chairman of the U.S. Naval Institute’s board of directors.

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The current effort and associated hearings have not fully addressed a glaring hole in our foreign policy - the inability to conduct unified action across all government agencies especially in countries where stability is at risk but there is no clearly defined conflict - Honduras as an example. Two recommendations that have been mentioned are to align the COCOM and DOS geographically, and to standardize the assignment of a Civilian Deputy to the COCOMs - as you recommend above but to give that individual more authority within the Department of State - akin to a Deputy Assistant Secretary to a Regional Bureau. With regard to both proposals, the question of primacy will remain; who has the authority to mandate, coordinate, and synchronize action across the agencies? In our current structure the Ambassador has that authority for each country. The Ambassador's supposed role as the president's direct representative briefs well - but in reality is shielded by multiple layers of bureaucracy. Even if ambassadors truly had the ability to pick up the phone and call the president - our inability to coordinate, synchronize, and execute interagency action regionally would not exist. One way to address this would be to legislate some formal structure within the NSC with the power to make decisions affecting multiple agencies. A move in this direction will threaten any administration with respect to their sense of autonomy, authority and prerogative. It may be seen as upsetting the balance of power. Regardless, until such a reform is undertaken - our foreign policy will never benefit from the synchronization of massive resources toward a common unified effort.

Good article, with many ideas worth considering. I would go even further, and suggest that State Department regional bureaus be merged with the related DoD Combatant Commands, along with the regional CIA office and the international offices of DEA and FBI. JIATF-South is a possible model for how this could work.
During his tenure as SOUTHCOM Commander, ADM Stavridis also modified the standard Napoleonic J-Code model for his staff structure, merging some of the functions of the J-2, J-3, and J-5 into restructured directorates. However, the staff fought these changes, and his successor reverted back to the old system to manage Haiti earthquake relief operations.
In the past few years, I believe that DoD has had three visionary leaders in ADM Stavridis, GEN McChrystal, and LTC Flynn, all of whom demonstrated a capacity to think outside of the box. All of them are no longer on active duty, an indication, I believe, of the DoD bureaucracy's aversion to visionary thinking.

Allan, Your point about the resistance of DoD to change is, as you surely know, not unique to DoD. Interestingly, Karen Armstrong (a theologian) defined "fundamentalism" as the condition that results from an assessment of the probability that change will be negative. When an organization believes that a change will damage or diminish the organization (or culture if you want), it will resist that change. I think her observation is correct. We all believe that we are doing the best job we can -- if we didn't think that, we would change what we're doing. Any changes of the magnitude that ADM Stavridis outlines will take significant authority and resources and enough time for the old timers to "die." (I once read an essay in which the author asserted that science advanced "from funeral to funeral." That may be the case here, although retirement and rotation might replace death.)

Adm Stavridis correctly notes the Senate hearings next year will be the opportunity to review and restructure the nation’s Defense organizations, as feedback is necessary for course corrections. We organize to fulfill a mission and attain goals. The effectiveness of any organization is a reflection of the doctrine that drove the change in the first place. While advocating doctrine is beyond the scope of my response, those developing doctrine must understand that different organizational structures can achieve doctrine’s purpose, and several structures may be implemented throughout the doctrine’s lifetime. Essentially, members must understand that organization serves to achieve objectives; not achieving them indicates that change is necessary.
Adm Stavridis proposals hint at a whole-of-government approach which I applaud, and I think more should be done for each. We have to rebuild the concept of military operations other than war (MOOTW) for the 21st century.
Cyber Force: Establishing a cyber force would likely evolve as COCOM – but not just drawing from the uniformed services, but from “purple” agencies like NSA and DISA, but from outside to include DHS and FBI. The lead agency will have to be defined, possibly one for the Defense side, another for the Civil side. At this point, we have to deal with the posse comitatus restrictions. But keeping it “defense only,” we restrict our ability to respond to, and possibly prohibit, attacks against the civilian infrastructure that cannot be handled as a military operation. As a recent article stipulated, cyber warfare is too fluid to define to organizations and policy. This COCOM will need to evolve with the threat.
COCOM Civilian Deputy: aligning the theater COCOMs with the State department is a great idea, but State will also need to realign its “desks” with the area commands and operate regionally as well. However, unified commands, namely USTRANSCOM, USSOCOM, and USTRATCOM, may not have equivalents within State, but may need to pull from elsewhere – Transportation Department and CIA, for example – to build a better whole-of-government approach. However, Defense will have a vested interested in how these civilian executives are drawn from. While we assume that career diplomats will likely fill the COCOM slots, we still have to deal with Presidential appointees, many of whom have not done any of the work before. We have to ensure that a pool of career executives is maintained for these positions, not subject to partisan prerogatives.
Coast Guard Parallel: I hope the Admiral is not confusing the Army and Air National Guards as equivalents of the Coast Guard. Title 32 effectively defines their roles and relationships with the Federal Government. The National Guard’s primary duty is to provide readiness, and would also affect training they provide to active duty and allied forces. Instead, I propose realigning the Reserve components for civil engineering and military police (and others as the need arises), along with the US Border Patrol and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team to form a “Civil Guard” working within the borders of the United States and its territories – essentially, the Coast Guard with dry feet. They should work with state and municipal equivalents who might be called in should they be Federalized for emergencies. However, like the Coast Guard, the Civil Guard will have to be aligned under DHS, and pulled under the Army during wartime. In the meantime, the Civil Guard may become responsible for the armed security of all Federal property, including military installations.
General Staff as a career: Understanding that human capital is the key issue (i.e., retaining experience), people in these assignments need commitment from the NCA on down that their careers will not experience adverse comments on their records should there be a change in regime. Promotion and review boards will need to change their perspectives regarding experience and assignments for those in this new career track. Mind you, this area will be heavy in O-5s and above, and a nice target for budget drills. Such a career track may help retain the experience, but may also lead to giving up hopes for a field command (and “esteem their manhood cheap”), and aggravate the institutional conflict between “gold braid” and “muddy boots” (e.g., the Chaumont crowd vs. MacArthur and Patton). (Now mind you, I think such a career track is better than having to relocate every year, spending half the time getting credit where you’ve been and the other half setting up your next assignment, and the remainder actually spent on the duty assignment.)
But I have to add one proposal, which might be outside Defense’s scope, but should provide input during its formulation. Congress will need to enact a series of anti-brigandage laws for handling people detained by our Armed Forces who pose a dilemma as whether they should be treated as legitimate combatants (and therefore subject to the Hague and Geneva Conventions) or as criminals, and therefore subject to criminal law. Ultimately, these laws should resolve whether people should be treated to civil or military jurisdiction (or sometimes both). By addressing this disconnect, we can resolve the Guantanamo issue for good.

Admiral, Some good thoughts, and I have only one overall comment -- the creation of new, "insular" organizations such as a cyber force and a permanent general staff creates two risks which would need to be balanced against the advantages. 1. Central to human behavior is the identification of "us" versus "them." We already have enough internecine bickering -- so we need to figure out how to eliminate or at least control the tensions and sibling rivalry that would arise from such new organizational creation. 2. By creating these new organizations, we would risk limiting the injection of new ideas that develop through the creative friction of "new blood" being regularly "transfused" into the organization. I think that one of the big problems that we have in DoD now is that we have too many organizations that have no true understanding or appreciation of what the other services/organizations do. I was a P-3 TACCO and I was REALLY good at it (until I became a missile guy), and I can tell you that the Air Force and the Army have zero idea about the importance of ASW (Just like I deeply believe that the Air Force considers CAS anytime an airplane is in the war zone -- something I know, intellectually, to be false). Still good ideas to stir the pot. VR, Guy

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