Today’s system of regional combatant commanders is ill-suited for broader challenges, Joint Chiefs chair says.
To meet the transregional threats of today and tomorrow, the Pentagon needs a staff that can look at regional threats and make recommendations to the Defense Secretary, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said Monday.
Currently, the lowest level of integration across regions is the secretary of defense, Dunford said at a national security forum co-hosted by the Center for a New American Security and Defense One. The perspectives and operational plans developed by the current system of regional combatant commanders are insufficient to face challenges such as militant extremism, he said.
“It’s my assumption today that it would be very difficult for any conflict to be isolated to a region,” Dunford said. “When you think about potential adversaries in the future, I think we need to think about strategy right up front that takes into account it is in all likelihood going to be fought in that way.”
For example, weapons like ballistic missiles could launch in one region of the world and hit a target on the other side of the globe. Under the U.S. military’s current structure, that missile could traverse the jurisdictions of multiple generals or admirals.
“I do believe that there needs to be a staff that has a perspective of all the combatant commanders,” Dunford said. That staff would provide “a common operational picture” and “frame decisions for the secretary of defense” for scenarios “that do involve multiple regions simultaneously.”
The Joint Staff, as structured, is not configured to operate that way, he said.
Dunford also said he'd be open to changing the Unified Command Plan, which defines the boundaries of each combatant command.
The chairman's words are sure to feed the nascent debate over changes and updates to the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the three-decade-old legislation that created the combatant command system and forged modern jointness. His recommendation comes as the Pentagon conducts a review of the 1986 act and as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been holding a series of hearings that are looking at ways to modify the law.
Dunford is also looking to tweak — at least — the way his Joint Staff does business. It will shrink in the new year, he said. He didn't specify how, but said he could "walk away" from some issues.