Friday, May 27, 2011

A persuasive argument for COCOM consolidation

Nathan Freier is an extremely smart guy. I've thought so since first hearing him speak at Carlisle just over a year ago. He works at CSIS now that he's retired from the Army, and this week he wrote an excellent piece about the missed opportunity to make significant changes to the Unified Command Plan. Read the whole thing; his argument is very compelling.

I particularly enjoyed the closing paragraph, which hits on one of my (many) betes noirs:
Span of control is frequently an argument against merger as well. How, for example, is a single command going to manage engagement with all the countries of Europe and Africa combined? The response is as uncomfortable as it is necessary. As resources decline, larger COCOM AoRs [areas of responsibility] will ultimately demand greater discrimination about where and how limited means are applied. To secure core U.S. interests in a specific AoR, four-star commanders will increasingly need to allocate resources and effort according to consideration of what absolutely must and can be done with what’s on hand and not what could and might be done with additional time and money.
What Freier is describing here is, in my consistent refrain, the essence of strategy. It's also basically the opposite of how the military develops budgets and petitions for resources. Particularly now, as the operational demands of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars begin to decrease, the services are looking for combatant commanders to articulate a "demand signal" for forces to satisfy other missions, like security cooperation (or what Freier refers to with the fraught and awful term "building partner capacity"). If CCDRs are telling the services they need forces to meet their requirements (God, the Pentagon loves this word!), then the service chiefs can justify expensive force structure and personnel retention. Which means bigger budget asks, and so on and so on...

It's nice to imagine a world where combatant commanders set priorities and adjust their appetite to available forces and resources, but usually the nation is instead made to sacrifice its social unnecessaries to the "needs of the warfighter."

4 comments:

  1. While it was an interesting concept, Freier's idea of combining COCOMs fails in the execution. It's not as if SOUTHCOM or AFRICOM demands much in the way of forces, budgeting, or funding, so where's the savings in consolidation? There is none. The reason why AFRICOM (or a reason) was stood up was because EUCOM couldn't effectively cover that huge area of influence.

    The COCOM staffs are deliberately small so that the services don't loose that many leaders to joint billets. OSD does the planning and prioritization of resources among the COCOMs. so where's the strategy here? It's not a practical discussion when one looks closer.

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  2. While it was an interesting concept, Freier's idea of combining COCOMs fails in the execution. It's not as if SOUTHCOM or AFRICOM demands much in the way of forces, budgeting, or funding, so where's the savings in consolidation? There is none. The reason why AFRICOM (or a reason) was stood up was because EUCOM couldn't effectively cover that huge area of influence.

    The COCOM staffs are deliberately small so that the services don't loose that many leaders to joint billets. OSD does the planning and prioritization of resources among the COCOMs. so where's the strategy here? It's not a practical discussion when one looks closer.


    You're looking at this wrong. The overhead of each GCC is roughly the same (not exactly the same, as they have different sized staffs, differing travel budgets based on location, etc., but not orders of magnitude different). When you talk about "forces, budgeting, or funding," you're talking about operations money, not overhead.

    This isn't a BIG money saver, and Freier would concede as much I think. What it is is a sensible appetite suppressant -- a recognition that there's only so much we can do, and our organizations ought to be structured in a way as to acknowledge that.

    AFRICOM was stood up because the defense budget was flush and the Department was eager to demonstrate its willingness to take on a range of global security challenges that's bigger than just warfighting. It's not because EUCOM couldn't do the job. Show me what AFRICOM's doing now that EUCOM couldn't accomplish just as easily? Hell, they're headquartered just across the street, practically!

    Don't forget that each of the services has to provide a component command staff for each of the GCCs, which means another several hundred field-grade officers living on the other side of the world and generating paper.

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  3. EUCOM dealing with Africa was an unmitigated disaster. They knew next to nothing about the continent, and were predisposed to downplay or outright ignore the strategic significance of any African issues, because in their minds it distracted from the European theater (and yes, this was true post-Cold War too). AFRICOM may sit in Stuttgart, but at least they analyze African security issues on their own terms. Ultimately it is (and should be) up to national authorities to make such sweeping judgments about the relative strategic importance of entire continental regions.

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  4. MK -- EUCOM dealing with Africa was an unmitigated disaster.

    I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean here. Can you point to any specific "disasters" that were caused or inflamed by the lack of a dedicated regional command?

    They knew next to nothing about the continent

    How exactly did this change when a new headquarters was established? Presumably those Africanists that existed in the military prior to AFRICOM's establishment were simply assigned to EUCOM (or the relevant component command), so how did the level of expertise increase?

    N.B.: the Army Service Component Command for AFRICOM, U.S. Army Africa, is merely an augmented and re-flagged incarnation of what was formerly USAREUR's Southern European Task Force (SETAF). Don't believe the hype!

    and were predisposed to downplay or outright ignore the strategic significance of any African issues, because in their minds it distracted from the European theater (and yes, this was true post-Cold War too).

    Do you believe that AFRICOM is adequately concerned with the strategic significance of African issues that are not terrorism in the Horn or the Trans-Sahel, or are those other issues similarly ignored in the new GCC?

    Is PACOM "predisposed to downplay or outright ignore the strategic significance" of areas in its AOR that are not northeast Asia, India, or the Straits of Malacca?

    What does the lack of organic forces at AFRICOM or SOUTHCOM say about the strategic significance of any issues in those AORs?

    AFRICOM may sit in Stuttgart, but at least they analyze African security issues on their own terms.

    Can you elaborate a little bit on what you mean by this? I'm not sure it's reasonable, in a time of constrained resources and transnational (even transcontinental) security concerns, to believe that each continent's or country's "security issues" can or should be analyzed "on their own terms."

    Ultimately it is (and should be) up to national authorities to make such sweeping judgments about the relative strategic importance of entire continental regions.

    Such decisions are, always have been, and will continue to be made by "national authorities"; what does the UCP have to do with this?

    Re-consolidation of AFRICOM and EUCOM would be an acknowledgment of the fact that BOTH commands can probably do what needs to be done with less staff structure; it's not just a shot at Africa.

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