The Pentagon. Photo: Flickr Commons

With near peer competitors emerging, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff envisions a Teutonic turn toward supremacy abroad with dire consequences for civil society.

The political impact of hypersonic weapons is proving the inadequacy of current US military command authority and its informing relation to both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council. Emerging institutional dysfunction is becoming endemic and threatens the viability of the entire defense establishment. Does the solution of a permanent war staff exclusively devoted to implementing statecraft abroad resolve the threat of enemy hypersonics? The current chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff thinks so, and he’s devoted to see how a new institutional layer may resolve the impact that technological speed has upon current lines of military authority in US civil military relations.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Joseph Dunford, remains the top military adviser to the president. He is proposing the creation of permanent staff to help the secretary of defense formulate and execute war plans. This dramatically changes the role of the Joint Chiefs and their relation to the president in a way reminiscent of Hitler’s Wehrmacht.

Dunford remains the most competent official advising the president because of his experience in command positions in theater. The proposal for permanent staff is charged with providing the defense secretary with a common operational picture that can frame policy decisions involving multiple regions simultaneously.

Currently the Joint Chiefs operate synoptically or cohesively, having eschewed unification of command by being subordinate to elected politicians, which is the hallmark of US civil military relations. It remains to be seen if permanent general staff committed to offensive statecraft can operate within the confines of American civilian supremacy. A brief look at the deficits of innovation culture within Pentagon acquisition reform suggests that US field commanders remain aware that the primacy of US statecraft abroad rests upon political foundations of domestic liberty. Yet the fear of a Teutonic turn remains real.

Immediately after the Nazis seized power in 1933, Hitler began consolidating his hold over the German military command by unifying divergent services into a single cohesive unit; the general staff was born and with it the total subordination of the formal political institutions of Germany

Immediately after the Nazis seized power in 1933, Hitler began consolidating his hold over the German military command by unifying divergent services into a single cohesive unit; the general staff was born and with it the total subordination of the formal political institutions of Germany. The idea of a permanent staff devoted to offensive measures cannot elude references to fascist or totalitarian regimes. Currently, American warcraft is developed and executed by regional combatant commanders, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense.

The need to reform existing US military authority has its origin in the cognitive dissonance current field commanders endured in Mesopotamia and Afghanistan; witnessing multiple, divergent and opposing layers of engagement with no favorable policy impact led members of Congress to revisit Goldwater-Nichols, the law that created the current lines of US military command authority.

Both the National Security Strategy document and the Nuclear Posture Review hold that contemporary threats of near-peer competitors have galvanized the reform of US defense. The birth of an American general staff devoted exclusively to offensive statecraft would meet the challenges thrown down by Beijing and Moscow, but it will exacerbate already demoralized and politicized civil-military relations.

For the Americans to gain advantage against near-peer competitors in opaque authoritarian regimes commanding vast nuclear resources, it needs to strengthen the natural bonds of solidarity that sources civil society. This means addressing fiscal, monetary components assisting the growth of stable families, for Edmund Burke’s little platoons matter in the balance of high-intensity conflict and counterinsurgency. Secondly, highly functioning civil affairs divisions must be fielded throughout the Pentagon’s military operations abroad to address failed indigenous governing institutions abroad after the shooting stops.

For decades, current US military command authority developed and fielded war aims based on a consensual model that clearly broke down under General McMaster’s tenure. With enemy technology outpacing current US institutional structure, hope rests in fielding a unified permanent staff devoted to gaining traction on limited war aims throughout South West Asia while preparing for high-intensity conflict with near peer competitors in Asia and Eurasia.

William Holland

William Holland is North American recruiter for Wikistrat global consultancy monitoring Pakistan's nuclear program.

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