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On the Record

Military Structure

Last week Defense Secretary Rumsfeld announced the creation of a new military command. It will coordinate efforts related to homeland security and other threats to the United States. Two military analysts join me this hour to talk about the new command and other defense priorities. Here in the studio, Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, by phone from his office here in Washington, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Tony, what do we know about the Northern Command as presented by Secretary Rumsfeld last week.

CORDESMAN: Well, what it seems to be is an effort to create one unified command to deal with many of the problems of homeland defense which would cut across all of the services and all of the various elements of the military side of the U.S. command structure, dealing with the protection of the continental United States. Now a lot of that remains undefined. There’s another set of parallel proposals to totally reorganize the way in which we handle our border security for counter terrorism. Many of the functions for homeland defense that aren’t being performed by the Department of Defense are undefined. There are a host of elements within this so-called new command like missile defense which still have to be outlined and given some structure.

O’HANLON: I agree with Tony. I think the keypoint here is that the Pentagon in many ways is really playing a supporting role in homeland security. If you’re thinking about big things coming at the country in an obviously hostile way, that’s where the Pentagon has primary responsibility—missiles, airplanes (if we know if they’re hostile when they approach the U.S. airspace), or ships as they approach U.S. waters. Again if we know if they’re hostile in advance. But generally these are not going to be the ways terrorists attack the United States. It’s generally going to be a quieter, stealthier way in which border controls, customs, so forth, are the primary agencies. The Pentagon is in many ways playing a supporting role in this overall effort. I don’t think it’s the primary agency for homeland security.

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