Skip to main content

TO:                  The Editor, American Diplomacy

SUBJECT:      Geographic Bureaucracies and National Security

I read with interest the recent posting by a group of authors from the Joint Forces Staff College entitled “Geographic Bureaucracies and National Security: The Need For a Common Interagency Framework.” While the analysis is interesting, it contains a basic flaw which undercuts the entire argument.

The authors’ thesis is that U.S. government agencies involved in defense and foreign affairs organize themselves differently and that these divergent organizations lead to communication and coordination failures which have a negative impact on policy implementation. As examples, the study notes that the State Department is organized into six regional bureaus, the Directorate of Intelligence in the CIA in three regional offices, and the Defense Department in six (soon to be seven) Unified Commands.

Unfortunately, this analysis mixes apples and oranges. The State Department and CIA organizations are Washington-based and policy-oriented, located in those agencies’ headquarters. DoD’s Unified Commands, on the other hand, are operational commands located overseas. The logical counterparts to the Unified Commands would have to be the other agencies’ operational entities — embassies, managed by the State Department, and the CIA’s overseas Stations. In order to compare DoD’s policy arrangements to those of State and CIA, the authors should have analyzed the regional and/or functional organization of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

This is not to say that coordination among national security agencies is not a problem. It is, and is likely to remain so because of the different focus and cultures of those agencies. The need for coordination in Washington has long been evident, and the National Security Council was designed to be the government’s primary policy coordination body. The new Directorate of National Intelligence is intended to do the same for intelligence analysis, again with its focus on analysis, not overseas collection. It is not at all clear that changing State Department’s, CIA’s Intelligence Directorate, and the Unified Commands’ regional boundaries will improve coordination of policy or intelligence analysis.

The Defense Department itself presents a particular coordination challenge, combining as it does an extensive military establishment and a civilian leadership component. The Goldwater-Nichols DoD Reorganization Act cited in the article was intended primarily to achieve coordination among the armed services by giving the Joint Chiefs of Staff greater control over those services. Efforts to coordinate more effectively the relationship between the Office of the Secretary of Defense (the title belies both the size and impact of the operation) and the armed services have been less successful.

The problems experienced leading up to the Iraq war do not support the proposal in this article. The problem was not one of lack of coordination among agencies; rather it was an instance when the political leadership of the country pursued a policy by giving primacy to one bureaucratic entity — DoD — and effectively sidelining the others, including the National Security Council. While this clearly has had a negative affect on the post-combat phase of the operation, an equally important failure of communication or coordination was undoubtedly the failure of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the armed services to convince the civilian leadership in the Defense Department and White House of the forces necessary to achieve its goal.

Amb. (ret.) Michael W. Cotter

Vice President, American Diplomacy Publishers

Comments are closed.