Responding to the terrorist attack on the nation
last September, the Pentagon yesterday unveiled a new
organizational structure that creates for the first
time a command charged with defending the continental
Defense officials have discussed the plan to
establish the Northern Command frequently in recent
months, but some of the details, such as the location
of its headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base,
outside Colorado Springs, had not been divulged.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hailed the
reorganization as "undoubtedly the most significant
reform of our nation's military command structure" in
more than 50 years.
Before last September's attacks, he said, the U.S.
military was almost entirely focused on countering
distant threats, not on defending the homeland. "The
Pentagon's job had been to look out, not to look at
internal threats, but to look outside," he told
reporters at the Pentagon. "So our radars were pointed
out, our eyes were looking out, and the people looking
here were the state and local law enforcement
officials, the FBI, the various first responders."
In addition to supporting civilian authorities, the
Northern Command will have responsibility for
defending U.S. airspace and coasts. But it has not
been determined which forces, if any, will be assigned
to it on a permanent basis, said Pentagon officials
who briefed reporters on details of the planned
The new command also is assigned formal
responsibility for coordinating military relations
with Canada and Mexico. Until now, the two neighbors
had not been assigned to any single U.S. military
headquarters. As reported previously, Air Force Gen.
Ralph E. Eberhart, the chief of the U.S. Space Command
and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, has
been chosen to head the Northern Command.
In another shift, the U.S. European Command is
being given responsibility for dealing with Russia.
The move amounts to another recognition that the Cold
War is over. In the past, no single headquarters was
charged with dealing with Russia or the Soviet Union,
because during the Cold War the Pentagon saw the
Soviet Union as so great a threat that it required a
global response from the U.S. military. Even after the
Cold War ended, oversight of military dealings with
Russia rested with the staff of the Joint Chiefs of
In a less meaningful move, the U.S. Pacific Command
was given responsibility for Antarctica.
Pentagon officials emphasized that this was not a
step toward militarizing the southernmost continent,
which is forbidden by treaty, but a recognition that
the U.S. military frequently provides help with rescue
and supply missions there. Those support flights
originate in New Zealand, which is in the Pacific
Command's area, so that Honolulu-based headquarters
was given the Antarctica account.
There had been some talk in the Pentagon that two
other commands, the Space Command and the Strategic
Command, which oversees strategic nuclear weapons,
would be merged. But that issue has been put off for
additional study, officials said.
As described by Rumsfeld, the Northern Command's
basic mission will not be to fight, but to support
civilian authorities in case of another terrorist
attack. Essentially, it designates a place in the
military that local, state and federal officials can
call for help in a crisis.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, said Rumsfeld, it is
likely that "there was not good unity of effort." With
the opening of the new command, planned for Oct. 1,
"we'll have a focus . . . that will allow us to
provide what's needed at the right time to the right
federal agency or perhaps a state agency."