Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has announced creation of a new military command to deal with homeland security issues. The change is one of several major organizational shifts in the overall U.S. military command structure.
Until now, there have been nine so-called unified U.S. military commands, some assigned geographic responsibilities like Europe or the Pacific, others assigned specific functions like transportation or special operations.
Now, Mr. Rumsfeld and the armed forces hierarchy have announced creation of a 10th command, the U.S. Northern Command, called Northcom. It is being assigned the mission of defending the United States in the air, on land, and at sea. It will also coordinate military assistance to civil authorities in response to natural disasters and other calamities.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the change is intended to help better meet the challenges of the 21st century, including the challenge of terrorism.
"Today our country faces an era of the unexpected. We are involved in a war unlike any that our country has ever experienced. We must be ready to win today's global war on terror, but at the same time prepare for other surprises and uncertainties that we will most certainly face in the 21st century," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The new Northern Command will start operations October 1 and will probably be headquartered in the western state of Colorado. It will be responsible for military matters in the continental United States and will also coordinate security cooperation with Canada, Mexico, and portions of the Caribbean. Its commander has not yet been named.
Mr. Rumsfeld stresses the new command will not take on a law enforcement role of its own in the United States. It will instead serve mainly as a first point of contact for civilian agencies seeking military help in dealing with terrorist incidents, natural disasters and the like.
"Some in the past have worried that creation of a command that covered the United States of America could be inward-looking. Nothing could be further from the truth. The creation of Northcom means that we now have a command to defend the American people where they live and work and it will be functioning in a supporting role to civil authorities," he said.
In other major organizational changes, the U.S. European Command has been assigned responsibility for coordinating military-to-military relations with Russia, a job previously handled out of the Pentagon.
And the Pacific Command has been assigned geographic responsibility for Antarctica, which had been previously unassigned.