THE heads of the United States armed forces are considering major changes in the Pentagon's structure of military commands, says Adm. David Jeremiah, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Currently, US forces are allocated to large, unified commands that have responsibility for specific areas of the world - such as the European Command, Pacific Command, or Central Command.
But with the Soviets in retreat from Eastern Europe and more defense budget cuts on the way, some commands might be consolidated or downgraded, says Admiral Jeremiah.
It's an issue the service chiefs have been grappling with for some time. Last July, everyone in the Pentagon thought there was one obvious choice for the chopping block - the command dedicated to the Middle East. ``If you had gone around and taken votes in the military you'd have gotten an almost universal opinion that Central Command was not necessary,'' Jeremiah says.
Of course, that's not the conventional wisdom now. Instead, the chiefs are weighing whether to undertake an overall reorganization or deal with specific problems, such as the prospective movement of the Southern Command from its Panama headquarters, when they come up.
``Why do it at all? We're faced with a 25 percent reduction in flag and general officers. They have to come from somewhere. You have to look at the command structure and see where you can do it,'' the admiral says.
As second-in-command to JCS chairman Gen. Colin Powell, Jeremiah himself occupies a new job. The position was created as part of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols bill, a sweeping defense reorganization that, among other things, made major changes in tightening the US military chain of command.
The Goldwater-Nichols legislation took warfighting authority away from the Pentagon-based service chiefs and transferred it to the heads of unified commands - such as Central Command's Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf. But Jeremiah says that was already the way power flowed, ``in fact, if not in law,'' and that Desert Storm ``would have worked out much as it did'' if the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps had still been in the command chain.
From the Joint Chiefs' point of view, one of the hard parts of Desert Storm was supporting a major combat build-up while at the same time planning for a 25 percent reduction in forces over the next few years. One of the side effects of this shrinkage may be that many of the troops now coming home from the Gulf may find themselves being asked to leave the military.
``That'll be a difficult management problem. We don't have any outplacement organizations,'' Jeremiah says.
But even if events in the Soviet Union take a turn unfavorable to the West, there's no need to halt the build-down and leave the current level of US forces in Europe untouched. The transformation of Eastern Europe has created a military buffer zone. ``We've clearly eliminated the intra-German border as the place you start the problem,'' the JCS vice chairman says.
In recent days a new book by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has focused attention on the Joint Chiefs decision-making process by claiming that General Powell advocated restraint in dealing with Iraq.
Admiral Jeremiah, General Powell's deputy, declines comment on the specifics of who said what. But he echoes the opinion of numerous other Pentagon officials in saying that ``if you read it for an overall sense of what was going on, it's probably a pretty good book.''