United States Pacific Command

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The United States Pacific Command, officially PACOM but often called CINCPAC after the historic name for its commander, currently Admiral Timothy Keating, is a Unified Combatant Command (UCC) responsible for the general Asia-Pacific area.[1] As a UCC, it gets its operational orders from the National Command Authority. Its origins date to the Second World War, although its structure changed several times from the World War II and Korean War organizational structures.

U.S. Pacific Command, in concert with other U.S. government agencies and regional military partners, promotes security and peaceful development in the Asia-Pacific region by deterring aggression, advancing regional security cooperation, responding to crises, and fighting to win. — Mission statement

While it is a joint command, given the extent of the Pacific Ocean, it has tended to be dominated by the United States Navy. CINCPAC also served concurrently as Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet until January 1958, when the U.S. Pacific Fleet became a separate component with its own commander.


In the Second World War, there was no single Pacific command, primarily to avoid clashes between Douglas MacArthur and Chester Nimitz. Faced with balancing unity of command in any situation involving both the immense ego and talents of MacArthur, as well as the immense talents and relaxed personality of Nimitz, the Joint Chiefs of Staff split the region into a Southwest Pacific Area under MacArthur, while Nimitz commanded the Pacific Ocean and Pacific Ocean Areas, essentially the north, central, and western Pacific.

While there had long been a Pacific Fleet, there was also an Asiatic Fleet in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Japanese victories over the Asiatic Fleet and associated Australia-Britain-Dutch-American (ABDA) command made a western Pacific command irrelevant. A China-Burma-India Theater formed, but was principally a land command.

Some unification was planned had there been a land invasion of Japan, but MacArthur and Nimitz essentially stayed co-equal through the Second World War.

Historical development as a command

The present U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) includes areas originally assigned to two other unified commanders. Responsibilities of the Far East Command were assumed on 1 July 1957. That same day the command assumed some of the responsibilities of the Alaskan Command, and individual Army and Air Force component commands for the Pacific were established in Hawaii.

In October 1957, the then Commander in Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC) headquarters was moved from Makalapa to Camp H.M. Smith, which is also the headquarters of the Commander, Marine Forces Pacific. Effective 24 October 2002, by direction of the Secretary of Defense, the title "Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command" was changed to "Commander, U.S. Pacific Command" (CDRUSPACOM). In 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act expanded, as well as codified, the authority of the commanders of the unified commands to carry out their assigned missions and to employ combatant forces provided by the individual Services.

Area of responsibiliity

PACOM's area of coverage has changed even in relatively recent times. In some cases, previously independent commands, due to geopolitical considerations, did not justify their own separate regional commands. In other cases, operational experience, as with the Middle East, showed that an area (i.e., the United States Central Command) needed closer attention than could be provided with the conflicts of the rest of Asia. Still, it is an immense area: More than 50 percent of earth's surface; approximately 105 million square miles (nearly 169 million square kilometers). From the west coast of the United States mainland to the east coast of Africa (excluding the waters north of 5° S and west of 68° E); from the Arctic to Antarctic; including the State of Hawaii and forces in Alaska. It spans 16 time zones.

Geography, however, is not the only determinant of a logical area of responsibility. From a diplomatic standpoint, it makes sense to have the members of a regional alliance under one command. Trade patterns affect coverage, including protection of trade.


Nearly 60 percent of the world's population, in 39 independent states.

Five of the seven worldwide U.S. mutual defense treaties:

The U.S. also cooperates with some regional alliances of which it is not a full member. One key relationship is with ASEAN, of which it is a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum. That relationship is significant in terms of counterterrorism and dealing with piracy.


38 percent of U.S. trade is within the region, amounting to more than $1.1 trillion in 2006. In contrast, 14 percent of U.S. trade is with the European Union, 18 percent is with Canada, and 19 percent is with Latin America. Asia-Pacific nations, not including the U.S., account for about 24 percent of the Gross World Product (using an exchange rate basis) while the U.S. accounts for 27 percent of GWP.

Formal geographical definition

“USPACOM general geographic AOR for the conduct of normal operations includes the Pacific Ocean from Antarctica at 092º W, north to 8º N, west to 112º W, northwest to 50º N/142º W, west to 170º E, north to 53º N, northeast to 65º30' N/169º W, north to 90º N, the Arctic Ocean west of 169º W and east of 100º E; the People's Republic of China, Mongolia, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, Japan; the countries of Southeast Asia and the southern Asian landmass to the western border of India; the Indian Ocean east and south of the line from the India/Pakistan coastal border west to 068º E, south to 5º S/068º E, west to 5º S/059º E, south to 8º S/059º E, southwest to 11º S/054º E, west to 11º S/042º E, and south along 042º E to Antarctica; Madagascar, Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii.”

1976 Enlargement

Added responsibilities were assigned to CINCPAC on 1 January 1972 for military forces and elements in the Indian Ocean, Southern Asia, and the Arctic. The area of responsibility was further expanded on 1 May 1976 to the east coast of Africa. This enlarged the Pacific Command to more than 50 percent of the earth's surface, an area of over 100 million square miles.

Another enlargement of the USPACOM area took place in October 1983 when CINCPAC was assigned responsibility for the People's Republic of China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Mongolia, and the Republic of Madagascar. CINCPAC was also redesignated U.S. Commander in Chief, Pacific Command (USCINCPAC).

1989 subordination of Alaskan Command

While it had been abolished in 1975, Alaskan Command at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, was reestablished on 7 July 1989 as a subordinate unified command responsible to USCINCPAC. This placed the defense of Alaska and its surrounding waters under the leadership of one commander, providing a unity of command absent from the state since the early 1970s.

1989-2000 shift of some areas to Central Command

From 1989 through 2000, three Unified Command Plans slightly reduced USPACOM's area of responsibility. With the focus of attention shifting to the Middle East, the 16 August 1989 plan assigned responsibility for the Gulf of Oman and Gulf of Aden to Commander, U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM). The 1 January 1996 plan transferred the Seychelles and adjacent waters to USCENTCOM.

2000 shift of Indian Ocean to European Command

On 1 October 2000, responsibility for Indian Ocean waters off Tanzania, Mozambique, and South Africa was transferred from USPACOM to U.S. European Command (USEUCOM).

2002 global reorganization

Approved in April 2002, the new Unified Command Plan became effective 1 October 2002. The Unified Command Plan changed as a result of the events of 11 September, 2001 and the ensuing war on terrorism, as well as the new defense strategy articulated in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review. For the first time the entire surface of the earth was divided among the various Unified Commands.

A new United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) was created for homeland security and other changes in the various commands' responsibilities resulted in significant changes for USPACOM. The West Coast of North America was reassigned from USPACOM to USNORTHCOM. While Alaska was included in the reassignment to USNORTHCOM, Alaskan Command forces remained assigned to USPACOM. While all of geographic Russia is included in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) area of responsibility, USPACOM, in coordination with USEUCOM, retains responsibility for noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO), counterterrorism (CT) planning for U.S. diplomatic missions, and force protection in those areas in the Russian Federation east of 100º East longitude. A Memorandum of Understanding signed between USEUCOM and USPACOM outlines Theater Security Cooperation responsibilities in eastern Russia. Antarctica was also added to USPACOM's area of responsibility.

Major subcommands of PACOM

See United States Pacific Command/Units


There is a saying, attributed to the British Army, that battles are always fought at the junction of two maps, and this remains true about the boundaries of regional commands: conflicts tend not to follow the organizational plan.

Correct boundaries among European, Central, and Pacific commands

One such analysis [2] is not suggested as definitive, but the sort of problem that will be faced constantly as world conditions change. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, there were "seam frictions" between the United States European Command (USEUCOM) and United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) lines of authority. There were no regular liaison teams from each of the regional commands in one anothers' headquarters, any more than Pacific command had liaison with the other two commands.

Recommendations to reduce future confusion about logical jurisdiction include establishing strong liaison relations among the three commands, and redefining geographic boundaries, beginning with the Siberian portion of USEUCOM east of 90 degrees moving from EUCOM to PACOM control. Such a redrawing would deal with the potential hot spots of:

  1. border conflicts between China and Kazakhstan;
  2. Sino-Russian tensions over Mongolia;
  3. Amur and Ussuri River islands disputed by China and Russia;
  4. the Korean Peninsula, especially border areas adjacent to China and Russia
  5. disputed Kurile islands between Japan and Russia.

Historical examples of previous 19th and 20th century tensions in these areas suggest that there is a significant chance for a renewal of such conflicts in the future. Friction produced by the existence of the USCENTCOM-USPACOM and USEUCOM-USPACOM seams could inhibit a rapid and comprehensive U.S. response. Better liaison among the three commands is necessary, rather than coordinating through Washington.

Authority in Korea

Several areas of friction are associated with U.S. presence in the Republic of Korea. While the Headquarters, Eighth United States Army, is in Korea, complete with a four-star commander, the actual ground force is a single reinforced army division, with nontrivial air and intelligence supplements. Nevertheless. in comparison to the Korean War, the ROK military is large, highly trained, and well-equipped. There is a certain resentment that a U.S. commander, with a fraction of the forces, would be the head of U.N. forces.

Complicating this is the tense but real desire of the Koreas for reunification. [3] As of 2002, the U.S. had over 90,000 personnel deployed to the ROK and Japan, partially as a means of deterring North Korea.

While it is by no means certain, "ongoing diplomatic negotiations between the ROK and North Korea show the potential for a peaceful reconciliation and eventual reunification of the two nations. While a unified Korea is not a certainty, a political settlement on unification may be reached by 2015.

Evolution of the Pacific role?

Should this happen, it will also affect Japan, China, and Russia. If North Korea is no longer a "rogue" state, what is the continuing role for the U.S. in Northeast Asia? How does the traditional distrust of Korea and China for Japan affect the balance? Would a U.S. withdrawal produce a power vacuum, or might Korea, Japan and China see a stabilizing role for the U.S.?

Would the U.S. Congress fund such a role, perhaps not as much conventional military as dealing with terrorism, piracy, infectious disease, and the drug trade? If these were posed as transnational concerns, engaging the regional powers in mutual self-interest, a new structure might emerge. Concerns including terrorism, piracy and drug trafficking (especially in the ASEAN area), and infectious diseases [4] will be the most likely security concerns.

Rather than the massive forward-deployed forces, U.S. presence in East Asia might need to become smaller, is more expeditionary, has the flexibility to deal with numerous types of small-scale contingencies, deters other nations from seeking regional hegemony, and is capable of operating in a complex multinational and interagency environment. The ability to project air, land, or maritime forces rapidly within the region requires a continued US force presence exercising operational reach. If bases become unavailable in the ROK and Japan, Guam will provide the closest US fixed facility to stage forces.