Combatant Commands

Origins, Structure, and Engagements

by Cynthia Watson


Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military has focused on breaking down barriers between the different branches, an effort that has become more urgent in the face of the Global War on Terror. Six geographic combatant commands now have responsibility for U.S. defense outreach to the rest of the world. How, exactly, do they function?

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Cover image for Combatant Commands

December 2010


Pages 257
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Security Studies/International and Transnational Security
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A one-stop resource for information about U.S. military commands and their organizations, this book describes the six geographic combat commands and analyzes their contributions to national security.

The first book on the topic, Combatant Commands: Origins, Structure, and Engagements is a unique introduction to the geographic commands that are now at the heart of the U.S. military deployment abroad. The book begins with a description of the six commands—Northern Command, Pacific Command, Central Command, Southern Command, European Command, and Africa Command—explaining how they fit into the current national security establishment. Each command is discussed in depth, including areas of responsibility, subcommands, priorities, threats faced, and engagement institutions.

The history of joint combatant commands is outlined as well, particularly the impact of the Root Reforms of the early 20th century, the push for the 1947 National Security Act, and the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Military Reform Act. In this way, the evolution of combatant commands becomes a window through which to view changes in the U.S. military. Geographic combatant commands are vital to national security. By understanding how they work, readers will better understand where our military is today and where it may be headed.


  • Citation of original documents such as laws on national security
  • A bibliography at the end of each chapter as well as a separate resource chapter
  • A glossary of key terms


  • Explains how the different branches of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps are now required to work in tandem so that commanders are selected based upon skill, not upon service branch, and can oversee a mix of forces
  • Discusses each of the six current combatant commands, as well as how they link to the Joint Staff and the Chairman's office and how their structure works with that of the individual services
  • Overviews the history of joint combatant commands throughout the 20th century and into the 21st
Series Description

Praeger Security International

As the world gets "smaller" through technology and globalization, the security risks we face grow and multiply.

International security in the 21st century is not a topic that can be adequately addressed in nightly news soundbites or online articles intended to be relevant for 24 hours or less. Comprehending these complex issues requires insight from foreign policy specialists, diplomats, military officials, peace scholars, historians, and security experts—participants and observers on all sides of each conflict. This series provides the tools for understanding security issues in our uncertain, unstable world.

Written by subject experts and well-known researchers, the books in the Praeger Security International series give readers access to carefully considered and highly informed viewpoints on the critical security issues that threaten to destabilize our world. With titles authored by diplomats, first responders, economists, journalists, civil servants, military leaders and combatants, legal experts, psychologists, and other knowledgeable specialists, these books offer in-depth reflections, thorough analysis, and international perspectives that are unavailable in mass media. These titles represent an invaluable resource for students and researchers as well as anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the complex issues that affect our lives and future.


  • Provides reliable, comprehensive information on all matters relating to security that is ideal for students, teachers, researchers, and professionals
  • Offers insightful commentaries written by a diverse group of scholars and experts who provide interdisciplinary treatments of newsworthy events and important historical occurrences
Author Info

Cynthia Watson is professor of strategy at the National War College, Washington, DC. She has written several books, including the CHOICE award winner, U.S. National Security: A Reference Handbook, published by ABC-CLIO.



"… a unique introduction to the geographic commands that are now at the heart of the U.S. military deployment abroad. … Geographic combatant commands are vital to national security. By understanding how they work, readers will better understand where our military is today and where it may be headed."Joint Forces Journal

"Combatant Commands: Origins, Structure, and Engagements is a close study of the six geographic combatant commands that form the core of the U.S. military deployment worldwide . . . Notes, a glossary and an index round out this meticulous work of modern-day military scholarship" Midwest Book Review

"Summing Up: Recommended."Choice

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