Sunday, August 08, 2004

Foreign Affairs - The Neglected Home Front - Stephen E. Flynn

Foreign Affairs - The Neglected Home Front - Stephen E. Flynn:
"The United States is living on borrowed time -- and squandering it. The attacks of September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon highlighted just how open the United States is to unconventional attacks. The widespread economic and social disruption that flowed from the suicidal acts of just 19 terrorists also exposed the Achilles' heel of the world's sole superpower. The transportation, energy, information, financial, chemical, food, and logistical networks that underpin U.S. economic power and the American way of life offer the United States' enemies a rich menu of irresistible targets. And most of these remain virtually unprotected."

It does not have to be this way. Choosing to invest in offensive and defensive capabilities should not be an either-or proposition. In war, nations need both. Given the wealth of the United States, it can clearly afford to protect its most valued assets along with fielding a second-to-none military. But it cannot strike the right balance as long as it persists with treating homeland security as wholly separate from national security. Nor can muscular efforts to combat terrorism at its source be a substitute for the systematic engagement of civil society and the private sector in a collective effort to confront the threat of catastrophic acts of terror at home. The United States must do more than transform its armed forces and repair its broken intelligence services. It must also provide a new institutional framework to construct a more resilient society that has the capacity to take a blow as well as to strike one.

Washington has demonstrated an extraordinary degree of hardheadedness when it comes to acknowledging the limits of its military and intelligence capabilities to combat the terrorist threat. The premise behind the Bush administration's strategy of preemptive use of force is that as long as the United States is willing to show sufficient grit, it can successfully hold its enemies at bay. Vice President Dick Cheney made this case recently in an address to a class of newly commissioned Coast Guard officers. He asserted, "Wars are not won on the defensive. To fully and finally remove this danger [of terrorism], we have only one option -- and that's to take the fight to the enemy." On July 4, 2004, President George W. Bush made the point this way: "We will engage these enemies in these countries [Iraq and Afghanistan] and around the world so we do not have to face them here at home."

Targeting terrorism at its source is an appealing notion. Unfortunately, the enemy is not cooperating. There is no central front on which al Qaeda and its radical jihadist imitators can be cornered and destroyed. The commuter train bombings in Madrid in March illustrate that terrorists are living and operating within jurisdictions of U.S. allies and do not need to receive aid and comfort from rogue states. According to the U.S. Department of State's latest revised global terrorism report, the number of terrorist incidents went up in 2003, despite the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. And, according to a July statement by Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, al Qaeda remains at large inside the United States, busily planning its next attack on U.S. soil, perhaps before the November elections.


The reluctance of the White House and the national security community to adapt to the shifting nature of the terrorist threat bears a disturbing resemblance to the opening chapter of World War II. In September 1939, the German army rolled eastward into Poland and unleashed a new form of combat known as "blitzkrieg." When Poland became a victim of the Third Reich, London and Paris finally abandoned their policies of appeasement and declared war. The British and French high commands then began to execute war plans that relied on assumptions drawn from their experiences in World War I. They activated their reserves and reinforced the Maginot Line, defenses of mounted cannons stretching for 250 miles along the Franco-German border. Then they waited for Hitler's next move.

The eight-month period before the fall of Paris came to be known as "the phony war." During this relatively quiet time, France and the United Kingdom were convinced they were deterring the Germans by mobilizing their more plentiful military assets in an updated version of trench warfare. But they did not alter their tactics to respond to the new offensive warfare that the Germans had executed with such lethal results in eastern Europe. In May 1940, they paid a heavy price for their complacency: Panzer units raced into the lowlands, circumvented the Maginot Line, and conquered France shortly thereafter. The British expeditionary forces narrowly escaped by fleeing across the English Channel aboard a makeshift armada, leaving much of their armament behind on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Similarly today, the United States is fighting the war it prepared for in the twentieth century, rather than the one that is being waged upon it by al Qaeda. Instead of a Maginot Line, the Pentagon is executing its long-standing forward defense strategy, which involves leapfrogging ahead of U.S. borders and waging combat on the turf of U.S. enemies or allies. Meanwhile, protecting the rear -- the American nation itself -- remains largely outside the scope of national security even though the September 11 attacks were launched from the United States on targets within the United States.

The degree to which the Bush administration is willing to invest in conventional national security spending relative to basic domestic security measures is considerable. Although the CIA has concluded that the most likely way weapons of mass destruction (WMD) would enter the United States is by sea, the federal government is spending more every three days to finance the war in Iraq than it has provided over the past three years to prop up the security of all 361 U.S. commercial seaports. This myopic focus on conventional military forces at the expense of domestic security even extends to making the physical security at U.S. military bases a higher budget priority than protecting the nation's most critical infrastructure. In fiscal year 2005, Congress will give the Pentagon $7.6 billion to improve security at military bases. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security will receive just $2.6 billion to protect all the vital systems throughout the country that sustain a modern society.

Much of the nation's critical infrastructure is in densely populated areas, so if the country is attacked, average U.S. citizens, not uniformed military personnel, will be the most likely casualties. Yet the federal effort to promote civil defense has gone quiet after a rocky start that generated a run on plastic sheeting and duct tape and provided fodder for the late-night comedy shows. Police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians will be the first on the scene of any attack; they will have to operate largely on their own for at least the first 12 to 24 hours. Yet on average, U.S. fire departments have only enough radios to equip half their firefighters on a shift, and breathing apparatus for only a third. Police departments in cities across the country do not have the protective gear to safely secure a site following a WMD attack. And most emergency medical technicians lack the tools to determine which chemical or biological agent may have been used.

The deadly weapons that local emergency responders are so poorly equipped to cope with do not need to be imported. But although the Bush administration has made a top priority of preventing the spread of WMD overseas, it has slashed funds to dispose of commercially held radioactive materials (such as cesium-137, cobalt-60, and americium), which could be used in constructing dirty bombs, within the United States. The release of a biological agent on U.S. soil would be even deadlier, yet there is no federal program to provide ongoing oversight of how lethal pathogens are handled. Many university research labs around the country hold highly contagious specimens, and post-September 11 inspections have documented significant lapses in control over access to the labs and the securing of dangerous materials. Meanwhile, half of the federal scientific and medical personnel that the nation would turn to in the event of a bioterrorism attack will be eligible to retire within five years, and there is no comprehensive plan to address this looming personnel crisis.

Finally, even though the most tempting targets for terrorists are those that can produce widespread economic and social disruption, the White House has declared that safeguarding the nation's critical infrastructure is not a federal responsibility. According to President Bush's 2002 National Homeland Security Strategy, "The government should only address those activities that the market does not adequately provide -- for example, national defense or border security. ... For other aspects of homeland security, sufficient incentives exist in the private market to supply protection." Unfortunately, this expression of faith has not been borne out. According to a survey commissioned by the Washington-based Council on Competitiveness just one year after September 11, 92 percent of executives did not believe that terrorists would target their companies, and only 53 percent of the respondents indicated that their companies had increased security spending between 2001 and 2002. With the passing of each week without a new attack, the reluctance of companies to invest in security has only grown.
con·cept: Foreign Affairs - The Neglected Home Front - Stephen E. Flynn