US national security's challenge: communication
History shows what happens when agencies don't talk.
No matter who wins the election this November, the president will have numerous foreign-policy crises on his plate: Russia's assault on Georgia and growing Russia-NATO tensions, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, and increasing challenges for the Western coalition in Afghanistan.Skip to next paragraph
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Our national security apparatus, largely created on an ad hoc basis over the past six decades, is ill-equipped to handle such multifaceted issues.
When a disaster erupts, there is precious little time for study by the president and his top advisers. They need an integrated system already in place that can guide rapid, informed, and strong responses to today's security challenges. Experience must be institutionalized, and barriers between agencies overcome.
The Project on National Security Reform (PNSR), a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization funded by Congress, seeks to achieve such improvements.
The national security system has evolved slowly over the past 61 years. It now consists primarily of the State and Defense departments, the National Security Council, the intelligence community, the Homeland Security Department and the Homeland Security Council. Others participate when specific issues in their jurisdiction arise.
The trick is getting them to work as a team rather than pursue their own bureaucratic interests as competitors or adversaries. Feuding, jurisdictional disputes, and lack of communication between cabinet secretaries and senior agency personnel undermine US national security.
Other common problems include excessive preoccupation by the president and his senior advisers with day-to-day crisis management rather than long-term planning, a budgetary process in Congress focused on individual agencies rather than joint efforts by multiple departments, and increasing partisanship in Congress even on vital national security issues.
History is replete with examples of how our national security system impeded the effective development and implementation of US national security policy. PNSR is conducting case studies to learn from these incidents.
One case study examines the infamous 1993 "Blackhawk Down" disaster in Somalia. Eighteen US Task Force Rangers died and 73 were wounded in a firefight with forces of Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aideed. Photos of dead US troops being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu triggered public outrage in the US and led President Clinton to wind down the operation.