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US national security's challenge: communication

History shows what happens when agencies don't talk.

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Little known at the time, the Somalia operation was mired in confusion. During the transition between the Bush and Clinton administrations, policy and strategy changed to support larger objectives but resources fell out of sync with the mission – a larger, well-equipped force left the country and gave way to a smaller force with grave uncertainties over its mission and responsibilities.

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As Maj. Gen. William Garrison was planning and executing missions to snatch Mr. Aideed and his senior leaders, US Special Envoy Robert Gossende and White House officials were switching policy from the military track to a more diplomatic solution. No one in Washington told General Garrison. President Clinton and Secretary of State Warren Christopher were shocked, they said later, about the fight. Instead of coordinating their activities, the State and Defense departments each went off in their own direction, with grave consequences

President Kennedy's botched 1961 invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba is another example of communication failure. Unresolved differences over operational requirements, which the inexperienced Kennedy team inherited from the Eisenhower administration, produced a plan that proved inadequate to accomplish the mission but sufficient to embarrass Washington by exposing the American government's role.

More recently, bureaucratic barriers and cultural tensions between the departments of State and Defense circumscribed effective interagency cooperation in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, despite the relatively successful example of interagency planning for Kosovo that had been facilitated by a 1997 presidential directive. Once again knowledge did not bridge the change in administrations. Then Sept. 11 brought home the serious flaws that the national security establishment suffers.

The threat landscape is constantly evolving. A new administration will assume office in January, and planning cohesion could be further eroded. PNSR will propose a new national security act of 2009 to address this critical void in our national security apparatus.

Kenneth Weinstein is a member of the guiding coalition of the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) and CEO of the Hudson Institute. Richard Weitz is a senior fellow at Hudson and heads the PNSR case-study working group.