Physical Security and Our National Borders
The major strategic trend in the new millennium is the globalization of security, bringing changes through the creation of a bifurcated conflict environment. Globalization is perhaps best understood as a process of interdependence between the global and the local that transforms the operating environment but without eradicating traditional state-centric institutions (Noakes, 1995). What is occurring under the impact of globalization is the interaction of “the two worlds of world politics”—the symmetric, state-centric world and the asymmetric, multi-centric world.
The new multi-centric environment has not abolished the traditional state-centric world order; rather it has superimposed itself upon that order, creating a turbulent, bifurcated or two-tier strategic environment. What makes the twenty-first-century strategic environment so difficult to manage is not the factor of change itself, but the rapid speed, compression and interconnectedness of change between the state-centric and multi-centric worlds because of the micro- electronic revolution and economic interdependence (Pfannestiel, 2003).
The global security system that is gradually emerging has, in turn, brought with it four other important strategic features: The first feature is a shift in thinking away from territoriality towards connectedness. The second aspect is a blurring of the distinctions between state and society and foreign and domestic policies. The third is the rise of risk as a major factor in strategic analysis. The fourth feature is a merging of conventional and unconventional modes of armed conflict into the phenomenon of full-spectrum strategies that embrace peace, crisis, war and post-war situations.
Globalization has created a new supra- territorial space that coexists with older territorial imperatives. In this sense, much of the developed world has gone from an age of deliberate threat monopolized by enemy states into an era of distributed threats emanating from non-state adversaries. The rise of multi-centric adversaries does not, of course, mean that inter-state warfare has disappeared, only that, given present political conditions, it is less likely—largely because the traditional link between national sovereignty and national security has been severed.
Many contemporary threats to advanced countries are no longer direct but indirect; they are not about territory but projected across territory into permeable open societies (Noakes, 1995). A major official concern, then, is the growing risk of societal vulnerability stemming from non-state and transnational threats that are facilitated by the diffusion and diversification of electronic communications and weapons technologies.
Thus, while traditional inter-state security threats continue to remain important to policy-makers, there is an unmistakable parallel trend in strategic affairs towards multi-centric challenges and the risks these pose to democratic order. If the twentieth century was the age of predictable threat, the twenty-first century is the age of unpredictable risk. The rise of delocalized risk is yet another outcome of the arrival of a bifurcated, yet interconnected world.
In the new millennium both threat and risk must be considered by policy-makers in the formulation of strategy. Strategic threat tends to be measurable and is based on tangibles; it is about assessing the intentions and capabilities of the great military powers such as the USA, China and Russia. Risk, on the other hand, is immeasurable and often involves intangibles; it is about the probabilities and consequences that may flow from unpredictable activities of non-state actors empowered by global interconnectedness (Rubenstein).
Because the security of post-industrial societies has become global as well as regional and national, the twenty-first-century security environment increasingly places a premium on Western liberal democracies possessing a mixture of joint expeditionary task forces and agile homeland security measures to secure their interests at home and abroad. Under globalized security conditions, the strategic equation that must increasingly be met by policy-planners is the need to reconcile “the near and the far” through an effective and multi-dimensional planning matrix.
The effective protection of any society against various forms of violent assault and the broader defence of its interests will involve more than the deployment of standard military forces to perform traditional missions (Pillar, 2001). Increasingly, the need in liberal democracies is for a “networked approach” to national security. Such an approach is increasingly characterised and shaped by greater consultation and interdependence among the mosaic of official departments and agencies. The aim is to improve the possibilities for innovation and collaboration in the face of local and global, multi-centric and state-centric challenges.
This situation is, of course, not peculiar to America (Cenkci, 2006). Indeed, the concept of national security has long suffered from a lack of consensus and rigorous analysis that makes it unattractive to policy-makers. In the West, the notion of national security has long been viewed both as an “ambiguous symbol” and as an “essentially contested concept” with its practical use bedevilled by contending “narrow” and “broad” schools of academic thought. Those who advocate a narrow approach to national security tend to view the subject as being synonymous with military defence against a foreign attack.
In contrast, those who advocate a broad approach to national security are often focused on an array of diverse global threats. Such advocates often extend the concept to cover every destabilising tendency, from economics through health to the environment—both internal and external—irrespective of the role of human agency and the demands of intellectual coherence. In twenty-first-century conditions, these unreconstructed narrow and broad approaches are inadequate. A purely military-centric definition in the realist tradition of international relations excludes too many indirect societal threats.
Yet viewing security through too broad a lens robs the subject of any practical conceptual parameters for policy-makers. What is required is a re- conceptualization of national security to encompass a continuum of state, societal and systemic threats and risks that accurately reflect twenty-first-century conditions. National security entails the pursuit of psychological and physical safety, which is largely the responsibility of national governments, to prevent both direct and indirect threats and risks primarily from abroad from endangering the survival of these regimes, their citizenry, or their ways of life.
Central to this modified definition are three ideas. First, there is the idea of protecting the social contract between people and government alongside the pursuit, rather than the attainment of, the safety and survival of both state and society. Second, there is the idea that national security problems mainly stem from human, not natural agency. Finally, the notion of national security employed here encompasses both direct and indirect and deliberate and distributed threats and risks—whether emanating directly from nation-states or indirectly or from sub-national, trans-national or supra- national groups.
In twenty-first-century conditions, threats and risks to state and society embrace military, economic, political-cultural and resource-environmental sectors (Hoffman, 1998). Because of this complex multidimensionality, any American concept of national security must be based on a rigorous analysis to establish conceptual parameters that reflect linkages between the ideas of social contract, human agency and deliberate and distributed threats and risks.
In an age of connectedness, linkages and interactions between the four key sectors of military, economic, political-cultural and resource-environmental security must be clearly identified in terms of both traditional and non-traditional threats and risks. For example, the role of military force in national security embraces a series of traditional operations both conventional and unconventional. However, military establishments must also prepare for more non-traditional missions to meet a range of growing responsibilities in homeland security (Rubenstein).
Exploration of economic security should be defined by the need for security officials to comprehend the processes of market interdependence and the consequences of a disruption of the domestic economy from a crisis involving either local or global mass-casualty terrorism. In terms of the political-cultural dimensions of national security, unprecedented societal interpenetration and increased migration flows require greater public understanding by policy-makers of the principles of civic identity and liberal-democratic values in preserving social cohesion.
It is the resource-environmental sector of the national security mosaic that is arguably the most complex and speculative field for non-specialist policy-makers. While much scientific research suggests that the world is facing a future of planetary warming caused by human agency, there is no scientific consensus over the time spans involved or about the exact ramifications of climate change for individual countries and regions (Bacon, 2007).
In many ways, it is simply too early for policy-makers to try to translate environmental issues into national security planning. Thus even if there is an awareness of environmental problems amongst policy-makers, it is not matched by any corresponding ability to prioritize environmental security within a workable matrix of threat and risk. The truth is a simple one: because of uncertainty over cause and effect, governments and intelligence agencies are yet to place environmental issues in the mainstream of national security planning.
Realistically, then, until the scientific community can provide better detail on scenarios for the policy world, the American government’s capacity to deal with security challenges emanating from climate change is likely to be confined to the management of consequences. For America, the main lesson to be drawn from the above analysis of the “vertices and interstices” is the need for clarity in conceptual analysis when dealing with the notion of national security.
It is clear that, when it comes to developing an American concept of national security, a greater not a lesser theoretical context for policy analysis is required. Theory and practice are not separate but related, and it is to this intimate relationship that this article now turns. In the future, sophisticated policy research must provide the theoretical basis for a pragmatic American national security strategy (Noakes, 1995). Unlike much scholarly enquiry, policy research and analysis are normative and prescriptive and seek engagement and relevance.
In national security development, the essential task of theoretical research is to support practice and to ameliorate any “knowing–doing gap”—to ensure that long-term objectives can be blended with adaptive short-term decision-making. Forward thought and integrative reasoning need to be developed by using three key areas of policy analysis: strategic evaluation, systems analysis and operations research. However, in an environment that may be driven by media-fuelled events rather than ease of reflection, the role of theory is more easily stated than accomplished.
Most national security professionals are practitioners rather than theorists. They tend to possess a toolkit mentality and an “in-box” outlook to their responsibilities in which “learning and doing” are regarded as combined activities. Such approaches have been predominant in America in the new millennium. America has eschewed formal strategy in favour of a pragmatic “in-box” approach in national security in which policy co-ordination through the National Security Division in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has taken precedence.
While there is much to recommend pragmatism, experience and intuition in national security affairs, by themselves they are not enough. To develop and manage strategy is a process of blending in which thought and action, control and learning and stability and change must be balanced and rationalized (MacGillis, 2006). Ultimately, there is much more to national security strategy than a reliance on practical skill in crisis-management. An essential unity between theory and practice is important simply because of the volatile manner in which diffuse threats and risks can interact with a relentless twenty-four-hour media cycle (Martin).
In an era of saturation images, reactive and reflexive actions are never enough and carry with them the danger of a retreat into spin-doctoring and faulty decision-making under the pressure of events. A national security strategy approach requires a forward process of integrative reasoning in which theory must provide principles of clarity, vision and synthesis for security practitioners (Walker, 2006). Above all, theory must help in the process of innovative thinking to identify a range of strategic patterns and discontinuities in order to avoid the fallacies of orthodoxy, group-think and spin methods.
In national security affairs, a contingency planning can benefit from a range of theoretical approaches—notably the use of careful scenario-planning to assist in mapping alternative futures. A theory of national security for security practitioners is akin to a lighthouse in the night. Like the lighthouse, a theoretical security edifice provides the “visionary beam” that illuminates direction on objectives, so providing the milieu in which practical planning and rational decision-making can occur.
Knowledge of objectives and priorities represents the “strategic component” of a practitioner’s actions. In short, theory drawn from policy analysis ensures that decision-making has strategic consistency and purpose. Any future American national security strategy needs to reflect the coordination and correlation of instruments of state and a seamless understanding of the interaction between foreign and domestic issues (Pillar, 2001). An understanding of networked linkages between the four security sectors of the military, the economy, politics-culture and resources-environment is vital.
Our greatest security lies in the best balance of all instruments of foreign policy, and hence in the coordinated handling of arms, diplomacy, information and economics; and in the proper correlation of all measures of foreign and domestic policy. The benefits of seeking to develop an American national security strategy are fourfold. First, a holistic security strategy can be seen as both as a mirror of the nation’s liberal values and democratic beliefs and as a roadmap of its vital policy interests.
Second, a unified vision of the strategic environment would facilitate a government-wide framework that promotes integration, synergy, strategic focus and anticipatory methods. Third, a national security strategy would allow the government to arrive at an accurate and informed political assessment of the threats and risks to which priority and resources must be directed. Fourth, the publication of a declassified version of any future American national security strategy would represent, in twenty-first-century conditions, an act of responsible government policy aimed at educating the electorate.
To arrive at a situation where these benefits are available, America needs to undertake a formal review of national security (Noakes, 1995). Ultimately, however, any such American inquiry needs to be an indigenous effort that reflects America’s political culture and parliamentary system. Consequently, it should be composed of commissioners nominated by the prime minister and the leader of the opposition and be co-chaired by two retired political or judicial figures.
Because of the many complexities involved in protecting networked critical national infrastructure, the commission should also include senior representatives from the private sector. The commission’s charter should aim at defining America’s role and purpose in the first quarter of the twenty-first century through an integrated analysis, with the objective being to identify the main elements of an appropriate national security strategy based on ends, ways and means supported by an appreciation of national values.
Finally the commission should be mandated to produce three phased reports involving an initial global security assessment, a national security strategy plan and, finally, a roadmap for any recommended institutional redesign. Creating an American national security strategy will be a daunting task but it represents a vital step forward in understanding how to respond to the complex threat and risk environment of the new millennium. The need to blend many ideas and to reconcile the views of multiple constituencies can present an intimidating prospect.
We can be sure of one thing: the bifurcated global strategic environment of state-centric and multi-centric challenges will not disappear. On the contrary, it is only likely to grow more complex and demanding. For this reason, the quest for a coherent American national security strategy should not be deferred on the grounds that it is too difficult to undertake. Indeed, from the perspectives of “knowing and doing” and from theory and practice, the very process of creating a strategy may be as important as the final product.
The continued absence of an integrated American national security approach risks a future of institutional fragmentation, lack of coherent policy development and may contribute, over time, to deficient threat–risk analysis and resilience planning (Cenkci, 2006). In the long term, operating an ad hoc national security system without a unified strategy is a recipe for an ill-coordinated response to future challenges. An American national security approach needs to begin with conceptual analysis, with organisational change subordinate to policy ideas.
To employ a travel metaphor, the road to be identified is more important than the vehicle to be designed. In addition, any subsequent system of “joined-up government” should not seek change through bureaucratic consolidation or gargantuan new agencies. Instead, an “open enterprise” approach to problem-solving should be adopted—one that is nimble and which permits networks, flexibility and cross-agency training to flourish throughout the national security system.
The character of the globalized security environment is now simply too complex for mastery by any single government department. The combination of global networks, technological diffusion and social mobility challenge not simply the traditional defence of the state, but increasingly the security of society and its citizens. While there is merit in all these recommendations, they tend to focus on “whole-of-government” structure and neglect the conceptual challenges surrounding the subject of national security.
Yet, the first matter to be decided in any discussion about adopting a national security strategy is a simple one: what is the conceptual basis for such a policy approach? Accordingly, the aim of this essay is not to debate the various organizational structures and administrative arrangements that might comprise a national security strategy but to focus on the conceptual challenge such an approach presents. Unless a basic conceptual rationale can be made in favour of developing a national security strategy, it becomes premature to recommend new security structures and routines.
This essay takes as its basic proposition that if the concept of national security is employed without careful specifications it “leaves room for more confusion than sound political counsel or scientific usage can afford’. In twenty-first-century conditions, any American concept of national security must be designed to serve the ends of policy, and theoretical strategic propositions must be linked to practice. While many policy practitioners tend to disdain theory as meaningless, it remains the case that all strategy-making ultimately depends on a set of theoretical assumptions.
Without the underpinning of relevant theory, strategy can easily become overly dependent on short-term incrementalism and crisis-management techniques at the expense of a sophisticated understanding of the demands of long-term security dynamics. With the above issues in mind, this essay develops four themes. First, in order to establish a context for analysis, the main features of the new globalized security environment and the special challenges it presents for American policy makers are sketched.
Second, against this background, some of the main definitional challenges that surround an understanding of the concept of national security strategy in America are discussed. Third, the essay examines the role of theory and practice in national security strategy. It is argued that, despite an emphasis on ad hoc pragmatism over the last decade, theoretical clarity of purpose is vital. Finally, the paper recommends that the national security of this country needs to be investigated through means of a bipartisan American Commission of Inquiry into Twenty-First-Century National Security.
If a formal national security approach is to eventually replace an informal approach based on ad hoc pragmatism, then investigation must span the boundaries of political difference and operate in the national interest. Ultimately, a bipartisan commission, with members drawn from all political parties, the policy world, the armed forces, academe and the private sector, is the best way to establish a degree of consensus on present and future challenges to America’s security. A national security strategy that expresses the country’s vision, values and aspirations remains a compelling objective for American policy.
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