Unexpected EnemyThe United States needs a new statutory basis for its national security strategy in this new century.  The Cold War national security state was established by the National Security Act of 1947.  It unified the Army and Navy, and the Marine Corps, under a new Department of Defense and added a new service, the Air Force.  It established the Central Intelligence Agency and created the National Security Council.  For 62 years, with some notable exceptions, that legislation has served us well.

But, as Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, to expect each generation to govern itself with the laws and policies of previous generations is to expect a man to wear the coat he wore as a lad.  Times change and laws and policies, as well as institutions, must keep pace.

The Cold War ended 18 years ago.  NATO has yet to define a 21st century mission.  New allies and new rivals are emerging.  There are new security threats that do not lend themselves to military response and that cannot be addressed either by old alliances or by the United States alone.  The very nature of warfare and the character of conflict are changing.

A new national security statute must apply the 20th century security structures and the six decades of experience derived from them to the new realities of the 21st century.  The very process of updating the legal infrastructure of our security will require us to reflect on what security means today and how our strategies should be adapted to achieve it.

No one argues that our military services are obsolete.  We will continue to require land, sea, and air defensive capabilities as long as the Republic lives.  Among the early lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq, however, is that 21st century conflict demands Special Forces and small unit capabilities even more than traditional big divisions, large carrier task groups, and long range strategic bombers.  Historic nation-state wars, though always plausible, are declining.  Irregular, unconventional warfare involving dispersed terrorist cells, stateless nations, insurgencies, and tribes, clans, and gangs are increasing dramatically.

Pakistan, whose instability imperils regional and possibly global security, is threatened by religious fundamentalists.  Mexico is endangered by indigenous drug cartels that are de facto private armies.  Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s ancient tribal and sectarian conflicts will continue for decades.  Our massive military superiority cannot resolve these, and a number of other conflicts, by its sheer size and power.

Extended discussion on future security within the broader security community and public at large should encompass at least these questions: what is the nature of the threats we face; which of these require military response and which do not; are our present and planned force structures configured for new military threats; are weapons procurement programs continuation of traditional acquisitions or focused on future requirements; is the intelligence community properly coordinated and focused on emerging realities; for non-military concerns–such as failed states, radical fundamentalism, pandemics, climate degradation, energy dependence, and resource competition–are new international coalitions needed; are existing alliances adequate to anticipate and respond to these crises or are new ones required; most of all, does our government require new legislative authority to achieve national security under dramatically changing conditions?

The precedents for this kind of thorough-going review are found in the several commissions and studies carried about between the end of World War II (and even before) and the passage of the National Security Act in 1947.  These include the Eberstadt report, various strategic plans by George Marshall, hearings in the Senate Military Affairs committee, and a blizzard of behind the scenes maneuvering and power struggles.  Traditional institutional interests, almost always more comfortable with established arrangements and known devils than new arrangements and unknown devils, will predictably resist any review of the 62 year old law that underpins the national security state.  Machiavelli was not the first to observe that the status quo has many friends and the ranks of reformers are thin.

The creation of the national security state in 1947 was not smooth.  Army and Navy traditionalists resisted unification.  The structure of the new Defense Department and the powers of its Secretary were repeatedly contested.  The makeup and authority of the National Security Council shifted and changed.  Opponents of a Central Intelligence Agency foresaw a threat to Constitutional freedom.  Today, even to suggest a modernization of our core national security framework is to invite bitter opposition from those who never saw a boat they wanted to rock.

The only issue that matters is whether Cold War strategies and structures adequately address present and future realities or whether the realities of a new century demand a fresh look at the institutions and policies, military and non-military, that will be needed to make the nation secure.  Jefferson’s 21st century man cannot forever wear the clothes of his younger, 20th century self.

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8 Responses to “A National Security Act for the 21st Century”

  1. Larry Says:

    Gary Hartless is just trying to mislead America AGAIN and guarntee his FASCIST masters another stream of profits via ILLEGAL WARS and War Crimes. Gary Hart is an ememy of humanity. Just put him in prison before he and his criminal friends arrange another 9/11 style FALSE FLAG terror attack to justify more. WAR.

  2. Gary Hart Says:

    So much for the Welcome to “All people of good will and thoughtful disposition…”

  3. Michael Says:

    The nature of conflict is certainly evolving, and quickly, which makes a thorough national security review of the sort you advocate an absolute imperative. However, I don’t quite understand why that demands a new statutory basis. The changes that occurred in the late 1940s were a result of new technologies and the fact that the US was adapting to its role as one of two Superpowers. The departments and agencies created then could work now, (albeit more effectively with the kind of networking you wrote about in an earlier article). Of course the threats we face today are vastly different, more fluid and still emerging, but I think the overriding reform has to be in resizing the global, hugely expensive and often ridged military apparatus built during the Cold War. We are living in an era of shrinking resources with unmet needs here at home, many of which will determine the quality of life for Americans generally and the competitiveness of our economy for decades to come. The way we meet them, or fail to, may even determine whether the United States is able to remain a Superpower. Yet the defense budget never shrinks. Even when we talk of a “cut” we really mean slowing its growth slightly. When you look at what we spend as a percentage of federal discretionary budget, and even compared to the rest of the world combined, it is frankly obscene.

    What I would be interested in knowing from you, Senator Hart, is what you think US force structures should look like going forward and how much you think we really need to spend to reasonably face the kind of threats that are now emerging? Perhaps you can write about that sometime in the future.

    I recently went to a talk by George McGovern who said that Barry Goldwater once privately agreed with him when he said that the Pentagon budget could be cut by 25% without harming national security. I can only imagine how much waste and abuse there is in that budget today.

  4. James R. Locher III Says:

    Senator Hart is correct. “The only issue that matters is whether Cold War strategies and structures adequately address present and future realities or whether the realities of a new century demand a fresh look at the institutions and policies, military and non-military, that will make the nation secure.”

    Senator Hart should take comfort, this issue has already been answered. “After our examination of the new strategic environment of the next quarter century and of a strategy to address it, this Commission concludes that significant changes must be made in the structures and processes of the US national security apparatus.” The above quotation is the very first sentence of a commission’s report that was delivered to the Congress on March 15, 2001 – long before the attacks of 9/11 that further clarified the problems of our Cold War legacy thinking and institutions.

    Senator Hart should also take heart – literally. He along with former Senator Warren Rudman led a team of distinguished Americans that wrote that sentence. In fact, the two-and-a-half year effort addressed the nature of the 21st Century threat, questioned weapon procurements, took on the intelligence community, and raised the implications of challenges for which the military is either not suited or needs to be collaborative with other skills from across government and others.

    The Project on National Security Reform’s (PNSR) first report, Forging a New Shield, delivered to the President and Congress in November 2008 and consisting of some 800 pages, identified and analyzed specific problems of our current national security system and described the root causes. It then presented a vision for 21st Century national security and the path to reach it. PNSR’s newly released report, Turning Ideas Into Action, focuses on specific implementation steps and tools that will make the vision a reality.

    PNSR believes that we must organize for success. We need a collaborative, agile and innovative national security system that can work together across agencies, departments, jurisdictions, and sectors. This system must horizontally and vertically integrate all elements of national power to make timely, informed decisions and take decisive action.

    Reaching this vision will require significant changes to the way people think and operate today. The national security apparatus must:
    - Focus at the strategic level
    - Concentrate on national missions and outcomes
    - Match resources to missions
    - Take a whole-of-government approach
    - Establish a national security workforce
    - Leverage and extend the collective knowledge of the entire national security community

    Getting there will not be easy. Many obstacles must be overcome. First, the mental model that persists is clearly that of the Cold War system and is dominated by defense and intelligence, and to a lesser extent, diplomacy – each in its own separate domain. Second, political sensitivities, concerned about power, jurisdiction and resources, resist change. Third, the sheer size of national security reform is huge and can be daunting unless broken into manageable pieces. The fourth obstacle is bandwidth – that is, the time and attention needed to focus on the reform challenge is overwhelmed by the requirements of managing the daily “in-box.”

    Leaders like Senator Hart must continue to demand reform. Momentum is building, but in the face of the great challenges the nation faces, we need more action. The movement for true national security reform needs more push, more support, more drive and more commitment from those at all levels who know that things must change. Hard work lies ahead, but the time to act is now.

    Understanding these challenges and the imperative for timely reform, PNSR is engaging with stakeholders and external experts to further discover and develop potential solutions, inviting those who want to advance reform to contribute. More information can be found at http://www.pnsr.org.

    James R. Locher III
    President and CEO
    Project on National Security Reform

  5. Kevin W. Says:

    About the only thing I could say for certain, in light of the shorter life cycles of everything in the digital age, is that we will not have the “luxury” of leaning upon the same national defense structure for the next six decades as we largely have for the past six decades (nor do the reports on pnsr.org or Senator Hart’s article imply that we will). Much like companies who are adapting to an age of constant change, our national defense structure must incorporate nimbleness, flexibility, and a “crow’s nest” view to the rapidly evolving nature of future threats, as ongoing core institutional values.

    On a separate note, I would recommend “House of War” by James Carroll to all who read this post.

  6. Gary Hart Says:

    Jim Locher is better equipped by background and experience than anyone I know to comment on defense structures and reforms, as his comments here prove. He has given extensive thought to the need for our Cold War structures and institutions to adapt to the new realities, opportunities as well as threats, of the 21st century. I encourage all those concerned with the urgent need for this adaptation and the reasons for it to follow the work of the Project on National Security Reform. As Jim says, the key is to change the way people think and operate today.

  7. Gary Hart is correct: America needs “A national security act for the 21st Century” « Project on National Security Reform Says:

    [...] Hart has responded to this in the comments on his blog, hosted by Matters of Principle. Sen. Hart’s own [...]

  8. Gloria Marie Says:

    Excellent work. You have made a brand-new fan. Please keep up the fabulous posts and I look forward to more of your entertaining writings.

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