July 8, 2005 | WebMemo on Department of Homeland Security

Defense Department's Serious Thinking About Homeland Security

It is just a paper, but if it is put into action it will help make all Americans safer. Last week, the Defense Department released its Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support, which outlines the Pentagon's major tasks and initiatives supporting homeland security. The strategy sets the right priorities, particularly in three critical areas where it must partner with the Department of Homeland Security-maritime security, responding to catastrophic terrorism, and scientific research. Now the Pentagon needs to follow through.

 

From the Sea

Trade accounts for a third of the American economy. The seaborne routes that carry goods and peoples to our shores can also carry threats. Protecting sea routes and preventing them from being exploited by terrorists is vital. The strategy acknowledges that guarding sea approaches requires a strong partnership between the U.S. Navy, the Coast Guard, and other Homeland Security air and marine assets. To reach this goal, special emphasis must be given to linking these capabilities together, creating what is often called "maritime domain awareness"-the means to get the right information to the right place at the right time to stop the terrorists before they threaten us.

 

Preparing for the Worst

The age when only great powers can bring other great powers to their knees is over. The materials and knowledge needed to use nuclear, chemical, biological, and conventional explosives and to undertake other destructive attacks are globally available. No one can predict with certainty how likely such threats might be, but it would irresponsible not to prepare. The military must be ready to assist in the event of catastrophes that endanger tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in property and economic activity-and it must do the job right the first time. The strategy calls for preparing to respond to multiple, simultaneous catastrophic disasters, the kind that would overwhelm the capacity of local responders. Having acknowledged the requirement, it is time for the Pentagon to assemble the capabilities, organizations, and equipment to perform the mission.

 

Leveraging Capabilities

The nation can ill-afford to waste resources in the war on terror. The tasks of securing the homeland and conducting military operations worldwide face many similar technical challenges. It makes little sense not to get the most out of the nation's ability to harness science and technology in its own defense. Ensuring that defense and homeland security research, development, and engineering efforts are complimentary and that technical advances can be effectively shared with federal, state, local, private sector, and international partners must be a priority. The strategy specifically calls for this kind of cooperation. Now the Pentagon must establish the mechanisms and partnerships with the Homeland Security Department that will produce real results.

 

Next Step for Security

Having set the right the goals for its homeland security efforts, it is time for the Pentagon to take action. The first test will be to see if the strategy's goals are represented in the department's Quadrennial Defense Review, which outlines for the administration and the Congress, priorities for force structure, missions, and resources.

 

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow