Building Homeland Defense in the Dark?

By Forsberg, Steven J. | Parameters, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview
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Building Homeland Defense in the Dark?


Forsberg, Steven J., Parameters


To the Editor:

Lieutenant Colonel Terrence Kelly makes an interesting case in his article "An Organizational Framework for Homeland Defense" (Parameters, Autumn 2001). One of his key points, however, will sadly not be realized. He states that "the prospect of an expanded government intruding on its citizens' rights is of such major importance that it must be addressed in full partnership with the Congress and, to the greatest extent possible, in open forums."

Is it already too late? In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on 11 September, Congress stampeded to pass, with little to no debate or discussion, a number of acts relating to homeland defense. With nary a whimper we now have a Cabinet-level Homeland Defense "Czar" and the executive branch has picked up vaguely defined, so practically huge, powers.

If there is one thing the competing bureaucracies listed in Lieutenant Colonel Kelly's article don't want, it is public input and open debate on how to best defend our nation. As with virtually every other aspect of our nation's existence that is tagged with "security," this new fiefdom will be heavy on public relations and short on substantive discussion of its key elements.

As someone with a more than passing knowledge of the history of civil-military relations, I am still rather confused as to just exactly what is going on in Washington. A prominent US Senator states that our nation has "moved beyond declarations of war" and that the War Powers Act is now the law (despite what the Constitution says). The White House announces that it, like its predecessors, does not recognize the War Powers Act but will humor the Congress by going along for now. And then there is the disturbing precedent set during the Gulf War of an executive simply declaring "Article III" and doing as he wishes. (Since the precedent was not challenged in court, an administration can now argue that Congress has "demonstrated acquiescence" and accepted it as de facto law). And now we have a new Homeland Defense bureaucracy springing up.

I'm not worried about black helicopters but rather about good old-fashioned confusion and infighting in Washington. Without a well-argued-over plan, one that has support from key constituencies ahead of time, Homeland Defense in any guise is likely to be ugly and ineffective. The billions and billions that are being promised have to come from somewhere, and Lord knows the military side of the house is not going to want to give them up. Already state and local officials here in Texas are clamoring for federal dollars for everything from airport security to school crossing guards (well, not quite yet). And no official I've talked to or read about seems to have even a clue what exactly this new Homeland Defense is, let alone how it interfaces with their authority.

It might also be useful to take a look back at the Winter 1992-93 issue of Parameters and Charles Dunlap's article, "The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012." That article was not a prediction, of course, but rather an illustration of several points. Key among them was the drive to nationalize and militarize problems, using the argument of "security" as a rationale for federal and military intrusion into new spheres. In that article, for example, the military had basically taken over aviation and other key infrastructure nodes because security and profit go ill together. We've already seen what a quick and easy solution the military was for "The War on Drugs." Is Homeland Defense (i.e. domestic security) going to be any better?

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