Homeland Security: The New Role for Defense

By Tomisek, Steven J. | Strategic Forum, February 2002 | Go to article overview

Homeland Security: The New Role for Defense


Tomisek, Steven J., Strategic Forum


Our first priority must always be the security of our nation.... America is no longer protected by vast oceans. We are protected from attack only by vigorous action abroad, and increased vigilance at home.

--President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 29, 2002

Key Points

Before the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Armed Forces focused on deterrence, stability, and warfighting missions arising in overseas theaters. The U.S. homeland was regarded as a rear area, not a front line, and the job of securing it was primarily a task for civilian law enforcement agencies at the Federal, state, and local levels. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the bioterrorist acts that followed, have prompted a review that reaffirms the Constitutional role of the Federal Government as protector of the states against foreign aggression and restores defense of the American homeland as the primary mission of the Department of Defense (DOD).

If the highest DOD priority is defense of American national territory, this mission must receive the level of attention it merits. A fundamental shift in the mindset of DOD decisionmakers will be required. Evolving national strategy for homeland security requires that DOD consider the employment of military forces in ways previously considered outside the scope of operations. As President George W. Bush has said, "To win this war, we have to think differently."

Homeland security should not be viewed as exclusively or even primarily a military task. Securing the "domestic battlespace"--a highly complex environment--requires Federal departments and agencies, state and local governments, the private sector, and individual citizens to perform many strategic, operational, and tactical level tasks in an integrated fashion. These actions must be synchronized with others that are being taken on the international front to prosecute the war against global terrorism. The challenges and demands associated with this undertaking are immense. Success will depend largely upon the Nation's ability to achieve unity of effort at all levels of government.

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Protecting the Homeland: Status Quo Ante

Americans have become accustomed to the idea of a forward defense of U.S. interests. Accordingly, the Nation has organized, trained, equipped, maintained, and deployed its military forces to deal with threats beyond its shores--an engagement strategy that generally has been met by stationing or deploying over 250,000 U.S. forces at key points around the Eurasian periphery. The strategic construct is evolving to include an element of internal engagement.

Within the United States, homeland protection has long been considered the domain of civilian law enforcement and other agencies at the Federal, state, and local levels. With few exceptions, most defense resources tasked for such civil support missions have been authorized on a basis of noninterference with primary mission requirements (for example, warfighting outside the continental United States). Department of Defense (DOD) employment within the United States and its territories and possessions typically has fallen under the broad category of military assistance to civil authorities (MACA) and is heavily weighted toward managing the consequences of terrorist use or threat of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive (CBRNE) weapon of mass destruction (WMD) (see figure 1).

The MACA Approval Process. The range of possible requests to DOD for civil support assistance is enormous. Utilizing procedures in place before September 11, the Secretary of Defense retains approval authority in dealing with the most sensitive requests, such as those requiring the use of forces (personnel, units, and equipment) already assigned to combatant commanders; military support of responses to civil disturbances or acts of terrorism; and any support for planned events that raise the potential for confrontation with specifically identified individuals or groups, including actions that may involve the use of lethal force.

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