Academic journal article Military Review

The Most Important Thing: Legislative Reform of the National Security System

Academic journal article Military Review

The Most Important Thing: Legislative Reform of the National Security System

Article excerpt


Don't confuse enthusiasm with capability.

--General Peter J. Schoomaker, Commander, USSOCOM, 2000

The national security system that the president uses to manage the instruments of national power, and the manner in which Congress oversees and funds the system, do not permit the agility required to protect the United States and its interests in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world. From 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and emerging threats to the homeland, 21st-century national security challenges demand more effective communication across traditional organizational boundaries. Meeting these challenges requires a common vision and organizational culture and better integration of expertise and capabilities.

The current national security system was based on lessons from World War II and was designed to enable the president to fight the Cold War. Many of the assumptions underpinning this system are no longer valid. The world has moved on, and the United States needs to adjust commensurately to the new realities impinging on its security. The current system gives the president a narrow range of options for dealing with national security affairs and causes an over-reliance on the military instrument of national power. The cost of not changing this system is fiscally unsustainable and could be catastrophic in terms of American lives. To make needed changes, the U.S. government requires comprehensive reform of the statutory, regulatory, and congressional oversight authorities that govern the 60-year-old national security system. The Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) was founded in September 2006 as a public-private partnership to support this reform process.

Origins of the National Security System

America's national security system was devised for a different era, when national security was primarily a function of military capabilities wielded by one department. At the time the National Security Act of 1947--legislation that established this system--was written, the U.S. had recently emerged from World War II as a virtually unchallenged industrial and economic giant. The main threat to the United States was the Soviet Union, with its emerging nuclear ballistic missile arsenal and its conventional forces parked on the borders of the U.S.'s European and Japanese allies.

With major combat operations and nuclear deterrence the principal focus of national security strategy, the national security system required only limited coordination between vertically structured departments and agencies. The architects of the national security system gave little thought to structures and processes that might be needed between departments. The National Security Council, the only body that could coordinate the activities of different departments, was an afterthought in the 1947 National Security Act.

Managing National Security in the 21st Century

Whatever its adequacy in a former era, today's national security system is a clumsy anachronism not suited for the current strategic environment. The stovepiped structure designed to mobilize industrial resources against a single peer competitor has been rendered dangerously inadequate. As noted in the Center for the Study of the Presidency's Comprehensive Strategic Reform, "The structures and doctrines the nation developed to win the Cold War have in some cases become weaknesses, many of their assumptions no longer valid." (1)

From global terrorism, cyber attacks, and challenges to the neutrality of space, to armed horsemen in Sudan, transnational religious leaders in Iraq, and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, the challenges to national security today defy traditional categories. National security now involves a wide array of issues that can be addressed only with a broader set of highly integrated and carefully calibrated capabilities. …

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