Sept. 30, 2014 —
The threats to U.S. national security have evolved, but the means to respond to them lag far behind. After 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and countless other natural and unnatural disasters, now is the time to rethink U.S. security strategy. John Fass Morton’s Next-Generation Homeland Security could not be timelier in proposing an overhaul of the Cold War–era system. Policy change, he argues, will not be enough; we must change the structure of national security governance because the Cold War structures reflect only the strategic conditions that were relevant at that time. The United States can no longer rely on the forces that made it powerful in the second half of the 20th century, as the international system has changed, so too must our national security system. As globalization has reshaped the meaning of sovereignty, nations are no longer the only important actors. In today’s strategic environment, states play a co-equal role in policy development and strategy formation, and so they must also play a co-equal role in national security governance.
Morton’s recommendations follow extensive, impressively thorough research on the evolution of emergency management and national preparedness. His inside perspective on the struggles to reform homeland security in the wake of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina shows us the difficulties in making effective policy changes and the need for a change to the whole structure of our security system.
“This federal-centric homeland security system we have right now is a single point of failure,” Morton tells Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. We need a self-reliant citizenry to get away from this single point of failure. Currently, the Federal Government is responsible for national security yet owns neither the problem of homeland security threats nor the solution to them because the private sector owns critical security infrastructure. The structure and process of homeland security therefore needs buy-in from the Federal Government’s “mission partners”: nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, and state and local authorities. For local authorities to be effective, Federal authorities must respect what Morton calls a fundamental truth—that is, local government is the level most responsive to the will of American citizens. We have seen what happens when this truth is ignored: In the aftermath of the BP oil spill, for instance, crisis management efforts at the local level were undermined by Federal authorities, leading to frustrated efforts by the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners to contain the crisis. Morton suggests improving coordination through the application of network theory—taking insights on decentralization from the information technology world and applying them to management and organization.
The network that Morton proposes revolves around 10 regional nodes. Regional, private-sector organizations on national security are not new; since the early 1990s, multicity and multistate associations have collaborated in large-scale disaster relief efforts. Such regional collaborations, though, must form the basis of the U.S. homeland security system rather than supplementing a national government–dominated system. Intergovernmental relationships should be not only vertical (Federal, state, and local) but also horizontal (interstate, interlocality). This setup means that top-down command models are not appropriate; the Incident Command System (ICS) is far more suitable for the management of incidents involving multiple jurisdictions and levels of government. The ICS blends hierarchical and network organizational models by serving as a temporary hierarchical authority that establishes a clear chain of command in a disaster to coordinate responses at each level of government. The ICS assigns section chiefs to five major functional areas: command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance/administration, with intelligence/investigation as the sixth functional area in the case of a terrorist event. Incidents are managed by a single Incident Commander (IC) if only one jurisdiction is involved, or by a Unified Command (UC) if multiple jurisdictions are affected. The IC or UC assumes the top position in a temporary hierarchy and determines strategies and resource allocations to respond to the incident, and the authority of the ICS recedes after the incident’s resolution.
Morton recommends that a regionally based national preparedness system form through a “maturing-by-doing” process whereby homeland security professionals at each level work to resolve three problem areas: risk assessment; operational planning and exercise validation; and use of homeland security preparedness grants to target, develop, and sustain state and local capabilities. Though these three goals must be met at the local, state, and Federal levels, it is Federal regions that should play a central role in coordinating collaboration among states and localities. The Federal Government also has a central role in financing the national preparedness system; that is, it holds the financial burden for providing states and localities adequate resources for national catastrophic planning and assessments.
Morton’s plan is ambitious but sound. He does not claim that he or his book are the final authority on the design of a regionally based national preparedness system, but Next-Generation Homeland Security launches a debate that is long overdue: how to reform outdated Cold War–era structures into a security system that can meet the strategic challenges of today’s world. The security of the American people and the political and economic stability of the international system are at stake, so this book is a must-read for anyone interested in homeland security. JFQ
Katie Kuhn recently completed her Ph.D. in Political Science from The George Washington University. She specializes in International Politics with a focus on Latin American Politics.