Security for the 21st century

The Baltimore Sun

The security world has changed drastically and unpredictably, expanding the range of potential threats, new missions, new forms of warfare and intelligence-gathering, and new technologies. Combined, these present many national security challenges for the incoming Obama administration. Consider: The perpetrator of the 9/11 terrorist attacks still pursues al-Qaida objectives; the U.S. and NATO fight the Taliban in Afghanistan; the battle against Iraqi insurgent forces continues; Iran threatens to go nuclear and supports Middle East terrorists; Gaza fighting erupts; and Russian tanks are in Georgia.

Meeting these challenges - and those yet to be revealed - will require a new way of thinking, a more holistic approach that stresses both interagency and international cooperation. We can envision expanded security missions that include combating worldwide terrorism, pandemics, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and insurgencies, as well as "conventional" warfare missions that include homeland security, regional conflicts, postwar stability and reconstruction, and cyber warfare. These missions will require forces with enhanced agility, rapid responsiveness and broad-based capability, yet all this must be accomplished with more limited resources. Our government's security agencies will need to do more with less, and squarely face the new priorities dictated by changing needs.

Meeting these challenges will ultimately require a more cooperative, interagency approach, as well as greater international cooperation and alliances. Specifically, we will need an integrated national security strategy, combining the capabilities of the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Department of State, director of national intelligence and other key agencies, such as Treasury, Commerce and Energy.

This integration must be led directly by the president, with a significant strengthening and restructuring at the national security adviser level. A glimmer of this approach is reflected in the fact that the U.S. military's Southern Command and its new African Command will have a State Department representative serving as deputy commander for civil-military affairs.

Another significant problem is that the controlling policies, practices, laws and budgeting have not been sufficiently transformed to match the needs of this new world. The Department of Defense needs to change the way it does business, especially its selection, development and acquisition of weapons and equipment. Instead, we've developed a rearward-looking approach that emphasizes "resetting" the forces to pre-Iraq status rather than modernizing for likely 21st-century security needs.

Recent speeches by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have recognized this need to balance acquisition priorities with shifts from traditional weapon systems to areas such as fighting irregular forces in urban canyons; to counter cyber warfare; to place a greater emphasis on understanding language and culture; to allocate greater resources to unmanned systems; and to pay far more attention to nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

A recent Defense Science Board study offered a series of recommendations to restructure the Defense Department's entire acquisition enterprise to help make the transition to "a 21st-century national security industrial structure." Among other things, it recommended weapons' designs focused on lower cost; increased funding of research; a focus on acquisition personnel (to fill major shortages of expertise in this area); investments in a modern logistics system; and increased competition (to get higher performance at lower costs).

Fierce resistance to such changes can be expected. Strong political and military leadership will be required to achieve these necessary changes. This must be a high and continuing priority for the new administration - or it simply will not happen.

Jacques S. Gansler, former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, is a professor and holds the Roger C. Lipitz chair at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy. This essay is excerpted from a collection of recommendations offered to the incoming administration by UM public policy faculty, available at


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