Happy New Year. What follows is not exactly my list of resolutions for 2008, but rather four consolidated priorities I’d like to see accomplished in order to improve our security at home. Since this blog embraces a broad definition of those factors that contribute to (or further denude) our homeland security, the topics are similarly beyond the normal scope of the homeland security debate (state grants, first responder interoperability, etc.)
Preempt the Terrorists’ Pursuit of WMD
We know that terrorists want them. We know that they are hard to detect when smuggled and to respond to when detonated or released. There’s a lot that can be done in the way of eliminating terrorist access to WMD, but it’ll take a sizeable commitment. While Russia’s military maintains more than 1,000 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and at least 150 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, even more HEU remains in research reactors in dozens of nations around the world, many with security inadequate to prevent theft. The “loose geeks” problem is as relevant as the loose nukes threat. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, thousands of weapons scientists (presumably in Russia) are still without a steady paycheck.
In 2008, let’s ramp up Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) efforts to role back this twin threat and keep WMD out of terrorists hands to begin with. Start with a plus-up for the CTR budget that amounts to a mere 10% of the budget we annually spend on, say, missile defense. That would be $1 billion for CTR, which is quite a jump from the paltry $342 million presently budgeted.
Finish the Job in Afghanistan to Prevent Further Terrorist Support
Focus on al Qaeda and Basic Stability
Our mission there is on a collision course with itself. What once was the frontline in fighting terrorism is on the backburner while our security gains there erode. We need a “surge” in Afghanistan to create the kind of political and security environment to enable our (albeit imperfect) reconstruction teams, more effectively distribute aid, provide the running room that nascent government needs in order to assert itself and gain the legitimacy it so sorely lacks in many parts of the country. That the Taliban and al Qaeda are still operating there after the early successes of 2001 and 2002 is utterly regrettable.
Recommit to NATO
Start with Afghanistan and follow up at Bucharest
Rebalancing America’s troop commitments in Afghanistan consistent with our national security goals is only part of the solution there. It is a NATO operation and our national interests are served by NATO’s success. Our Alliance is more than a sunk cost from the Cold War. NATO brings together 26 nations – largely under U.S. leadership – on a strategic security agenda that reflects U.S. national interests in 2008 and far into the future. Coalitions of the willing may actually have their place, but nothing is more valuable than the potential legitimacy generated by almost 50 countries (including NATO Partners).
We’ve known since 9/11 that our national security interests are in the common interest among our allies. It was confirmed when NATO invoked the mutual defense clause for the first time in its history in support of the U.S. on September 12, 2001. Let’s make the next NATO Summit, which is scheduled for the Spring and to be held in Bucharest, the “back-to-the-basics” Summit. There is great potential for NATO’s evolution as a global security forum with teeth, but it is already an asset for our national security efforts that remains largely untapped as a political arrow in our quiver for rallying reluctant allies and creating partners in parts of the world where we need them most . As they say, “Animus In Conulendo Liber.”
Win the war on terrorism on the moral front, in addition to the military one.
Rationalize Our Stance on Torture
America cannot sanction torture. While situations may arise wherein we have in our custody a person with knowledge of impending attacks, the United States cannot as a matter of policy advocate for a legal loophole or a moral exception that makes torture a standard operating procedure. Doing so diminishes U.S. credibility, endangers our soldiers overseas, runs contrary to the moral imperative our Fore Fathers set forth, and according to too many who’ve used or witnessed torture, it doesn’t work well enough to justify it as a practice.
Close Guantanamo Bay and Restore Habeas
Straightening out our nation’s position on torture will support our route to the moral high ground in rallying others to our cause against extremist terrorists, but so also will the closing of Guantanamo and the restoring of habeas corpus to prisoners we capture. This would be a basic measure to restore America’s conscience and make her once again consistent with our own Constitution. If those who we apprehend as suspects in supporting or perpetrating terrorism actually are guilty, they should be tried (military courts are fine) and punished. Let’s use the evidence that convinced us to apprehend them in the first place. Running prisons that lock people away without ever charging them is simply un-American.
UPDATE 1/14/08: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, also says its time for Gitmo to go. Reuters reported that Admiral Mullen would “like to see it shut down.” “I believe that from the standpoint of how [the prison at Guantanamo Bay] reflects on us that it’s been pretty damaging.”
UPDATE 1/21/08: Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge objects to torture, too. In an interview with AP’s Eileen Sullivan and in remarks before the American Bar Association at a homeland security conference, he stated plainly that “There’s just no doubt in my mind – under any set of rules – waterboarding is torture.” He also reinforces the point made in this post that “One of America’s greatest strengths is the soft power of our value system and how we treat prisoners of war, and we don’t torture.”