Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 22, 2009

Earth Day and the boundaries of Homeland Security, as a proper noun

Reports of drought, flood, wildfire, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, and various plagues are easy to find.  Happy Earth Day. 

To some the risk of these and other natural threats are atypically — perhaps unnaturally — increasing.  Last year the National Intelligence Council offered,

We judge global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for US national security interests over the next 20 years. Although the United States will be less affected and is better equipped than most nations to deal with climate change, and may even see a benefit owing to increases in agriculture productivity, infrastructure repair and replacement will be costly. We judge that the most significant impact for the United States will be indirect and result from climate-driven effects on many other countries and their potential to seriously affect US national security interests. We assess that climate change alone is unlikely to trigger state failure in any state out to 2030, but the impacts will worsen existing problems—such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions. Climate change could threaten domestic stability in some states, potentially contributing to intra- or, less likely, interstate conflict, particularly over access to increasingly scarce water resources. We judge that economic migrants will perceive additional reasons to migrate because of harsh climates, both within nations and from disadvantaged to richer countries.

Is climate change a homeland security issue?  Is it a Homeland Security issue?

Recently in this blog there was a quick exchange on whether or not Columbine – or school shootings in general – are properly understood as an issue of homeland security.   Maybe you have noticed, my posts have not given any attention to Somali piracy.  In recent days I have been especially tempted to give attention to the interrogation techniques used by military and intelligence officials on suspected terrorists. But I have not. Meanwhile some readers find my reports on the Hindu Kush excessive.

What fits?  What does not?  Why or why not?  The editorial issue is trivial.  But the policy/strategy issue is potentially crucial.

Last June, co-contributor Chris Bellavita wrote in Homeland Security Affairs Journal, “There are at least seven defensible definitions of homeland security, based on claims about what homeland security emphasizes or ought to emphasize. The definitions focus on (1) terrorism, (2) all hazards, (3) terrorism and catastrophe, (4) jurisdictional hazards, (5) meta hazards, (6) national security, and (7) government efforts to curtail civil liberties. In a metaphorical sense, each definition represents a set of interests that seeks a niche in the homeland security ecosystem. As in a biological system, these semantic entities struggle for resources that give advantage for organizational or political survival and growth.”  (See the complete essay at www.hsaj.org.) 

Two anecdotes:  Last year I made a listening tour of putative Homeland Security leaders.  It was not until the fifth such meeting that I finally discerned my conversation partners were using  “all-hazards” as the term-of-art for hazards other than terrorism.  How “all” came to exclude terrorism is a long story and this is not the place to tell it. Second story: several months ago I had a series of very productive sessions with a smart, experienced, and sophisticated D.C. insider focused on an important issue of HS policy/strategy.  Our co-conspiracy was successful and certain operational steps were implemented.  As the sun set over the Rosslyn high rises and we disconnected from a final teleconference, she turned to me with a smile and asked, “Now Phil, what is homeland security?”

This is a practical question with important implications, depending on how it is answered.  We are currently incapable of meaningful consensus regarding an answer and that is hardly surprising. But I am concerned that we are not doing more — even fussing a bit — to find a more widely accepted definition.  We define in order to better understand and better communicate our understanding.  The definition — even if it is wrong (especially if it is proven wrong) — can assist this process.

While it no doubt sounds pedantic, I will point to Aristotle for a practical start.  He set out ten categories to better apprehend the subject or predicate of a proposition. One of Aristotle’s categories attends to the relation of one thing (homeland security) to others (e.g. law enforcement, emergency management, public health, counter-terrorism, environmental protection, economic security, intelligence, national security, et cetera).

What differentiates HS from those “things” to which HS is related?  What does HS add to the relationship?  How do the others differ from their prior condition because of their relationship to HS?  In modern parlance, what is Homeland Security’s value-add?

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 22, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

Great post and great questions! Okay no answers here for now but would someone please list for me the current lineup of “Failed States” and the criteria used for the list. Not only will many on anyones list include a number already impacted by climate change, but what a long list I think it will be by 2030. Whatever the cause, long-term it is looking like a major drought cycle over next two decades world-wide. Maybe sunspots? Who knows? But impact on food and water and health will be and already is enormous. Which is broader? Homeland Security? Economic Security? National Security? Health and Welfare Security? and on and on. Looking for anwers here.

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