Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 19, 2009

The Long Blog: A strategy of resilience

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 19, 2009

For the next month — and no more —  I will focus my thrice-weekly posts (and perhaps some weekend bits) on how resilience might serve as an effective, long-term homeland security strategy.

This will be an exercise in serialized strategizing.  You are invited to contribute and critique the work-in-progress.  I expect — even hope — to find myself going down intellectual blind alleys and ending up in logical box canyons.  This is the value of writing and thinking out-loud.

It is often said that journalism is history’s first draft.  If so, blogging is a rough draft. 

To save time and effort — and to more fully invite your contributions — I will not do much refining as we go along.  If we end up with something worthwhile at the end, then we can attend to tightening and polishing. 

There is a ton of worthwhile source material for this effort.  But whatever I produce in the next thirty days will be especially influenced by the following:

The original 2002 National Strategy for Homeland Security.  There are always quibbles, but I thought Richard Falkenrath (principally) did the nation a substantive service in bringing this together.  I am much more critical of the 2007 update.  Even if you disagreed with the original, there was something coherent with which to disagree.  The update goes every which way. 

Beginning in February 2008 I worked with the Obama Homeland Security advisory council and several state and local leaders to draft a new homeland security strategy.  The campaign never took formal action on the full proposal (some portions ended up in speeches and such).  After the election I worked with a few others to produce a thirty-one page working draft of what emerged during the campaign ( linked here).

Our exchanges on resilience here at The Watch will inform whatever is produced in the next month.  There are several posts-with-comments on which I will draw.

Mr. Brennan comes to dinner (June 4)

Fundamentals of Resilience in Brief  (July 14)

Resilience as public policy: Moving from the individualistic to the systematic (July 19)

Choosing  the Cusp of Chaos (August 14)

The Case for Resilience (September 11)

Preparedness, Readiness, and Resilience (September 27)

Does Resilience have a fairy god-mother? (October 2)

Resilience and the Commons (October 12)

As a model for our ultimate product we will follow George Kennan’s Long Telegram.  Written early in 1946, this 2000 word analysis and set of recommendations had a signal influence on US Cold War strategy.  I am unlikely to achieve such cogency, but can aspire to it.

These twelve or so posts will be a long swan-song or —  given the extended character — a Wagnerian final aria.  Before Thanksgiving the fat lady will finish singing and I will hand-over The Watch to others.

My greatest regret regarding The Watch has been the very few occasions for real dialogue.  I am sure this mostly reflects my own style of writing.  I am inclined to obscure references, complicated metaphors, and premature pronouncements.  

In these last few weeks, I will try to avoid these off-putting behaviors. I expect to share uncertainty and lack of resolution.  I especially welcome your critical, questioning, and constructive contributions to seeking resolution.  If this remains a mostly personal product, it will not have much value.

It will also not have much value if I blog my opinion and others respond with their opinions.  That is, sadly, what mostly happened with public contributions to the QHSR… and what characterizes the vast majority of blogging.  Real dialogue requires a vital mix of humility and courage, restraint and generosity, listening and engaging what is heard. (How’s that for a pronouncement?)

If something strategically coherent emerges from a very public process of reasoning together… well, that would be news in itself.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 19, 2009 @ 10:49 am

Interesting how the Long Telegram, the Foreign Affairs Article by X [Kennan] and NSC-68 set the US policy stage for the Cold War. Real question to me at this point is what do we know about the formulation and adoption and implementation of Soviet Policy now that much new archival material has been opened? Also clear is that the increased destructiveness of nuclear weapons never really resulted in much official change in policy with MAD being adopted and still in place. Suggestion that renunication of “First Use” of nukes might be significant first step and believe writings of retired 4-star Lee Butler [author of the SIOP] might be usefully reviewed. What we do know is that both parties are driven by re-election needs and desire to remain as incumbents. Little thought to what is best policy for US or its citizens. But hey I will credit this blog for pushing resilience. Note author Stephen Flynn’s 2007 book “Edge of Disaster” as also arguing for resilience. What we do know is that little of the DOD budget for whatever purposes actually makes the US a more resilient nation. Why not fine comb the DOD budget as well as DHS and other appropriations bills to see what is actually being spent of resilience?
I could of course argue the the U-6 unemployment figure of 17% used by Charlie Cook of the Cook Report argues for available talent to promote resilience. How about stipends for the unemployed to be CERT trained, CPR trained, First Aid trained, etc. etc. Don’t expect the FIRE sector to use its profits and bonuses to promote USA Resiliency. This series could be quite helpful in pushing resiliency.

Comment by Pat Longstaff

October 19, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

Sometimes it is not the destination but the journey. I know there are a few of us who will be glad to be along for this ride, searching for resilience ideas that can make many lives better. It takes guts to set out without knowing where you will end up but we have come to expect no less here. And I, for one, will be very sorry to see you go, Phil.

Comment by J.

October 19, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

Two best things of this blog have been Mr. Palin’s posts and Mr. Cumming’s responses. We will all be the lesser without your insights, sir. Looking forward to your resiliency posts and don’t be a stranger.

Comment by Mark Chubb

October 19, 2009 @ 9:54 pm

Phil, count me among the many who read this blog for your erudite musings on this esoteric and often misunderstood subject. Your posts have always proved thought-provoking, and have given me plenty to think about. Your presence in these pages will be missed greatly by me.

As you know, I have been tinkering with ideas related to resilience for some time. My interest stems from the observation that like success, the concept has many fathers. Sustainability treads similarly familiar ground and obviously shares common maternal lineage. In my view, both resilience and sustainability labor under the weight of efforts to make them carry water for the failings of other policies.

That said, I believe in earnest that the concept of resilience, particularly in the environmental as more so than the engineering sense, offers a decidedly fresh perspective from which to approach the intersection between homeland security and emergency management. Indeed, as you have noted, we might even find the concept helps us understand the overlap between national security and homeland security by showing us how integral efforts to reconcile social, economic, environmental, and political goals with one another are to development and security.

It seems to me that resilience approached from a strategic perspective cannot be divorced from consideration of how it might be implemented or operationalized. Whatever we do in this regard must help us understand and conceptualize the influence among individuals, organizations, society, technology, and the broader environment. This environmental perspective must embrace political, cultural, economic, and legal diversity in the same way it has previously come to address ecological issues.

Efforts to develop frameworks for measuring resilience are in their infancy, but one in particular offers some promise as a complement to the comprehensive emergency management framework embodied by the National Incident Management System. Michel Brueanu of the MCEER at the University at Buffalo has developed a matrix approach to assess the four Rs of robustness, redundancy, resourcefulness, and rapidity across the domains of technology, organization, society, and economy. (Re-engineering is the mechanism by which adjustments are made.) I have played with applying this framework (with minor adjustments) to organizations that depend on technology as well as technology that depends upon organizations, and have found it equally useful in both circumstances.

By developing objective criteria for assessing each dimension across each domain, I have found it an especially useful tool for getting people from different disciplines to approach shared issues, particularly those involving policy questions and resource priorities by applying a common framework and a common language to their deliberations.

It should come as no surprise that resilient infrastructure depends upon resilient organizations to operate and maintain it. Likewise, resilient organizations must operate within social and economic constraints, and can only achieve the room with which to move freely by managing expectations within this broader environment.

I look forward to exploring this rich subject in much more detail as the month unfolds.

Comment by christopher tingus

October 20, 2009 @ 12:01 am

Philip –

We really prefer that you stay and we can all engage in sharing perspectives whether we agree or not – you have provoked so much discussion – so much creativity in all willing to make suggestion, comment or criticism….

Thank you for all your commitment to The Watch and to the nation thus far –

I am unfortunately not an optimistic individual when it comes to the economic global future as many are challenged and while I see fellow neighbor very resilient, unfortunately, those that I work with in numerous commercial project initiatives from Asia to Europe to the Middle East to India are not at all pleased with business these days and far less enthusiatic about politicians in general….

Yes, resilience, integral to the process and our survival – however without transparency from local, state and national, we are allowing those elected by us to dig our hole even that much deeper!

Impoverished by the very same we entrust with our precious vote!

Philip – sincerely from all – thank you –

“Absolute power absolutely corrupts!”


Comment by William R. Cumming

October 20, 2009 @ 1:17 am

Phil! Thinking more about your comment that blogs are rough drafts of history! Perhaps! But about 20 years ago when I learned a little about the Futurologists and the fact that Graduate programs existed in that “discipline” I began to envy those with that education. Then I learned that some highly competent firms were searching the daily and weekly newspapers of the US to learn of events, fads, trends, or whatever you want to label them that were generating momentum for want of a better word in US culture, business, politics etc. Then read Malcom Gladwell’s extremely interesting books.

What I have concluded from that rather imprecise review is that blogs may just give US a peek around the corner. In analysis of events and policies the blogs may be more influential in the long run than the who, what, where, and how of journalism although of course many fine journalists also tried to answer the “Why”?

I now understand that degrees in “Communications” far outstrip those in Journalism and may eventually threaten the 40% of undergrad BAs in English that are awarded. So I guess all part of the communications revolution. Anyhow, I highly respect the fact that your and Chris’ selection of topics often pick up on some event or topic that I have not quite focused upon and then your blog posts allow me a chance to articulate [poorly for the most part] what was itching [worrying me about the topic]! So thanks for all that and of course respect the fact that you feel you must move on but hoping US will see your comments on blog posts from time to time. Clearly many of yours had that element of fun and cool [soul] poetry and otherwise that make HLSWATCH.com so important to me and others. Congratulation on the body of work represented by the posts over the last year. Time well spent in my judgement. Thanks, thanks and thanks again.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 20, 2009 @ 5:57 am

Thanks for the kind comments. Sort of like being able to attend one’s own funeral.

Early in my career — late 1970s — I was a “corporate issues analyst”. This was, in part, being a futurist, such as referenced above by Bill Cumming.

I predicted the Gulf of Sidra incident (1981) and its impact on the energy market about nine weeks in advance. After that I was golden. I went on to “predict” various externalities for which corporate clients could prepare themselves. I have never again been as well paid as I was during that time.

Fundamental to such predictive work is a grasp of past and present reality. Without history, we are flying blind. Without a reasonably firm grasp of current reality, we lack navigation capacity.

In homeland security it seems to me a (not necessarily the) crucial question is whether or not terrorists present an existential threat to the United States (and, if so, which terrorists?).

Some are sure we do face such a threat. Given this perspective, they justify an extreme application of the precautionary principle. If they are right, so is their prescription.

As will become clear, I perceive a serious, but less than existential, threat. I also see the sources of violent extremism being transitory (if multi-generational) and less about us, than about the societies in which the violent extremism emerges.

It is Kennan v. Nitze all over again. Kennan perceived a Soviet system that could be managed. Nitze saw a reality that must be confronted.

I doubt this difference of perspective can be empirically resolved. Even in the aftermath of the Cold War Kennan v. Nitze continues to be argued. How much did we cause the collapse of the Soviet system and how much did it implode?

I also wonder if the United States tends toward what might be called a “Pearl Harbor Syndrome.” Are we so constantly on watch for a surprise attack, ala Pearl Harbor, that we fail to give sufficient attention to other more insidious threats? Pearl Harbor was followed by a generation worrying over the Soviet’s “first strike” capability. On 9/11 we suffered through another surprise attack.

Each of these threats were real. There is another kind of problem if we have become obsessive or compulsive regarding such threats. Does the US, as a system, have an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder regarding surprise attacks? Is this OCD blinding us to other — potentially more serious — risks? To what extent is the risk of terrorist WMD attacks a reflection of their serious intention and capability? To what extent is this a projection of our worst fears? Does an appropriate response focus on the other’s intent and capability… or our own fears… or something else entirely?

I am not promising answers, but these are some of the questions I am asking as I lean into this series.

Comment by Mark Chubb

October 20, 2009 @ 10:00 am

Phil, count me among those who believe the only real existential threats to the United States are those of our own making. Empires rise on their strengths and fall when those strengths become weaknesses, whether by their own hand or that of another. Adaptation, a central tenet of resilience, is the key.

In the Sunday edition of the New York Times (reprinted in yesterday’s edition of the Financial Times), Mort Zuckerman described just such an existential threat: the apparent inability of the American economy to replace and create jobs. Isn’t this the sort of situation that has given rise to the violent extremism we fear?

If so, Jessica’s contribution posted earlier today should rightly give us pause. Seeing some of the angry comments on Bono’s column, which also appeared in Sunday’s Times, posted on NYTimes.com, I have to wonder whether the situation at home is deteriorating.

Have we reached a point where our diversity and tolerance of (or maybe more accurately promotion of) free speech, even hate speech, is working against us? Would a more resilient nation voluntarily curb speech rights to promote civility and preserve order (might this fall within the robustness category I described earlier)? Clearly, some do.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 20, 2009 @ 11:53 am

WOW! This thread is becoming of great interest to me.
I do perceive one existential threat underlying the terrorist threat to the US and elsewhere. That threat is the apparently genetically and X chromosome driven (perhaps driven by difference in physical size) of the desire to suppress the aspirations and hopes and development of women. I firmly believe the US got where it is because of the growing equality of women and that is apparently very threatening to many of our friends and enemies who see that trend as opposed to their vision of the future. Hey no Stepford Wives for me and thinking that the US must work out its ambivalence on women’s issues in its foreign policy and foreign relations. Thus, there does seem to be some existential threat to our culture that is not recognized when the US faces the argument that it is not what we stand for but what we do that is resisted by the Jihadis and others. The stakes are great and the outcome historically more uncertain than the US seems to recognize. Democracy (our republic) is not necessarily the future nor is women’s rights. But clearly the “Long War” aphorism may be applicable but in far different ways than a military approach. I can only speculate but interesting fact is that the US military can no longer operate successfully without women.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 21, 2009 @ 5:43 am

Is it too abstract to see in our HS challenges — and this discussion — the question of how we effectively engage change?

Despite the 2008 election, I am thinking more in terms of change ala Heraclitus (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heraclitus/) or chaos theory.

At both home and abroad there seems to be a fear or denial of change… or at least anxiety over the pace of change. But while I share this feeling from time and time, certainly we “know” (if we think) that change is constant and our challenge is not to resist or control change, but to shape and adapt. (or maybe a question mark would be better?)

Anxiety regarding change leads to anger, anger can lead to violence. Is it mostly a symptom of an overly rigid adherence to a delusional search for stability?

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