Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 6, 2009

The Long Blog: Practical Deductions From Standpoint of US Policy – or – The superior resilience of red wine glasses in contrast to champagne glasses

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on November 6, 2009

 Editorial Note:  This is the ninth — and final — in a series of posts on resilience as a proposed focus for a homeland security strategy.  This strategizing is organized around the approach taken by George Kennan in a seminal 1946 document.  Links to prior posts are provided below. If you have not, please access the comments to these posts.  The discussions taking place “behind the wall” have been fundamental to the value of the effort.


From the closing paragraphs of the Long Telegram:

(3) Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. World communism is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue. This is point at which domestic and foreign policies meets Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow worth a thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiqués. If we cannot abandon fatalism and indifference in face of deficiencies of our own society, Moscow will profit–Moscow cannot help profiting by them in its foreign policies…

(5) Finally we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. After Al, the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.


800.00B International Red Day/2 – 2546: Airgram

Fundamental to Kennan’s foreign policy is an effective — we might even say, resilient — domestic policy.  The stronger and more differentiated our internal condition, the less opportunity we give any external threat.

As his later writings confirm — and is inferred by the final paragraph above — Kennan is not much concerned with the strength of domestic security.  Rather, the social, political, and economic vitality of the nation is our best defense (and offense, too).  The more we solve domestic “deficiencies” the stronger our international position. 

Much of our thinking and talking about homeland security is homeostatic.  We focus on prevention (at least I do) and protection.  We talk about recovery.  We seem to seek to minimize change.  It sounds like we are aiming to preserve the status quo. 

But this language obscures — and may actually complicate — achievement of our real goal, which is much more about adaptability, optimization, and growth.  We want to solve our deficiencies.

A complex system self-organizes around a point of equilibrium.  This is good, we usually don’t want the system to lose its core characteristics.  But do we really want to always return to the same or very similar point? (the Greek homoios = similar is the origin of homeo in homeostasis). 

This has not been the goal — or historical experience — of the United States.  We want the sense of stability of being in the same place.  But we have also wanted our equilibrium point to move (up) — economically and in regards to justice and freedom.  It has been the American tendency to seek a kind of heterostasis, a stability that encompasses a depth and breadth of positive change.

In Brian Walker’s 7 minute whiteboard talk, he tells us about the “basin of attraction.”  This establishes the boundaries within which any system can self-organize.

The narrower and shallower the basin, the more likely turbulence will cause the system to spill over its boundaries and become an entirely different system. Consider a shallow champagne coupe.  Just a little turbulence and all is lost.


Better is a champagne flute.  The depth of the basin is more suited for containing turbulence.  The flute’s shape intensifies and directs the internal turbulence — bubbles and fragrance —  for our pleasure.

Even more condusive to resilience is the depth and breadth of a red wine goblet.  The basin generously accommodates the turbulence needed to aerate the wine.  The more complicated the vintage, the more vigorous the turbulence, the more satisfying the taste.  

Two years ago at the annual (semi-annual?) World Bank riot, I observed a police commander apply a strategy of resilience to a tactical situation.  It was toward the end of a long, hot day.  A unit of riot police was being held in reserve outside the principal perimeter.  The arrival of a television crew attracted an anarchist flash team intending to charge the police. 

Just as the anarchists finished the short war-dance that typically precedes a charge, the police commander barked into his radio, “disperse!”  The line of dark visors turned sharply toward their boss.  Again he shouted, “disperse!” And this time he waved his arms and wiggled his fingers as if to say, anywhere, I don’t care.  The thin blue line dissolved.

The anarchists, all pumped up from their noisy huddle, no longer had a target.  They looked around in confusion. Their shoulders slumped.  The television crew drove on.  The turbulence had been given the space it needed to return to equilibrium.

In developing and implementing a strategy of resilience we seek to deepen and widen the boundaries in which turbulence can occur while maintaining the essential function and form of our current system.

Has this been — is this now — the goal of the Department of Homeland Security?  Does this resonate with the goals and objectives of the component agencies of the Department of Homeland Security?  Is this a major outcome of our homeland security planning, training, exercising, grant-making and preparedness programs?

With a few possible exceptions, the answer has to be no.  If any consistent strategy can be discerned it has much more to do with suppressing the likelihood of turbulence and responding to the messy consequences of turbulence, rather than accommodating the possibility (probability) of turbulence.  We are much more focused on resisting change than adopting resilience.

Prevention, response, and recovery each have an important place in homeland security thinking and doing.  Each will be more successful in combination with a strategy of resilience.

For the next joint meeting of the DHS policy team with the White House Resilience Policy Directorate, I recommend a Stag’s Leap Cabernet (2004 vintage if you can find it) in a deep, wide goblet.

This is no time for champagne. 



www.hlswatch.com, post #1993/WordPress 2.7.1 with 0 widgets: Blog


Previous posts in this series:

The Long Blog:  A strategy of resilience (October 19)

The Long Blog: “Basic features” of US risk and resilience (October 21)

The Long Blog: Four preliminary deductions from seven premises (October 23)

The Long Blog: Background of this perspective on risk, the role of neurosis (October 26)

The Long Blog: Background of this perspective on risk, embracing the tragic to avoid the ironic (October 28)

The Long Blog: Its (our risk analysis) projection in practical policy on official level (October 30)

The Long Blog: Practical policy continued (November 2)

The Long Blog: Its (our risk analysis) projection on unofficial level (November 4)

Other than responding to reader comments, this completes the series.  Monday I will offer some final thoughts before departing my role at The Watch.

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 6, 2009 @ 5:21 am


In a private exchange, a reader gently critiques that even if my resilience strategy is absolutely True, it is not yet sufficiently communicated for those at the tactical and operational level to meaningfully engage.

Precisely correct. I responded:

I fully accept the critique — and appreciate the endorsement, as well — of the current operational/tactical limits of the resilience strategy. Knowing my limits (strengths and weaknesses) this is one of the reasons I took the Long Telegram as my loose framework. I think Nitze was stronger than Kennan(and me) at drawing operational and tactical lessons. As a result, containment largely became what Nitze meant it to be, more than Kennan (or so it seems to me). I will, I expect, be just as horrified as Kennan was, if someone comes along and as effectively operationalizes resilience. But, I hope, I would also appreciate that s/he went where I was unwilling or unable to go.

I go on to argue that, at least given my own limitations, the strategy cannot be fully worked out by this strategist. It requires participation, collaboration, and deliberation with others. The living strategy of this dialogue would be worth much, much more than whatever statement of strategy I could gin-up, even if I would put down Kennan and pick up Thucydides as my model.

Bill Cumming recently commented that my posts have been, among other things, entertaining. I deeply appreciate the critique. In my own eccentric sense of entertainment, that has been a goal. Yet entertainment, or self-fulfillment, or even the joy of writing itself is not a sufficient goal. I am sufficiently American to be dissatisfied with Aristotle’s assurance that contemplation is fulfilling.

We each — don’t we — want to contribute practically to a brighter, better, more beautiful tomorrow? But we only do this in communication, in relationship (in participation, collaboration, and deliberation) with one another. We never do it alone.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 6, 2009 @ 11:06 am

Well Phil a brilliant series of POSTS and you will be missed. I believe it was in 1977 that in a blind wine-tasting contest held IN FRANCE an American white and red wines won the top prize. It takes resilience to be a winemaker (and perhaps a wine drinker also)!
I favor Kennan over Nitze both as to strategy and tactics. Actually, it probably has not been written in a cohesive form yet but I believe history in the long term will support Kennan over Nitze as being the more skilled architect of what allowed the US to survive (not win IMO) the Cold War. Out of one hundred eleven of my OCS artillery officer class at Ft.Sill,OK, graduating in July 1968, I was one of eight sent to FRG as a butter bar LT. Apparently I was the first unassigned 2LT to reach USA EU command in 6 months. I was greeted in a Frankfurt Airport by a Soviet Agent who took my picture and also photographed my name tag. Trip by commerical charter with 189 passengers–all servicemen but 3 new LTs! All going to help face the Soviet Union somewhere in European Command. The Allied military was still on alert from invasion of spring 68. Without going into details of my assignment I was privy to both ground and air campaign documents and plans including conventional and special weapons so that I speak with some knowledge basis of the subject during that time frame. Also had access to highly classified targeting information. Also played numerous exercises with Bundewher and Lutwaffe forces. Conclusion–that the threat of a credible response to a USSR western movement–all out–was limited. Even played REFORGER exericises where US deployed units were rushed to FRG to help defend that country and the west. Later in civilian life played a number of large mobilization exercises including Rex Alpha and Bravo series and other exercises in the TANK at Pentagon. Bottom line is that the USSR lost–the US did not WIN.
Still I think the Kennan thesis holds for the passage of time and NITZE was just lucky that his theorems were not tested. Am I a pacifist. NO! My mother was a Quaker, and I graduated from a Quaker High School. But when drafted I did serve!
Okay but now what concerns me and gives me hope that the threat of terrorism may cause the US to look hard, very hard, at the sinews of the democracy (Republic) that made the nation great and truly a beacon to others. Are we a beacon now? No but possibly can be again! So my bottom line is that this discourse is a first baby step on the road to resilience. I have asked Phil off line to really spend more not less time on this issue and perhaps others. I don’t have it in me at age 67 and besides and trying to push the idea of civil crisis management system, and chain of command. Phil sent me off line a wonderful short analysis of current HSPDs and their problems and promise. That also should be turned by Phil into a long article. One of the things about White House documents both NSDD, PD, PSD, HSPDs is that you never know truly their formal review process and what was contributed by who (or subtracted by)! What I have never understood about the White House is that expertise is often not rewarded but loyalty is. Yes, placing trust in princes must be fun if you are White House aide but I simply was taught and learned otherwise. I knew Majors and Colonels that not only had never commanded troops but if they did would either be shot by their own troops or kill them by their own decisions. The recent incident at Ft. Hood where an MD apparently killed many makes me wonder how weapon lockdown procedures have changed since I inspected units for that purpose among many others. Well hoping my comments have had some resilience with others for this very very important topic of resilience.

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November 15, 2009 @ 7:01 am

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Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Resilience redux: Our capacity for creative community response

October 22, 2010 @ 12:42 am

[…] been assigned to read, among other resources, Resilience: The Grand Strategy which originated with several blog posts here at Homeland Security Watch.  They may have also read last week’s post on resilience.  You can review the dialogue in […]

Comment by Kitchen Towels ·

November 4, 2010 @ 3:37 am

some wine glasses break easily so now i always buy wine glasses that are quite thick ‘

Comment by Male Reproductive System

December 3, 2010 @ 11:19 am

most wine glasses have very thin structure and i bet that they break easily not unless they are made of quartz glass ;`*

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