I spent two days in Turkey last week. I had been asked to give a paper about “Homeland Security in the U.S. After 9/11” at a NATO counter-terrorism conference. Somehow I had the impression it was supposed to be an academic paper. So that’s what I wrote.
Once the conference started, it took me about 15 minutes to realize none of the 60 participants would have much interest in hearing about “U.S. homeland security as the emergent consequence of a complex adaptive system.”
When it was my turn to present, I made up something else to talk about. I hobbled through my 30 minutes doing, I think, little lasting damage to U.S. — NATO relations.
The homeland security vision outlined in the 2007 strategy says that “along with our partners in the international community” we “will work to achieve a secure homeland that sustains our way of life as a free, prosperous, and welcoming America.”
When Phil Palin wrote for this blog, he would occasionally write about the international part of homeland security. His perception was most people were not interested in that topic. Count me as one of those people. There’s enough to focus on domestically, and one has only so much mental bandwidth.
They say — whoever “they” are — travel broadens one. I now consider myself getting a little broadened.
The conference included representatives from 19 countries. What I thought would be an academic conference turned out to be a meeting filled (mostly) with young (30 to 40 year old) military officers primarily from eastern European and Asian nations — Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Bosnia, Singapore, and several other countries.
There also were half a dozen senior army officers from Pakistan. A few weeks ago they had been in the midst of the Afghanistan/Pakistan battlefields. I asked them who they were fighting, who the enemy was, and why they were fighting. I was told, in the rhythmic speech patterns of the Pakistani version of English, “Good question. We don’t know. We are soldiers. We follow orders. We fight.”
The answer surprised me a little. Actually it surprised me a lot.
The conference was conducted in English. While not all the participants spoke English fluently, they all understood English quite well. (How is it the language of a small island in the upper latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere turned into the common tongue of the world? I’m sure there are books that explain how that happened. Maybe someone can suggest one of those books for my holiday reading.)
There was no doubt Turkey is at war. As we entered our hotel, we had to pass through metal detectors and our baggage was screened, just like the airport. The road to the conference was peppered with barbed wire enclaves, concrete blocks, sniper towers, and other martial artifacts. The meeting facility was in a compound, secured by seriously armed soldiers. (During one of the breaks, I watched a helmeted soldier, weapon at the ready position, looking straight ahead at the highway, about 100 yards in front of him. I watched him for 5 minutes. He did not turn his head once.)
Terrorism is real not just for Turkey, but for practically all the states represented at the conference. (Heard anything lately about the Tartar separatists in Crimea?) In the world represented by the participants at the security conference, the reality of terrorism is substantially different from what I experience the “terrorist threat” to be in the United States.
Despite the somewhat numbing title of the conference — “NATO Advanced Research Workshop: Homeland Security Organization in Defense Against Terrorism” — the officers were not at the conference to listen to research findings. They wanted something practical to take back to their own “homeland.”
In subsequent posts I will summarize some of what I consider to be highlights of the conference, including Al Qaeda’s most significant success in the terrorism wars, the difference between Mohammad’s Mecca and Medina periods and its impact on understanding the concept of jihad, Singapore’s strategy for countering radicalization, and what comes next after “homeland security” is no longer in vogue.
I’ll conclude this introductory post with two observations.
First, some people may think the word “homeland” is an awkwardly Teutonic name for national security. But the term seems to be in the process of being adopted in both old and new Europe, and in parts of Asia.
That surprised me.
In the U.S., it is not unusual to be cynical about the phrase “homeland security.” Elsewhere in the world, it symbolizes a new opportunity to shape — for good or for ill — security futures.
Second, I am persuaded by people like Louise Richardson (“What Terrorists Want”) and others that terrorism cannot be defeated. But, like the old Soviet Union, it can successfully be contained. I think there is substantial theoretical and historical support for that position.
During my thirty minute presentation, I explained how in the United States “homeland security” is often used as a synonym for concern about fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and other incidents — in addition to terrorism — that constitute “all hazards.”
The participants listened politely. But they were not buying any of it. For them, homeland security is only about terrorism. And the people in that conference room want terrorism destroyed.