Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 25, 2011

Taking Homeland Security Seriously

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 25, 2011

The new May-June edition of Foreign Affairs includes a piece by Steve Flynn.  If anyone can claim credit for “resilience” becoming an object of strategy, the former (always?) Coastie and current President of the Center for National Policy is the guy.

In a journal dominated by pieces on the New Arab Revolt, Dr. Flynn’s piece is modestly titled: Recalibrating Homeland Security.  The subtitle suggests an idee fixe which I probably share: “Mobilizing American society to prepare for disaster.”

The first sentence grabs the reader’s attention, “The United States has made a mess of homeland security.”  That is a critique of US society as much as the US government.

Flynn does not mention PPD-8, but I have to believe he saw a preview copy.  The closing section of the essay — The Way Forward — is entirely consistent with the recent directive, highlighting three “tiers” of resilience: Individual, Community, and Commercial.

He also warns that in regard to resilience, “… neither the federal bureaucracy nor the general public appears to be paying much attention.”

You need to be a subscriber to read the piece online.  You can buy a copy at your news stand now.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 25, 2011 @ 2:46 pm

So is “resilience” an add on or will it replace some other funding priority?

Comment by Arnold Bogis

April 25, 2011 @ 11:13 pm

I have to admit, I read the article (admittedly rather quickly) and did not see anything really new. While the topics covered are likely novel for the majority of Foreign Affairs’ regular audience, they should be very familiar to those interested in homeland security in general and readers of Flynn’s past work in particular. Resilience…check. Citizen participation…check. The importance of the private sector…check. The notion that U.S. citizens used to be more self-sufficient and hence resilient…check.

The bit about smaller businesses finding “sister city” equivalents far enough away so that they can bolster each others’ business in case disaster strikes either was interesting, but even that idea breaks down without some overarching organization to manage such connections. The government? Industry group? He doesn’t elaborate how something like that could operate.

Flynn should absolutely be recognized for bringing the notion of resilience to the forefront of the homeland security conversation. And all the ideas he raises in his piece are very important and worthwhile, just in my opinion not new.

I also have two minor points of disagreement: his characterization of the risk of catastrophic terrorism and the notion that the public is no longer resilient as in the past.

He parrots the conventional wisdom that Al Qaeda as we knew it is no longer capable of pulling off a sophisticated operation, so we’re facing primarily a homegrown/lone wolf threat. He concedes another group might develop the operational sophistication to pull off a spectacular attack, but falls back on the Michael Levi conception of adding up the probabilities of failure along a linear path to conclude we shouldn’t worry. I’ve argued before that while not nearly as likely as less sophisticated attacks, these are not arguments that should lead us to a solid conclusion we have nothing to worry about at the other end of the scale.

Also, I do not agree with his notion (more subtle here than in some of his past work) that we as a nation were once much more resilient than we are today. He personalizes a quality that I believe is better described as a characteristic of the type of systems people live within. Of course people 100-plus years ago didn’t depend on the government to help them out in a disaster–the government was less capable and the impacts were less catastrophic due to different living conditions–people could cope with local help because the scale of the impact was manageable (except for disasters that struck large urban centers, such as the San Francisco earthquake, where government intervention in addition to local participation was vital in saving lives). As we have urbanized and surbanized, the requirements in the aftermath of natural or man-made disasters have changed.

However, that has not changed the nature of people. While I have no research to point to, I sense that Americans today are just as personally resilient as Americans 100 or 200 years ago. The structure of life has changed and that means the impact of perturbations in life have changed. Similarly, with no offense to anyone, Kiwis and Japanese are in no way personally more resilient than the inhabitants of New Orleans or Haiti. It is the systems in which they live that determine the relative impact of events on life.

I guess I just have an optimistic belief in human resilience and a pessimistic outlook on short-term societal change.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

April 25, 2011 @ 11:38 pm

I wanted to add that for those concerned about terrorism, in this same issue of Foreign Affairs Daniel Byman writes about “Terrorism after the Revolutions” and analyzes the impact of events on Al Qaeda’s future. I only skimmed the piece, so cannot properly comment on it, but I believe it concludes that they gain advantage in the short term due to greater operational freedom. Yet if the U.S. and other governments engage the new governments in a constructive fashion, Al Qaeda could be seriously diminished in the not-so-distant future.

In addition, echoing an earlier conversation on this blog, Shadi Hamid writes on “The Rise of the Islamists.” I have not read this piece at all, but the Foreign Affairs website summarizes it:
“The recent turmoil in the Middle East may lead to the Arab world’s first sustained experiment in Islamist government. But the West need not fear. For all their anti-American rhetoric, today’s mainstream Islamist groups tend to be pragmatic — and ready to compromise if necessary on ideology and foreign policy.”

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 26, 2011 @ 7:41 am

Well Arnold useful comments. And with respect to your first you are now indelibly marked as a “glass half-full” on “resilence”! For me I believe the glass is still half-empty and here is why?

Both the governmental and non-governmental sector continue to follow the policy of trying to make individuals and families less resilient through their announced policies and their unannounced policies. That is what Stephen Flynn should be writing about instead of documenting that full responsibility fo resilience rests with individual effort. The only individual evidence of effort now available to society is on the daily sports pages and even that is limited. WALL STREET may have wondered and exploited the need for at least one secure investment by the average joe in the form of housing, after all we all need a roof over our head, but the truth is no investment strategy is now available that could secure even some retirement security in the face of governmental and private policy. See how easy it will be to recruit teachers, police and firemen if the public sector pensions collapse. Divide and conquer appears to be the US policy and little is done to promote resilience even in basic systems of technology. I am expecting the Japanese to conduct a de facto revolution after they face the current crisis. Why? They realize that modern society is designed largely to prevent individuals from being resilient. Agree or disagree?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 26, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

Arnold, This morning I was in a meeting of mostly senior federal officials. One conclusion — not necessarily consensus — but nonetheless substantive conclusion was an endorsement of your perception vis-a-vis historic and comparative resilience. For several in the room the biggest threat to existing resilience is a “responder culture” that treats survivors and fellow citizens as victims. If this is accurate, it is an example of how the structures of life may have changed. But these changes are non inevitable nor irreversible. I agree that most of what Flynn is writing is not new, but I think it bears being said again and again until we see shifts in behavior… at at least sustained attention.

Bill, I don’t read Flynn as making resilience a wholly individual undertaking. In the Foreign Affairs piece and elsewhere he gives explicit attention to communities and commercial roles, as well as essential governmental roles involving federal, state, and local assets. My own view is that there is lots of “natural” resilience and lots of systemic non-resilience, almost like two glasses one at least half-full and the other slowly draining from some minute leak. So, in regard to your point about the non-resilient bias of modern life, I probably agree.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

April 26, 2011 @ 11:23 pm

I have to admit to agreeing with almost everything Flynn has written (with the exception of those points I noted in my previous comment–that are relatively minor in terms of the scope of his argument). I suppose I was disappointed that he wrote much the same piece in the same publication without adding to the conversation regarding how we meet the goals set forth. Either there is a path forward or “we can’t get there from here.”

I believe in the first proposition, yet do not know the way. Unfortunately, neither the Flynn piece or PPD-8 provides a map in my opinion. It is nice that the NSS points out the need to include private citizens, organizations, and business in homeland security planning. But where does the proverbial rubber meet the road? See Eric Holdeman’s blog post “Citizen Corps Funding is a Joke,” (http://www.emergencymgmt.com/emergency-blogs/disaster-zone/citizen-corps-funding-is-a-joke-042411.html) as one example of this lack of connection between goals and resources.

I think change in structures is inevitable and irreversible, but that does not mean resilience is impossible. Only that it might mean something different from 50, 100, 200, etc. years ago. While private citizens may wait to be rescued, I agree that the responders also tend to consider the private citizen as a victim or an impediment during disasters. This only got worst with the introduction of “homeland security” and the For Official Use Only (FOUO) designation.

Bill, I disagree that “modern society is designed largely to prevent individuals from being resilient.” I think that instead it discourages people from being self-sufficient–but that is the price to pay for living in increasingly dense environments. I still think people in general are resilient–but that might mean something different today than it did 100 years ago. People in a city or the suburbs require markets to obtain the necessities of life. They can help in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, but cannot sustain themselves if supply chains are severed. This is the price to pay for the advantages of urbanization and whatnot.

At least that is what lulls me to sleep at night…

Comment by Potomac

April 28, 2011 @ 7:04 am

Resilience is an outcome – not / not an activity.

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