Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 14, 2011

Authority, attraction, and advocacy

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 14, 2011

A new national strategy for an important aspect of homeland security is nearly complete.  I expect it will emerge from the interagency process in another three to six weeks.

The subject matter is of particular interest to me.  Because of prior work done on the issue and relationships of trust within the homeland security community I received an unauthorized copy for review.

[un·au·thor·ised adj not having official permission]

With the benefit of the preview I have had conversations with various  parties involved in authoring the national strategy and those who are likely to be most affected by the national strategy.   I have tried to use these conversations to influence how the national strategy will be finalized and initially received.

[in·flu·ence n. A power affecting a person, thing, or course of events, especially one that operates without any direct or apparent effort.]

I happen to mostly agree with the draft I have seen.  It is short, truly strategic, and offers a substantive argument.  Even if you disagree with its goals, it will be helpful to engaging the issue.

Because I am drawn to the principles and priorities set out by the new strategy I am  inclined to portray it as being as  attractive as possible to those who will be affected by it.

[a·ttrac·tive adj 1. appealing to the senses or mind through beauty, form, character, etc. 2. arousing interest an attractive opportunity 3. possessing the ability to draw or pull an attractive force.]

Especially in terms of practicing mitigation and advancing resilience, I find the new strategy appealing. (It has other goals as well.) But some will perceive a potential threat.  Depending on how the new strategy is interpreted and implemented it might hurt as much as help.  Threats can also attract.

I perceive human life — and especially social life — as a complex adaptive system.  While certainly susceptible to over-abstraction, most humans and most societies are inclined to descend into deepening basins of attraction.   The deeper the basin the greater the stability.  But regardless of how deep or how shallow, once inside the basin the system tends to cycle again and again around a point (or points) of equilibrium.

[Basin of Attraction (physics) The collection of all possible initial conditions of a dynamical system for which the trajectories representing that system in phase space will converge to a particular attractor.]

We can conceive the Roman imperial system as an especially deep basin of attraction.  Even after the Western empire collapsed the cultural attractor continued to exercise considerable influence through Byzantine, medieval German, and Russian political systems and perhaps most directly through the Catholic Church.  Certain British and American notions of power and influence can be seen emerging from this basin.  I have spent a considerable part of my life in an ancient Roman plunge pool.  Two generations ago the pool was full.  Not today.

Every living society or culture can be conceived as a collection of basins — a veritable lake district — where from time to time there are periods of flood and drought.  One basin joins with another and another yet.  A single basin is divided in parts.  A once deep basin is filled by silt and debris becoming more and more shallow, finally evaporating away on one especially hot day.

As long as the basin of attraction persists it serves as a source of authority.  The deeper the attraction and the more who are attracted, the stronger the authority.

[authority early 13c., autorite “book or quotation that settles an argument,”from O.Fr. auctorité (12c.; Mod.Fr. autorité), from L. auctoritatem (nom. auctoritas) “invention, advice, opinion, influence, command,” from auctor “master, leader, author”.]

The book or citation that could claim real authority did so on the basis of broad and deep attraction.  We approached the Bible or Aristotle or symbols of tradition or the Congressman or the President with authentic respect, even affection.  Not today.

As I have worked to encourage a positive response to the forthcoming national strategy, the recurring question is whether or not it will make any difference.   Its origin in the federal interagency process, authored in the White House, and signed by the President is not sufficient and may, in some quarters, considerably heighten skepticism.

The process of framing and forming this new strategy and other official documents assume a basin of attraction that too often is nothing more than a muddy puddle. Authority is little more than a thin sheen.  It is not the intent, invention, or content of the document, decision, or initiative that produces this outcome; it is the time, place, and environment into which it is introduced.

I perceive we are living in a time of shallow and very permeable basins.  Rather than a lake district, our fitness landscape is more like a swamp.  There may be a deep clear pond out there, but that’s not where we are today in homeland security, national security, or most of modern life.

[“Evolutionary adaptation is the process that increases the fit of a population to the fitness landscape it inhabits. As a consequence, evolutionary dynamics is shaped, constrained, and channeled, by that fitness landscape.” (Critical Properties of Complex Fitness Landscapes)  My use of a basin’s depth, rather than height reverses the most common visualization of a fitness landscape.]

For some — turtle, muskrat,  alligator, snake, many birds — the swamp is okay, even preferred.  For me it is not preferred.

I am looking for something deeper, something less susceptible to flooding and freezing.  I perceive the new national strategy may point to at least one way out of the swamp.  But authority will not get us there.  There must be attraction, sufficient attraction to move quite a number of stakeholders considerably upstream to higher ground and deeper basins.

It is an interesting challenge:  Can government eschew the mirage of authority enough to attract meaningful collaboration?

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 14, 2011 @ 5:37 am

Okay Rome first! Edward Luttwak’s “Military Strategy of the Roman Empire” an impressive take on that Empire’s implied or inferred strategy.
Second, the swamp or cess pool approach. Do the benefits exceed the costs of entering? That also applies to Rome and you are correct it did not exactly fall but at some point crossing boundry line of the far marches in Roman times began to cost more than the benefits.
My assumption is that the new strategy is a national risk assessment strategy and in fact there have been three already IMO but the assumption of PPD-8 is that none exists. This is because children are in charge. Actually I would argue that the over 30 national strategy documents that exist (almost all mandated by Congress at one time or another) in their entirety would represent a single NATIONAL Strategy but most are independently derived (probably largely by different contractors supporting the process) and none repeat none are successfully integrated with each other or all the rest nor do they mention or indicate how they revise or supersede the prior documents of the same nature. The last time GAO complained about their integration they documented 14 and that was back about 2004-5!
So this one will be added to the stack and those who have even read and comprehend 50% of those outstanding will remain a handful.

So here is my suggestion as to National Strategy or National Strategies! First, provide a list in the FEDERAL REGISTER of all existing strategies and their dates of publication, and who exactly approved them and who participated in their development and how do they relate to each other! Impossible? Not really because the purpose I assume is to forge a single document with annexes for HOMELAND DEFENSE and HOMELAND SECURITY. There is a great deal of retired and unemployed talent that I am sure would be willing to participate in this process.
Second, that the Executive Branch of Government be limited to three national strategies, one for domestic policy, one for foreign relations, and one for military strategy. All other strategies would have to fall or be susceptible to this division and would be relational annexes to the the three national strategies.
Finally of course, all national strategies would be made subject to public comment for a period of 120 days! Why? Because the USA does have some residual talent that might help the federally owned strategizers [sic] [new word?]. And even a new idea might just pop up.

The military strategy would have one precise Goal. Defense of the USA whether by military operations or operations other than war.

The foreign relations strategy would be simply to ensure that the US has as the basis for its foreign policy the rights expressed in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, equal rights for women, and impacts on labor relations, environment, and economic activity in the USA.

The third national strategy, the domestic national strategy, would be designed to promote equal justice under law, equal rights, privacy, due process, and economic due process [meaning any and all citizens of the USA can have the means to participate in the economic activity of the US through their active participation to the extent possible]!

Obviously I could go on but will not at this point. But if the new risk assessment strategy does not include reference to seizure of the commons for and by private interests it will have missed the biggest threat to the USA today IMO of course.

Oh and it did not save Richard Nixon for obvious reason but it had a sound basis. Developing a super cabinet through which all the others reported although of course the President could continue to deal with the other cabinet departments as he/she wanted. Nixon foursome were the US Treasury Department, the Department of Health Education and Welfare, the Department of Defense, and the State Department. All other departments and agencies would report and coordinate through these four.
I would of course leave largely independent the regulatory agencies but with an administrative umbrella organization for economic regulation, health and safety regulation including the entire food chain, climate impact and energy and environmental regulation, and perhaps most unique make the recommendations of the Administrative Conference of the US [ACUS]*, undergoing current revitalization, be made mandatory on the other federal departments and agencies but given them the additional statutory mandate of seeking public input including facilitating the input of other than paid lobbyists or organizations.

And finally I would create a small but important Executive Branch organization that would be devoted to analysis of Executive Branch policy on the federal system established under the Constitution. And the Congress should mirror that organization with establishment of a new permanent joint committee to analyze the impact of legislation on the Constitutionally mandated federal system.

Hoping the dozen Presidential candidates will seize the opportunity!
* The ACUS is an Executive Branch organization that’s original charter was ended by statute by Congress in 1994.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 14, 2011 @ 6:02 am

Bill, Thanks for the mindful engagement. I will respond mostly on one angle.

I think you and I are often on two opposite ends of the concentration versus proliferation issue. As above, you often advocate a more centralized and hopefully efficient pursuit of a rational goal. You tend toward “centric” while I am “polycentric.”

I perceive that centric tendencies work (and have a comparative advantage) when there is a recognized and broadly accepted source of authority. As noted above, I don’t think that is our present reality.

So… given my take on present reality I push for polycentric approaches, not because I admire their efficiency or elegance, but because I think this is what can be achieved given current conditions.

Sometimes I think we (and I mean more than you and me) spend so much time debating how things “ought” to be that we fail to take opportunities for incremental progress toward improvements most of us would welcome.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 14, 2011 @ 6:49 am

Let a 1000 flowers bloom! Some will go “bang”!

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

October 14, 2011 @ 7:59 am

Curious as to which report you are referring to.

Comment by A National Strategy: Is the WH Reading Mr. Cumming's Comment Herein?

October 15, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

Is the WH reading Mr. Cumming’s comment herein? I certainly hope so as ell as this commentary shared with all Congressional members — It seems so few have a clue…what a pity! Where is the intellect, the Will to take a good hard look on the inside — The beltway is so utterly empty….

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA 02645

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