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New Plans for U.S. Security

March 25, 2009

PNSR’s own Daniel R. Langberg penned a well-stated opinion piece for UPI, March 11, 2009. The article appears below in full:

Outside View: New Plans for U.S. Security

By Dan Langberg

March 11, 2009

WASHINGTON, March 11 (UPI) — For all the hand-wringing over the missteps in the Iraq War, the greatest failure lay in the architecture of the U.S. national security system. Juggling two wars and the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the time has come for President Barack Obama, his administration and Congress to create and enact a new national security system.

In the recently released report “Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience,” the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction concludes, “The U.S. government was neither prepared for, nor able to respond to, the ever-changing demands of the contingency relief and reconstruction operations undertaken in Iraq.” The problems in Iraq are only the latest casualty of an obsolete national security system that inhibits the United States from effectively protecting Americans from terrorism and other threats it will face in the 21st century.

While the SIGIR report identifies an array of problems in Iraq from mid-2002 through the fall of 2008, the most disturbing mistakes involve U.S. negligence in strategy, personnel and integration.

In Iraq, the limits of the national security system failed to allow for consistent formulation of timely and effective national strategy. The absence of a national vision for the postwar period prevented agency roles from being reconciled and resulted in “blinkered and disjointed prewar planning for Iraq’s reconstruction.”

A new national security system must allow for a unifying vision and strategy that clearly delineate agency responsibilities. To achieve this, the president’s national security staff should focus on high policy, grand strategy and strategic management, while maintaining a capacity for well-informed operational and crisis decision-making. Institutionalizing processes for national security assessments, planning guidance, and grand strategy development would better prepare the system to address any number of strategic challenges.

Equally as important to a new system is an improved workforce that alleviates the “turbulence engendered by persistent personnel turnover at every level” — which is indicative of the system’s overall inability to generate the personnel necessary to perform a growing number of interagency tasks. In the case of Iraq, supplying adequate numbers of personnel with the requisite expertise emerged as a critical bottleneck. At no time were there sufficient numbers of experienced advisers to meet Iraq’s critical capacity-building needs.

“Hard Lessons” recommends that the U.S. government adopt a new “human-resources management system capable of meeting the demands of a large-scale contingency relief and reconstruction operation.” However, these personnel-related changes are not limited to Iraq and Afghanistan. The national security system must learn to align personnel incentives, leader development, personnel preparation and organizational culture with strategic objectives for every mission. Establishing new interagency personnel designations and programs to better recruit, prepare and reward national security professionals for interagency assignments will help prevent similar problems.

Almost all future national security missions, from counterintelligence to anti-human trafficking, cut across our bureaucracy and require integration across disparate individuals, organizations and elements of national power. In Iraq, the question of who was in charge, both in Washington and in Baghdad, was “fiercely contested” throughout the reconstruction effort. The lack of unity of command meant that unity of effort was seldom achieved.

Too often, Iraq reconstruction programs were designed to meet agency goals rather than U.S. national interests. The new national security system must adopt approaches focused on national missions and outcomes, emphasizing integrated effort, collaboration and agility. To achieve this, the system should decentralize management of national security issues by empowering interagency teams and interagency crisis task forces within a single integrated chain of command for all U.S. civilian and military actors in the affected nation.

The failures in Iraq reconstruction can be linked to the underlying inherent inadequacies of an outdated national security system created in 1947. The nation cannot afford to wait and see how systemic shortcomings will impact the next crisis, be it a reconstruction operation or any other of the national security threats that have come to characterize the 21st century environment. Our future depends on a government that can anticipate and plan for challenges, develop and employ capabilities in innovative ways, and adapt to unforeseen circumstances. The current system is not up to the task.

(Dan Langberg is a special assistant with the Project on National Security Reform, a non-profit and non-partisan organization working to modernize and improve the U.S. national security system.)

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