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Gary Hart is correct: America needs “A national security act for the 21st Century”

November 16, 2009

Last week, Gary Hart, former United States Senator of the state of Colorado, had a very interesting and important piece published on The Huffington Post. Titled “A National Security Act for the 21st Century,” Sen. Hart laid out his vision for “a new statutory basis for [America’s] national security strategy in this new century.”

You can read the whole piece here for context, but as far as PNSR and its CEO James R. Locher III see it:

Senator Hart is correct.  “The only issue that matters is whether Cold War strategies and structures adequately address present and future realities or whether the realities of a new century demand a fresh look at the institutions and policies, military and non-military, that will make the nation secure.”

Understanding these challenges and the imperative for timely reform, PNSR is engaging with stakeholders and external experts to further discover and develop potential solutions, inviting those who want to advance reform to contribute.  More information can be found at http://www.pnsr.org.

Senator Hart should take comfort, this issue has already been answered.  “After our examination of the new strategic environment of the next quarter century and of a strategy to address it, this Commission concludes that significant changes must be made in the structures and processes of the US national security apparatus.”  The above quotation is the very first sentence of a commission’s report that was delivered to the Congress on March 15, 2001 – long before the attacks of 9/11 that further clarified the problems of our Cold War legacy thinking and institutions.

Senator Hart should also take heart – literally.  He along with former Senator Warren Rudman led a team of distinguished Americans that wrote that sentence.  In fact, the two-and-a-half year effort addressed the nature of the 21st Century threat, questioned weapon procurements, took on the intelligence community, and raised the implications of challenges for which the military is either not suited or needs to be collaborative with other skills from across government and others.

The Project on National Security Reform’s (PNSR) first report, Forging a New Shield, delivered to the President and Congress in November 2008 and consisting of some 800 pages, identified and analyzed specific problems of our current national security system and described the root causes.  It then presented a vision for 21st Century national security and the path to reach it.  PNSR’s newly released report, Turning Ideas Into Action, focuses on specific implementation steps and tools that will make the vision a reality.

PNSR believes that we must organize for success.  We need a collaborative, agile and innovative national security system that can work together across agencies, departments, jurisdictions, and sectors.  This system must horizontally and vertically integrate all elements of national power to make timely, informed decisions and take decisive action.

Reaching this vision will require significant changes to the way people think and operate today.  The national security apparatus must:

– Focus at the strategic level

– Concentrate on national missions and outcomes

– Match resources to missions

– Take a whole-of-government approach

– Establish a national security workforce

– Leverage and extend the collective knowledge of the entire national security community

Getting there will not be easy.  Many obstacles must be overcome.  First, the mental model that persists is clearly that of the Cold War system and is dominated by defense and intelligence, and to a lesser extent, diplomacy – each in its own separate domain.  Second, political sensitivities, concerned about power, jurisdiction and resources, resist change.  Third, the sheer size of national security reform is huge and can be daunting unless broken into manageable pieces.  The fourth obstacle is bandwidth – that is, the time and attention needed to focus on the reform challenge is overwhelmed by the requirements of managing the daily “in-box.”

Leaders like Senator Hart must continue to demand reform.  Momentum is building, but in the face of the great challenges the nation faces, we need more action.  The movement for true national security reform needs more push, more support, more drive and more commitment from those at all levels who know that things must change.  Hard work lies ahead, but the time to act is now.

Sen. Hart has responded to this in the comments on his blog, hosted by Matters of Principle. Sen. Hart’s own words:

Jim Locher is better equipped by background and experience than anyone I know to comment on defense structures and reforms, as his comments here prove. He has given extensive thought to the need for our Cold War structures and institutions to adapt to the new realities, opportunities as well as threats, of the 21st century. I encourage all those concerned with the urgent need for this adaptation and the reasons for it to follow the work of the Project on National Security Reform. As Jim says, the key is to change the way people think and operate today.

We appreciate Hart’s leadership, vision, and voice to the important issue of national security reform, and are thankful for the conversation. Hopefully now the mission led by PNSR and others like Hart will transfer to Washington’s halls of power, ending the talk and beginning the action.

-Michael Drohan

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