Can A ‘Comprehensive Defense’ Better Secure Our Nation?
By Dr. Jeffrey V. Gardner, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Homeland Security, American Military University
Every country makes choices on how to approach domestic security and their own national defense. The United States has separate but overlapping efforts for Homeland Security and Homeland Defense. When it comes to defense, the two World Wars and the Cold War gave the U.S. military an almost exclusive focus on overseas efforts.
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The armed forces that were deployed abroad could fight entirely on distant shores with two great oceans as a buffer from most adversaries. It took the 9/11 attacks to remind America to not just “play offense” and fight the away game, but to rediscover a traditional homeland defense role.
Before 9/11 there were overarching joint military commanders in charge of our forces in every corner of the globe. But there was no military unified command to oversee the defense of U.S. territory. In 2002 NORTHCOM was created to fill this gap, which was literally “white space” on the Unified Command Plan map.
Now the homeland defense mission is led solely by the Department of Defense. The military services are focused on protecting the air, land, sea, space (and cyberspace) of the United States from external threats. However, the history of Americans fighting abroad since the War of 1812, and other factors, has left us with a distinctive civil-military divide. Defending a nation with only its armed forces certainly minimizes interagency coordination needs, but it also reduces to nearly zero civil participation in national defense.
Separately, civilian domestic efforts for “Homeland Security” are performed by various agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and some 30 other federal entities that receive homeland security funding. But those federal efforts are only the tip of the iceberg as all states, territories, major urban areas and local municipalities are critical to domestic homeland security.
Unfortunately, these state and hometown security aspects are not well connected to federal efforts. While homeland defense, homeland security, and hometown security are all clearly overlapping functions, there is no integrating framework for these interconnected efforts.
Are there more effective approaches for securing a nation? Some countries such as Singapore and a number of Nordic nations emphasize full spectrum security approaches that integrate not only governmental agencies, but also private sector entities and the whole of society.
This goes back to total defense concepts used in some northern European countries during the Cold War. These concepts have returned to the fore after Russian aggression against neighboring nations, especially its invasion and annexation of Crimea. Could these fully integrated security approaches work better to secure a nation against the full spectrum of threats? Let’s first look at the northern European models for total defense.
Total Defense as a Baseline for Norway, Sweden and Finland
According to a study by James Kenneth Wither addressing Nordic Total Defence Concepts, “Total defence includes both military and civil defence preparations. In addition to the armed forces, it involves institutionalized collaboration between government ministries, civic organizations, the private sector, and the general public.” Finland, Norway and Sweden have all re-adopted or re-invigorated these total defense concepts after recent Russian aggression against its neighbors Estonia, Georgia, and Ukraine. Every nation on the planet is different, and each has taken on total defense concepts based on their own history, society, geographic position, and security needs.
In Norway the original total defense concept was developed during the Cold War and was built on both military and civil defense; it was closely linked to the civil protection and emergency preparedness legislation.
Now that Norway faces a new spectrum of contemporary security challenges it has decided to modernize the total defense concept. The modernized Norwegian concept for total defense encompasses mutual support and cooperation between the military and civil society “across the entire crisis spectrum – from peace via security policy crisis to armed conflict.” Oslo accepts that its armed forces do not possess all the necessary resources to secure the nation, so the government plans to employ this total defense approach to recognize its dependence on civilian agencies and public sector businesses and industry and incorporate them into its plans.
The Norwegian long-term defense plan for 2020 states: “The complexity of threats and risks requires stronger and more flexible civil-military cooperation…The defence of Norway is dependent on a modern Total Defence framework, which enables relevant civilian assets to support the national and allied defence efforts during peacetime, crisis and armed conflict…The principle of extensive civilian support to the Norwegian Armed Forces in crisis and in war is the core of the Total Defence concept. If necessary, all national resources can be mobilised in the defence of Norway.”
The key aspect of the Norwegian approach is including business and industry as key collaborative partners that “contribute with the necessary goods and services, both in the form of one-off and continuous supplies and more complex and integrated processes in manufacturing and operations…Logistics services should be based to a greater extent on supplies from civilian society.” As an example, the Norwegian Armed Forces have signed a contracts and emergency preparedness agreements for the use of civilian supply bases along the entire coast to ensure flexible access to resources.
The Norwegian overall defense effort relies heavily on a whole-of-government approach. The long-term defense plan “necessitates an increased level of civil-military cooperation to safeguard both societal and national security. The private and public sectors need to work together to strengthen resilience towards existing and emerging threats. Societal resilience is a key element in the defence of Norway.” Therefore the Norwegian concept for total defense recognizes that “it is vital that the relevant players in both the civil and military sectors have thorough knowledge of the applicable systems and mechanisms of civil-military cooperation within the total defence.”
Next-door neighbor Sweden has taken a more widespread approach. According to Björn von Sydo, the chairman of the Swedish Defence Commission, Sweden had a systematic and well-developed Total Defense concept that encompassed all of society during the Cold War. It has now brought that concept back into play.
Sweden’s total defense concept fully integrates military defense with civilian or civil defense. A “key priority of the present Swedish Defence Bill, passed in 2015, is to enhance the warfighting capability of the Armed Forces. This includes the development of a Total Defence concept encompassing both military and civilian defence in a whole-of-society approach to security.” The laws and framework in Sweden remained in place after the Cold War. That means when the government orders the highest state of alert, all functions of society are engaged in the defense efforts.
In fact, a brochure sent to all households in Sweden in 2018 called If Crisis or War Comes states: “Civil defence deals with the whole of society’s resilience in the event of the threat of war and war. Civil defence is the work that is carried out by central government agencies, municipalities, county councils and regions, private companies and voluntary organisations. This work aims to protect the civilian population and to ensure that, for example, healthcare and the transport system continue functioning.”
The brochure describes how to prepare for a crisis. It explains that the entire Swedish population has a duty to contribute to the nation’s total defense (such as service in the armed forces or conscription into other civil government organizations) and the obligation to resist any attacks on the nation.
It also states that citizens also have to take responsibility for managing their basic provisions and care for a week without public support. The brochure seeks to build psychological defenses and make people aware of what crisis conditions may require of them.
A 2020 article, “Baltics Left of Bang: Nordic Total Defence and Implications for the Baltic Sea Region” says Sweden’s “defense is a whole-of-society approach to national security involving the coordinated action of a nation’s military, paramilitary, police forces, civilian branches of government, private sector, and general population, thus enhancing conventional defense and deterrence measures [to] bolster internal security, build the resilience of critical services and infrastructure, enhance military defense, lend support for allies and partners, and respond to natural disasters and other crises that have no direct human agency…total defense is a whole-of-society approach to societal resilience and preparedness in the face of natural and manmade crises.”
From Total Defense to Comprehensive Defense
Finland has taken the total defense concept to another level and more fully integrates all aspect of the government and society. Finland’s Security Strategy for Society uses a model where “comprehensive security in which the vital functions of society are jointly safeguarded by the authorities, business operators, organisations and citizens.”
Not only does Finland have comprehensive plans for territorial defense across the air, land, and sea domains, but this strategy makes it a shared responsibility of all the armed services and civilian agencies to ensure sufficient stockpiles of food, fuel, and equipment. The strategy also includes the maintenance of civil defense shelters for Finnish citizens.
This strategy sets the conditions to “form a network of comprehensive security in which the sharing of information, setting of joint objectives and commitments to cooperation can take place in a flexible manner. In this model, all actors taking part in coordinated security work or security activities closely supporting it are security actors. Individual citizens also play an important role in independent preparedness and in enhancing the resilience of Finnish society.”
Finland does not stop with just an overarching strategy and a national level security committee covering all governmental sectors. The nation also takes interagency integration for comprehensive security all the way down to the regional level. Finland has implemented cross-sectoral security clusters at the regional level nationwide. As an example, the South Carelia region of Finland employs a full spectrum network. The police, emergency services, border guards, Finnish Defense Forces, key private businesses and even church officials meet on a regular basis and are thus able to react to crises in a collaborative fashion.
Whether the region is in peace or crisis, the rescue service calls participants to the regular meetings as a key facilitator. The plans are presented and when it comes to crises or exercises, cross-sector execution is led by competent authorities and all follow their lead. This is the cooperative comprehensive security model for all of Finland’s 18 regions.
Are US Lead Agencies, Incident Commands, and Task Forces Sufficient?
The American approach to homeland security emphasizes having a “lead agency” for specific functions such as DoD for defense, DHS for border security, and the FBI for counter-terrorism. However, threats span the spectrum from cartels, terrorists to nation states and could come from any vector including cyberspace, bioweapons and homegrown extremists.
None of the homeland defense or homeland security functions could run effectively by any one agency alone. The lead agency approach does not confer cross-agency authority; it only means jurisdictional and resource issues must be sorted out using various interagency processes. A number of experts and practitioners have called this interagency approach a “badly broken” way to conduct national security.
The U.S. does have an effective Incident Command System (ICS) that provides a baseline for common communication and operating principles at the local level during a crisis. These principles are effective at determining the most suitable agency to have overall command until a given situational incident is resolved. However, if multiple incidents occur that include a variety of different issues or regions, this approach would struggle to respond or adapt.
A major crisis or regional disaster raises the potential for needing multiple interagency entities and changes in command or resource competition, as can be seen with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ICS is useful for reacting to a local crisis, but is not a suitable model to build day-to-day cross-sectoral collaboration; nor is it an effective way to fully integrate the private sector or the whole of society.
There are a number of effective interagency models in the U.S. such as the 200 FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces, the 80 intelligence fusion centers for homeland security, and the 43 U.S. Coast Guard area maritime security committees for ports. The DHS-led Joint Task Force West is responsible for our southwest land border and countering transnational criminal organizations (TCOs). These niche approaches have proven to be effective for those particular challenges.
However, functional specialization along these lines creates “cylinders of excellence” and moves away from a more comprehensive and integrated approach. Organizations participating in any multi-agency arrangement such as these often hinges effectiveness on interpersonal relationships with participants having to overcome inhibiting organizational cultures. Even intra-agency relationships within a federal department can be problematic. This was evident in the conflict among DHS field agencies during the San Bernardino terrorist attack.
These U.S. national security models are bureaucratic and complex approaches that bifurcate military defense from civilian homeland security, which already spans all three levels of government.
Another key aspect that has been mainly an afterthought in both homeland defense and homeland security are the private sector (which owns and operates 85% of our critical infrastructure) and society itself, our citizens. As an example of citizens being an afterthought, the “if you see something, say something” suspicious activity reporting initiative was not implemented across the nation until almost 10 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It has taken even longer to get significant private sector involvement in fusion centers around the nation.
No Standing US Interagency Bodies to Address Preparedness and Resilience or Even Civil Defense
In these American models, there are no standing interagency bodies to address preparedness and resilience or even civil defense. A lead agency approach lacks authority and clarity and can even unintentionally encourage agency competition. This approach is challenging to execute just among the many federal agencies, let alone across all three levels of government (federal, state and local). The U.S. needs a national security interagency framework that fosters synergy across all agencies and functions, as well as all levels of government and fully integrates the private sector and our citizenry.
A comprehensive defense or comprehensive security model is much more than the military and federal government security agencies. The model must also recognize the importance of full participation by the private sector as well as by citizens themselves. A true “‘comprehensive defense” relates not only to cross-sectoral governmental collaboration (‘interagency’ in the U.S.).
A true comprehensive defense also relates to the integration of all facets of the nation to employ all of society for security and defense. This could be a more enduring, effective and fully integrated approach to securing the nation. The complex and multidimensional Homeland Security Enterprise (HSE) in the United States could benefit from further studying the concepts of comprehensive security employed in northern Europe.
About the Author
Dr. Jeffrey V. Gardner is an assistant professor of Homeland Security Studies at American Military University. Jeff is a retired active duty Army Lieutenant Colonel serving over 21 years, and a former Colonel of militia where he commanded a state defense force brigade assisting the national guard with command, control, communication and other incident response functions. Since 2013 he has worked for NATO to develop and run events related to counter-terrorism, countering hybrid threats, and comprehensive defense. He is an Air War College graduate, possesses three master’s degrees, and has a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration — Homeland Security Policy and Coordination. For AMU, he teaches courses such as Introduction to Homeland Security and Homeland Defense (HLSS302); The Private Sector and Homeland Security (HLSS305); Intelligence and Homeland Security (HLSS320); and Homegrown Violent Extremism (HLSS323).
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