Redefining National Security

Ill winds have knocked national security agencies off balance.

Suicide bombers compelled by apocalyptic visions, waterfowl infected with deadly viruses, catastrophic weather, dirty bombs-unexpected factors threaten American security. We live in a world where terrorists intend to wield weapons of mass destruction, pathogens move at record speed and cataclysmic disasters disrupt vital food and energy supplies far beyond the communities they destroy. Disease, natural disasters and even terrorists are not new, of course. But the power to destroy and the ramifications of such destruction are far greater today in a global economy, where food is seldom produced locally, where a single satellite malfunction can disrupt worldwide financial transactions, and where multinational business interests can stymie national interests in managing a host of problems from disease quarantine to border security.

For more than five decades, U.S. national security policy aimed to counter Soviet power and contain communism. The Defense Department, the intelligence community and the diplomats at the State Department controlled the key levers of power. The demise of the bipolar world has led to a plethora of security challenges for the United States-challenges not easily addressed by traditional national security bureaucracies.

The very foundations of America's formidable economic, political and military power have aroused Islamic extremists and exposed some of our greatest vulnerabilities, perhaps most especially our dependence on foreign oil. Our open society and the freedoms we cherish also are tremendous liabilities in fighting terrorism. "The fanaticism of these enemies can only be defeated if we successfully employ all elements of national power-military to be sure, but more diplomatic, financial, intelligence-sharing and law enforcement," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Los Angeles World Affairs Council last August.

Federal agencies are struggling to improve their grip on this changed world. The last three-and-a-half years have produced a host of new strategies designed to reshape government: the National Strategy for Homeland Security (July 2002), the National Security Strategy of the United States (September 2002), the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (February 2003), the National [Disaster] Response Plan (December 2004), and the National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (March 2005) are just a few. What these plans lack, critics contend, is a unified approach to leveraging all the elements of national power-economic, military and diplomatic. In December, the 9/11 Public Disclosure Project, composed of the members of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, issued its final report, which blasted Congress and the Bush administration for failing to do more to protect Americans from future attacks.

Much has been written about the Defense Department's efforts to transform the military services to more effectively counter today's threats. But the contributions made by other agencies to national security have grown tremendously, too. In the following pages, Government Executive writers explore the management challenges emerging as the meaning of "national security" evolves.

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