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December 2009

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Perhaps the real question is whether the Executive Branch of the Federal Government takes the recommendations of the Project on National Security Reform as seriously as does the author of this analysis.  If so, then we may have some cause for real concern.  But since this Report was forwarded to the President in 2008 has there been any movement?  Perhaps this is just another report that was written, printed, filed and forgotten.  And that may be just as well.  The most recent update of the report may be found at:
www.pnsr.org/data/files/pnsr_turning_ideas_into_action.pdf. -Ed.

On November 26, 2008, the Project on National Security Reform (PNSR) under the sponsorship of the Center for the Study of the Presidency forwarded to the President its report “Forging a New Shield”, the result of “more than two years of work by more than three hundred dedicated U.S. national security executives, professionals, and scholars.”  The “directors/guiding lights” of this study, named the Guiding Coalition, were twenty-two individuals, most of whom have been long standing members of the defense establishment.  The motivating premise of the study is that “the national security of the United States is fundamentally at risk.”

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Obviously, one’s estimate of the degree of risk that exists to the national security of the United States depends in large part on how one defines “national security”.  If one defines it as the maintenance of the territorial and governmental integrity of the United States, the risk is minimal to non-existent.  There is not a single nation capable of launching an invasion of the United States and eventually defeating it on its own territory.  Nor is there likely to be such a nation in even the distant future as long as the United States government maintains an appropriate level of naval and air forces.  If one defines “national security” as freedom from missile attack with or without nuclear warheads, the risk remains minimal to non-existent.  Of the small handful of states that have nuclear warheads as well as the intercontinental missiles with sufficient range to reach the territory of the United States, none have any aggressive intentions toward the United States.  Furthermore, the 100% probability that the United States would retaliate against such an attack with such power as to eliminate the aggressor as a functioning society is more than sufficient cause to oblige even the most irrational of leaders to suppress any such aggressive ideas before they reach the level of conscious thought.

If one defines “national security” as freedom from domestic terrorism, such as the Oklahoma City bombing, the risk is possible, but minimal.  With respect to this type of terrorism, there is no 100% guarantee that it will not occur or that it can always be nipped in the bud, regardless of how repressive the police measures to forestall such actions.  This type of terrorism does not risk the elimination of the United States as an independent nation, or the downfall of the government.  It is not, therefore, an issue of “national security”, but rather one that affects the “security’ of a limited number of persons in a defined locality or a number of localities.

If one defines “national security” to include freedom from international terrorism, such as the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon,, the railroad bombings in Spain, the subway bombings in Great Britain, again, the risk is possible, but not great, although probably greater than acts of domestic terrorism.  And, as for the latter, there cannot be a 100% guarantee that attacks by an international terrorist organization will not occur or that they can be always forestalled, regardless of the measures taken to prevent them.  Once more, this type of attack does not threaten either the territorial integrity or the government of the United States.  It affects the “security’ of a limited number of persons in a defined locality or in a number of localities.  However horrendous the results, such attacks are not the equivalent of an invasion by another state or of an attack by nuclear-armed intercontinental missiles.

It is possible that both domestic and international terrorist organizations will in the future be able to acquire or construct a nuclear device that can be positioned and detonated in the heart of a metropolitan area, such as, Manhattan;, Washington, D.C.; Chicago; San Francisco, etc.  Such an occurrence is, nonetheless, highly unlikely as long as homeland security agencies at all governmental levels remain properly staffed, equipped, funded, and vigilant.  And regardless of the devastation, which could be thousands of times greater than that of the 9/11 attacks, it would still be limited in its effects.  It would not threaten the territorial integrity nor the government of the United States.

The above reasoning also, obviously, applies to the possible use of biochemical agents by both domestic and international terrorist organizations.

Since the “national security” in a reasonable understanding of the term, i.e., the territorial and governmental integrity of the United States, is not under threat, the Guiding Coalition of the Project on National Security Reform needed to develop a new definition that would justify the far reaching reform of the United States Government, not just the national security establishment, that its report proposes.

In the Executive Summary of the report “national security” is defined as follows:

       [1] …”National security must be conceived as the capacity of the United States to define, defend, and advance its interests and principles in the world.  The objectives of national security policy…therefore are:
       [2] To maintain security from aggression against the nation by means of a national capacity to shape the strategic environment, to anticipate and prevent threats, to respond to attacks by defeating enemies, to recover from the effects of attack, and to sustain the costs of defense
       [3] To maintain security against massive societal disruption as a result of natural forces, including pandemics, natural disasters, and climate change
       [4] To maintain security against the failure of major national infrastructure systems by means of building up and defending robust and resilient capacities and investing in the ability to recover from damage done to them”

(The figures in brackets are the author’s for easy reference.)

In Part V of the report a slightly differently worded definition is put forth as follows:

“The scope of national security must be broadened beyond security from aggression to include security against massive societal disruption as a result of natural forces and security against the failure of major national infrastructure systems and to recognize that national security depends on the sustained stewardship of the foundations of national power.

PNSR adopted the following definition of national security that encompasses the expanded scope:
       National security is the capacity of the United States to define, defend, and advance its position in a world that is being continuously reshaped by turbulent forces of change.”

Since it is readily apparent that the concept of the two definitions is the same, I will base my following discussion on the Executive Summary definition since it is more precise.) This concept of an all-encompassing “national security system” is reiterated throughout the report.

Broaden the scope of national security beyond defense against aggression to include security against massive societal disruption resulting from natural forces and security against the failure of major national infrastructure systems and to recognize that national security depends on the sustained conscientious stewardship of the foundations of national power.”

“To ensure an appropriately broad approach to security, the president should direct one or more interagency teams to focus on the foundational sources of American strength (sound economic policy, energy security, robust physical and human infrastructure, including health and education systems, especially in the sciences and engineering).”

In other words, “national security” in the minds of the Guiding Coalition encompasses the entire scope of governmental action, at home and abroad.  The federal government and much of what state and local governments perform would become part of the “national security” apparatus, rather than vice versa.  Part [1] of the above definition would put all American diplomatic, commercial, and cultural activities within the framework of “national security” regardless of their nature.  They would thus not be controlled by the Secretary of State and the country’s diplomatic representatives abroad, nor by the Department of Commerce, nor by other involved departments and agencies, but by the “national security system”.  All American diplomatic activity and international commercial and cultural activity would be determined in accordance with “national security” objectives and not with regard to their intrinsic worth as a means of improving international relations or of improving America’s image in the world or in improving the acceptance of the United States as a cooperating, collaborative, involved member in the comity of nations.

Part [2] of the definition does correspond to the traditional concept of a “national security” function.  However, Part [3] moves the concept once again well beyond the limits of a reasonable perception of “national security”.  Under this part floods, hurricanes, snow storms, droughts, etc. that sweep through different areas of the country regularly and frequently would fall within the provenance of “national security”, although it is difficult to imagine how a natural disaster, even one as devastating as Hurricane Katrina, can be deemed to threaten the territorial and governmental integrity of the United States.  It is difficult to perceive a pandemic capable of eliminating the United States as an independent entity.  Even the Black Death, which peaked in Europe during the fourteenth century killing around 45% of the population, did not cause the disappearance of any of the burgeoning national states.  Climate change as presently forecast would certainly change the American environment and alter many aspects of American society, as well as for all the countries of the world, but it would not threaten the territorial and governmental integrity of the United States.

Part [4] administers the coup de grâce.  Virtually all the functions of the federal government not placed under the “national security” umbrella by the preceding Parts would be under this one.  How are “major national infrastructure systems” to be defined?  Such systems would very likely include the financial and banking systems, the transportation systems, the educational systems, the manufacturing systems, the wholesale and retail commercial systems, the energy production and distribution systems, etc., etc.

To reiterate what I wrote earlier: To accept such a definition of “national security” would mean transforming the United States Government into a gigantic defense establishment.  Is such a definition rational?  Is it needed?  I have demonstrated earlier that real threats to the “national security’ are virtually non-existent.  Is it possible that in the course of the century the United States will be subjected to domestic and international terrorist attacks?  Yes.  Could this possibility be entirely eliminated, even with the institution of a broader, more invasive “national security system”?  No.  Can this possibility be minimized through adequate preventive actions and vigilance?  Yes.  Would such attacks threaten the “national security” of the United States?  No.

In view of the evolving geopolitical climate there exists the possibility during the course of this century for the occurrence of a number of “catastrophic’ and “quasi catastrophic events” outside of the United States.   For example, if the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is not resolved, one can readily envision a continuing augmentation of Muslim fanaticism that could easily terminate in the development of a coalition of Arab states whose governments would have been radicalized.  Such a coalition could launch an invasion of Israel that it could not withstand, even if it used its nuclear arsenal against these states.  Thus, a possible elimination of the state of Israel could occur.  Another example would be a renewed conflict between Pakistan and India that could involve the use of nuclear weapons and even the conquest of Pakistan.  Another less traumatic example could be the continuing efforts of Russia to re-establish its hegemony over at least some of the former republics of the Soviet Union.  There is also the remote possibility of a missile attack by North Korea against Japan or South Korea.  All these events would be cataclysmic in terms of human lives wasted, but none of them would threaten the territorial and governmental integrity of the United States, in other words, its “national security”.

How could the undoubtedly well-meaning members of the Guiding Coalition induce themselves to place in thrall to a “national security” apparatus the government of the United States?  One can only conjecture.  It seems obvious that they perceive that the United States is surrounded by a myriad of hostile elements, both man-made and natural, that wish the destruction of the United States and American society as they exist today.  They believe that there are elements that have or will develop the capability of conquering the United States or of destroying its society.  Consequently, one needs to transform the American government and society into a sort of “armed camp” with sentinels posted and alert to any suspicious movement within and beyond the walls.  In order to prevent such an eventuality and under the guise of reforming the present “national security system”, the Guiding Coalition proposes to change the entire federal government structure.

That the report intends to envelop virtually the entire United States Government in the cloak of “national security’ is made explicit in Table 8 “Expansion of National Security Effort”.  This table places almost all of the present governmental departments in the “national security” organization.  Missing are only Agriculture, Education, and Housing and Urban Development, although, as stated in one of the passages quoted above, the report prescribes that the President should create a “national security” Interagency Team for education and another for economic policy.  Such Teams could well involve these 3 overlooked departments.  In addition, the Table adds to the “national security” apparatus the Office of the Vice President, the EPA, the OMB, the Council of Economic Advisors, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Office of Science and Technology, even the Peace Corps, and still other agencies.

The primary instruments of this reform would be a President’s Security Council, a Director for National Security, Interagency Teams, and a National Security Professional Corps.  As conceived in the report’s recommendations the Director for National Security would, in effect, be running the federal government on behalf of the President through the President’s Security Council and the Interagency Teams. 

“The system needs an overarching authority dedicated to full-time system management on behalf of the president.”

“The director for national security would have authority to run the national security system and to decide which issues to assign to lead departments and agencies and which to assign to interagency teams. He or she would also direct the activities of the Executive Secretariat, which in turn would run the human capital, knowledge management, and long-range assessment and planning activities for the national security system.”

“Indeed, it is hard to imagine how a person exercising the authorities of what is currently one of the most powerful positions in government, and which will become even more powerful if PNSR’s recommendations are accepted, would not be accountable to the legislative branch in some degree. Yet, a confirmable director for national security also would have major disadvantages, beginning with accountability to Congress…”

The President’s role in governmental operations would be essentially limited to strategic policy.  The relationship between the President and his Director of National Security would be similar to that of Louis XIII and Richelieu.  Its modern derivative is the Government of France, in which the president selects and designates his prime minister, who then runs the government at the pleasure of the president.  This is not what the writers of the Constitution envisioned.  That the Director for National Security would become a de facto prime minister is evident in that “national security” would encompass virtually all of the functions of the government.

The primary instruments in the hands of the “prime ministerial” Director for National Security for running the government would be the Interagency Teams.

“We recommend that the president selectively shift management of issues away from the President’ s Security Council staff (and supporting interagency committees) to new empowered Interagency Teams. These teams wouldbe composed of full-time personnel, would be properly resourced and of flexible duration, and beable to implement a whole-of-government approach to those issues beyond the coping capacities ofthe existing system.”

“The team would endure until its mission is accomplished, but leadership and membership could change as circumstances warrant.”

“The team would develop a strategy for achieving the charter’s objectives. The strategy would include an assessment of alternative approaches, integrated for the whole government, along with advantages and disadvantages and ways to minimize the latter; the responsibilities of existing or newly created organizations within the strategy; milestones and measures by which to judge progress toward meeting the objectives.”

“Once approved by the president, the team would have the responsibility for assessing the strategy and associated plans and making necessary adjustments that are within its mandate or recommending adjustments that require approval.  The team would monitor department and agency progress toward achieving mission objectives.  The team would exercise authority under its charter to adjust responsibilities and resources.”

“Within the duly authorized scope of their written mandate, teams will be able to direct the activities of departments and agencies.”

The above citations demonstrate that the Interagency Teams would control government operations within the scope of their mandates, to include issuing strategic and operational guidance to governmental departments, monitoring their operations, directing their activities, and changing responsibilities and resources as they deem necessary.  In other words, the departments concerned would become simply the operating elements of the Teams.  Although the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the Department of Homeland Security would feel the brunt of departmental downgrading, in view of the scope of “national security” defined in the report, all federal governmental departments would be affected. 

The report does include the concept of department heads being empowered to comment on strategies and major adjustments, as well as appeal decisions of Teams to the President.

“In addition to commenting on initial team strategy and major adjustments, department and agency heads would be able to challenge team recommendations and decisions by appealing them to the president on the basis of unacceptable damage to national interests.”

It is, I believe, significant that department heads would only be permitted to “comment” on strategy and only on “major” adjustments; they would not be expected to contest them. Furthermore, they could only “appeal” team recommendations and decisions and only on the basis of “unacceptable damage to national interests”.  In other words, department heads would not be involved in the development of Team strategy and adjustments; they would have no veto power over Team actions, even if they were harmful to national interests.  Teams would be free to continue to act until a department head could get in to see the President.  And they could go to the President and argue a case only if they could prove that team actions constituted “unacceptable damage to national interests”.  A Department head would become a sort of action officer implementing the instructions of the Interagency Team Chief. Over time, the number of these Teams would increase significantly.

“It is also important to be clear about the expected growth in team decision-making. While the new national security system should absorb interagency teams slowly at first, and at the national level under close supervision, they have potential for making rapid progress in addressing global and regional issues from an integrated whole-of-government perspective. If the president is given the means to use interagency teams, which we believe requires statutory changes, then based upon their performance, he may well chose to proliferate them as circumstances demand.”

Although the emphasis in the report is on the horizontal and the collaborative nature and the small size of the Teams  (“Initially, many will wonder how a small team of ten to fifteen individuals can manage a major national security issue.”), Figure 28, entitled “New System” belies the impression intended.  This Figure shows that the Teams will also have a vertical organization consisting of Global Offices, Regional Offices, and Local Offices, each with Issue Teams.  These Issue Teams would have the following functions:

“Issue teams are interagency teams that use supporting department and agency assets and the infrastructure built in geographic offices to move policy forward on an issue.  They are the central hubs for end-to-end issue management, integrating diplomatic, military, economic aid, intelligence, law enforcement, and other national security capabilities.”

It is obvious that the Interagency Team structure will involve more than a handful of individuals to “manage a major national security issue”.  There will be an Interagency Team superstructure imposed on and parallel to the present governmental structure.

These teams will also be quasi-permanent in that the issues they are meant to deal with would be difficult of resolution.  For example, an Interagency Team on climate change would certainly exist into the next century.  A Team on Islamic fanaticism would also endure many decades.  A Team on the security of the national transportation system would also last many decades.  Furthermore, it would be in the interest of the Director of National Security to foster the duration of these Teams, since it is through them that he would run the government.  And lastly, it is axiomatic that a bureaucracy once established tends to continue even after its reason for being no longer exists.

The last element proposed in the report to ensure the control of the federal government by the Director of National Security is a National Security Professional Corps.

“The National Security Professional Corps personnel should be specifically trained and prepared for interagency assignments with incentives to recruit and retain the most talented and qualified personnel. The executive secretary should establish education, training, and experience prerequisites for entry into the Corps, and designate interagency positions that may only be filled by Corps members.”

This Corps would be separate from the Civil Service and the Foreign Service.  It would be separately recruited and administered.  Its members would be placed in the key positions on the Interagency Teams.  Since the “executive secretary” cited above is the direct subordinate of the Director of National Security, it is obvious that the loyalties of the members of the Corps would be to the Director of National Security.  They would be dependent on him for their assignments, their performance evaluations, their advancement, etc.  The report states that between assignments to Teams they would be embedded in the various Departments.  They would thus serve as agents for the National Security Advisor to ensure that the Departments are fully cooperating members of the “national security” apparatus.

What does this proposed structure imply for the governmental departments?  Let us take a hypothetical look at the Department of State.  The report strongly suggests that there should be Interagency Teams to cover many of the present missions of the Department of State.

“In the case of the national security system, teams could be created to confront challenges such as nuclear proliferation in the Middle East or Northeast Asia, extremist Islamic terrorism, Colombian drug trafficking, energy security, global warming, etc.”

The mandates for all these Teams would undoubtedly take over missions of the Department.  One can also imagine that with the forecast proliferation of Interagency Teams there would be other “national security” issues involving State Department missions, in whole or in part, that would be assigned to them, such as, Mexican drug cartels, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, India-Pakistan Relations, Nation Building-Afghanistan, Nation Building-Iraq, Immigration, etc.

What is important to recognize is that in the creation of these Teams each of them takes a piece from the missions and responsibilities of the Department of State.  As shown on Figure 28 of the report, even our embassies in countries within the mandates of the Interagency Teams would be controlled by them; not by the Department of State.  The Secretary of State would be left with control over American diplomacy only in out-of-the-way countries with little geopolitical importance.  For the major diplomatic challenges of the twenty-first century the Secretary of State and the department would be only operational elements of a host of Interagency Teams.

The same would also be true for the other departments some of whose missions and responsibilities fall within the “national security” mandates of the Teams.  This would, in effect, constitute a total revamping of the structure of the federal government, not of just the national security system.

The flaws I have described above—the expansion of the concept of “national security’ to include almost all of the functions of government, the establishment of a “prime-ministerial’ form of government, the creation of a separate and parallel governmental structure—are the major and invalidating flaws of the PNSR report.  There are other flaws of a lesser significance, such as, the complicating of the federal budget process, reducing the power of Congress to exercise its responsibilities, a proliferation of agencies and offices, etc.  I have not discussed these, since the major flaws render the report useless as a vehicle to reform the federal government in its entirety, which is its evident purpose.

On the other hand, there are a number of valid recommendations that would merit consideration and eventual adoption and implementation outside the context of this report.  For example, the reform and strengthening of the Department of State; the increase of ambassadorial responsibilities and authority; measures to increase dramatically collaboration among governmental departments and agencies at all levels; measures to improve the issuance of policy guidance by the President; measures to improve the quality of the Foreign Service and the executive level of the federal government, etc.  All federal government officials could well read and learn from Part III: “Assessment of System Performance” and Part IV: “Problem Analysis of the Current System” of the report.

It is not until the last pages of the report that the Guiding Coalition makes its philosophy of the purposes of government and hence, its intentions quite explicit. In Part VI: “Conclusions and Recommendations”, Section D “Reform Implementation”, Subsection 1. “National Security Reform and Our Constitution”, second paragraph, first sentence, is found the statement:

“Under the Constitution, national security is the federal government’s most “compelling” interest.” 

This is a patent untruth.  Nowhere does the Constitution state or even imply that “national security” is the government’s most “compelling” interest.  Nowhere does the Constitution even mention the words “national security’ and “compelling”.  In order to substantiate this preposterous claim the report quotes a doctored version of the Preamble to the Constitution in which only “provide for the common defense” is shown as a governmental responsibility.  Every high school student knows that the Preamble mandates six different governmental functions in no order of priority: “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”.

The other substantiations offered for this blatant misstatement are a quote from an obscure 1964 judicial decision and a quote from one of the Federalist papers written by Alexander Hamilton in which he lists four (4) primary purposes for the Union.  Only one of them is the “defense of its members.”  Hamilton’s “defense of its members” is a far cry from the “national security” program proposed by the report.  Furthermore, the quote in the report is another truncated one, so we do not know what emphasis or priority Hamilton gave to his four purposes for the Union.  There is no reason whatsoever to believe that the writers of the Constitution felt that “national security” (a term with which they were undoubtedly unfamiliar) was the government’s most compelling interest.  This statement of “national security” as a “compelling interest of the government renders painfully obvious the intention of the Guiding Coalition to transform the United States Government into a “national security” apparatus.

It is certainly true that the present national security system needs to be reformed, but within the concept of the national government as set forth by the Constitution, in particular, by the Preamble.  It is also easily arguable that the whole federal governmental structure needs to be reformed in order to render its functioning more efficient and Presidential control more effective, so that the challenges of this century (most of which do not involve true national security) can be successfully met, but again, in keeping with the tasks mandated by the Constitution.  Can a reform meeting these criteria be conceptualized? I believe “yes”. Obviously, it would require an in-depth analysis and study to develop a restructuring that would respect the Constitution and enable the government to meet the challenges of this century and the future.

The United States cannot hide itself behind a screen of “national security”. 

The world needs the United States, but not as a nation concerned exclusively with its “national security”.  This is an egocentric mindset tainted with paranoia.  It is an attitude that says “What’s in it for me?” to the rest of the world.  It is an attitude that has no interest in the other peoples and nations of the world except insofar as their activities impact on the all-encompassing “national security” of the United States.

The world needs the United States, but not as a wild beast cowering in its cave, snarling ominously at the noises of the night, ready to leap forth and savagely attack any passing creature, large and small.

The world needs the United States as a leader ready to cooperate with all the countries of the world to overcome the very serious challenges of the twenty-first century, many of which are unique in the story of mankind. 


 Benjamin L. Landis retired from the U.S. Army as a colonel after a 27-year career that included service with the Military Assistance Advisory Group at the U.S. embassy in Paris and as Senior U.S. Liaison Officer with the French Forces in Germany. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and the French Army Ecole d’Etat-Major, and has an MSA from The George Washington University.  After retirement, he was Director of Administration and Finance for several major law firms in Washington.

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