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The Hart-Rudman Commission and the Homeland Defense

Authored by Dr. Ian Roxborough. | September 2001

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The U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, popularly known as the Hart-Rudman Commission after its chairs, has recently produced a series of reports. The commission believes that recent changes in the security environment mean the rise of new threats, in particular the likelihood of an attack on American soil resulting in thousands of casualties. As a consequence, the commission calls for major changes in the organization of national security institutions in order to respond adequately to these new challenges.

This monograph discusses the assumptions underlying the diagnosis and threat assessment made by the commission. It argues that several assumptions made by the commission are of debatable merit and rest on a very selective reading of social science. The commission relies heavily on the notion that globalization has both integrative and disintegrative tendencies. While for much of the world globalization increases integration, there will be an intense rejection of western culture and a backlash to globalization in parts of the Third World. The key assumptions underlying this picture are that people in traditional societies are disoriented by rapid social change and seek to turn the clock back.

In fact, this notion that globalization is likely to produce a backlash from Third World, and particularly Islamic societies, has very little to support it. The monograph argues that the work of the commission is based on poor social science and that there is the risk that this has produced an inaccurate diagnosis of the causes of conflict in the 21st century. The commission believes that fundamentally we are moving into an era of global cultural conflict. This is speculative, and there is little in the way of hard evidence to support such an assertion. We might equally be moving into a historical period in which globalresource conflicts and changing regional power balances will lead aspiring regional hegemons to embark on policies that lead to war.

The monograph discusses four assumptions underlying the work of the commission. They are: (1) globalization will be a mixed blessing, producing both more integration and also strident rejection; (2) social change is disruptive and produces conflict because people lose their moral bearings (what some authors call ?anomie?); (3) what underlies conflict is ultimately a clash of fundamental values; and (4) the world is entering a radically new age. Each of these assumptions is, in the view of the author of this monograph, wrong.

The commission?s focus on a threat of mass casualty attack on the American homeland perpetrated by Third World states runs the risk of an unbalanced threat assessment. The threat of mass casualty by foreign states cannot be discounted, but it is not clear how the commission arrives at the conclusion that this is likely to be America?s biggest security challenge in the coming decades. This monograph argues, first, that there is also a substantial risk of mass casualty attack perpetrated by U.S. citizens. Focusing on primarily on a threat from foreign states may lead to defensive measures which may do little to reduce the domestic threat. Second, the focus on dealing with the threat of mass casualty attack on the United States needs to be balanced with a range of other security concerns, including the possible rise of would-be regional hegemons.

The monograph also discusses the analysis made by the Hart-Rudman Commission concerning likely future trends in American society and the implications these will have for American military power. The commission argues that globalization and declining social cohesion in American society will together lead to an erosion of the ties between citizens and the state. The commission believes that this will result in a rather brittle public support for American military operations. The monograph argues that thisanalysis of social trends in American society is one-sided. While there are many matters that should concern us about likely future trends in American society, the redefinition of social ties should not be one. America is experiencing rapid change in patterns of family, work and leisure, and these will not uniformly result in less social integration. At any event, it is unclear that changing conceptions of citizenship will impinge on America?s ability to conduct military operations in the ways which the commission thinks are likely.

For these reasons, while many of the policy recommendations of the Hart-Rudman Commission are eminently sound, there is some risk they will not provide a balanced and adequate strategic response to the changed security environment.

The monograph then discusses the implications for the Army and for the Department of Defense of the threat of a mass casualty attack on the American homeland. It argues that the Army should be cautious in the manner in which it accepts the homeland defense mission. First, with the addition of a new mission, there is likely to be a strategy-resources mismatch unless considerable additional resources are forthcoming (which is unlikely.) Second, the monograph argues that it is by no means clear that Army resources (and in particular, the National Guard) are the most cost-effective way to deal with the consequences of a mass casualty attack on the American homeland. While there is a great deal that the Army can and should do, the brunt of consequence management is likely to be borne by civilian emergency response agencies. While these agencies have the potential to deal effectively with the consequences of such an attack, they are at present seriously unprepared for the consequence management task, and should receive additional resources as a high priority.

The major recommendations of the commission concern reorganization of the institutions of national security. Whilemany of these recommendations, such as the call for a National Homeland Security Agency, should be adopted, the commission is prone to rely heavily on moral exhortation rather than, for example, economic incentives, as a way of changing what it sees as inefficiencies and defects in American government. This monograph argues that moral exhortation is unlikely to be effective except as part of a large package of policies.

The Hart-Rudman Commission calls for the United States to develop a ?culture of coordinated strategic planning.? This is an important recommendation which plays to one of the Army?s strengths. It is in the Army?s interest to do what it can to encourage the development of strategic culture, and in particular of a balanced set of capabilities to deal with a wide range of diverse threats.


The upshot is that the report that devotes the most attention to a social scientific diagnosis of the threat of mass casualty attack has a number of methodological shortcomings which make its conclusions of dubious value. It ignores almost entirely the threat from the domestic extreme right, and its analysis of American domestic trends is largely concerned with moral values and social cohesion. These are seen to matter because of the need for popular support for a national security strategy. The commission?s work relies heavily on the notion of a antimodern ?backlash? to the dislocations and strains of social change?an approach that many professional social scientists no longer find plausible. It is true that ?culture matters.? This does not mean that conflicts will be necessarily, or even likely, about culture. And the commission provides no reason for the assertion that foreign states present a greater threat of mass casualty attack than either domestic or foreign nonstate actors.

Despite its forward-looking speculations about the future, the intellectual framework of the commission remains caught up in the past. In its emphasis on a clash of culture, on the deleterious impact of social change, on the need for social cohesion and strong moral values, in its suspicion of changing family forms, and in its call for moral leadership as the central element in a solution to the problems of government, the commission has provided a conservative diagnosis of our times. The commission may be right. We won?t know until the future is upon us. But the underlying assumptions are so open to question that it would be imprudent to base a major strategic reorientation on the commission?s recommendations.

Instead of basing threat assessment on questionable sociological theories and sweeping journalistic generalizations, it would be more prudent for future threat assessments to attempt to identify the concrete and specific social circumstances that facilitate the rise of the mass movements that provide the soil in which paranoid fantasies flourish. Readers of the reports of the Hart-Rudman Commission should not abdicate their critical judgement in the face of what is, in many respects, the most impressive effort at futurology published since the end of the Cold War.