An American report recommends radical reform to build collaborative capabilities

A ‘blue ribbon’ panel in the United States has just released a major report on national security reform.  The report can be viewed at this link. Entitled “Ensuring Security in an Unpredictable World: The Urgent Need for National Security Reform,” the report will inform American security and defence policy for the next administration, whatever its political ‘stripe’ turns out to be.

The ninety-three page report, issued jointly by the non-partisan Project on National Security Reform and the Center for the Study of the Presidency, is based on extensive analysis (ten analytical working groups that conducted 37 major case studies and 63 smaller ones).  The report provides seven ‘fundamental insights’ into the current situation and make seven major recommendation “necessary for the effective performance of the national security system in the 21st century.”

The report contends that the major reforms of the U.S. national security system undertaken to date have been ad hoc responses to stimuli, and are not adequate for the threats that exist today.  A collaborative approach that crosses governmental departments is viewed as essential to successful security missions.  National security must be “pursued systematically and comprehensively.”

Five problems are identified that explain why the U.S. system “provides good core capabilities but poor supporting capabilities and poor unity of effort”:

-         A badly imbalanced system that emphasized departmental capabilities at the expense of integrating mechanisms;

-         Resource expended by departments towards their core mandates rather than national mission requirements;

-         Presidential intervention is required to integrate resources, but this overburdens the White House;

-         Presidential transitions are problematic; and

-         The legislative branch is actually reinforcing problems and making improvement difficult.

From a Canadian perspective, one of the most profound findings of the report is one that asserts that, while interdepartmental cooperation is essential for mission success, departments are not unified by an over-arching strategy, leaving departments to resort to their own strategies that are neither coordinator nor systematic.  “The National Security System requires effective long-range strategy formulation and strategic planning that articulates objectives, relates means and ends, and integrates all the tools of national power.” Canadian political leaders and senior governmental planners could find many useful, but probably unpalatable, guides within the pages of this impressive report.