We hear both sides of the political spectrum talk about "national security" on a daily basis, but it's hard to tell, listening to what they say, what they actually mean. Here's my take.
First of all, a bit of what national security isn't: it's not about "protecting the government". The words of the oath of allegience every member of our military takes says nothing about protecting the government, or swearing obedience to it. On the contrary, it says we'll "support and defend the Constitution" - the document that establishes the governing authority of the people, through election of representative government. Elected officials, appointed members of government, and just about anyone else that receives a federal government paycheck swears a similar oath.
Even there, there's an "escape clause". The Declaration of Independence, written to tell Britain we were big boys and no longer needed their supervision to govern ourselves, says:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of thes ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Our government was established to protect the rights of individuals by assuming certain responsibilities. These included, among many others, the security of our nation and its people, both from external threats and internal problems. The role of government has evolved over time, but still functions primarily to "secure the fundamental rights" of its citizens. Like most governments, it's grown and evolved, but not necessarily according to any overall, all-encompassing plan. It may be time to realign some of those diverse functions to better serve the nation and its inhabitants. This includes how we view national security, and how we organize for it as a nation.
National security, then, has to focus in two directions: protection from external enemies, and protection from internal threats. It also has to meet the "litmus test" of doing this while protecting the rights of the individual, and protecting the ability of other areas of government to function in providing this same protection.
The military has the primary objective of protecting us from external threats. Since frequently the only way to eliminate external threats is to go where the threat originates, an offensive capability is needed. At the same time, there's also a need for a defensive capability to stop attacks upon the nation and its citizens.
The military has to be a certain size to accomplish all its missions. Today's military doesn't seem to be quite big enough. We're having to rely on second-tier reserves (the National Guard and the various Active Reserves) to achieve many of today's missions. That's not an appropriate long-term use of such forces. Using these forces as we are is proof positive that the overall size of the military, to accomplish today's missions, needs to be larger. How much larger is debatable, but I would suggest 24 additional Brigade Combat Teams and the support personnel they will need. They should be divided between the Army (18 brigades) and the Marines (6 brigades), and between active and reserve/Guard forces. I would suggest that the 18 Army brigades include 12 active, three reserve, and three National Guard brigades; that the Marine brigades consist of four active and two reserve brigades.
A brigade consists of from 4000 to 8000 personnel, including their internal support. This will require an additional 96,000 to 192,000 military personnel to fully staff all 24 brigades. That can't be done overnight, but it's not impossible. I'm sure that with the proper incentives, the military could staff those positions in three to four years - the MINIMUM time it would also take to provide housing, equipment, and supplies for that kind of increase. The more likely scenario is that it would take four to ten years to fully staff all the active, reserve, and National Guard positions.
The military also plays a role in internal security, although that is a secondary role for most military units. We frequently hear of National Guard units being mobilized at the State or Federal level in response to national disasters. It would be appropriate, I believe, to include members of the Active Reserve Forces to also be included in some levels of disaster response. Today, that isn't usually possible.
There is also a need for a larger blue-water Navy, to include an additional carrier battle group and support fleet, and expanded air power. That includes combat aviation units, transport aircraft, and a replacement large-capacity non-nuclear bomber to replace the ancient B-52 fleet.
National security also requires the United States to control its borders. That means the capability to spot, identify, and stop people from entering the United States through other than normal means, as well as knowing what non-citizens are currently in the country, and where they are. We need a stronger, more secure border. If that means building a physical fence, we need to fund it, build it, and maintain it. If it means constant border surveillance using military equipment, we need to do that. Using drone surveillance craft such as the current Predator
series for border surveillance would not only provide real-time training for reserve or National Guard unts, but would develop the degree of coordination and cooperation needed to react to a potentially catastrophic threat. It might be beneficial to recalibrate the role of the Border Patrol into something more along the lines of a land-based Coast Guard, including military-style discipline, command and control, and both offensive and defensive capabilities. More stringent control of the border by multiple assets that include the Border Patrol, Coast Guard, National Guard, Armed Forces Reserve, local law enforcement personnel, and others, can only increase the effectiveness in border security. We need national, state, and local laws that effect this cooperation.
In order to secure this nation from threats both external and internal, we need to know who's living in this country other than US citizens. Failing to control the border destroys that capability. A large number of the people who enter this country illegally are otherwise excellent candidates to become good citizens. There are a few who aren't, however. I have my own ideas about illegal aliens. I've stated some of them here
, and here
National security also hinges on two other important aspects of our lives - the economy, and education. Without a strong economy, it's difficult to build and maintain an adequate military force, and keep it strong by continuously exercising it. A soldier isn't battlefield proficient if he only gets to fire his weapon once a year, and never gets to participate in anything but local exercises. Marines have to practice opposed landings. Pilots have to practice the kind of combat they're going to be expected to perform in a wartime situation. That all takes money, and that requires a strong, vibrant economy. Government bureaucracies tend to grow and expand, whether there's a need for it or not. We need politicians that understand that there's a certain limit to government, that if exceeded, causes more problems than it's worth. We need limited but effective government for a strong economy. An over-bloated, ineffective government is actually a deterrent to national security.
The amount of information that a person really NEEDS to know to succeed in the American economy today is not so much more, as different, than what was needed thirty, fifty, or a hundred years ago. Yet certain basics are essential - the ability to read and write, to comprehend what one reads or hears, to be able to draw conclusions from new information, based on what we previously knew, and the ability to express those conclusions in a way others can understand them. A strong background in math and science is essential in today's technological society, yet is frequently given poor attention by schools. The military, today's industry, and just general citizenship requires a certain basic level of reading, writing, comprehension, and expression in a variety of disciplines. Failing to meet the necessary requirements in one area may not put a person at risk. Failure in two or more areas certainly will. We can't afford to have people in the military that have a sub-standard education. Neither can most industries.
The maintenance of national security, then, requires not only the ability to defend the country militarily, but also to secure its borders, protect it from non-citizens, maintain a strong economy, and educate future citizens capable of understanding the debate of how to deal with whatever threatens the security and safety of this nation's citizens.