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Visioning for the 21st Century:
A Process for National Security

Dr. Sheila Ronis

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An important element emerging from a visioning process may be the understanding that peace prospects and root causes of conflicts are complex and systemic. They require a thorough understanding of the system relationships between elements of a society that can lead to conflict, if not in balance. This may lead to activities to promote peaceful futures through prevention on a global basis. That will be the essence of shaping. Prevention is far less costly in dollars and lives than any conflict.

What might a visioning process entail? An interagency group needs to be configured to develop the vision and must have representation from the many agencies who play major roles in the National Security of the country, such as the Department of Defense, the State Department, Commerce, the FBI, the CIA, FEMA, the new Homeland Security Office and so on. Once assembled, the process should begin by asking what the National Security community looks like as a "system" in the current time frame. It is a way to examine what it exists to do, what its core competencies are, and what it considers success.

The vision, itself, should be a description of what we want the future state to be and the role that the United States National Security community wants to play in that future state; what it will exist to do and what its core competencies will need to be in that future…and how will it fit into the role the nation decides it must play in the world of the future.

The vision is then developed by looking into the future and deciding what the "system" should look like in an idealistic, but realistic future, including a determination of what the geo-political realities of the world could be if we are actively shaping it. This may include increased roles for the intelligence community in a post Cold War era that more effectively monitor the dangerous world that has emerged.

Assumptions are made by identifying trends, considering the unknowable, and developing a wide range of alternative futures. This helps us to think through potential roles that the community will need to play in the various future states. This is important because strategies for action to try and "shape" the desired future become a regular part of the on-going plan.

A vision cannot be established by edict, or by exercise of power or coercion. It is more an act of persuasion, of creating an enthusiastic and dedicated commitment to a vision because it is right for the times, right for the system and the people who are working in it, and right for the world.

Visions are descriptions of the "state of being" in the future with regard to a system's stakeholders. A vision will account for uncertainties. It will look at its stakeholders, such as government partners, other departments and government agencies, internal and external customers, employees, suppliers, the general public, the press, Congress, The White House, and so on... One question to be answered is "what will National Security mean in the eyes of these stakeholders?"

Another question is, what does all this mean for DoD? Isn't this the responsibility of the National Security Council? Well, yes, it is, and no, it isn't. The National Security Council has little infrastructure of its own. The National Security Strategy of the United States cannot be realized without the National Military Strategy and the infrastructure that supports it. In fact, it is the major apparatus of how the country carries out its National Security strategy as well as its foreign policy. So the weaknesses inside DoD need to be addressed.

In DoD, most current management processes still involve a focus on traditional, rigid and cumbersome DoD functional concerns, such as force structure, readiness, modernization, and sustainment.

Management processes within the federal government have long cycle times and the information systems are antiquated in many cases. There are too many gaps and overlapping responsibilities and authorities, such as those in DoD between JCS, the Services and the Defense Agencies, in addition to being impaired by day to day in-box crises which foster a reactive, not proactive work environment. External interactions are not fully integrated with federal departments, and with allies and other partners. The issue is, without a strong vision, can disparate activities be coherently pulled together into a cohesive whole? There is a unified need for a long-range focus, which will include 21st Century needs such as immediate turnaround, agility, responsiveness and so on.

If the Pentagon, which has a strong vision and strong visionary leadership has such problems, how are we going to deal with the National Security community, which has no strong vision, and no strong visionary leadership? How are we going to be successful at crafting such a vision when it requires the integration and holistic approach of so many bureaucracies and agencies of the federal government, each of which has a separate mission?

The sovereignty and security of the United States, and the protection of its citizens and property around the world remains the bedrock of U.S. National Security. The execution of U.S. National Security strategy is conducted in a highly volatile global environment characterized by quantum changes in technology, unprecedented economic and political interdependencies, broadened opportunities to foster democratic principles, and allegiances, and alliances frequently founded on interests other than traditional nationalism. Osama bin Laden fights for no nation-state. The National Security community needs to be agile enough to respond effectively to a broad range of deterrent challenges, while maintaining the ability to wage and win wars when necessary. But, the infrastructure for National Security at home and abroad still mainly resides at the Pentagon.

The country needs to define its role in the world for the next century. It needs to refine the shaping policies around the global geopolitical situation, and think through a long term foreign policy. As these emerge, the National Security strategy for the next century will co-evolve with all of these efforts. Ideally, they will all be done is a holistic environment that makes sense for the people of the country.

Have we ever considered challenging the Defense Department's mission? Perhaps, the mission of DoD needs to more clearly reflect 21st Century realities and challenges and better support the National Security of the United States. This might be accomplished by:

  • preventing conflict and deterring potential adversaries,
  • supporting world-wide stability, and U.S. foreign policy
  • maintaining ready forces for deployment worldwide
  • responding to threats and protecting U.S. citizens, property and interests anywhere on the planet.
  • responding to domestic emergencies and humanitarian assistance at home and abroad, and contributing to other National priorities, and foreign policy through cooperation with allies, friends, and other federal and state agencies, where appropriate.

The mission describes what the Department of Defense should be striving for today. The vision must describe what the Department of Defense should become in a National Security context. Maybe we need to evolve into a Department of National Security and Defense?

What might such a vision look like?

The vision of the U.S. Department of National Security and Defense might become to support the National Security of the United States and its military, diplomatic, political, economic, social, technological, foreign and domestic policy efforts in the 21st Century by being able to:

  • remain premier in its capacity to prevent, deter, and win the nation's wars, worldwide, quickly and decisively in concert with its allies and friends or unilaterally, with minimum casualties.

  • leverage national assets wherever they are to support national interests, competitiveness, sustainability and capabilities, employ superior human resources in both the military and civilian workforce, be proactive and work closely and effectively with other Federal and State agencies and others to meet dynamic National Security priorities in support of domestic needs and global contingencies.

  • be foremost in innovative practices in all areas; leveraging of U.S. core competencies; and efficient stewardship of all resources and capabilities through partnerships with industry and academia, to renew the nation's infrastructure while enhancing the overall National Security posture, and be the world leader in information dominance and technological superiority.

Visions usually also describe the values of the enterprise, and its overall system, suggesting that the values of the American People must reflect the values of the Department. Those values will include a culture that will: empower people, reward innovation, encourage teamwork, enhance individual skills, leverage core competencies, provide a safe and healthy workplace, employ contemporary management practices, and instill commitment to excellence.

Ultimately, the vision of the Department of National Security and Defense will need to provide for the common defense while working toward a world of democracy, freedom, stability, prosperity and peace in a 21st Century world which should be shaped to the advantage of the United States and the advantage of the world. I have only begun to define the work that could be done in understanding the complex systems nature of National Security. World peace may depend upon our ability to understand and articulate these issues and explore their many ramifications for a national, and then, global, dialogue.

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