"Security is not Defense; Defense does not equal security."
The concept was far from new to me. What was different was who was saying it.
Lt. Col. Shannon Beebe, former Senior Africa Analyst in the Office of the U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff, Intelligence, is considered one of the nation's leading thinkers on the concept of human security. He spoke as part of a panel discussion at the April 2009 Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum
held at John's Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C.
"Security is not kinetics-based, state-focused, tank, plane, gun, defense budget-centric types of issues," he continued. "It is not about kinetics; it is about conditions—conditions that create creeping vulnerabilities that we do not see as threats."
Beebe's words were the exclamation point on the panel's discussion about shifting our international security strategies toward a more balanced "3D" approach using diplomacy, development and defense.
Moderated by Eastern Mennonite University's Lisa Schirch, director of the 3D Security Initiative
, the panel also included Reuben Brigety, II, director of the Sustainable Security Program at the Center for American Progress
; and Barak Salmoni, full political scientist at the RAND Corporation
Reminding us his remarks were not an official Department of Defense presentation but a compilation of his own personal reflections, Beebe added, "I would contend that today's strategic security narrative fails at identifying and understanding the challenges of the 21st Century."
Those challenges, Beebe explained, include a "multi-polar" world that is inherently more unstable than the old "bipolar" structure of USA vs. USSR; economic globalization that remains uneven (the ramifications of which, he noted, we still don't fully understand); and the instantaneous nature of technology that allows a Somali-born cab driver in New York to know more about enemy movements in his home country than the CIA knows.
As I listened, I wished I could teleport into the room Republican strategist Sheri Jacobus, a regular on the cable news talking head circuit who diminished, demeaned and discounted the idea of a Department of Peace during an interview segment I shared with her and an equally ill-informed Democratic pundit on CNN Headline News's Jane Velez-Mitchell show
. The Department of Peace
is based on addressing the issues Beebe laid out and would facilitate much of what he said was needed.
"We have a Department of Peace," she’d said. "It's called the Pentagon."
I wondered if her mind would open to the same issues I was articulating when she heard them from Lt. Col. Beebe.
"Folks, we have to understand, this has untethered our traditional 20th Century security system," he continued, "This is not about the Department of Defense; this is about more of a collective effort, about asking the first order question: What is security for the 21st Century?"
Affirming remarks made by Brigety, who focused on the need to restructure government bureaucracy, not just throw more money into the same dysfunctional system, Beebe noted, "Our bureaucracies have become so calcified, so ossified, so set in 20th Century types of ways…that we're failing to see to see what I call 'creeping vulnerabilities'--these things we do not see as threats."
Beebe brought those vulnerabilities home, challenging us to consider the last time the United States was threatened by a mosquito, dirty water, or someone living on less than a dollar a day as we are now.
"These are not going to be won at the point of a gun," he said. "These are not going to be won with $2 billion fighters. These are not going to be won with multi-trillion dollar military-industrial complexes building new weapon systems. This is also not going to be done by the Department of Defense alone."
He shared results of a study conducted at the request of the Army Chief of Staff in which they asked Africans to describe the greatest threats to stability in Africa. The top four answers were the need for reform in the security sector (military, police, and judicial systems), climate change, poverty and health.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here to tell you today that we don't have a tank or a plane that will counter that," Beebe emphasized.
Preventing the need for military action is, no surprise, Beebe's priority. As he reminded us, it's the one who must fight the war who wants most to avoid it. He challenged everyone to have the courage to ask tough questions:
"Is it possibly the case that we are creating more terrorists than we can possibly kill?" he said. "Is it possibly the case that we are allowing these conditions--these creeping vulnerabilities--to grow unnoticed along these strategic seams until they are a kinetic-type of threat [requiring military action]?"
So if this uniformed, Iraq war veteran, active duty Army officer gets it, many of his peers get it, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gets it
, and the President gets it, what's the problem?
The problem is Congress and the American people don't get it.
Asked how we might structure the workload in this new "3D" paradigm, Brigety responded that this seemingly daunting challenge is actually the easy part.
"The harder problem is convincing the American public there is more to security so they'll get Congress to do something," he explained. "Until we change that, we won't get these [non-defense] efforts resourced."
No one need look past the outcry at plans to cut the F-22 fighter
to understand just how true his statement was.
In the face of our own ignorance, obstinance and partisan fear-mongering, how are we to move beyond the outdated systems, structures and beliefs that block us from understanding that human security
--not just for Americans, but for everyone--is the only thing that will truly keep us safe?
Beebe offered one possibility: we must get beyond our mistrust of one another--military and civilian, contractor and bureaucrat, activist and politician, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat--and create the language that can bridge our seeming differences.
"We have to shift our thinking for the 21st Century," Beebe said.
Watch the video of the speaker's remarks online.