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Community of Nations Discusses Military Homeland Defense Role

By Joe Ferrare
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 26, 2006 – Twenty-nine nations of the trans-Atlantic community took a first step toward hammering out an understanding of when and how to use military forces to secure the homeland during a conference held here May 22-24.

More than 100 national representatives, speakers, observers and organizers met near the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies for the Euro-Atlantic Perspectives on the Role of Military Forces in Homeland Security conference. The event was organized by the Marshall Center in cooperation with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College.

The common understanding participants strove for is the first step toward making all nations safer, said conference moderator Jack Clarke.

"We're trying to build a trans-Atlantic community of expertise in homeland defense, and this is a start," Clarke said. "We're trying to understand how different countries employ military forces in dealing with domestic emergencies and domestic contingencies. This is an opportunity for both sides of the Atlantic to learn from one another."

To that end, participants heard speakers and panel members explore the European and U.S. traditions, as well as those of the former Soviet states in attendance. Understanding those diverse backgrounds is important because a unified community of nations is something terrorists and others actively target, Clarke said.

"All of us have come to realize that security is all too divisible in the world we live in today," he said. "By that I mean terrorists and others understand that they can make people think they can be more secure when they do not join in alliances. We want to ensure that security remains indivisible, and therefore we work together for the same kinds of cooperative security goals."

Even discussing the same subject with participants from countries ranging from the United States to Estonia and Georgia brings is a challenge, Clarke said.

"Sure, 30 different nations can be a management challenge, but I think this has worked really, really well, because ... regardless of where they're from, they're all in the same business.

"Granted, not all of them get a chance to talk and tell us how they do it in their country, but that's not really the goal. The goal is that you get exposed to different ideas and you take them back, and you try to integrate them as appropriate to your planning process, or your strategic concept," he said.

Different ideas were not in short supply, Clarke added.

"I would say that one of the biggest differences is that some countries in Europe have specialized forces to deal with a lot of these kinds of issues, and others don't. Countries like France and Italy and Spain have what we call paramilitary police forces, like the gendarmerie. They're particularly well-suited to dealing with a broad range of homeland security and homeland defense tasks.

"In the United States, we have the National Guard," he continued. "That's a completely different kind of organization that doesn't exist anywhere in Europe, where the state governor has control of his own military forces."

With all those differences in mind, conference organizers and speakers asked participants to look to the future and contemplate homeland security challenges their nations might face.

"We've looked at things like, what's the role of the military in managing bird flu?" Clarke said. "How would the military respond to a dirty bomb attack? We've also looked at the different kinds of ... strategic approaches. We heard from the British about their resiliency strategy, and then we compared that to the homeland security strategy of the United States and found a lot of areas of commonality, but found some important differences."

Studying the different approaches is important because the threats nations face have become global, said Peter F. Verga, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense.

"Transnational flows aid the acceleration of disease transmission, terrorism, proliferation of advanced weapons and weapons of mass destruction materials and extremist ideologies," Verga said.

"All free nations - including their citizens, territory and infrastructure - are vulnerable to these threats. These challenges, in both the security environment and the diluted concept of sovereignty, argue for identifying new ways of cooperating with our allies and partners," he said.

Participants found those new ways by sharing examples and ideas, bringing forth a new understanding, Clarke said.

"Definitions are clearly important, but a conference like this makes it clear to the participants that, regardless of what definitions you use, we're doing the same kinds of things. And that's a particularly important aspect of the conference, is that at the end of the day people can say, 'Hey, they may call it homeland security and we may call it internal security, but ... it's the same thing,'" Clarke explained.

Bill Bann, another representative from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, told participants that reaching the state of a common understanding is the beginning of greater security for all.

"I would recommend to you that you build on the knowledge that you gained here, maintain the contacts that we've made ... so that we don't just leave this here, that we build upon this," he said. "I think it makes us stronger as a nation, and as an international community, to face these very difficult and tough challenges that are before us."

(Joe Ferrare works at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.)

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George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies


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