Homeland security gathers nations, ideas

GARMISCH, Germany - Twenty-nine nations of the trans-Atlantic community took a first step towards understanding when and how to use military forces for homeland security during a three-day conference here this week.

More than 100 national representatives, speakers, observers and organizers met for the Security Studies for the Euro-Atlantic Perspectives on the Role of Military Forces in Homeland Security conference. The event was organized by the George C. 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 participants strove towards the first step of making all nations safer," said Dr. Jack Clarke, conference moderator. "We're trying to build a trans-Atlantic community of expertise in homeland defense and 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."

Conference speakers and panel members explored 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. 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 U.S. to Estonia and Georgia 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 we're from, we are all in the same business."

"The goal is that you get exposed to different ideas, take them back home and 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, Italy and Spain have what is called 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. 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," Clarke said.

With all those differences in mind, conference organizers and speakers asked participants to look into 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. "Or, ‘how would the military respond to a dirty bomb attack?'"

"We've also looked at 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 U.S. and found a lot of areas of commonality, but also found some important differences," Clarke reported.

Studying the different approaches is important because the threats nations face have become global, according to Peter F. Verga, the Principal Deputy Assistant to the 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."

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 are used, we're doing the same kinds of actions. 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, a 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 recommend that we build on the knowledge gained here and maintain the contacts that we've made. 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," Bann concluded.

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