Archived Voice Articles

Plumbline: National Security Forum gives inside look at national policy

By Donald E. King, Professor of political studies

I participated in the National Security Forum at the U.S. Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama, the last week of May 2003-one of 145 civilians joining 240 senior military officers from several branches of the military service in their final week of the 2002-03 school year. Each day we attended morning and afternoon lectures or panel discussions by visiting guests and faculty, as well as presentations by Air Force Four-Star General John Jumper, and the Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. John Roche. Following each session, we were assigned to existing seminar groups for follow-up discussion. My group included an Army Colonel, a civilian in-house faculty member, eight senior officers (Air Force, Army, Navy and two foreign officers, one from Ukraine and one from Australia), and seven civilians (that included a Byzantine priest, a banker, a lawyer, a Minneapolis Air Traffic Controller, an editor from "West Wing", a businessman from Hawaii, and myself).

Donald E. King

Donald E. King

It was a wonderful opportunity to engage in dialog with senior military officers who will be providing leadership for the next generation of the Armed Forces as the United States assumes the role of hegemon in the emerging world order. Frank and candid discussions included topics such as the inclusion of embedded reporters in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the growing threat posed by a nuclear North Korea, tensions with Iran, the future of air and space power, lessons of the recent war in Iraq, the future posture of China, and challenges facing global deployment of U.S. forces.

The interaction of such a diverse group of civilians and military officers from around the country provided unique insights into how the experiences since 9-11 have shaped our perceptions. It informed my understanding of the frustration experienced by the military as they seek to maintain security against the unpredictability of terrorism. Many officers spoke of the importance of having the support of the public when engaged in military action, and expressed the uncertainties accompanying working within a fragmented political system, prone to debate and delay.

State and local officials, as well as members of the business community conveyed a need for additional resources to assure security at home. Many have had law enforcement and emergency services personnel called up by the military, thinning their ranks. At the same time the military is feeling stretched to capacity and concerned about their increasing dependence on activated reservists to conduct its multiple missions abroad.

The latest war with Iraq demonstrated that behind the tremendous show of force, was a shortage of military transport to move men, machines and all their necessary support in a fast-moving campaign. Despite the preponderance of technology, an army still travels on food, fuel, and ammunition. The task of coordinating and transporting fundamental resources to a time and place that changed by the hour, as the U.S. engaged in a flexible battle campaign, was almost overwhelming, even for the world's most advanced information management systems. It became apparent from our discussions that there were no easy answers to altering competing priorities in a world where resources are limited and every scenario is different from the last.

Similarly, another challenge facing the U.S. military is how to meet the need for a long-term constabulary force in Iraq. The highly-trained war fighting capacity of our forces does not mesh with the special character of a domestic police force. The U.S. desire to maintain "control" of post-war Iraq without leaving thousands of troops on the ground is a conundrum. The Air Force defines its future mission as providing air power for at least a decade, to prevent external threats to the new government of Iraq. Despite some proposals for an active role for the U.N. on the ground, there is some hesitancy to cede more authority to a battered and bureaucratic United Nations. The American officers were not as willing to trust the U. N. as were their international counterparts who had served previously under the UN flag.

At an air show staged by the Air Force, observers witnessed close up, the technological capabilities that give the United States unparalleled advantage in air power. Seeing the B-2 Stealth bomber, the F-18 fighter jet, and the supporting "eyes and ears" of the C-116 AWACs flying over the viewing stand produced a sense of awe. It is one thing to see bombs and missiles on TV race to their targets like another video game, but quite another sensation to hear their roar and feel their power as they pass just overhead. It was hard to ignore the realization that awesome responsibility comes with awesome power.

My time at the Air War College left me with no doubts that our military takes its educational functions very seriously-both as it prepares its men and women officers and as it reaches out to the public. At the same time, I could see that even our military---often physically, socially, and functionally isolated---is not above the influence of prevailing ideological forces driving a society to promote its values and beliefs around the globe. The result is that misperceptions are fueled by ideological filters. This leads to conclusions by some that reporters cannot be trusted, dissenters are unpatriotic, Muslims are suicidal, terrorists have no values, and security is just another technological fix away. In referring to embedded reporters, one pilot asked, "who's truth will be told on the evening news?"

This opportunity to participate in the 50th National Security Forum exceeded my expectations and continues to stimulate my thinking. As I read the news and prepare to teach International Relations this fall, it is with many new insights and a deeper understanding. I will continue to consider how to incorporate the different perspectives I encountered into the course. I will be reviewing several books on global issues, strategic doctrine and area studies that were made available to me compliments of the Air University Press. I also plan to use several articles received from a member of the faculty of the war college who teaches in the area of Global Security Studies the next time I teach PLST 370 (Global Security Issues).

It has become even clearer to me that the complexity of today's world requires us to examine and analyze the variety of viewpoints by the full range of participants and to appreciate the role of the different players on the international scene. My experience will enable me to better assist students in understanding and evaluating how our counterparts in other cultures and countries view the world. This will enhance our ability to examine the implications of a changing American foreign policy, using documents such as the new National Security Strategy, and to consider how our faith prepares us to respond. It is part of the process of taking seriously the challenge of living in a world where terrorism has become a daily threat, where information is a vital resource, and where freedom can be easily taken for granted.

I was reminded of this in a most poignant way, when, on the final day of our seminar, the commanding officer leading the seminar, asked Father Zugger (our Byzantine priest from Albuquerque) to close in a word of prayer. And there on a U.S. Air Force base in the heart of Dixie, we---male and female, white and black, Americans and internationals, bowed our heads in prayer without hesitation.