Enhancing transatlantic homeland security unity

Homeland security has become transatlantic. This development results from the longstanding defence ties embodied by NATO, the common threat Islamic militants present to Western countries, and the interlinked commercial networks and economic infrastructures of North America and Europe. Millions of US and European nationals live and travel in one another's countries. Recent experience demonstrates that major emergencies in NATO countries invariably have a transatlantic dimension. During the past decade, member governments have consistently responded to major natural disasters and terrorist attacks with joint efforts ranging from offers of general financial assistance to providing specialised counter-terrorist and disaster-recovery assets.

Although NATO countries have made progress in promoting intelligence sharing and mutual law enforcement assistance, they need to substantially improve co-operation in researching, developing and testing homeland security technologies. A strategic and co-ordinated approach - directed towards generating science and technology contributions in areas of highest priority - would help optimise allied countries' collective resilience to common security challenges. NATO's November 2006 summit in Riga could provide an opportune occasion for launching several initiatives to promote such an integrated multinational science and technology approach.

Past achievements

NATO's Civil Emergency Planning (CEP) directorate co-ordinates national planning to ensure the most effective use of member governments' resources in emergencies. In particular, it promotes the use of civil assets to support NATO defences and protect allies' civilian populations. The CEP directorate includes the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Co-ordination Centre (EADRCC), which synchronises responses to natural, technological and humanitarian disasters among the members of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC). Both the EADRCC and the EAPC include representatives from all 26 NATO member governments, as well as those from the 20 countries participating in the alliance's Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme. In addition to co-ordinating NATO's disaster relief efforts, the EADRCC monitors emergency situations, prepares multinational consequence management exercises, and conducts workshops and other studies.

The EADRCC has responded to numerous crises since it became operational in June 1998. A few months after its inception, the EADRCC organised the delivery of relief supplies to refugees from Kosovo. The EAPC has also established a Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Unit (EADRU) consisting of civilian and military assets that EAPC members can activate in an emergency. NATO has also established several bodies to assess general and immediate terrorist threats. For instance, the Terrorist Threat Intelligence Unit evaluates intelligence on potential attacks, while the NATO Situation Centre tracks potential crises on a 24-hour basis.

At their November 2002 Prague summit, NATO leaders adopted a CEP action plan containing over 50 items of action designed to assist EAPC governments' civil preparedness against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents. The plan's objectives include furthering interoperability between NATO Member and PfP countries by setting common minimum standards for equipment, planning, training and procedures.

NATO and the EADRCC have an extensive programme of consequence management and disaster relief exercises. These simulations aim to promote interoperability and regional co-operation among EAPC countries by bringing together civil and military response teams, as well as participants from the UN, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other institutions. For instance, Exercise Dacia 2003 brought together almost 1,700 civil emergency personnel from 19 NATO and partner countries in a scenario positing the use of a radiological dispersion device (dirty bomb) in Romania.

In May 2004, NATO launched a major initiative to promote science and technology innovations in the field of counter-terrorism. The Defence Against Terrorism (DAT) programme consists of a suite of priority science and technology projects, each led by a member country, designed to counter specific terrorist threats. Unfortunately, the DAT programme remains underfunded. It also lacks dedicated test facilities and training ranges.

Future challenges and opportunities

Europe's uneven approach towards developing homeland security technologies raises the spectre of another transatlantic capabilities gap that would compound US-European disparities in other defence areas. Although the EU launched a Security Research Programme in March 2003 to fund homeland security research and development, it focuses on enhancing the protection of critical transportation infrastructure instead of developing new capabilities for emergency responders. Furthermore, European homeland security projects remain highly fragmented, with disparate authorities and competencies distributed among EU-wide bodies and member country agencies. Until these trends are reversed, Europeans will continue to depend on US assistance - either bilaterally or through NATO - in the event of any major homeland security incident.

NATO can employ several existing mechanisms to reinforce and complement EU homeland security research and development efforts. For example, the alliance could use its Security Through Science programme and PfP Trust Funds more creatively to support homeland security technology research and development by EAPC members and Mediterranean Dialogue partners. Second, NATO could hold 'reinforced' sessions of the North Atlantic Council at defence ministers' level to include ministers responsible for homeland security issues (for example, internal security and public health).

Third, the alliance could organise special consultative groups among NATO experts in various homeland security technologies. Fourth, allied governments could adopt more flexible national visa policies reflecting a 'neighbourhood watch' approach rather than the cult of secrecy traditionally associated with defence research programmes.

NATO governments would also profit from a broader exchange of conceptual innovations in the homeland security sector. In the area of rail traffic security, for instance, several European countries have already established centralised clearing houses of technologies and best practices. They also conduct centralised research and testing of promising defence technologies. Sharing these insights with other countries would strengthen rail security and reduce the need for overlapping national research and development efforts. Some NATO governments have made a special effort to cultivate niche capabilities in areas relevant to homeland security. For example, many Eastern European countries have developed expertise in weapons of mass destruction (WMD) because of the Warsaw Pact's emphasis on CBRN warfare.

The Riga summit would provide an opportunity for initiating a joint EU-NATO clearing house of equipment, specialists and other homeland security assets available for use in the North Atlantic region. The summit attendees should also direct a group of experts from EAPC countries to establish alliance-wide mechanisms to set science and technology priorities, promote effective multinational science and technology programmes, and establish agreed criteria for evaluating and ranking the progress of specific joint research and development programmes. At Riga, NATO governments could also launch a comprehensive study of transatlantic homeland security requirements, based on an "all-hazards" approach that includes assets needed to manage major natural disasters, deliberate accidents and terrorist incidents.

Finally, homeland security science and technology collaboration needs to extend beyond governments. Private sector expenditure on homeland security technologies remains substantially larger than public expenditure. This spending gap is even greater if technologies developed primarily for military or law-enforcement purposes are included. The ongoing globalisation of business processes has given a growing number of multinational companies substantial equities in this area.

Governments need more innovative mechanisms for promoting private sector contributions while ensuring that science and technology solutions meet end-user needs. These measures could include providing enhanced protection of intellectual property, establishing improved insurance and creating easier access for small businesses traditionally excluded from national defence markets.

Richard Weitz is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC

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