A transatlantic agenda for homeland security co-operation

Advancing of transatlantic homeland security co-operation is a matter of some urgency. The US and Europe maintain a USD2.5 trillion relationship that heavily depends on networked infrastructure, a high degree of social mobility and highly intertwined business relationships. Risks such as terrorism, organised crime, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cyber risks such as hacking, and mass migration all work to challenge the security of the transatlantic community because they question the capability and capacity of security institutions to deal with them.

The overall approach needed to address these challenges can be found by examining the concept of security transformation. Today's security challenges require the security apparatus to continuously adapt concepts, capabilities, processes, and structures commensurate with dynamic changes. Security transformation is the overall approach that provides a new philosophy and the building blocks to achieve this goal. Most importantly, it emphasises the need to properly integrate military and non-military capabilities to provide a broad spectrum of tasks aimed at crisis prevention and management, and post-crisis stabilisation at home and in international zones of turmoil. Against this background, there are a number of suggestions as to how transatlantic homeland security co-operation could be improved.

Transatlantic homeland security dialogue

A dialogue forum would provide the overall framework to address homeland security issues in a comprehensive manner. The forum should be convened alongside to regular US-EU summits, but with the participation of NATO members and NATO officials from countries who are not in the EU. It would be unwise not to include NATO in the forum, given the alliance's serious commitment to transformation, its expertise in civil-military emergency planning and its key role in specific homeland defence tasks, such as missile defence. Between summit meetings, expert groups could address different issues to improve transatlantic homeland security co-operation in other areas.

Include homeland security in capability planning

This requires the inclusion of emergency responders in current planning activities and the adoption of capability-based planning by the emergency responder community. In addition, ongoing activities to set up databases for civilian and military capabilities relevant for homeland security missions in NATO and the EU should be paralleled. This leads towards setting up a joint NATO-EU Capabilities Group relevant for homeland security. Military capabilities needed for stabilisation, intervention and homeland security include: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control, mobility, medical services and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive detection and protection. However, because most of these capabilities are in short supply, using them in missions abroad will limit their availability at home. Therefore, a joint pool of critical homeland security capabilities could be created, which is financed by all countries willing and able to participate.

Homeland security concept development and experimentation

The main purpose of this would be to devise and continuously develop a single set of homeland security scenarios to test strengths and weaknesses of current preparation and preparedness, as well as existing capabilities. In order to do this, NATO's Allied Command Transformation, the European civil-military planning cell in the EU Military Staff, the European Commission, emergency responders from NATO and EU countries, industry and academic research institutes, should join forces. The environment could then be linked with different education institutions across the countries involved. Repeated interaction between all actors engaged in the process could help speed the introduction of cutting-edge technology into platforms and systems for emergency responders. It would also help develop of doctrine, training and education for inter-agency operations in the homeland security framework.

Homeland security clearing house and training programme

The clearing house would focus on using lessons that have been learned from most recent homeland security operations, such as the floods in the Gulf of Mexico or in Europe or after action reviews of the London and Madrid bombings. In the US, the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism has set up a database where lessons learned, best practice, reports and documents are stored and shared by emergency responders. NATO and the EU could join forces in setting up a similar website, thereby taking into account the civil emergency planning expertise which has already built up within these organisations.

Joint training based on table-top, computer-assisted and real-world exercises should complement information gathering and exchange. The support provided by European and non-European countries to the US in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita makes clear that even very local homeland security contingencies can have an important international dimension. Co-operation for these and other purposes needs to be trained in advance in order to improve operability between the different groups involved.

Common relevant operation picture

Joint situational awareness and understanding is the key to mastering complex contingencies. Thought should be given on how the different situation centres operated by the EU and NATO could be linked to provide a transatlantic common relevant operation picture.

The EU maintains the Joint Situation Centre with the Council General Secretariat, the Monitoring and Information Centre, and the Directorate External Relations Crisis Room both in the Commission and the EU Satellite Centre. In addition to this, the Commission maintains and builds up various expert networks aimed at rapidly exchanging information. Integrating information from these various sources into a joint picture that would then be complemented by NATO instruments would greatly add to the joint situational awareness and understanding of transatlantic partners.

Homeland security science and technology programmes

Homeland security requires science and technology support. So far, however, transatlantic co-operation on homeland security science and technology remains limited. Given that the adoption of certain technology solutions can have wide-ranging effects, not only on technical standards but also on solutions that need to be adopted in other countries because of the first mover's decision, the lack of co-operation is a problem.

The dialogue forum should also serve to launch a joint research agenda with common research projects closely related to the needs of joint capabilities planning. Discussing and defining standards for homeland security application is one of the priority areas that should be addressed. Other issues include techniques to advance data mining and data fusion, chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives detection, biometrics, the use of radio frequency identification in a range of applications, improvement of personal protective equipment of first responders and modelling and simulation.

Resilience from within

Homeland security is designed to help prevent the increase of security risks, to provide mitigation in case of escalation and facilitate the return to pre-crisis living conditions. Strengthening resilience in the transatlantic neighbourhood would both improve security in current hot spots and reduce risks for the transatlantic community. Although this alone will not bring lasting peace to the most serious pockets of crises, it can be seen as an important first step.

Priority issues to be addressed should include training, education and organisational and material reform based on the principles of transformation. In addition, technical support should provide countries with access to the most important international databases relevant for homeland security, such as the European and US fingerprint databases, healthcare databases maintained by the European Commission, the new European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and the US Center for Disease Control, as well as warning information networks for critical infrastructure.

Critical energy infrastructure security deserves particular attention because of the strategic dependence of Europe and the US on oil and gas resources in the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and Russia. Given the current pattern of terrorist activities, energy infrastructure security in countries of origin and transit can be singled out as one of the most important issues of homeland security in both these regions and in the transatlantic area.

Critical, but neglected, issues

To round off the proposed agenda, the transatlantic community should use the dialogue forum to address some neglected long-term issues that are already looming on the horizon. One of these issues is the privatisation of hospitals and medical services. Countries with privatisation experience, such as the US and the UK, could advise countries like Germany which are about to follow suit. Questions to be addressed could refer to the guarantee of equal standards of training and education among hospital staff in public and private hospitals, the provision of an adequate number of beds and special treatment facilities, and compensating hospitals for maintaining idle capacities to manage the most demanding homeland security tasks such as chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive attacks.

Equally important is Europe's ageing societies, which will lead to a decline in the pool of people available for emergency response. Together with the growing population concentration in cities, this could lead to serious shortcomings of available capacities in rural areas.

In addition to this, questions need to be asked about the level of expertise available among reserve emergency responders and their ability to provide adequate assistance with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive scenarios. Who makes sure that they receive the necessary training, and who pays for it? In addition to this, elderly people require different treatment techniques and drugs. Who is responsible for the provision of these services in times when social security is under heavy financial pressure?

Finally, the connection between homeland security, urban living and urban development must receive more attention, as big cities are among the most favoured targets of terrorist activities. There can be no doubt that the ability of major cities to deal with catastrophic terrorism and other likely homeland scenarios must be reviewed.

However, possible negative side-effects should not be overlooked. Peter Marcuse, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University in the US, warns: "The war on terrorism is leading to a continued downgrading of the quality of life in US cities, visible changes in urban form, the loss of public use of public space, restriction on free movement within and to cities… and the decline of open popular participation in the governmental planning and decision-making process."

Such warnings need to be taken seriously, because too much is at stake if countries ignore potentially detrimental effects of homeland security. Therefore, it is most important that the exchange of lessons learned also addresses these issues.

Dr Heiko Borchert runs a security and defence consultancy in Switzerland.

Related articles

Olympic security: a model for homeland security, Rusi/Jane's Homeland Security Monitor, 1 June2004

Israel plays key role in homeland security, Rusi/Jane's Homeland Security Monitor, 1 February 2005

Explore our related content