(T)here are some risks to national security which . . . can be conceived, but not predicted or fully anticipated. Because they cannot be anticipated, such events are very difficult to plan for effectively. At least two reasons apply. First, by their very nature, these events alter the international system by their reversal of significant trends, thereby undermining the facts upon which future planning is built. Second, many of these events fall outside the scope of traditional or permitted defense planning.
— Sam J. Tangredi (p. 4)
The above quotation was cited in a new report from the U.S. Army War College's Strategic Institute entitled "Known Unknowns: Unconventional “STRATEGIC SHOCKS” in Defense Strategy Development", authored by (Ret.) Lt. Col. Nathan Freir. In the report, Freir "targets the incoming senior defense team" (p.2) and urges preparations for "strategic shocks", defined as
events that, if they occur, would make a big difference to the future, force decisionmakers to challenge their own assumptions of how the world works, and require hard choices today. (p. 5)Frankly, I'm terrified at the implications in the report, especially given the rapid build-up of combat troops within our borders, as well as the increasingly frequent speculations that the U.S. may be facing new wars for secession or some other revolutionary action (including food riots). The Washington Post reports that the head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is warning "in only slightly veiled terms that violent protest may erupt on a global scale if governments continue to provide inadequate or confused responses to what could quickly become 'a global depression' in 2009. "(emphasis mine). In fact, Strauss-Kahn explicitly included "advanced economies" in his warning.
Riots have already broken out in Greece, Russia, China, and the situation looks increasingly unstable elsewhere. An internal Citigroup memo obtained by The Telegraph urges clients to buy gold and speculates that the steps taken by the world's financial authorities are a "gamble" and "likely to end in one of two extreme ways: with either a resurgence of inflation; or a downward spiral into depression, civil disorder, and possibly wars." (Telegraph's phrasing, not in the original memo). Police and Sheriff's Departments in Arizona say they're prepared for civil disorder, Janet Napolitano's (Obama's pick for head of Homeland Security) office declined to comment.
Perhaps this type of civil unrest in the US seems improbable now, but Obama is promising that things "will get worse before it gets better" and recovery "will take longer than any of us would like -- years, not months." In the same article, Biden is quoted as saying "There is no short run other than keeping the economy from absolutely tanking. That's the only short run." I genuinely and sincerely hope that they have answers to solve this crisis that have so far eluded governments around the world. But if they don't, and unemployment goes to 15%, 20%, or 25%, or if China dumps their foreign reserves (as they are starting to threaten, and which would cause the dollar to become essentially worthless), or if the trillions of dollars being helicoptered into the economy are not withdrawn in time and massive inflation takes hold (again, making the dollar essentially worthless), then it's not too hard to imagine that millions of people that are suddenly unable to buy food, or medicine, or anything would take to the streets to demand the government start to take care of them for a change.
Consider the following quotations from the report (all emphases mine):
The current administration confronted a game-changing “strategic shock” inside its first 8 months in office. The next administration would be well-advised to expect the same during the course of its first term. p.2
Unconventional security challenges lie substantially outside the realm of traditional warfighting. They are routinely nonmilitary in origin and character. Yet, nonmilitary, in this context, does not necessarily mean nonviolent, nonstate, or disordered and unorganized. p.3
Indeed, future purposeful shocks are likeliest to come when state and nonstate competitors learn to effectively circumvent traditional U.S. military overmatch, employing non-military means as war. They will leverage politics, economics, hostile social action, and discriminating nonmilitary violence in innovative combinations. As a result, traditional U.S. military advantages will be sidelined not by breakthrough military technology or concepts, but by the simple absence of a legitimate causus belli. p.16 [sic- casus belli or "justification for acts of war"]
The most challenging defense-relevant shocks might emerge from adverse conditions endemic to the environment itself. This is made more certain by the unguided forces of globalization, toxic populism, identity politics, underdevelopment, human/natural disaster, and disease. In the end, shocks emerging from contextual threats might challenge core U.S. interests more fundamentally than any number of prospective purposeful shocks. This is especially true given the degree to which threats of context remain unconsidered or, at a minimum, undervalued in contemporary defense planning and decisionmaking. p. 16
Threats of context might include but are not limited to contagious un- and under-governance; civil violence; the swift catastrophic onset of consequential natural, environmental, and/or human disaster; a rapidly expanding and uncontrolled transregional epidemic; and the sudden crippling instability or collapse of a large and important state. Indeed, pushing at the boundaries of current convention, it would be prudent to add catastrophic dislocation inside the United States or homegrown domestic civil disorder and/or violence to this category as well. p. 17
By way of example, realist calculation indicates that epidemics and widespread civil violence might be tolerable in some parts of the world. Shock would result if these occurred inside the United States or inside a key strategic partner to such an extent that they forced DoD to radically re-role for domestic security, population control, consequence management, and stabilization. p. 18
Violent, Strategic Dislocation Inside the United States.
As a community, the defense establishment swears to protect and defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. DoD’s role in combating “domestic enemies” has never been thoughtfully examined. Thus, there is perhaps no greater source of strategic shock for DoD than operationalizing that component of the oath of service in a widespread domestic emergency that entails rapid dissolution of public order in all or significant parts of the United States.
While likely not an immediate prospect, this is clearly a “Black Swan” that merits some visibility inside DoD and the Department of Homeland Security. To the extent events like this involve organized violence against local, state, and national authorities and exceed the capacity of the former two to restore public order and protect vulnerable populations, DoD would be required to fill the gap. This is largely uncharted strategic territory.
Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security. Deliberate employment of weapons of mass destruction or other catastrophic capabilities, unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters are all paths to disruptive domestic shock.
An American government and defense establishment lulled into complacency by a long-secure domestic order would be forced to rapidly divest some or most external security commitments in order to address rapidly expanding human insecurity at home. Already predisposed to defer to the primacy of civilian authorities in instances of domestic security and divest all but the most extreme demands in areas like civil support and consequence management, DoD might be forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and
reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance.
A whole host of long-standing defense conventions would be severely tested. Under these conditions and at their most violent extreme, civilian authorities, on advice of the defense establishment, would need to rapidly determine the parameters defining the legitimate use of military force inside the United States. Further still, the whole concept of conflict termination and/or transition to the primacy of civilian security institutions would be uncharted ground. DoD is already challenged by stabilization abroad. Imagine the challenges associated with doing so on a massive scale at home. p. 31-33