What is the difference between Homeland Security and Homeland Defense?
The line between homeland defense and homeland security is a narrow one, particularly in these post-9/11 times. Before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, most Americans gave little thought to either homeland security or homeland defense. When we thought of defense, we generally thought of national interests outside the boundaries of the United States. When we thought of security, we generally thought rent-a-cops and local law enforcement. Times have changed. In terms of policy, the United States has drawn a distinction between homeland security and homeland defense, focusing on the primary tasks and who has the lead for the task.
Homeland defense and homeland security are not the same. Homeland security is “the prevention, preemption, and deterrence of, and defense against, aggression targeted at U.S. territory, sovereignty, domestic population, and infrastructure as well as the management of the consequences of such aggression and other domestic emergencies.” Within this definition from the U.S. Northern Command, the combatant commander assigned the responsibility of homeland defense, is the acknowledgement that the role of the Department of Defense and NORTHCOM is in support of the national effort for homeland security. NORTHCOM does not have lead agency status with regard to homeland security issues. Homeland defense, however, is a different story. U.S. Northern Command says, “Homeland defense is the protection of U.S. territory, domestic population and critical infrastructure against military attacks emanating from outside the United States.” As the Center for Defense Information puts it, “homeland defense usually refers somewhat more narrowly to preventing and defeating attacks, while homeland security also includes the functions of handling the consequences of attacks that get through defenses, largely using civilian and local agencies.”
Interestingly, NORTHCOM’s definition for homeland defense specifically cites defense against military attacks which emanate from outside the United States. This definition is ambiguous in several ways. Can non-state actors mount a military attack? What is the definition of “military”? What of homegrown insurgency or terrorist attacks, such as the Oklahoma City bombing? In the current “war on terrorism” the United States policy is that this is a “war” perhaps not so much in the sense of a declared war against another state, but in the Clausewitzian sense of exerting force as a component of policy. We wage this war globally, seeking out terrorists who threaten the United States and her national interests. Certainly, the followers of Bin Laden would consider themselves to be part of a military; they are members of an un-uniformed military carrying out a holy Jihad. According to Stuart Taylor, The United States has treated them the same, labeling those who bear arms as enemy combatants. Perhaps this definition is not as ambiguous as it seems at first. With regard to terrorists, at least those who are captured outside the United States, we are treating them as enemy combatants, with the legal rights and responsibilities of that internationally recognized definition.
The National Strategy for Homeland Security notes that the Department of Defense “contributes to homeland security through its military missions overseas, homeland defense, and support to civil authorities.” The Strategy goes on to note that in extraordinary cases, the Department of Defense would take the lead in defending Americans and the territory of the United States by conducting military operations such as combat air patrols or maritime defense operations. Support to civil authorities would likely be the greatest contribution the services in the Department of Defense would offer to both homeland security and homeland defense within the boarders of the country. The United States could take a lesson from the Israeli counter-terrorism strategy which includes “military and paramilitary operations to disrupt terrorist infrastructure.” (Tucker) Clearly, Israel has integrated their response to terrorism to better combat terrorists before incidents and with regard to consequence management, in part because for them it is a question of existence or survival, not merely an impact on their way of life.
While the Department of Defense’s focus is clearly on defense, and the support of civilian authorities for security, the newly created Department of Homeland Security’s focus is on security and is both preventative in nature with an eye keenly on consequence management. As one of the foundational agencies within the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard is uniquely situated to provide both defense and security interventions. The Coast Guard is the only one of the five military branches which is organizationally within the Department of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard is also the only military organization whose operations with the United States are not governed by the Posse Comitatus Act. While the Act does not forbid the use of military force in working with civilian authorities, it certainly does limit the scope of the use of the military in law enforcement operations; the impact on homeland defense operations is limited, however. (Trebilcock) Part of the reason for this is that “the distinction between criminal law enforcement and defense of the national borders” is not as clear as when the Act was passed in the late 1800s. Today, through various laws and executive orders, it is permissible for the military to provide “indirect and logistical support of civilian law enforcement and not direct involvement.” (Trebilcock) What of a federal agency, however, that can bridge both worlds and provide both security and defense operations without regard to posse comitatus or other seemingly arbitrary delineations? The Coast Guard holds a unique place in the federal government in that it is both a military service and a law enforcement agency; the Coast Guard can do both.
This dual role for the Coast Guard makes it uniquely situated in this new world order to provide both homeland defense and homeland security. In some respects, the Coast Guard is a model agency for flexibility in the homeland security and homeland defense arenas. The Coast Guard is multi-mission in nature, a trait which is often billed as a strength in allowing for resources to be deployed to the next national need. The Coast Guard is able to serve several masters at the same time. The Coast Guard’s missions include both safety, security, and defense missions, all cobbled together around the theme of maritime interests. What is important in this discussion of homeland security and homeland defense is not whether or not the Coast Guard serves too many masters or has been weakened by a lack of focus, but whether or not the service can respond adequately in both environments. And the answer is a resounding “yes.” Yes, the Coast Guard responds adequately in both defense and security environments.
One of the areas the Coast Guard has succeeded is in demonstrating an ability to flex to provide needed services wherever national interests dictate. The Coast Guard has demonstrated the capability to transfer skills from one mission area to another, to jump from defense to security operations at the drop of a hat. The other military services have begun to move in this direction, little by little. The National Strategy for Homeland Security states that in extraordinary circumstances Department of Defense assets “would be involved during emergencies such as responding to an attack or to forest fires, floods, tornadoes, or other catastrophes.” The Strategy goes on to say that in these circumstances the Department of Defense would be tasked to “act quickly to provide capabilities that other agencies do not have.” This has become something of a regular activity. The Marine Corps provides fire fighters for brush fires on federal lands; the Army provides relief following major disasters. Indeed, portions of the National Guard are generally activated for every natural disaster.
The National Guard is another agency which demonstrates a regular flex between security and defense missions. Occupying a unique position in American life, the National Guard (and it’s sister the Air National Guard) serve both the federal government and the state government. National Guard elements, when activated under state orders, are not encumbered by the Posse Comitatus Act either actually or perceptually. As agents of the state, they can enforce laws and provide more than just support to civil authority such as law enforcement and rescue. The National Guard is at home both in providing defense to key infrastructure as it is in providing consequence management following a disaster or terrorist attack. In this post-9/11 world, we have seen National Guard personnel at work in both New York City and Arlington conducting post-attack operations assisting in recovery, and we have seen National Guardsman protecting critical infrastructure such as bridges, power plants, and airports.
Where does this lead us in our examination of homeland defense and homeland security? The line between security and defense is blurry given today’s technology and the ability for an enemy to launch a catastrophic attack from nearly any point on the globe. We are vulnerable not only from distant shores – such as North Korea – but we are vulnerable here in our own backyard. As the 9/11 attackers showed us, critical attacks can be launched from the crucible of our democracy or the home of our federal government. Nothing is sacred. And for that, we must be prepared. Both the National Guard and the Coast Guard demonstrate that agencies can exist within both the security and defense arenas. Indeed, both of these organizations thrive in both of these. They represent a model for other agencies to emulate. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force can provide valuable mission areas in the arena of homeland security in addition to their work with domestic homeland defense. And, traditional civilian agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, could effectively work in the defense arena supporting the Department of Defense in addition to their security functions.
Center for Defense Information. “Organization for Homeland Security: Issues and Options.” 21 December 2001. [5 February 2004]
Office of Homeland Security. National Strategy for Homeland Security. Washington, DC: The White House, 16 July 2002.
Taylor, Jr., Stuart “Enemy Combatant: Inching Toward Due Process.” The Atlantic Online. 3 March 2004. [3 March 2004]
Trebilcock, Craig T.. “The Myth of Posse Comitatus.” October 2000. [2 March 2004]
Tucker, Jonathan B. “Strategies for Countering Terrorism: Lessons from the Israeli Experience.” March 2003. [3 March 2004]
U.S. Coast Guard. U.S. Coast Guard: America’s Maritime Guardian. Coast Guard Publication 1. 2nd Printing. Washington, DC: U.S. Coast Guard, 2002.
U.S. Northern Command. “Homeland Defense.” Date unknown. [5 February 2004]