Adapting defense to terrorist threats

por Ignacio Cosidó, 4 de febrero de 2002

(NATO-Russia Conference on the Military Role in Combating Terrorism NATO Defense College)
The terrorist threat will bring about a strategic change, as profound as the changes that the nuclear threat once effected. Terrorism has in fact become the main threat, not only to State security, but also to international stability itself. Its emergence calls for an in-depth strategic review that should start by adapting our security instruments to the new threat.
Traditionally, a clear division has existed between the tasks assigned to the armed forces and to the internal security forces. It was the responsibility of the armed forces to protect territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence from external attacks usually by another state. On the other hand, security forces were responsible for the protection of the citizens= rights and freedoms and internal security, and for the fight against crime.
The problem is that the dividing line between what has traditionally been regarded as external and internal risks is vanishing to a great extent with the emergence of new threats such as terrorism, organised crime, drug trafficking or clandestine immigration. Thus, the conventional distribution of tasks between the armed forces and security forces has been overridden by the new reality. Moreover, none of the traditional security instruments, neither police forces nor the armed forces, are in a position to offer an entirely efficient answer to the new threats.
In order to face up these new threats, especially the threat posed by terrorism, we should pursue three basic courses of action: to establish a new framework for cooperation between the armed forces and security forces, to strengthen the intelligence community and to reinforce internal security instruments.
The overlapping of internal and external risks should not lead to confusion or to an encroachment as regards the distribution of tasks between the armed forces and security forces, but to the setting up of a stronger and more efficient cooperation framework between both institutions.
By way of an example, the deployment of the armed forces in the fight against terrorism could be compared to the use of nuclear medicine in the fight against cancer. Radiology is an extremely effective means to destroy cancerous cells, but its side effects are highly dangerous. Moreover, if used in excess or inappropriately, it could put an end not only to the disease, but also to the life it was meant to save. Similarly, an indiscriminate intervention by the armed forces could put an end to terrorism, put it could also pose a serious danger to the democracy that is to be protected.
Clear limits should therefore be imposed on the action of the armed forces against terrorism. These limits are based on two criteria: territory and proportionality. Concerning the first criterium, the armed forces can only intervene within their national territory in very exceptional circumstances to support security forces, and under the supervision of civil authorities, never on their own initiative or as a rule. Thus, the armed forces could cooperate with security forces both in preventive security missions to prevent terrorist attacks and in the management of the situation resulting from them. In either case the intervention will only take place when security forces are unable to control the situation. However, I would like to point out that the operations should always be led, commanded and controlled by security forces whenever they are conducted within their own national territory.
The deployment of the armed forces to safeguard internal security would call for at least two prerequisites: on one hand, a change of attitude in the armed forces, that are usually reluctant to place their units and forces at the disposal of others if they cannot be kept under their command and operational control. On the other hand, accurate legislation that defines the circumstances, always exceptional, in which the armed forces can intervene within their national territory, as well as procedures, subordination relationships and a framework for the cooperation between civil and military authorities.
The second criterium to be assessed would be the degree of force that is necessary. The armed forces are equipped, trained and devised to make an intensive use of force, including the destruction of the potential aggressor. Conversely, security forces are equipped, trained and devised to make the minimum use of force, the security of the aggressor becoming a basic objective of the operation.
According to this criterium, the intervention of the armed forces is indispensable when, regardless of the place where the action takes place, there is a serious and imminent danger to national security. An obvious threat would be, for example, the possibility of crashing a plane into a building. Secondly, the deployment of the armed forces would make sense when the resistance offered by the terrorists is too strong for the security forces to overcome. Finally, the intervention of the armed forces would be inevitable when so required by circumstances such as the logistic difficulties presented by the operation.
However, it should be emphasized that the cooperation between the armed forces and security forces should move in two directions. Thus, in external anti-terrorist action, where the armed forces assume the leading role and the control of the operations, components of the security forces could complement the capacity of the armed forces: riot control units, criminal investigation teams, information specialists, military police forces and border surveillance units, inter alia. In this case, it is the components of the security forces that would be fully integrated and under military command.
Therefore, the establishment of this cooperation framework requires the definition of a legal framework to regulate as accurately as possible both the participation of the armed forces in internal security matters and the potential cooperation of the security forces in foreign missions. Regulations should be adapted in each country to the peculiarities of their constitutions.
On the other hand, the armed forces should be fully aware of the seriousness of the risk they are facing. This means that they should regard the fight against terrorism as one of their principal missions when it comes to their policy with respect to purchases, planning and training. In this sense, the greatest contribution the armed forces can make to internal security is to place their sophisticated technical means at the security forces= disposal. Moreover, these means should be more oriented in the future towards new missions such as the fight against terrorism or border surveillance.
Strengthening the intelligence community
The next course of action should be the strengthening of our intelligence community. We all agree that intelligence is an essential element in the fight against terrorism. One of the main difficulties in this battle is the invisibility of the enemy, who becomes visible only when it strikes. Intelligence, like light, should give shape to the enemy, which is an essential prerequisite to destroy it.
The strengthening of the intelligence community should therefore comprise at least three aspects: the promotion of national intelligence services, a greater integration of the information obtained by the different agencies and a growing cooperation within NATO as regards intelligence.
The first step is the promotion of national intelligence services. This should comprise at least three dimensions. On one hand, an increase in the resources allocated to this end. This increase in the budget of the intelligence services, against a background of limited resources, should lead to a reflection on the priority that should be given to the information capacities. In this sense, is it clear that there is a considerable deficit in intelligence regarding the new terrorist networks. The new nature of the threats should lead to a reflection on the priorities of our security systems.
Secondly, terrorism has revealed the importance of what is known as human intelligence. The increasingly sophisticated and powerful technical means of intelligence are necessary, but they are not enough; in other words, they add value to the traditional intelligence based on human sources, but cannot supplant it. This premise has been corroborated by the terrorist attacks of September 11th. The fight against terrorism requires above all infiltrations into the leading international networks.
Giving priority to human intelligence should mean not only an increase in the staff performing intelligence-related tasks, particularly information gathering, but also a qualitative improvement in personnel selection, training and motivation.
Finally, the fact that technical means cannot replace human intelligence does not mean that new technological capacities cannot be further developed, both in the field of surveillance satellites, target tapping and tracking systems and information integration and analysis. Constant innovation is needed in all these fields that contributes to develop the new capacities made available by technological developments.
The second step, even more important that the strengthening of the intelligence services, would be the improvement of the coordination among the different information agencies operating in each country with a view to further integrate the information gathered by all of them.
This multiplicity of agencies can have some disadvantages in terms of efficiency in the fight against new threats that, as we said, tend to overlap. Only the strengthening of national intelligence communities can provide the solution to this dilemma, in order to make possible a better coordination of the different agencies, a joint planning of the objectives to be attained and a fluent information exchange. Once more, investigations after September 11th have shown the existence of important information in the hands of different services that could have helped to prevent the attack, but this information was scattered among several American information agencies and had not been properly assessed by any of them.
In order to strengthen national intelligence communities it is necessary to create high level political and technical committees integrated by representatives from all intelligence agencies, to create a single intelligence directorate, and to efficiently integrate data bases according to the possibilities offered by the new information technologies. It is necessary to include in the intelligence community thus renewed the criminal intelligence services of the internal security forces, whose capacity to gather information is crucial to the fight against the new types of threats, especially terrorism.
However, the strengthening of our national intelligence communities is not enough to face a threat that, like terrorism, has a clear transnational dimension. Therefore, it is essential to create a real international intelligence community comprising, at least in a first stage, NATO members. One of the basic tasks to be assigned to NATO in the next decades is the use of this instrument as a large forum for information exchange and sharing among the allies.
The recent war in Afghanistan has shown that the United States are capable of launching military operations outside NATO. Moreover, the growing capacity gap between the United States and their European allies is undermining the cohesion of NATO, and questions its future role as a security alliance.
Nevertheless, the opposite has happened in the field of intelligence. The need for cooperation among the allies to fight the common threat posed by terrorism has become clearer. Thus, intelligence becomes not only an essential instrument to combat terrorism; it can subsidiarily give more coherence to NATO itself. In the future this allied intelligence network should include NATO candidate countries, and should create reinforced information sharing mechanisms with Russia.
Security forces of military nature
The last issue I would like to mention is the need to promote new internal security instruments in order to efficiently face the challenges of terrorism. In my opinion, security forces of military nature, like the Spanish Guardia Civil, the French Gendarmerie or the Italian Carabinieri, are the most flexible and efficient instruments to face the new transnational threats.
The disappearance of the former Soviet Union and the absence -admitted by the allied doctrine itself- of immediate threats against the member states= territory, has led in the last decade to a new concept of armed forces with a clear foreign vocation that have abandoned to a great extent their traditional territorial defence mission. However, although the threat of territorial aggression by another State keeps being virtually inexistent in the medium term, the attacks of September 11th show that our territories are not safe from a potential terrorist attack.
Moreover, as long as terrorist attacks are unpredictable, all the preventive measures taken to prevent or hinder as far as possible the eventuality of new attacks are essential to safeguard our security.
The need to prevent attacks in our own territory forces us to develop a new concept of internal defence very different from the concept that prevailed during the Cold War. This new concept should include, by way of an example, a great variety of issues: a more efficient protection of external borders to prevent the illegal entry of immigrants and illicit trafficking of every kind; an improvement in the safety of information and communications networks of strategic importance; an improvement in the security measures in airports and other means of transport, as well as in nuclear power stations and other premises that are critical from the point of view of security; a stricter control over the financial system to prevent money from flowing into terrorist movements and other organised crime groups.
In order to perform internal security tasks, states should be able to deploy forces throughout the whole of their national territory that can cope with these preventive tasks, equipped with technical means for border control and surveillance, and capable of confronting highly organised and dangerous groups. All these characteristics are beyond local police forces, and even some state security forces, whose main role is to guarantee the security of citizens.
In order to face these new threats governments need new instruments able to combine police methods and capacities characteristic of military organizations; flexible instruments able to adjust the intensity and the kind of response to the seriousness of the threat; versatile organizations able to act in the fields of national defence and internal security, that become a vehicle for the above mentioned cooperation between the armed forces and the security forces.
These forces could be deployed not only within the national territory; some specialized units could act as a complement to the armed forces in their operations abroad. The military nature of these forces makes this cooperation easier to a great extent, both through the participation of their members in international military missions, and the potential involvement of elements of the armed forces in internal security tasks when their support becomes essential.
The existence of these intermediate forces between police forces and the armed forces allows governments to give a more flexible and gradual answer to the new threats, thus minimizing the risks posed by an excessive intervention of the armed forces in internal security matters, and the negative effects this intervention could have on our democratic systems.
To sum up, we believe that security forces of military nature are the instrument that can be best adapted to the emerging threats that, like terrorism, constitute nowadays the main danger our societies, our democratic systems and international stability itself face.
Regardless of the nature of these forces, whether civil or military, there is no doubt that it is necessary to develop a new concept of internal defence founded, not on armed forces devoted to missions abroad, but on Arobust@ forces operating in the whole of the national territory, able to cope with the variety of tasks this new concept comprises, equipped with advanced technology, and with a response capacity beyond that of police forces.