Over the past few weeks, senior military leaders and intelligence officials have publicly acknowledged the growing threat from foreign military forces to the US homeland. This may seem unrealistic given the overwhelming military advantage the United States has over any other nation’s military, but there are plausible scenarios where the US homeland could be vulnerable to attack, particularly during periods of US military operations overseas.

Before examining emerging threats that may place the security of the homeland at risk, one must first consider the complex problem of escalation. According to RAND, escalation can occur in several forms: vertical, horizontal and political. Escalation can also be carried out through conventional or asymmetric means. Certainly, attacks can be executed in the future to create a more complex hybrid escalation event. The US Military has already encountered the challenges posed by escalation during Operation Desert Storm.

As Iraqi President Saddam Hussein faced the reality of an overwhelming coalition force, he decided to use his over-matched military assets to attack civilian population centers in Israel. He also ignited oil fields in Southern Iraq in order to inflict environmental damage and to restrict coalition military movement. These are examples of horizontal and political escalation, respectively.

In discussing the new DOD Strategic Guidance, Dr. Janine Davidson recently noted that adversaries will likely go asymmetric and irregular to counter a US military advantage. This implies the US homeland will likely be in play should military force be used in the future. US military leaders and policy makers have not had to contend with this reality since World War II.

A host of legal/policy concerns, such as the Posse Comitatus Act and the imposition of wide-spread martial law, would challenge conventional thinking given these scenarios. An effective response would demand an unprecedented level of coordination and integration of Title 10 and Title 32 military forces with federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel. Some scenarios would likely have local law enforcement personnel performing ad hoc para-military operations. A significant military response within the homeland would certainly stress civil-military relations and threaten the civil liberties of US citizens, particularly those of certain ethnic groups associated with the adversary. Could this lead to increased radicalization or even threaten internal stability?

Current military capabilities that could be used to attack the US homeland include:

  • Conventional attacks enabled by emerging technology
  • Special Forces conducting direct action –Mumbai style attacks
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Improvised Explosive Devices
  • Cyber Attacks
  • Psychological Operations
  • Economic Attacks

While these capabilities alone or in aggregate would certainly not defeat the US military, they can inflict damage to the homeland that would cause public support for military operations to either wane or force the military to take more aggressive action than would normally be prudent. Homeland attacks would also impose a significant cost imposition on the US, which would divert scarce resources away from other military operations.

Considering the prolonged military operations over the last decade, would US popular support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted as long as they have if US citizens were being killed in the homeland? In the future, would direct support for a critical ally, say Israel or Taiwan, withstand foreign military operations on the homeland or would US citizens demand military operations cease, as witnessed in Vietnam or Iraq?

Having to fight a two Combatant Command (COCOM) war has not been experienced by the modern US military since the National Security Act of 1947 established our current organizational structure. This scenario would provide an enormous challenge to coordinate and integrate operations between multiple COCOMs. An example the US could use as a precedent was having to respond to hurricane Katrina, while fighting limited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However during these events, leaders were not faced with command and control challenges or limited military resources. This would certainly not be the case in military operations against a near peer competitor.

The so called American way of war ensured the security of US interests over the past sixty years by taking overwhelming military force to the enemy’s doorstep. Unfortunately, the US will not be afforded that luxury in the future. Our nation’s military and civilian leaders must incorporate defending the homeland into their decision making calculus should military action be realistically considered in the future. The US public must also be aware that the decision to use military force will likely affect the livelihood of each American citizen in ways Americans have not witnessed during this generation.

The plausible scenarios associated with future wars will radically challenge our current perception of complex operations and will make the wars fought over the last 10 years seem like child’s play. The results of past operations speak for themselves and future wars will be even more complex and will demand a far greater level of strategic thinking and adaptation by both military and civilian leaders.

Robert Kozloski is a program analyst with the Department of the Navy and the author of “Rethinking Threats to The Homeland: Considerations for the Joint Force” currently under review at Joint Forces Quarterly.

Posted by Robert Kozloski in Foreign Policy, Hard Power, History, Homeland Security, Marine Corps, Maritime Security, Navy

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  • Nick

    That’s why I think America should follow the lead of most countries where they have a Home guard or Home front command that falls under their jurisdiction of Northern command. If you look at places such as the Swedish, Norwegian and Danish Home guard. They model their under a civil defense with military system. Which becomes part of the Military command. Where as the IDF has a Homefront command, which is part of their Military but works primarily in disaster response, NBC response & SAR.

  • Dee

    I recently read that China stated that they would consider using the bond market as a weapon in response to Japan and disputed maritime issues, that is classified as an economic attack. In respect to cyber attack, that one is almost a certainty in my opinion both from state sponsored attacks and additionally from combatants from the public sector. And then finally the lone wolf or cell attacks against soft targets. If the power lines going down in Iran that fed their nuclear centrifuge processing facilities is any indicator, I think that we can reasonably expect efforts to disrupt infrastructure at a minimum and possibly exotic cyber attacks resulting in high damages. I don’t think you can read the news and not come to any other conclusion.

  • Dee

    Nick I think an executive order requiring private industry and critical infrastructure to improve cyber defense and to perform an audit similar/inclusive of disaster recovery (DR) under Sarbanes Oxley as a first step and to insure that air-gap security can be implemented. Second step the Executive Order should stipulate that critical computing for national infrastructure must be capable of running within a cloud/map reduce ecosystem and that the DR process be rollover capable for water, electric, oil and gas pipelines, etc. While I’m sure that the private sector has a vested interest in not wanting this mandated nonetheless it should be done.

  • Matt

    9/11 proved we are always under threat even when we are not in a hot war. There is no such thing as “break time” for homeland security. We should always be on guard and ready. And we shouldn’t be waiting around for them to attack us either. Lean forward and cut them down before they get here and be ready at a moments notice to go after them anywhere anytime. The Iranians have specifically threatened Israeli Nuclear sites. I would be most concerned with our defenses at our own sites. Where can 20-40 highly trained terrorists with light arms do the most damage?

  • Josh

    Nick, the US does have such an organization established – the State Defense Forces. It’s just that the SDFs have been ignored for decades and don’t exist in all states – and in many that do have them, they are small, paper units, or are unarmed.

  • Capt. HW “Woody” Sanford,MC,USNR(ret.)

    Do the Iranians know where the Israeli nuclear sites are? I personally doubt it. Israel has had nuclear weapons since the 60s and possibly even before. No one knows how many they have and where they are. I realize Israel is a quite small country, but they have had a very long time to figure out storage and deployment. SHALOM!


  • Paul P

    And to top it off, China put their carrier into service today, according to the BBC.


  • Matt

    I wasn’t referring to weapons. Just the nuke power plants. Those aren’t hard to find. Surely nuke weapons are in safe hands. The repercussions of a nuclear reactor melting down would be similar to what we’ve seen in Japan recently. Mainly it would be a symbolic blow. I believe I’ve read about Al Qaeda plans targeting them with jetliners. Shouldn’t be a surprise they would be targets of terrorists. God bless you too. And happy hunting in Iran!


  • It seems to me that we have been planting the seeds of terror around the world for a while now so of course it shouldn’t be a surprise when those seeds germinate. More of the same: taking peoples rights away, assassinating people, covert operations, and U.S. military mentality isn’t going to solve that. Why should we, the peaceful critically thinking population, stand with the people that have been planting the seeds of terror around the world when that terror grows out of control and rises up against them? American psychological operations can’t compete with those of the “terrorists”. They can’t even keep their own soldiers from committing suicide. Common sense says we shouldn’t be trying to control the world and spending the fruit of our labor on weapons while our people die without basics like medical care. It is going to be a hard fight for U.S. psyops and I wish you luck because I’m not convinced you can defeat truth and reason with propaganda. The whole world is watching and information spreads instantly.

  • Dee

    Matt I was working on a contract for the NRC on 911 and recall wondering where the last jet was before it was announced down in PA and then still using Google to determine from the reported flight path if any nuclear facilities were in that area, retroactive to 911 all material at the NRC and some at the EPA was classified at a higher level, in essence all contracts for GPEA etc, were halted as that occurred. One of my favorite stories of that era was the closing of the website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/bomb/sfeature/mapablast.html

    A surviving reference to the link above is under “Nuclear Blast Mapper” at FreeRepublic but the technology was retroactively classified in the wake of 911. The simple map quest and Google technology we take for granted today and was hosted by PBS was redacted as classified. The technology was purchased by Microsoft and the rest is history http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MapBlast

    But at one time exact mapping address’s in GPS coordinates was available online. I’m sure that open source Intel could reveal most of this information in Israel and the US respectively.

    In the last 11 years it is the back-door connectivity to these systems that I would imagine where the risk has arisen. I can conjure up many lurid and insidious scenarios where technology is weaponized for mass casualty, however the nuclear and chemical industry has a responsibility to their respective communities to insure that some activist on the other side of the globe cannot actualize an event.

    To Mathew….
    I remain skeptical of all ideas and even the food I eat, I sniff twice the ideas and food that I consume. But imagining that there is not people of ill will who would exploit our systems is foolish. Imagining that the blame America first response will keep peace even more foolish, itemizing strategy in nation building might be an area of legitimate discussion however I think the issue of infrastructure safety and “truth” and “propaganda” are two seperate discussions.

  • All, I would like to call your attention to GAO-12-925 published in September. We have been working this issue for two decades. It is a clear and present danger. Defense Science Board chacterized Medical use radioactive materials in general and Cesium Cl as low hanging fruit available to terrorist’s of any stripe to “explode in place or steal and use as they may desire” It is half of the dreaded “dirty Bomb” it is highly mobile and poorly secured. Hospitals, Blood Banks, Medical Research sites (1,500) dot the U.S. landscape. NNSA proudly announced that they will be “hardened by 2025”. JB