The Heritage Foundation hosted its Homeland Security 2012 Conference on Wednesday. Several distinguished speakers warned that defense disaster response support to civil authorities is threatened by sequestration.
The conference contributors included the Honorable Paul N. Stockton, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs; Vice Admiral Harvey E. Johnson, USCG (Ret.), and Heritage’s James Carafano, Ph.D.
The importance of the Department of Defense (DOD) in disaster response was a recurring theme in their remarks. This led to an important point of agreement: The looming defense sequestration undoubtedly puts effective disaster response at risk.
Stockton stated that the DOD is working to be better positioned to support civil authorities and strengthen preparedness. He emphasized building resilience in order to be prepared for a critical infrastructure such as an electromagnetic pulse attack or cyber occurrence. It is absolutely imperative, he said, that the DOD have the ability to exercise core missions in any and all situations.
Building on these points, Vice Admiral Johnson spoke about domestic disasters that have occurred in the past years and how the Coast Guard, National Guard, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have been essential in both rescue and recovery. He also expressed concern about what kind of effect sequestration may have on the modernization of the Coast Guard and other branches of the military and the military’s ability to sustain critical operations.
With an already under-resourced military, defense cuts will undeniably hamper the collaboration between the DOD and DHS and curtail these organizations’ capacity to protect America’s interests.
Carafano echoed these observations and stressed the strain that sequestration would cause homeland security and military readiness. The National Guard and Coast Guard have been critical during national disasters, but sequestration will largely hollow out these components of the nation’s security.
There is no doubt that the DOD is essential to the nation’s homeland security and will continue to be a crucial part of disaster response. However, depending on how sequestration plays out, the U.S. may lose this vital branch of homeland security.
America should ensure that it can respond to a crisis at home before victory can be claimed abroad. Drastic cuts to defense will unquestionably harm the efforts of civil authorities during a crisis and will cause irreparable damage to the strength of this country.
Noelle Doundoulakis is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.