THE BLOG

Change Out at Defense

01/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The in-coming administration inherits some of the toughest
national security challenges ever. Old demons persist, but new
threats have appeared that ignore the traditional dividing lines of
foreign versus domestic; military versus civilian; and us versus
them. Energy security, decentralized terrorism, pandemic diseases,
and the disruption of cyber networks bringing down the financial
system or the electric power grid or the government's
communication networks are key threats that look radically
different than do hostile nation states.

With change as its byword, the new administration needs to look
hard at the Department of Defense (DOD). In a sport the
president-elect loves, basketball, there is an analogy which, in
particular, captures the changes needed at DOD. For DOD to equip
itself for twenty-first century threats -- threats that are decentralized
and dispersed, and that require coordination between agencies and
across national boundaries -- it needs to learn to be both the big
man and the point guard.

In basketball, the big man is at the center of the game: the biggest
and most imposing player. Today's threats require DOD to learn
how to take a turn at point guard as well, using its discipline and
national security expertise to develop and guide other players.

DOD is needed to work with agencies across government to
communicate and integrate different kinds of information, and to
forge trust and collaboration among the agencies.

The attacks of 9/11, and the disaster of Katrina have clearly
demonstrated the centrality of information sharing to
understanding threats. This is even more true as we try to weave
together information about the power grid with that about the intention of terrorists, or information about terrorists developing
capabilities in use of computers with vulnerabilities in financial
computer networks.

Today's threats require quick, coordinated responses to natural and
man-made disasters. Intelligence and operational knowledge from
a variety of agencies are needed to understand these new
interdependent threats, and to protect the nation. The Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Energy, Homeland
Security, Health and Human Services -- have less history than
DOD in providing for the national defense. They need to develop
their culture of integrating disparate pieces of information, of
collaborating closely and planning ahead in a joined-up fashion.
This culture of jointness is one DOD has acquired since it had to
transform itself under the Goldwater-Nichols Act. DOD must help
other agencies foster their core capabilities, form a team, run the
plays, and develop their skills.

As the legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said:
"A basketball team is like the five fingers on your hand. If you can
get them all together, you have a fist." The same is true of national
security today. If DOD plays the big man, we may be able to
respond to some of the threats we face. But unless DOD also plays
point guard we cannot create the fist we need to address the unique
challenges that will determine America's security in the twenty-first century.

Zoë Baird is President of the Markle Foundation, which works to
accelerate the use of information technology to improve national
security and health care.

Alec Gewirtz is an avid basketball player.