PROFESSIONAL ARMIES often toil in obscurity until they are needed. Absent a sense of external threat, militaries are often unappreciated and lack constituencies of their own. These professional armies, as is the case in most European and North American countries, are generally small, have little lobbying power and few friends in high places. They are vulnerable. But they are available for what often appears to be whatever task comes up. Unless they are carrying out an overseas contingency operation or domestic deployment, the perception on the part of the public is that the armed forces are not truly being fully utilized—and are thus available for these tasks.
Nearly every nation worldwide has some experience with their armed forces in a domestic capacity. Some countries, such as China, have armies that are vertically and horizontally integrated into the economy, often running major business enterprises. Other countries take the opposite view; Germany, for instance, has long viewed the employment of the Bundeswehr on German soil as anathema.
Of course, the raison d’être of any national armed force is to defend the state and carry out homeland defense. But armies are often asked to perform more mundane tasks, such as trash collection and firefighting, often to the detriment of their readiness to carry out their primary function. While there are benefits to having military forces engaged in civil support tasks, there are also opportunity costs involved. Soldiers engaged in these tasks often cannot be readily redeployed. They cannot be in two places at one time, and require significant amounts of time to extricate themselves from one civil support task in order to carry out another. Moreover, contemporary professional soldiers are expensive, particularly when compared to ordinary conscript soldiers. Using highly-trained fighters for tasks such as static guard duty or trash collection seems like a rather inefficient use of manpower.
Both North American and European states have a rich history of employing military forces in domestic contingencies. Of course, every country has its own unique national security organizational structure, as well as traditions and strategies. These are based on unique perceptions of the threats and challenges to their own domestic security. Germany takes a fundamentally different approach to this issue than France, just as Russia takes a different approach than China. Even within North America, the differences between Mexico and the United States on the subject of military cooperation with civilian law enforcement agencies are striking: American soldiers are prohibited by law from performing law enforcement functions, while Mexico’s armed forces have been deployed to combat the threat posed by drug cartels and other local criminal organizations.
Due largely to historical contexts, the European tradition is markedly different from that of the United States. The United States, with its experiences in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars, has been traditionally reluctant to employ soldiers domestically, though that is clearly changing. And the unique structure of the American armed forces, with both professional Federal and National Guard troops, has resulted in a bifurcated experience. The National Guard has often been assigned to carry out civil security tasks, while their active-duty brethren are restricted by law since 1878 from carrying out similar duties, particularly those involving law enforcement. In this regard, Canada also has a much more limited experience.
On the other hand, the European tradition of employing armed forces domestically is well established. European militaries have acted with great frequency in a broad range of functions in response to domestic crises and other events when called upon by national authorities. Whether the requirement is securing borders, supporting law enforcement authorities or providing disaster relief, European armies have responded and acquitted themselves well in nearly all instances. In doing so, they have garnered significant levels of public support in nearly all European states; indeed, even in those states that have always had significant concerns about soldiers on their streets have become largely reconciled to seeing them there.
IN THE domestic context, there are essentially two mission sets: homeland defense and civil support. Homeland defense is the traditional task of defending the population, infrastructure and sovereignty of a nation from foreign threats. This may involve such tasks as border defense (as differentiated from border security), air defense and defense of maritime approaches.
Of course, most modern military forces in Europe were structured for the Cold War mission of defending the European homeland in the event of an attack by the Warsaw Pact—their legacy organizational structure and equipment are a testament to this. For example, Germany had a large number of armored and reserve forces; both have nearly disappeared in the post-Cold War period. What forces remain have often been restructured, for the most part, for deployments abroad in peace support operations roles. Similarly, most European countries have active force establishments that are but a fraction of their Cold War strength. This begs the question of whether homeland defense is still a core mission. And if so, can European armed forces actually carry it out if directed to? For while many European countries still retain a relatively large number of soldiers on the books, they are not necessarily organized, configured, trained and equipped for modern, conventional, high-intensity operations.
In addition to homeland defense, military forces on both sides of the Atlantic have always been heavily involved in civil support. Civil support duties are those undertaken to buttress civil authority, with responsibility and overall command remaining with that civil officialdom. Examples include assistance to local authorities in the event of disasters, both natural and otherwise, as well as support to law enforcement authorities for select tasks. These may involve actions taken by the military to restore law, order and stability in the aftermath of an insurrection or a major catastrophe. Such operations may involve both active and reserve forces as well as some specialized capabilities, such as airborne radar for border surveillance. In every event, the key distinguisher is that civilians remain in control of the operation.
Some observers refer to this differentiation of roles in a domestic context as the tension between traditional and non-traditional roles. Inherent in this taxonomy is the concept that homeland defense is the traditional role of the armed forces and all other undertakings are non-traditional in nature. However, this bifurcation fails to recognize that armed forces have been employed in many domestic roles, particularly domestic security roles, for centuries. The rise of professionalized armed forces is a fairly recent phenomenon which drew upon the domestic security activities that armed forces have long played. For example, many of today’s militarized police forces, such as the French National Gendarmerie, originated from the personal armed forces of a nation’s ruler, and spent decades as a part of their respective nations’ armed forces, only having returned to their largely law enforcement role in the postwar era.
Indeed, the range of tasks for which armed forces may expect to be called into action has long been broad and continues to expand. In many instances, military forces have become a resource of choice for many political leaders who are faced with intractable (often fiscal) problems, including many not related to national security or humanitarian relief.
Clearly, there are civil security tasks that armies can and must perform. The intent here is focused on identifying those domestic roles and tasks which are inherent to national armed forces, those that armed forces may be called on to support and those that are candidates for inclusion in this growing list, with particular emphasis on the role of armed forces in providing cybersecurity. But it is worth asking what tasks the military should not perform as well. There are tasks for which military forces, for a variety of reasons, are not suitable. This is not to say that armed forces are incapable of performing them, merely that they are not consistent with what we might consider to be acceptable civil support tasks. Are there red lines beyond which armed forces ought not to tread?
In the United States, there appear to be six distinct Defense Support to Civil Authority (DSCA) mission sets for armed forces in civil security. They are:
-Defense Support to Law Enforcement
-Defense Support for Special Events
-Defense Support for Essential Services
-Defense Support for Counterinsurgency
-Defense Support for Civil Disturbances
-Defense Support for Emergencies and Disaster Relief
For example, providing cybersecurity for other governmental organizations, as well as for private providers of critical infrastructure services, would fit under the category of Defense Support for Essential Services. This mission set includes instances where the military is tasked to provide services which are deemed essential for security or other reasons, such as public health. Examples include the provision of air traffic control services in the event of a strike, or providing sanitary services in the wake of an outbreak of a pandemic disease.
Other missions, such as border security, would likely fall under Defense Support to Law Enforcement, as border security remains principally a law enforcement task.
LOGICAL, STRAIGHTFORWARD criteria are clearly required to effectively evaluate situations in which the armed forces might be used in domestic contingencies. What considerations ought to be examined in vetting requests for assistance (RFA)? What are the considerations that should be examined in determining whether the military should provide support to civil authority?