“All of those things require a response at some level from the Department of Defense, and that’s our role,” Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr. said during an address at The Atlantic Council of the United States. “So we work across all of our interagency partners to ensure that we anticipate the threat, that we plan for it, and that we’re in a position to execute.”
The command is accomplishing that through what Renuart called a “coalition village of the many,” a cooperative effort by 45 federal agencies working together to secure the homeland. But how it does that is something of a work in progress because of an ever-changing enemy, the general said.
The enemies of yesterday were relatively predictable, said he noted.
“You can’t define [the] threat today. Our threats today are unpredictable; they’re diverse,” he said. “[Our enemies] benefit from technologies and materials that are readily available because of the global economy, … and they don’t follow any of the conventional laws of war.”
If NorthCom isn’t in front of some of the threats and events with the potential to adversely affect the country, it’ll never catch up, Renuart said.
He cited Hurricane Katrina as a good example, explaining that NorthCom often is called on to support local and state governments in response to natural disasters.
“We had great military capacity from the [National] Guard, the Reserve and the active component that was there [and] ready to respond, but we hadn’t figured out how to integrate all that to be most effective,” Renuart said. “What Katrina showed us was that unforeseen events can have catastrophic effects if you haven’t prepared for them.”
To prevent another situation like the Katrina aftermath, NorthCom is planning for potential threats on all fronts.
The command is building a logistic support network of government agencies, as well as the private sector, for disaster victims. It’s also ensuring proper support for Customs and Border Patrol and has an Arctic policy as interest in the region grows.
“Increased access to this resource-rich area and the economically important region that it portends to be has security implications,” Renuart said. “Increasingly, the views from scientists are there are untapped resources in that region.
“We have to have a national security policy that acknowledges the importance of the Arctic region in the future,” he continued, “and that we are properly positioned to support it.”
All of this is great progress, he said, but the command has a new challenge on the horizon — a new administration.
“We’re going to select a new government in our country, and that … will bring with it some … risk for us in the country,” the general said. “Will a terrorist element or an unsavory character out there choose to take advantage of that period of time as we transition to conduct something on our country?
“I don’t see a threat there that tells me that’s going to happen today,” he added, “but the minute you take your guard down, it could.”
To contend with all it faces in the coming weeks, months and years, NorthCom is focusing on building continuity of operations. It’s working to make sure its “operational-level players” — the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and others — have what they need to provide a coordinated response to any homeland threat the United States faces.
“Nearly six years after [NorthCom’s] creation, we really do, we believe, provide as close to one-stop shopping for the … military defense of our nation, as we have ever had before,” Renuart said.