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US national security's challenge: communication

History shows what happens when agencies don't talk.

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No matter who wins the election this November, the president will have numerous foreign-policy crises on his plate: Russia's assault on Georgia and growing Russia-NATO tensions, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, and increasing challenges for the Western coalition in Afghanistan.

Our national security apparatus, largely created on an ad hoc basis over the past six decades, is ill-equipped to handle such multifaceted issues.

When a disaster erupts, there is precious little time for study by the president and his top advisers. They need an integrated system already in place that can guide rapid, informed, and strong responses to today's security challenges. Experience must be institutionalized, and barriers between agencies overcome.

The Project on National Security Reform (PNSR), a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization funded by Congress, seeks to achieve such improvements.

The national security system has evolved slowly over the past 61 years. It now consists primarily of the State and Defense departments, the National Security Council, the intelligence community, the Homeland Security Department and the Homeland Security Council. Others participate when specific issues in their jurisdiction arise.

The trick is getting them to work as a team rather than pursue their own bureaucratic interests as competitors or adversaries. Feuding, jurisdictional disputes, and lack of communication between cabinet secretaries and senior agency personnel undermine US national security.

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