Rethinking Security part 2 – Total Defence and Resilience

In October 2018, all Norwegian households received a brochure from the Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB) entitled «You Are a Part of Norway’s Preparedness». Sweden issued a similiar document to Swedish households in May 2018. In both leaflets, citizens were advised about how to prepare for, and manage, an emergency or crisis for a minimum of three days (Norway) or «for some time» (Sweden).

These brochures reflect a recognition by state authorities that civilians play an increasingly important role in the security of a given state.

During the Cold War in Norway, the concept of Total Defence acknowledged that the protection of the country was not possible without civilian engagement. At that time, the emphasis was largely on civilian support of the Norwegian Armed Forces. Today however, as evidenced in the Norwegian Prop. 151-S (2015-2016) addressing the long-term planning for the defence sector, there is a greater emphasis on said defence sector supporting civilian authorities. The role of civilians in defence – be they civilian authorities, businesses, or agencies – has again been prioritised. Yet, as the Norwegian 2018 White Paper «Support and Cooperation: A Description of Total Defence Today» notes, the role of civilians in defence activities in general has received little attention. This is despite the fact that armed forces in Norway, as well as in other countries, have become increasingly dependent upon civilian suppliers.

Total Defence assumes a significant, if not close, cooperation between civilian and military actors. Contrary to the principled “Norwegian model” approach that was applied in out-of-area operations, (in particular during the Afghanistan conflict), whereby close cooperation by civilian actors with military was cautioned against, it is assumed that on the “home front”, such cooperation goes largely uncontested.

Accompanying the Total Defence concept is additionally important concept that has been raised largely in NATO and European Union circles – the concept of resilience. Resilience pertains to a state and society’s capacity to withstand a shock or crisis, both in being able to manage the crisis itself, but also in its ability to resume “normal” functions as quickly as possible.

Both the Total Defence concept and the NATO/EU approach to resilience is what one can describe as “top-down”, meaning that even though the role of civilians in the ability to withstand shocks and crises are crucial, the focus is nevertheless on the capabilities of state authorities and institutions. The Norwegian and Swedish civil preparedness brochures focus somewhat towards including civilians, but more conversations are needed about both the strengths and weaknesses met by average people during such crises, and how these strengths and weaknesses will evolve over the period of a crisis.

Norway makes a very interesting case regarding emergency reactions and resilience. Resources are unevenly distributed throughout the country; the bulk of the population lives in the lower half of the country, and resources follow numbers. The north is also in many ways more significant when it comes to potential crises as it is not only home to roughly ten percent of the Norwegian population, but holds a number of resources and capabilities considered vital to the entire nation’s defence. Given the lack of stored resources for crisis situations in the north, the region is heavily dependent upon the efficient delivery of necessary civilian and military supplies insofar as they would be needed.

As the DSB brochure indicates, Norwegians across the country should be prepared for at least a three-day period where resources are scarce. Northerners should prepare for longer durations.

A crisis can range from the ceasation of services such as internet, electricity, water supplies, etc over a period of a few days, to a territorial invasion by a foreign power. People in the region will experience a wide range of insecurity with the change in situation and react differently depending on their own preparedness, their own understanding of the situation, and their sense of the threat. Likely scenarios include what are referred to as «under threshold» (under NATO Article 5) attacks focused on services we rely upon daily.

If communication is down, gaining access to useful and reliable information will be difficult. While normal communication channels are unavailable, information is still spread – through misinformation and rumours, and potential disinformation can be distributed in order to mislead.

The region is not just populated by locals, but also increasingly visitors and tourists who may react differently if they are in conditions they are not familiar with. Many people will not wait for solutions to come from the authorities. Some will start moving to where they believe they will be safer for the immediate future. At the same time, resources will be dwindling fast, which will also prompt people to start moving. Exit routes may be limited, especially where the small, narrow roads in the north can quickly become bottlenecked with people moving southward, (assuming more resources are to be found there), while civilian and military authorities are moving their own supplies and personnel northward to either deal with the current crisis or in anticipation of escalation. Air services may be down; trains, which might otherwise be a viable option, are irrelevant in the north as rail links are still not in place. Fuel for vehicles would also be in short supply.

Managing crises depends not only on the preparations made by authorities, but also our own capabilities to get through them. We will wait for a few hours, trusting that systems will get online within a few hours (we have had short term outages before, this might just be another). Yet what if two days have gone by with no communication sources? Everything is still down? Five days? Two weeks?

Should we meet at the local school and talk to more people? Which school? Are busses running? Many people are driving to city hall to find out what is going on but this is causing traffic jams. Are police coming out to the neighbourhoods to tell people to stay in place and not drive downtown? Who do we intuitively look to for leadership when it is not immediately clear? Who do we trust? Do we know what our strengths are in this regard?

Our capacities as civilians are equally important to the capacities of our governments and militaries. RUSI (UK think tank) Research Fellow Elisabeth Braw noted at a recent NATO seminar on civil preparedness that the civil-military relationship in Total Defence is a part of “modern” deterrence. Modern deterrence entails an improved civilian situational awareness, a clear understanding of relationships between civilian and military, and well citizens who can work together and support each other in crisis.

As Braw also notes however, open and democratic societies can be extremely vulnerable to disinformation and polarisation of political views. Polarisation destabilises social trust upon which our cooperation relies.

Part of our strength needs to come from our abilities to handle disagreement and disputes and refrain from splintering into isloated, or even opposing, forces. Our social trust is a part of resilience. Modern deterrence is less a matter of military might, than of civilian capacities to maintain open dialogue, tackle difficult questions, and discuss our roles within different security perspectives.

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