05 January 2007

National security: currently subordinated to institutional structures

Measuring the success or otherwise of a government agency is not always a simple matter. How, for example, would we monitor the effectiveness of the military? Is the non-invasion of your country a reliable indicator of a successful defence agency? No. There could be a mass assembly of hostile troops on your borders. No invasion, sure, and not yet a loss of sovereignty; but the threat of an invasion, and so a potentially imminent loss of security and current rise in fear and anxiety.

The point is not just that there are social and environmental outcomes that are difficult to quantify, but that our current methods of allocating resources do not attempt to do so. Under the existing political system, the main determinant of funds to government agencies is the amount of funding they received in the previous financial year. Percentages are adjusted upwards or downwards, but the institutional structures are taken as a given. National security is currently something that the military and intelligence services do, but in this age of asymmetric warfare that approach may no longer be enough. After terrorist incidents there are calls for the funding of these bodies to rise. It’s not in their interests to quantify their own effectiveness; only to report on (and exaggerate) any apparent threats.  

Something is missing, and that is the scientific allocation of scarce resources. The answer, I believe, is a Social Policy Bond regime that first of all, attempts to measure precisely what we want to achieve, and second, rewards achievement of that goal, or combination of goals, without assuming a particular institutional structure.

As I say, defining what we want to achieve in the area of national security is difficult, but precisely the same difficulty arises when we attempt to measure the effectiveness or otherwise of the existing system. Under the current system there’s less and less definition of meaningful outcomes, and more and more resources being allocated to institutions that may or may not be doing much to achieve them.

A Social Policy Bond regime as applied to national security would subordinate all its projects and initiatives to the targeted goals. Terrorism, for instance, would not be the remit of ever more bureaucracies given ever more intrusive and expensive things to do. Perhaps equally important, though, is that citizens themselves could help define national security goals. Greater participation would means greater buy in, and so not just the enhanced effectiveness of whatever projects are undertaken, but a wider range of possible initiatives.

No comments: