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Combating Terrorism, Illicit Trafficking Needs More Agile, Non-Regulatory Tools

A global economy has empowered criminals and terrorists on a global scale, with growing consequences for both governments and the private sector. But U.S. exporters, in particular, can find opportunity in adversity. They stand to make big gains by helping pioneer innovative public-private solutions that complement traditional laws and regulations for confronting these complex global dynamics.

The Obama administration has issued the first in what it has signaled will be a series of announcements framing a more comprehensive approach to 21st century threats. In the President’s words, we’re entering a “new chapter in American foreign policy” in which the US will seek to “respond more nimbly to the changing threat of terrorism while addressing a broader set of priorities around the globe.” In his much-publicized commencement address at West Point yesterday, he added: “We have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat, one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin or stir up local resentments.”

One of the corollaries to this call for a more agile, network-like approach is that we must develop a deeper and more diverse set of mutually advantageous public-private partnerships. Curiously, the president did not take this tiny extra step – at least, not yesterday.

The fact remains that conventional approaches are not sufficient for many of the security issues that have taken root in modern global trade. Illicit trafficking in high-tech data and equipment, narcotics, counterfeit goods, and other contraband harms public and private interests alike. More effectively leveraging the expertise, resources, and reach of the private sector in support of shared goals must become part of the new normal.


Today, following an 18-month collaboration with industry, a senior-level task force is responding to that challenge with seven targeted recommendations for modernizing public-private cooperation to advance both U.S. security and economic competitiveness. These include:

  • Rewarding “trusted exporters” of sensitive goods and technologies
  • Elevating the role of logistics service providers to help small and medium sized businesses increase exports while also promoting responsible trading practices
  • Modernizing the information-sharing toolkit for trade transparency and risk management
  • Promoting layered port security through the SAFETY Act and Resilience STAR Program
  • Developing a public-private “playbook” for resilient trade flows
  • Extending the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, currently set to expire at the end of 2014, and considering future changes to the implementing program
  • Fully implementing the International Trade Data System (ITDS)

Why these seven ideas? What are the common threads?

From the start, task force members sought ideas that met three basic criteria. First, each proposal had to ultimately support U.S. and global security against cross-border threats from illicit trafficking and other transnational crimes. Second, each one had to be actionable. And third, they collectively had to demonstrate the need for a broader understanding of “public-private partnerships” in the 21st century.

In several cases, those criteria led the task force to focus on the central importance of the U.S. exporting community. U.S. companies increasingly see their financial futures resting on the global marketplace. That, along with several major U.S. government initiatives of relevance, makes it clear that exports are where the action is.

A February 2014 executive order on streamlining export/import processes, the new phase of the National Export Initiative dubbed “NEI/NEXT,” and a major effort to reform regulation of the trade in high-tech goods and services all can be leveraged for mutually beneficial public-private solutions.

On issues related to U.S. exports and beyond, such solutions are often nonstarters due to poor coordination within government. The task force found that “[c]lose coordination between the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security will be especially important.” Here again, however, there is reason for cautious optimism given a recently announced “declaration of joint principles” on global trade issues, personally signed by Secretaries Penny Pritzker and Jeh Johnson. This three-point framework resonates strongly with the task force recommendations.

As the Administration continues to chart new directions in U.S. foreign policy and prepares to release a new National Security Strategy, the challenge will be to connect the strategic imperative of modernized public-private partnerships with concrete, practical steps forward. The task force recommendations offer some of those steps and, by extension, serve as an invitation for new industry partners to advance this work further.

Nate Olson, a research analyst in the Managing Across Boundaries Initiative at the Stimson Center, served as project manager for the Partners in Prevention task force. The final task force recommendations are being released today at an event co-hosted by Stimson and the National Foreign Trade Council.

Combating Terrorism, Illicit Trafficking Needs More Agile, Non-Regulatory Tools was originally published on Ideas Lab

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