By Diana Washington Valdez – El Paso Times Dec 29, 2008
A U.S. Army War College report warns an economic crisis in the United States could lead to massive civil unrest and the need to call on the military to restore order.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Nathan Freir wrote the report "Known Unknowns: Unconventional Strategic Shocks in Defense Strategy Development," which the Army think tank in Carlisle, Pa., recently released.
"Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities ... to defend basic domestic order and human security," the report said, in case of "unforeseen economic collapse," "pervasive public health emergencies," and "catastrophic natural and human disasters," among other possible crises.
The report also suggests the new (Barack Obama) administration could face a "strategic shock" within the first eight months in office.
Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said the Army post is not involved in any recent talks about a potential military response to civil unrest.
The report become a hot Internet item after Phoenix police told the Phoenix Business Journal they're prepared to deal with such an event, and the International Monetary Fund's managing director, Dominique Strauss-Khan, said social unrest could spread to advanced countries if the global economic crisis worsens.
Javier Sambrano, spokesman for the El Paso Police Department, said city police have trained for years so they can address any contingency, but not with the military.
"The police (department) trains on an ongoing basis as part of its Mobile Field Force Training," Sambrano said. "As a result, the police will be able to respond to emergency situations, such as looting or a big civil unrest. The police (department) does not train with soldiers."
Earlier this year, Pentagon officials said as many as 20,000 soldiers under the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) will be trained within the next three years to work with civilian law enforcement in homeland security.
Joint Task Force-North, a joint command at Biggs Army Airfield, which conducts surveillance and intelligence along the border, comes under NORTHCOM. No one was available at JTF-North to comment on the Army War College's report. NORTHCOM was created after the 9-11 attacks to coordinate homeland security efforts.
Soldiers under the former Joint Task Force-6 (now JTF-North) supported the Border Patrol in El Paso with its drug-interdiction operations.
In case civilian authorities request help or become overwhelmed, El Paso has several National Guard and military reserve units that can be called on. In 1992, National Guard and active Marine and Army units were deployed to help police control riots and looting in Los Angeles.
Charles Boehmer, political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, was skeptical about the Army War College report.
"The military was not called out during the Great Depression, and I don't think our economic problems are as bad as they were then," he said. "The military always has contingency plans. It's a think tank's job to come up with scenarios, but that doesn't mean it represents an active interest on the part of the (Pentagon)."
Last updated 05/01/2009