Report: Military may have to quell domestic violence from economic collapse


Deepening economic strife in the US could lead to civil unrest and violence that would require military intervention, warns a new report from the US Army War College.

"Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security," writes Nathan Freier, a 20-year Army veteran and visiting professor at the college.

A copy of the 44-page report, "Known Unknowns: Unconventional 'Strategic Shocks' in Defense Strategy Development," can be downloaded here. Freier notes that his report expresses only his own views and does not represent US policy, but it's certain that his recommendations have come before at least some Defense Department officials.

The author warns potential causes for such civil unrest could include another terrorist attack, "unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters." The situation could deteriorate to the point where military intervention was required, he argues.

"Under these conditions and at their most violent extreme," he concludes, "civilian authorities, on advice of the defense establishment, would need to rapidly determine the parameters defining the legitimate use of military force inside the United States."

While the scenario presented is "likely not an immediate prospect," Freier concedes, it deserves consideration. Prior to 9/11, no one in the defense establishment would have envisioned a plot to topple skyscrapers with airliners, and the military should not be caught so off-guard again, he says.

To the extent events like this involve organized violence against local, state, and national authorities and exceed the capacity of the former two to restore public order and protect vulnerable populations, DoD would be required to fill the gap," he writes. "This is largely uncharted strategic territory."

Freier's report has merited some concern as it comes alongside revelations that the Defense Department has assigned a full-time Army unit to be on-call for domestic deployment.

An article in Monday's El Paso Times notes that military and police officials in Texas are unaware of team-up efforts such as those suggested in the report.

Arizona authorities told the Phoenix Business Journal they are similarly unaware of any new plans, although the Phoenix Police Department made clear its officers "always train to prepare for any civil unrest issue."

The Posse Comitatus Act restricts the military's role in domestic law enforcement, but it does not completely preclude involvement in cases of emergency or when emergency law is declared. As of now, though, such scenarios seem unlikely.

The bulk of Freier's report recommends refocusing Defense Department strategy toward thinking outside the box, in general, and the unlikely possibility of domestic deployments is just one longshot example he uses to illustrate a worst case scenario.