World Affairs Council hosts panel on national security at Sewickley Public Library

Thursday, February 6, 2020 | 11:39 AM

Experienced service members studying at the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., discussed the nation’s most pressing national security issues at Sewickley Public Library.

More than 30 people attended the community panel discussion, “Tackling Global Threats: Challenges Facing National Security,” which took place on the evening of Feb. 5. The event was hosted by the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. Four panelists gave presentations on issues ranging from space-age security challenges to the U.S.-Mexico border. Audience members also got the chance to ask the panelists questions.

Joel Swanson of Sewickley said that he has attended similar World Affairs Council events, hosted at the Sewickley Public Library on an annual basis.

“You get past the editorial page and get to talk to people who are living these controversial issues,” he said.

Lt. Col David Short said that the use of outer space is undergoing a tremendous transformation. U.S. Space Command is responsible for tracking more than 1,800 satellites and roughly 24,000 objects that orbit the earth.

In this crowded environment, even a small piece of debris could damage satellite equipment used in space. Short also emphasized that the U.S. needed a force that could deter adversaries in the space domain, a need that led to the creation of the U.S. Space Force as the sixth Armed Forces branch in December 2019.

Lt. Col Aaron Sadusky discussed the need for a national civilian service program. He highlighted a civilian-military gap in understanding and news sources that reinforce biases.

“Compounding that challenge is that trust in our national institutions seems to go down, and with that, we’re seeing less volunteering,” Sadusky said.

While he voiced support for the military’s current volunteer service model, Sadusky questioned whether the military is truly leveraging the country’s power when it comes to recruitment, noting that large numbers of service members come from two specific regions: the South and Southwest.

He also said the nation has many domestic needs and cited student debt reductions, assistance with educational expenses and tax incentives as potential ways to encourage young people to serve.

One way people serve their country now is through the National Guard, which exists in all 50 states. Each state’s National Guard unit has at least one partner country abroad, through the National Guard State Partnership Program.

Col. Amanda Evans, a full-time Air National Guardsman, highlighted the benefits of these partnerships, which strengthen U.S. alliances and security relationships. These partnerships with more than 70 countries can foster continued collaboration in areas like disaster response and cyber defense, Evans said.

Speaking about U.S.-Mexico border security, Col. Joe Buccino gave arguments for and against the use of troops. He emphasized the seriousness of the border situation and said border patrol agents have to cover a lot of ground processing the large numbers of migrants who cross the border each day. Agents process asylum claims and ensure migrants have legal representation, among other tasks.

Buccino also said using troops at the border could help stem the trafficking of synthetic opioids into the country.

However, he added that placing service members at border processing stations could cause them to lose out on valuable training in their specialty areas and opens the door for the military to become politicized.

As an audience member, Swanson said he appreciated Buccino’s insights on the border, given the political attention focused on the issue. But his experiences in Grenada in 1983 have influenced him to support a national service program: he was in the Caribbean country studying medicine when the U.S. military sent troops to diffuse a political struggle on the island that had turned bloody.

The experience gave Swanson a chance to meet American service members, many of whom shared different cultural traditions and backgrounds than his own.

He said that a national service program could offer similar experiences that would benefit many Americans.