[Column] Why is the far right so incompetent at national security?

Posted on : 2023-10-30 17:04 KST Modified on : 2023-10-30 17:04 KST
When leaders neither communicate nor take responsibility and merely yell out calls for hard-line policies, intelligence failure is inevitable
A missile that appears to have been fired by Hamas leaves the Gaza Strip and flies toward Israel on Oct. 7. (EPA/Yonhap)
A missile that appears to have been fired by Hamas leaves the Gaza Strip and flies toward Israel on Oct. 7. (EPA/Yonhap)

By Kim Yeon-chul, former minister of unification and current professor at Inje University

Why didn’t Israel know about Hamas’ surprise attack beforehand? This constitutes a classic example of intelligence failure. Intelligence agencies warned of the possibility, detected activities in advance, and nearby countries communicated related information, but the Netanyahu government was completely caught off guard. While many argue that lessons should be learned from Israel’s intelligence failure, they’re missing a key point. No matter how much is invested in budgets and how advanced technical intelligence is, an incompetent government makes everything useless.

Intelligence failures begin with division. The division created by far-right politics in Israel gave Hamas the opportunity to maneuver. Public division always manifests within the government as well. The same goes for relations between intelligence agencies. This time, Mossad, military intelligence agencies, and the Shin Bet security service did not cooperate. Due to the nature of intelligence, intelligence agencies tend to compete with each other and shield information from one another, and this was not mediated due to lack of communication and unilateralism characteristic of far-right politics.

Instances of intelligence failure in the US were similar. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, a committee analyzed that noncooperation between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the main cause of intelligence failure. Afterward, the US reformed its coordination scheme in order to boost cooperation and intelligence sharing between intelligence agencies. However, the competence of leaders who operate systems is always more important than the systems themselves. When intelligence estimates diverge as is characteristic with intelligence agencies, “open debate” within the government is necessary in order to reach the right conclusion. Leaders should listen to various intelligence estimates and mediate between different opinions in order to prevent misjudgment.

When leaders neither communicate nor take responsibility and merely yell out calls for hard-line policies, intelligence failure is inevitable. Why are authoritative leaders more incompetent than democratic leaders? This is because leaders should have the ability to not only communicate with the opposition and the media but also carry out internal negotiations that can bring out government organizations’ full capability. Cooperation among intelligence agencies and mediations by foreign policy and security departments categorically depend on a leader’s attitude, capacity, and sense of public accountability. Authoritative leaders tend to paralyze policy decision-making processes and destroy organizations. Only democratic leaders can reduce misjudgments, enliven organizations, and find sustainable alternatives.

Intelligence failure usually occurs when information is being analyzed, not gathered. The crux of the matter lies in prejudice. Prejudice causes one to discount other possibilities and gather information advantageous to one’s claim, leading to confirmation bias. Following intelligence failure, the claim that information-gathering budgets should be expanded always rears its head, but developments in information-gathering capabilities and the application of artificial intelligence technologies are useless as long as prejudice isn’t ruled out. Analyses fail not because of machines but because of humans.

Far-right forces that seek ideology instead of practicality grow on soil called prejudice. These forces distort history, deny facts, detest diversity, and lie frequently. Seeing the world through a lens called prejudice makes it difficult for one to read changes in reality. Naturally, these forces are adept at causing problems but inept at resolving them. The correlation between ideology and incompetence is evident.

Intelligence failure repeats itself as long as its causes aren’t fixed. Instead of admitting failure and using crises as an opportunity to unite the public, the far right mobilizes anger. Anger is a far cry from reason and fogs judgment. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan and Iraq by rallying anger. The two wars caused incalculable loss and deeply wounded American society before things returned to how they were before the war. The fact that a bridge called anger connects the intelligence failure of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the intelligence failure of the Iraq war should not be forgotten.

If the Netanyahu government’s advance toward Gaza is also based on anger, it will inevitably lead to another intelligence failure.

Domestically, the far right endangers democracy, instigates hatred, and encourages a politics of division rather than unity. While democracy is a system that acknowledges conflict while attempting to resolve it through communication within the confines of the system, the far right considers those with differing opinions as objects of annihilation based on extreme hostility. Diplomatically, it pursues ideology instead of interests, violence instead of peace.

We are at an age of chaos, when conflicts that had been provisionally settled are erupting into war all across the world. Caution and flexibility should be used in order to manage the stability of the Korean Peninsula. Excessively focusing on ideology will not protect our security within a quickly changing reality. What should we learn from lessons in Israel? Ideology is not policy, and anger is not a strategy.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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