Rich Cooper

Jul 14, 2009

Anyone who has ever visited London and traveled via ‘the Tube,’ (the City’s incredibly efficient and effective subway system) has probably heard the phrase “Mind the gap,” coming from the overhead speakers. This distinctly British warning reminds the Tube’s passengers to watch where they step when getting on and off the trains given the space that exists between train car doors and the subway platform – hence the phrase, “Mind the gap.”  That same phrase probably describes the world I visited last week and the one I live in back here in the US.  

To say my trip to the UK was an eye and mind opening experience would be an understatement.  Between attending two conferences and having the opportunity to meet with government, national security and public safety officials and private sector leaders as well as take in the amazing sights of London, you might say I had a bit of sensory overload – all in a positive sense.  While there is no doubt about the ‘special relationship’ that exists between the UK and the US, I did leave London cognizant of how the same world can look very different from ‘across the pond.’

For instance, when meeting some government officials I was asked where I thought the increasingly volatile situation in Pakistan ranked on the list of American foreign policy priorities.  I told them that I could only speak for myself, but I would have to score Pakistan probably an 8 or a 9 out of listing of top 10 foreign policy priorities.  

Some of these persons looked at me with utter shock.  Others, like I, had no idea how serious the situation was over there.  A couple of these persons pressed me why I ranked Pakistan so low.  

Trying hard not to look like I was an uninformed idiot (a hard thing for a guy like me to do) and help explain my reasoning, I offered what I saw as the top 10 priorities beginning with a uranium enriching Iran as the number 1 concern followed closely by concerns over the missile launching happy despotic regime in North Korea.  I ranked at number 3 the resurgent Taliban and US military operations in Afghanistan and at 4 the increasingly violent cartel drug wars in Mexico.  

As I began to detail the number 5 priority – Iraq, I was stopped by some of the Brits I was speaking with and greeted with some deeply puzzled looks.

“Mexico?  What’s happening there?” was the question I got from some of these persons.

I looked at them with same puzzled look that they had offered to me just moments before.

In responding to them I offered, “Ahhh…. Well there are these cartel drug wars against Mexican police and military forces that have literally created open warfare in significant portions of the country.  The result has been the deaths of hundreds police, soldiers, civilians and now Catholic priests are in the crosshairs as well.  These battles are starting to spill over into US-Mexico border areas and ….”

You could see the look in their faces that they had no idea that this was going on and my putting the issue on the table had caught them totally by surprise.  

All of them to my own surprise offered that they had not seen anything in their newspapers or broadcast media about it and asked me for more details.

It was an astonishing moment for me to realize that they did not know this was going on.  

I certainly didn’t think any of these persons to be uninformed about the happenings of the world.  In fact I would argue that the Brits I met with were far better informed about the happenings of our world than we are in the US.  While both of our countries shared in common the over-obsessive media coverage of the death of Michael Jackson, when it came to understanding the personal security concerns of our respective countries ‘a gap’ existed in some core areas that both we failed to fully appreciate of one another.

For the Brits, Pakistan is a teetering domino whose collapse into anarchy presents huge security and cultural implications for them abroad and on their immediate shores.

The exact same implications exist for the US should large portions of Mexico become a continued no-mans-land of lawlessness, murder and gunfire.

When I was challenged why North Korea was number 2 on my list I shared that 25,000 members of the US military were still stationed there and we remain technically still at war with them.  Combined with the fact that we’ve got at least five US states in their missile landing “splash zone” (Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington) and that with each launch they get a bit farther, it was definitely on our radar screen of concerns.  

Those were conditions that seemed to be unappreciated by my questioner.

Whether for Queen or Country, how we view the world is truly where we sit on it and how it looks from our shores, our borders or from our window at home.

Closing that ‘gap’ of understanding is something we have to ‘mind’ because at its core, our personal security at home is what we are all striving to preserve and protect.

Something that in an increasingly complex and interdependent world we all need to be more ‘mindful’ of.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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