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9:14PM

Concluding my stint with Knowfar Institute

Today I confirmed with Knowfar leadership that we won't proceed beyond the three-year research-fellow deal that I agreed to back in 2015. As recently as last spring they indicated a desire to have me teach a research methodology class to their network of foreign-affairs and security experts, but that sort of ambition seems to have dried up amidst the worsening of US-China relations this year. Knowfar, which had surprised me somewhat in the past with its willingness to push the envelope on acceptable topics for discussion (e.g., they had me analyze Xi Jinping's decision to abolish presidential term limits), now seems decidedly more circumspect in its research agenda. The institute doesn't need me for that pathway, so it makes sense to part ways.

As a result, I will post here the various reports I generated for Knowfar over the past three years. The institute never provided me with the Chinese translations, nor revealed where they were sent across Chinese national security circles. I wasn't particularly surprised by either decision, as I knew the whole enterprise was a shaky experiment from the start. 

I nonetheless want those reports entered into this record (my primary reason for having a blog in the first place), mostly so I won't lose track or simply forget about the work (500-plus publications into my mid-50s and I am constantly surprised to run into articles that I haven't entered into my personal bibliography). I also see their posting as logical protection against any future disinformation targeting by unfriendly forces (like the ubiquitous online bit pushed by Kremlin trolls that has this "retired Israeli general" advocating the reduction of collective European IQ rates through uncontrolled immigration by non-whites from the Gap! [Oh, if I had a shekel for every email I've received about that doozy, well . . . I'd have my IDF pension in full!]).

We live in strange times, to be sure. But we must remember that, for every great expansion (two steps forward), there is a subsequent and painful contraction (one step backward). Globalization is no different. Like I would sign my "Blueprint" volumes (NC-->NRs! [the New Core sets the new rules!]), the world now endures a lengthy period of rule-set conflict among the Core's largest players - a process accelerated and enhanced by America's decision to go retrograde with the Trump Administration (recall my frequent use of Dr.-Frankenstein-turning-on-his-creature analogies in "Great Powers").

But this too shall pass. Any American enterprise that relies on a base of aging white males (think NFL, CBS, NRA, GOP ...) is demographically doomed. White deaths outnumber white births in the vast majority of US states now, so pissing into that headwind is definitely an option, so long as you don't mind getting your socks wet.

Me? I don't worry about it whatsoever. I have great faith in the Millennials, who are the first truly unbiased generation America has ever produced. Gen Z only builds on that magnificent social achievement. My six kids (three of each) constantly amaze me on that score, and I take little-to-no credit for their development. They are just further proof that America consistently gets it right, growing greater with each generation of our world-shaping experiment.

 

3:09AM

Pictures from TRT World Forum panel

 

 

6:37PM

Video of "World In Or Out of Order?" session at TRT World Forum 20128

My moments come at:

  • 24:40 and
  • 46:15.

 

6:22AM

My prepared remarks at the TRT World Forum 2018 in Istanbul

I participated today in the panel entitled, "A World In or Out of Order? A Hundred Years Since WWII."

The following were my remarks prepared in advance.

I am by nature a contrarian, and on this panel, I will remain true to that nature. I don’t view the 20thcentury along the lines described by this forum’s organizers. I don’t recognize its most important historical dynamics in structural terms – multipolar, bipolar, unipolar, etc., because that approach tends to obscure today’s pressing challenges. It does so by convincing us that we live in a world of uncertainty, crisis, conflict, and even chaos – all historically false exaggerations. Our world is anything but fragmented. Instead, we live in a world full of predictability, control, orderly transactions, unprecedented peace, and unequaled prosperity. I do not dispute Turkey’s instinct to view the world in this way, but I’m going to offer you a different, more positive historical narrative – one that does not conflate globalization’s profoundly integrating forces with its social and political frictions, which pale in comparison. In this story, I’m going to sound very Marxist in my mindset, with technology and economics driving the vast bulk of change, while politics and security lag woefully – and sometimes tragically – behind. But, frankly, this is how it has always been – and should be, and so the future will be no different.

I begin my tale in the post-Civil War United States of the late 19thcentury.  Prior to that bloody conflict, America was an agrarian economy clearly divided into regional sections. But following that radically networking event, the nation’s three dozen states plunged into a vast integration scheme of infrastructure development, Westward consolidation, interstate investment, and rapid industrialization - making America the rising China of that era. The key political-economic dynamic? The emergence of the nation’s middle class and its famously insatiable demand for consumption. This led to boom-and-bust cycles generating horrific pollution, extreme income inequality, and pervasive corruption - all tamed by a Progressive Era triggered in response. America cleaned up its act and became a world power in the process.

As the 20thcentury dawned, Europe experienced many similar dynamics, even as colonialism allowed states to avoid accommodating the rising middle class – often until it was too late. The political equations here were simple: What did the poor want? They wanted protection from their circumstances. And the rich? As always, the rich wanted protection from the poor. But what this emerging middle class wanted was far more difficult to provide: protection from the future – from uncertainty that threatened their success.  What did Europe’s Left prescribe? Bolshevism, or rule from below to stifle the bourgeoisie. And Europe’s right? Fascism, or rule from above to protect shopkeepers from revolutionaries. But what was really needed was for the middle to rule itself – a process America pioneered across its progressive era. 

America’s salvation was to transform itself into a middle-class-centric political system – a complex effort led by two cousins of an ethnic Dutch family known as the Roosevelts. Traitors to their class, they regraded America’s economic landscape, placing middle class demands – and fears – at the center of governance. As World War II wound down, Franklin Roosevelt set in motion his “new deal for the world” – a liberal international trade order that we know today as globalization. That is what America actually achieved in the Cold War, which was – in retrospect – less about defeating the Soviets and more about setting in motion the rise of a global middle class, tripling its share from 1/5thof world population in 1950 to 3/5ths of today’s global economy.  Herein lie the planet’s essential challenges going forward.

Challenge #1: Meeting the global middle class’s insatiable demands for personal consumption, economic opportunity, and political freedom in their pursuit of happiness. The temptation here is obvious: retreat, out of fear, to old solutions. Vladimir Lenin’s greatest political invention was single-party rule, which supposes that humanity’s path to happiness is singular, and thus to be entrusted to an all-knowing single political party headed – invariably – by a single indispensable man. But there’s been enough history to know how that story ends – in economic stagnation and political revolt. Without political competition, all manner of innovation wanes. Walls are erected, exclusionary ethnic identities are prioritized, and connectivity with the outside world curtailed - all proven recipes for political failure leading to security breakdowns.

Challenge #2: The rise of the global middle class generates unprecedented resource requirements. Its demands are limitless: unlimited access to education, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited personal mobility, unlimited caloric intake, and unlimited electricity. When the middle class hailed solely from the West, meeting such demands required modest innovation in resource utilization schemes, but now, with 60% of the planet making such demands, there is an inescapable requirement for radical improvements in efficiency. This will not happen if single-party states are tasked with picking economic winners and losers; it will only happen if markets remain unfettered, if cross-border trade and investment flow with reasonable restrictions, and entrepreneurial freedom is enabled throughout the private sector.

Challenge #3: This much-needed adherence to the precepts of a liberal international economic order is now being tested, less so by the stubborn reassertion of single-party rule than by a profound crisis of confidence concerning that system’s enduring utility among its two greatest champions. Here I cite the UK’s stunningly self-inflected wound known as BREXIT, along with America’s historically predictable flirtation with authoritarianism, protectionism, and isolationism – in the form of Donald Trump – when its middle class senses an existential challenge (proximately, China’s rise, but artificial intelligence and robotics). America and the UK have experienced this scary political dynamic before and recovered, and they will do so again, thanks to avoiding the temptation of single-party rule. Competitive elections, whatever the level of partisanship, signal political vibrancy – not weakness. That is not optimism but realism.

The United Kingdom, thanks to its colonial past, and America, thanks to its history of welcoming immigrants, have been forced to adapt to the reality of a multicultural citizenry of synthetic ethnic identity. My own household is a microcosm of this process: After having three children, my wife and I adopted three girls from abroad – one from China and two from Ethiopia. Now, as our third child heads off to college, my wife and I, as white Americans, suddenly find ourselves the majority-minority within our own family – outnumbered by non-white immigrants! But this is already true in every major American city, in the states of Florida, Texas, and California, and in America’s zero-to-age-ten cohort. In just over a generation’s time, it will be true across America as a whole. America, like Britain, has little choice but to accept multiculturalism.

Here’s where the rest of the world will be forced into similar accommodations – my global challenge #4, for it is climate change that is driving this process of mass migration – not conflict. As the planet has warmed over the past several decades, we’ve seen species of all sorts move upward in elevation and pole-ward in latitude – in effect, abandoning an increasingly inhospitable middle Earth. The same is true of clouds, reflecting radical changes in weather patterns worldwide. Humans are not immune to this process, as both North and South are seeing mass migrations come their way, creating huge political tensions on a country-by-country basis and fueling that temptation to resort to, or reassert, the perceived sanctuary of single-party rule. As with rising ocean levels, this reaction is wishful thinking – holding back the tide with a broom.

I am under no illusions here: globalization is a revolutionizing, transformational dynamic. While virtually all nations welcome its physical and virtual connectivity, most have great difficulty processing its content. The former enables easy networking among globalization’s many rejectionists and violent extremists, while the latter prioritizes individual choice above all else – rendering that global middle class all the more unreasonable in its many demands. Here I locate my 5thglobal challenge:  the inescapable competition among the world’s great powers to recast the globalization’s essential rule set to their individual advantage – not just Trump’s America but Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China, to name only the most aggressive. While tumultuous and scary, this process of rebalancing the world order is inevitable and needed.

Simply put: America’s unipolar moments have long since passed –despite white America’s great nostalgia for the so-called good old days.  Globalization comes with rules but not a ruler. There is no single party smart enough or powerful enough to run this increasingly complex world. And while most Americans forget this truth, it was always America’s intention to spawn a world order stable enough to rule itself collectively. However awkward and annoying, the rise of Donald Trump proves that enduring instinct – an America made great again is one suitably unburdened of its disproportionate responsibility to run the world. As always, a proud America has a difficult time making its wishes clear to the world, and so we must all endure the tantrums of Trump, whose targets are accurate even as his tactics are atrocious.

I finish with my sixth global challenge. I believe – and trend analysis backs this up – that global capitalism presently achieves what Karl Marx once labeled its era of “superabundance,” in effect, when the world suffers too much disposable income – as opposed to not enough. This superabundance of worldwide consumption is what fuels climate change, animates the political restlessness of the global middle class, and attracts the planet’s economic migrants. In historical terms, these are the best problems we’ve ever faced. But what they tell us is this: it is not the world system’s structural order that will save us in the end, but a redefinition of capitalism among the world’s leading economies. That challenge captures the essence of a global progressive era that all responsible nations now instinctively seek, whether they realize it or not.

10:23AM

Recruitment Drive at GlobalWonks!

GlobalWonks is pursuing a recruitment drive on the eve of a product-offering launch later this month. The offering will allow clients to tap analysts with rapid-fire queries, for which those same analysts can receive rapid-fire compensation. So, if you're interested, it's time to get in on the ground floor. No big time commitment, and you have nothing to lose in giving it a try.

As noted previously, GlobalWonks’ intent is to offer an alternative to the traditional consulting model and allow those with expertise to be compensated for it, without having to become a full-time consultant. Our clients input the details of the project and our platform uses a matching algorithm to identify relevant experts based on the expertise tagged in their profile. Essentially, it's an opportunity to pick up independent consulting work when your schedule allows it.


If you would like to signup (it's free to join), you can do so by registering here: https://www.globalwonks.com/app/signup. Once your profile is approved and we launch later this summer, you’ll be automatically notified of relevant projects which you can accept at your convenience. 

If you have any nuts-and-bolts questions, please reach out to the action officer on recruitment, True Rains, at true.rains@globalwonks.com

10:38AM

Joining the Global Advisory Board of Global Wonks

 

Starting 1 June, I officially join the Global Advisory Board for Global Wonks, a network-of-experts start-up that targets small and medium enterprises with affordable and rapid access to subject matter experts at very low engagement thresholds, with the entire process occurring via the proprietary online platform. In terms of experts, the focus is on "soldiers, not generals," and likewise on global and domain spread versus sheer numbers. Not easy to join, but once in, you're able to "bid on projects, and complete them entirely through the GlobalWonks platform."

The basic idea here is compellingly simple: around the world stand thousands upon thousands of small-and-medium enterprises, the vast majority of which can't afford access to the traditional management consulting giants. It simply takes too long and too much money. On the other side stand a similarly large number of local/domain subject matter experts trying to get by in the (frankly) brutal gig economy.

Now, yes, there already are established players in this place, like GLG, Catalant, and Lynk, but they tend to be huge networks chasing large clients and, once in, your odds of actually making any money are depressingly low (this I know personally). Global Wonks right-sizes or symmetricizes that engagement space, keeping it all on its platform for ease of use in both directions.

For a sense of how it all works, see the embedded introductory video here.

And if you're interested in joining the network or investing, please reach out to me via the Contact Tom link above.

Rest assured that Global Wonks is not led by a bunch of first-timers seeking to revolutionize an industry they barely understand (been there, suffered that). We're talking about a team with over 75 years of cumulative experience in the global affairs consulting industry. The Global Advisory Board I'm joining is likewise populated by individuals of serious stature in the field and - just as importantly - who aren't just middle-aged white guys hailing from the U.S. national security realm (leave that token status to me, thank you very much!).

All in all, a very cool and exciting new venture for me.

12:03AM

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs ...

Remembering one of my favorite writings (refound here).

Creed of an American Grand Strategist

I am a great power. And so can you!

by Thomas P M Barnett

America today must dramatically realign its own post-9/11 trajectory with that of the world at large - a world undergoing deep transformation amidst great structural uncertainty. This realignment will require a new understanding of the world and America’s role in its evolution. Such an understanding is found in the realm of strategic thinking known as grand strategy.

Every functioning state pursues some form of grand strategy, either purposeful or accidental. Sometimes leaders will seek to sell a national strategy to the public, hoping to garner popular support. Other times they will keep it secret, because they can or because they must. In ages past, one leader might encompass this whole process. In today’s modern government, the norm is for hundreds and even thousands of key people to be involved, for change to be incremental and spread over years, and for significant disjuncture to occur only with shifts in top political leadership.

So when I speak of affecting significant and lasting change in America’s grand strategy, or its systematic approach to shaping this age of globalization, understand that I target not merely one administration or one party or one generation of leaders, but my nation’s sense of historical purpose - its political soul. America’s grand strategy must reflect its complex internal make-up as a people, but likewise its magnificent impact upon the world as its most successful multinational political and economic union. It must at once incorporate America’s imagined identity (we are the most synthetic of the world’s political creatures) and the world’s emerging ambitions, which we have enabled through our stewardship of global affairs. This challenge properly met, we bequeath unto our children a most wonderful world. Abandoned, we condemn them to a fate of dead-ended dreams and open-ended conflicts.

The modern grand strategist therefore aims to forge a lasting chain from analysis synthesized to vision spread to values embedded to leadership executed. A grand strategy is not an “elevator speech.” It cannot be slipped in like a password. Its why must be inculcated in younger minds so that, when they become older hands, these leaders know which levers of power to pull - and when.

Grand strategy is like imagining the chess game from start to finish, except that, in today’s world of rapidly spreading globalization, it’s never quite clear how many players are involved at any one moment or which pieces they actually control. That may make it seem like there are no rules, but that means it’s important to make explicit our definition of the rules and realize that playing consists largely of making our rule set seem attractive to others, regardless of how the game unfolds. This game-within-the-game resembles the highly iterative process of generating our own grand strategy. As Parag Khanna argues in his book, The Second World, the line distinguishing geopolitics (the relationship between power and space) and globalization (the global economy’s expanding connectivity) has been effectively erased. Therefore, my grand strategy—regardless of content—is mostly about trying to shape every other state’s grand strategy more than they shape mine. What was once highly hierarchical is now far more peer-to-peer in dynamics, thanks to globalization’s stunning advance. Still, while all great powers have grand strategies, some matter more than others.

After two decades of engaging the US national security establishment as a grand strategist, these are my articles of faith:

To be plausible, grand strategic vision must combine a clear-eyed view of today’s reality with a broad capture of the dominant trends shaping the near-term environment. It cannot posit sharp detours, much less U-turns, in history’s advance. This river’s course is set even as our journey upon it remains fraught with both promise and peril. Thus the vision does not seek to change human nature, which got us to this point quite nicely, but to placate it, thereby ensuring the portability of its strategic concepts (the dos and don’ts) among minds from different backgrounds, cultures and ages. No new human is required, just a solid fit between today’s inexhaustible ingenuity and tomorrow’s finite possibilities. So check your social Darwinism at the door, for all must gain admittance to this kingdom.

Grand strategic analysis starts with security, which is always 100 percent of your problem until it’s reasonably achieved. Then it’s at most about 10 percent of your ultimate solution. Scaling Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” involves far more than reaching that first rung. In any given conflict, if job creation is your only realistic exit strategy, then winning hearts and minds is an ephemeral victory at best. The grand strategist prefers stomachs and wallets any day. Humans are social creatures. They seek connectivity with one another across every possible avenue, leveraging each new technology to ends always self-fulfilling and sometimes self-destructive. This eternal search for new forms of connectivity defines globalization’s ceaseless advance throughout human history.

To remain realistic in this age of emerging hyper-connectivity, grand strategy must begin with the premise that security challenges will grow exponentially as a result of technology’s advance - the more connections, the more potential failure points. But to admit that challenge is not to surrender to its implied “chaos,” a judgment frequently employed by security experts to curtail serious exploration of grand strategy. All too often, they prefer to focus on contingency planning in a complex, “uncontrollable” world. Grand strategy purposefully aspires to be proactive, not merely protecting itself from failure, but exploiting avenues of success as they reveal themselves. Grand strategy is not a hypothesis but diagnosis combined with prescription.

Grand strategy is not clairvoyance; it does not seek to predict future events, but rather to contextualize them in a confident worldview. The goal is an opportunistic outlook that welcomes the churn of global events for the new, alternative pathways presented (“I hadn’t considered going that way up to now!”), eschewing the fatalism encouraged by mass media commentary (“These events have - yet again - cast grave doubts upon the possibility of achieving ...”). The unforeseen need not be the unexploited. In times of crisis, people naturally hesitate in choosing between what is right and what is easy, hence grand strategy must inculcate among its decision-makers a sense of confidence toward bargain-seeking behavior, both in terms of buying low (every crisis generates bargains in some form) and settling fast (i.e., cutting losses quickly). To employ a poker analogy, the grand strategist favors no chip - save his last. While the ultimate goal is always to increase his pot of earnings, the proximate goal in any hand is to gain admittance to the next round of play.

Grand strategy encourages realistic thinking about risk by comprehensively cataloguing the nation’s full complement of resources. The government may present both face and fist to the world outside, but it hardly reflects the country’s full instrumentality. This vast reservoir lies with the people and their collective ingenuity, which may or may not find adequate expression in the national economy, depending on the amount of economic freedom allowed therein. Americans tend to be overly impressed by authoritarian regimes, believing they represent the most formidable packaging of national will and skill. Of course, the opposite is true, especially in this age of expansive globalization; the many and the unleashed will always trump the few and the constrained. When we forget that, we find ourselves battling stubborn insurgencies of all sorts: among youth, across cyberspace, in postwar contingencies. Life finds a way of connecting ambition to resources within even the most controlled populations.

Grand strategic thinking always keeps the government’s role in proper perspective. Because of our Cold War experience, during which the fantastic dangers of global nuclear war shaped our popular sense of the US government’s global responsibilities, Americans invest far too much emotion in our government’s diplomatic interactions with the world and ascribe far too much power to our military’s ability to shape events. We are too proud of our victories and too stunned by our defeats, making us a sort of manic-depressive superpower that alternates between overestimating its strengths and exaggerating its weaknesses. By taking a long view of history, grand strategy encourages some much- needed humility regarding America’s place and power in the world. By understanding that hard power merely enables soft power by removing what the global community may judge - from time to time - to be intolerable barriers (e.g., extreme disconnectedness forced upon populations by dictators, dislocating disasters, continuing civil strife, or the general absence of political stability), we begin to understand the US military’s subordinate role: globalization’s bodyguard, but hardly its keeper. Globalization comes with rules but not a ruler.

The emerging global rule set is always under adjustment - more so during crisis. The only constant rule is that rules are constantly changing. The grand strategist tracks these evolutions across various sectors primarily for the purpose of gap analysis. These gaps are only incrementally revealed under normal circumstances, and conflicts can exacerbate them to the point of severe system crisis, which globalization - in its sum expression of connectivity, rules, alliances and mutual understanding - is getting better at processing. The grand strategist is therefore interested more in direction than degree of change, and he recognizes that politics lags dramatically behind economics and that security lags dramatically behind connectivity. His work is primarily concerned with keeping those gaps from growing too large by filling them in with new rule sets distinctly favorable to his vision, defined across the levels of system, state and individual (from Kenneth Waltz).

The grand strategist resists the demands of narrow thinkers to declare some collection of states or developmental model or industry paradigm as currently transcendent. Such choices are required only among the narrowest of minds (or the most savvy editors) out of fear that their arguments (or publications) won't find purchase unless some clear niche can be canonically fenced off. To wit, a joke: What do you call a grand strategist who promotes a new grand strategy every few weeks? A newspaper columnist. When pundits drown out strategists, the end of reason is truly near. So grand strategists do not entertain, much less succumb to, single-point-failure doomsaying, because system-wide thinking adheres to the horizontal view, not the vertical drill-down of experts who say, "I don't know anything about the rest of all that, I just know that my [insert favorite apocalyptic scenario here] makes your entire vision impossible!" Systematic thinking about the future means you're not "for" or "against" issues like peak oil or global warming or water scarcity, you just accept the dynamics implied and rank them accordingly. A holistic approach must be the grand strategist's calling card, leaving fear-mongers to the corners into which their need for binary, zero-sum outcomes ("A is up, so B must be down") paints them. The grand strategist welcomes such analysis as he welcomes all such data points. He simply refuses the accompanying Kool-Aid.

And so, the grand strategist is neither surprised nor dismayed when the awesome force of globalization’s tectonic shifts elicits vociferous or even violent friction from locals, for these are the essential drivers of conflict in our age. Success is not about avoiding any violence, but effectively processing the anger behind all violence. We live in a time of pervasive and persistent revolutions. Hardly able to prevent all eggs from cracking, the grand strategist wants only to make sure that the resulting omelets are not thoroughly wasted. In today’s super-empowered environment, anybody can play cook. Fight that inevitability and you’ll be taking on all-comers in never-ending conflict.

America’s grand strategists should calculate applications of hard power with the emotional detachment that comes with knowing that history is on our side. More than two centuries ago, the original anti-imperialist league of 13 colonies birthed the American System (Henry Clay’s term) of states uniting and economies integrating in collective security. Once the European version of “glo-colonialization” self-destructed in a massive civil war (1914-1945), our American system was successfully projected onto the global landscape, yielding an international liberal trade order first known as the West and now known simply as globalization. It is the first global “empire” in human history that both enriches and empowers its alleged “subjects,” and Dr Frankenstein’s monster, a truly world-spanning middle class, will inevitably emerge as the 21st century’s most awesome social force. Capturing that majority’s ideological “flag” constitutes the primary task of all grand strategy in the years and decades ahead.

Today’s grand strategist is “present at the creation” of some new world, the anticipation of which gets him out of bed each morning, ready to do battle yet again - room by room. His victories are not measured in battles won nor crises averted, but in minds shaped and leadership revealed.

Dr Thomas P M Barnett is a strategic planner who has worked in national security affairs since the end of the Cold War. He is a prolific author, whose latest book, Great Powers: America and the World After Bush (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0399155376?ie=UTF8&tag=thompmbarn- 20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0399155376) , will be published next month. His blog can be accessed at http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/ (http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the International Relations and Security Network (ISN).

Creative Commons "Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported"

© 2009 ISN, Center for Security Studies (CSS), ETH Zurich, Switzerland 

12:13PM

Speech in Denver this month

8:49PM

"Filling the Gap Between War and Peace: Creating a Stability Command"

Non-professionals talk more about the geostrategic Gap, while professionals speak more about this capabilities/institutional gap, which I proposed to fill with the SysAdmin force - always described as:

  • More civilian than uniform
  • More USG than DoD
  • More ROW than USA, and 
  • More private-sector than public sector (hence my later career stops at Enterra and now iJET). 

NOTE: when the author, Hardy Merrill, later finds my SysAdmin end-strength estimate for post-invasion Iraq too high, it may be that he's discounting my quartet of caveats above.

Later on (Blueprint), I did speak of a de facto stability command, which would be the footprint equivalent of SOCOM's current operational reach (I got the idea from senior SOCOM officers), and - nye sluchaino - would eventually match up fairly well with ISIS's global caliphate map.

H/T Phil Wisecup, a great naval officer and an old friend and neighbor.

A solid historical analysis and a well-structured argument by this Capt. Merrill out of Bragg. That opening factoid of 11 big wars versus 320 small ones is a stunner, when you think about it.

I include a link to my 2005 TED talk because Merrill cited it three times in his essay.

A Small Wars Journal and Military Writers Guild Writing Contest Finalist Article

Filling the Gap Between War and Peace: Creating a Stability Command

Hardy P. Merrill

Clausewitz tells us that low-intensity conflict is continuous, while “Absolute War” or “Total War” is like a volcano requiring years of preparation.[1] In its short existence, the United States has participated in 11 full-scale wars and 320 low-intensity conflicts.[2]  Considering Western powers’ avid study of Clausewitz, why has no one built a lasting, autonomous and networked force for handling small wars? We accept that there will always be another war, and we have built the force capable of dominating “Total War.” It is time to build a standing force that bridges the gap between war and peace.

In The Pentagon’s New Map, Dr. Thomas Barnett provided a rough road map for establishing a transition force in 2004. To be successful, the force must transcend the conventional structure of line wire diagrams at the tactical level. To accomplish this, we need to address organizational structure, military culture and design. Addressing these factors will provide us with the Comprehensive Approach that Joint Publication (JP) 3-07 preaches to achieve peace in the 21st Century. This paper will propose a Joint Force Command centered on stability operations that will fall under the umbrella of the Department of Defense (DoD) ...

Read the entire essay at Small Wars Journal.

 

9:01PM

America the Aggrieved Departs Center Stage

Alex Wong/Getty Images

It was always going to be the case that America would eventually want/have to renegotiate its relationship with the world and the many great powers whose rise we encouraged and accommodated.  Eight years ago I published an entire book (Great Powers) that laid out a host of accommodations, deals, renegotiations, compromises, etc. that we'd have to pursue to re-rationalize our relationship with the world and globalization itself - the most obvious being we'd have to get along with, and forge new, more realistic and equitable relationships with New Core powers like China, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and so on. As I have maintained for a couple of decades now, globalization comes with rules - but not a ruler.

President Obama did a lot of good things while in office, most notably symmetricizing the war on terror (our SOF/drones against their badasses). But he also engaged in the ill-conceived and poorly executed "Asian pivot," created a serious great-power leadership vacuum in SW Asia (into which strode Russia and Iran), and abandoned all pretense of responsible nation-building (logically adhering to the pottery barn rule - yes, but doing it by sharing both the burden and the decision-making with all those far-more-local-and-incentivized New Core powers named above). By doing these things, Obama encouraged the "G-Zero" atmosphere that President Trump now exploits to complete his very dark take on the state of America and the world - a take that allows him to regurgitate the "America First" vision of pre-superpower America.

That vision is arguably the greatest threat that our democracy faced in the 20th century, and, to my deep dismay, we toy with it again in the 21st.

Do I think it will succeed as a lasting grand strategy?  No.

Do I think this administration will be allowed to pursue it sufficiently to inflict great damage on the global economy (and us by rebound)?  Also no, but I will admit to worrying greatly about that possibility. American-hatched-and-nurtured globalization is here to stay. We simply were too successful in spreading it, creating vast and deep constituencies for its survival in a host of rising economies - most notably in the BRICS (whom I have identified for a dozen-or-more years now as our natural allies of this century).

Do I think there's a better and right way to do this?  Sure.

Much of what President Trump said today contained grains of truth - very important grains of truth:

  • America did seek to encourage the rise of other powers - at its own expense.
  • America did seek to spread liberal trade - at its own expense.
  • America has provided more security to the world than the world did in return.

And you know what? Our efforts fueled the greatest advance in human development, peace, prosperity, and freedom that the world has ever witnessed.

Simplest numbers: 

  • In 1950, 55% of the world's population was living in extreme poverty. Today that number is just under 10%.
  • In 1950, only 23% of the world's population could be described as middle-class. Today that number is 58%. 

All that happened as the world ballooned from a 1950 population of 2.5B to 7.3B today.

That means that, in absolute terms, the number of people living in extreme povery decreased from 1.4B in 1950 to 650m today, while the middle class skyrocketed from 575m to 4.2B! So, we cut extreme poverty in half - in absolute terms, and increase the global middle class over seven-fold. 

Amazing stuff.

That's what American "empire," "hegemony," "militarism," "imperialism," etc. actually wrought. 

Did we stress the planet?  Yes.

Was it worth it? Most definitely. Nobody living in extreme poverty gives a rat's ass about the environment - nor should they. You want environmentalists? Get yourself a big middle class.

Does our role in enabling the globalization of the international liberal trade order (based on the model of these United States) these past seven-plus decades mark us as the world's greatest nation? Absolutely.

Were we slated to play this pre-eminent role forever? Hardly.

Did the time come, in the Great Recession, for America to begin re-calibrating its role in the world. Yea, and I wrote a whole book on that.

So am I surprised or dismayed by Trump's ascendancy? No to the first, yes to the second.  You give me Mike Bloomberg in exactly the same role, and I'm loving it.

The correction is long overdue, and it's driven by what I (in Blueprint for Action) once dubbed any country's "caboose" - namely, its conservative, rural, interior poor. What I said back then (2005) is what I still say: The train's engine can travel no faster than its caboose.

That's true of globalization itself and it's true of every nation in the global economy - including ours. Because, if you go too fast, you end up like Iran after the Shah's White Revolution - in a reactionary backlash that can f*#k you up for a very long time.

How much is Obama to be blamed for not doing more to address America's "caboose" these past 8 years? No more than the GOP House and Senate membership. As I have stated for many years now, the Boomers have been a complete disaster as a generation of political leaders (and the Gen Xers pulled in their wake haven't been much better up to now). [Note: I remain supremely optimistic about the Millennials for many reasons long and often noted in past writings and speeches.]

In the end, America was going to flirt with economic nationalism. We went overboard on security after 9/11 (forcing the Obama retrenchment), and it was inevitable that the Great Recession would eventually push us to experiment with the self-destruction that is trade protectionism, wall-building, economic nationalism, and the mercantilist dream of winner-takes-all. In short, when we want change, we tend to freak out. That's the hidden opportunity cost of democracy. We don't do incremental change very well. That's why the Founding Fathers built in so many checks and balances - all of which I expect to function well across the Trump administration.

The pity is, America can and should renegotiate a more self-preserving economic relationship with the global economy. I truly believe the world knows it's time and it's the fair thing to do. And frankly, with China so "risen," the world economy no longer needs to rely on the US consumer so much, meaning we have it within our power to genuinely self-correct greatly while demanding appropriate "gives" from the rest of the world for whom we did so much to fuel globalization's successful rise and continuing durability.

But, again, we're not like that. When we freak out in any direction, it's all the way. That's what generations and generations of A-type personalities interbreeding gets you - and Trump is the perfect embodiment of that self-centered ambition and aggression.

My best positive spin on Trump is that he's crazy like a fox and will exploit all his over-the-top rhetoric and threats to achieve the much-needed recalibration between America and the world.

But I will readily admit that I fear he's an overboard character elevated by America's typically overboard political impulses, and that we'll learn many hard lessons over the next four years.

Either way, I've often said in speeches that America gets the president we need - and deserve, even as the course corrections pursued are often way too much.

But that's just who we are.

I will say, though, that I don't much care for this America the aggrieved persona. It strikes me as too full of self-loathing and far too fearful. I prefer the "better angels" and "shining city on a hill" stuff.

Because that's actually more of who we are.

But, rest assured, the Great Recalibration that I spent chapter upon chapter detailing in "Great Powers" is most definitely in full swing now. Obama got it rolling but it's moving into high gear with Trump. It could be done right and I expect it to be done mostly wrong by this raucous crew, but the effect is the same. [Much like Bush with the Big Bang strategy: If he does Iraq right, he scares the crap out of the region and triggers tumultuous change. And if he does Iraq badly, same outcome.]

America is headed toward a future of diminished global leadership: this is - and always has been - the price of our fantastic success in spreading American-style globalization.

Yes, the world is full of idiots who will proclaim America's relative "decline" in zero-sum terms. But don't let them bother you. What we did for humanity is the greatest single achievement ever accomplished by a nation-state - in addition to being the most Christian display of generosity and sacrifice by a country.

Point being: America has never been greater than it is now.

Remember that in the weeks and months and four years ahead. 

3:42PM

If you can keep your head when all about you ...

Reuters at WAPO

Great WAPO piece on US intell community surging a response to growing evidence of Kremlin-directed hacking of our election infrastructure.

The key bit of description:

U.S. intelligence officials described the covert influence campaign here as “ambitious” and said it is also designed to counter U.S. leadership and influence in international affairs.

Ambition to counter US leadership in the world ... Damn straight and we must get used to it - whether or not we continue with Obama's hands-off global leadership style.

Russia, like China, wants to reshape both global agendas and rules, having watched the US blithely dominate both since Cold War's end.

This is natural and thus to be expected, particularly as we have signaled to both that we prefer our old allies to accommodating them as our new and inevitable partners in managing this world (understanding that, if we take the long view, it's China first, then India, then Russia et al. in terms of combined economic-military heft and thus strategic importance).

But, for now, with both China and India still feeling their way toward superpower-dom, Putin is the cream of the leadership crop, arguably matched only by Merkel in savvy, boldness, and vision.

Why Trump scares me: he simply isn't smart enough to play at that level, as he is embarrassingly easy to manipulate. My God, would Putin enjoy abusing him for four years.

With Clinton, the fear has to be: will she be embroiled in controversy and scandal all the time (some real, mostly manufactured by her opponents - again a venue where Putin will find many useful American idiots)? Or does she prove to be Merkel's match?  We can only hope.

But back to the point here: this is exactly the sort of influence/agenda-setting/rule-setting-and-bending competition to which we must grow accustomed, not in the sense that we're new to it (we do it in our sleep - please), but that we haven't had any serious direct competitors for a long time (really, a solid quarter-century).

You will say, "But Russia is messing with our process in a manner that we would never dare to pursue with them."

Well, yes and no. 

It all depends on perceptions. America would never try anything that direct, but our indirect methods of supporting democratization are often interpreted by autocratic regimes like China and Russia as direct meddling. That is simply a reflection of the robustness of our political system and the brittleness of theirs. To autocrats, who fear their own people far more than outside forces, even the most indirect sort of pressuring in the direction of democratization comes off as a direct challenge to the rule. That's not to say that we shouldn't engage in such activities, because we most definitely should. Rather, it is to say that, when we do engage in such activities, we can't become upset when those regimes push back in similar - if asymmetric - ways. 

As always, the key is to remember that time is on the side of democracy - as is technology (Orwell continues to be wrong).

So what I really like about this article is the calm and matter-of-fact manner that our political system - for now - is displaying in its reactions to Putin's dirty tricks (putting aside Harry Reid's cited fear factor). In many ways, this is the cyber struggle of the future: not as a precursor to great power war or strategic conflict, but rather as a day-to-day tool of influencing other systems and shaping the international rules to one's own advantage. If we come to accept this as an inescapable reality, while avoiding the temptation for hyperbole and freaking out, then we'll continue to be just fine.

Do I think Clinton can manage that? Yes.

But Trump? Far too risky a proposition. He'd just be in way over his head.



Thomas P.M. Barnett
Sent from my iPhone

9:47PM

What Does Russia/Putin Seek?

Putin's Russia is becoming the Trump of international security: dominating the news cycle with a constant stream of bold moves (Syria, for example) and often outrageous affronts (Russian hackers just did what?!?!). Just like Clinton will win the White House while The Donald is named Time's Person of the Year (bet on it), Obama's "long game" (see Chollet's new book) may be sound, even as it's seemingly trumped (that word again) on every strategic front by Putin's nonstop shenanigans.

So what does Putin seek for Russia?

The obvious answer is: as much reconstruction of the old Soviet empire (however virtually achieved by various Finlandizations) as possible, combining that sometimes actual revanchism with a successful dismemberment of the EU and NATO, leaving Germany once again living in complete fear of its intentions (Russia has ALWAYS been just that into Germany).

Not by a long shot does that constitute an attempted overturning of the world order. It is far better described as a leapfrogging by a resurgent Russia over the faltering "West" (retreating US, freaking-out Europe, aging Japan [where adult-diaper sales now trump baby-diaper sales]) into the Trumpian position of Initiator-in-Chief (a role once clearly held - and abused - by the Bush Administration but clearly abandoned by Lead-From-Behind Obama).

So what does Putin seek for Russia? He wants Russia to be #1 on everybody's speed dial, search engine, and worry list.

And he's readily achieving it.

That's the thing about an essentially US-constructed (and typically led) world order: when we step back to stare at the horizon, others will step in. Ultimately those others will be China and India, but neither is ready for that now. India hasn't hit its demographic/industrialization inflection point yet and China is too obsessed with its front-yard "pond" (their strategic equivalent of staring at one's bellybutton and muttering, Mine! All mine!).  

So we get Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey running the show in the Center (see map above), while America focuses more on home (and the West Hemisphere) and China looks to lock down the East.

In my old vernacular, the "Gap-shrinking" continues, it is just more obviously and geographically divvied up, with Asian great powers (China, India, Japan) nonetheless forced into some competitive thrusts into the Center (particularly Africa) for reasons both immediate (resource access) and long term (tomorrow's biggest cheap-labor - and consumer - pool).

America, secure in both its energy and food/water (and increasingly Latinized and Millennialized), continues to turn inward for a lengthy Progressive Era that it desperately needs.

Still, we have to play both the Home and Away games, and here is where it gets particularly challenging for the West: imagine Hillary, May (UK), and Merkel (Germany( leading the West's pushback against Putin's many international micro-aggressions. You just know that that macho Vlad will assume he's got the upper hand. One can almost see the misogynystic cartoon: Vlad, in wife-beater shirt, daring  the cowering women to take in the "gun show" (hat tip, Ron Burgundy) as he holds his backhand above his head, poised in bitch-slap-delivery mode.

So yes, expect Vlad to keep pushing things until the West (and specifically America) pushes back, and expect him to continuously elevate his game with little fear of long-term cost.

Putin has seen enough of Obama's "long game" (where America often punted on early downs) to know that, absent a serious course change, the Center field (Europe-writ large, Muddle East, Africa) is his for the reshaping right now (much as Xi Jinping views the East).

This is why any President-Elect Clinton needs to move fast and project an image of a serious housecleaning both internally and - eventually abroad.

But again, none of this signals an existential threat to the system, because, quite frankly, all our great power competitors (not enemies) find it all too much to their liking.

Was this phase of globalization inevitable?

Yes. Nothing moves ever upward in a straight line. It's more Dora's bit about just keep swimming.

America built something so amazing, transformative, beneficial, and enriching that there was zero chance we could control globalization ad nauseum - anymore than we could rule the Internet forever.

Remember: globalization comes with rules but no ruler (a wise man once wrote that).

A dozen years ago I penned a piece for WAPO stating that America's prime partners of tomorrow would be China, Russia, and India (Turkey also mentioned), and that, yes, we'd end up uncomfortably accommodating each in that pathway.  [I soon after added Iran to that group.]  My goal in that piece was simply to signal that the days of America, Europe and Japan constituting a quorum of great powers was over.

At that time, the notion was laughed off.

Not so funny now, is it? I mean, look who's running the Middle East?  China and India are the biggest buyers, while Turkey, Iran, and Russia have all ascended as security actors. I never said we'd be close with any of them, just that we'd have to work with all of them.

Having said all this (again), we need to avoid our usual freak-out response pattern regarding all these powers. Yes, America enjoyed and exploited its post-Cold War unipolar moment to ram globalization down everyone's throats (I approved whole-heartedly), triggering the best set of problems the world has ever known. But that thrust, while an amazing gift to humanity (all that wealth creation, hundreds of millions lifted out of poverty, percentage of extreme poverty less than 10% of human population for first time in history, and a majority global middle class for the first time in history) was unsustainable for the US (or, more accurately, the US consumer and all the personal debt we took one).

Now we move dumbfoundedly into the period where the world's most dynamic great powers seek to consolidate rule-set spheres of influence ("This is how things work around here!"). This period was always inevitable, but keep in mind that we are not looking at the resurrection of great power war (no matter how many hard-talking security types sell you that every night on the news). MAD remains in force with no "offset" required.

What we face now is an extended clash not of civilizations but of great-power rule-sets.

What should America do?

We should persistently and pointedly defend our national interests while not pushing our norms as the only acceptable answer. We tend toward the opposite tack - a habit long ingrained by our "global cop" burden. But that burden has been overtaken by events and developments that we have long sought - a genuine multi-polarity that respects the international structure we've created even as each great power seeks to rule its individual roost (to expect otherwise is naive in the worst way).

So we should stay calm and carry on with our necessarily transformative regrading of our political (less distance between leaders and led) and economic (less tilted toward rich) landscapes. In short, we need to proceed with the next great progressive American era that redefines 21st century capitalism in light of globalization's swift conquering of the planet - finally (with a hat tip to K. Marx) but only under America's tutelage (none of those thieving European empires came even close).

Again, these are the best problems humanity has ever faced - problems of success and not failure.

So, chin up as this US election gets even nastier and more weird - and as daily revelations emerge concerning Moscow's (or Beijing's or Tehran's or Ankara's) latest transgression.

The world system we built remains secure, even as virtually every state now faces very hard choices between open and closed, connected or disconnected, or drawbridges up or down (per the Economist). These are natural reactions and we were all certain to confront these as a result of the Great Recession. What matters now is what we as Americans choose and how we lead - as always - by example.

Make no mistake: I'd gladly take our path and our fundamentals and our challenges over those of any other great power out there - yet another reason to keep all such frenemies in perspective. Neither they nor our true enemies (violent extremist organizations, plus those just-plain-nutty North Koreans) pose any existential threat to either us or our amazingly sturdy world order.

Simply put, don't believe the hype, even as we keep an eye on Russia's Trump.

11:33PM

London Review of Books on Perry Anderson's treatment of my work

Thomas Meaney review's Anderson's book (American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers by Perry Anderson
Verso, 244 pp, £14.99, March 2014, ISBN 978 1 78168 667 6), which I excerpted here.

He overstates my trust in the market (Anderson noted my call for a lengthy progressive era [21st century edition], but so be it.

Meaney also postions me (allegedly per Anderson) as the polar opposite of Kagan, when Anderson noted our similarities (essentially calling Kagan a political determinist to my economic determinist). 

At the opposite end of the strategy spectrum from Kagan, Anderson has found a curious specimen. Thomas Barnett is a former Naval Academy instructor, and a self-declared economic determinist who delivers TED talks to the military top brass about the limits of American power. His work, Anderson writes, is ‘not unlike a materialist variant, from the other side of the barricades, of the vision of America in Hardt and Negri’s Empire’. ‘America needs to ask itself,’ Barnett writes in Great Powers (2009), ‘is it more important to make globalisation truly global, while retaining great-power peace and defeating whatever anti-globalisation insurgencies may appear in the decades ahead? Or do we tether our support for globalisation’s advance to the upfront demand that the world first resembles us politically?’ For Barnett, the answer is clear: America must trust in the market, which will solve all strategic problems. Russia? It is experiencing its Gilded Age, and will come around in fifty years. China? Already capitalist anyway, and Xi is just China’s version of Teddy Roosevelt trying to root out corruption and make markets more functional. Iran? Proceed with every deal possible, let the market penetrate, and stop threatening it with military strikes. Tell Israel to back off: Iran will take the position in the Middle East to which its culture and educated population entitle it. North Korea? First let Beijing extract from it all the minerals it needs. Then, when it reaches rock bottom, the Chinese will invite the South Koreans in to clean up the mess. In a world so tilted in the US’s favour, Barnett calls for drastically reducing the military to a small force with only a handful of bases that will be used to handle terrorist pin-pricks. In every other respect the time has come for stay-at-home capitalist husbandry.

Hat tip to my old mentor Hank Gaffney for alerting me to this.

7:59PM

The Hegemon's Dilemma


Great bit from recent Economist story on how Germany is the only European state showing any genuine leadership (versus thinking only of itself):

In a Europe overshadowed by Brexit, Germany is thus feeling the dilemma of hegemony that America has known for seven decades: the temptation to use its power in its own interests conflicts with the duty to use that power to preserve global order. In Europe that means containing the EU’s “centrifugal forces”, as Mrs Merkel said repeatedly in the week after the referendum. 

12:50PM

"Pentagon's New Map" and "Blueprint for Action" coming out in German/Germany this November

The ad:

 

The links:

 

 

Will enjoy this translation in particular, as I can still read German from my PhD work.

In Changsha, China right now for some meetings/discussions with Hunan Academy of Social Sciences, but publisher asked me to post right away.

For all of you who asked why no German versions? all these years, apparently it took the flood of refugees/migrants from the Gap for the ideas to receive some direct attention in Germany. Yes, I realize that most of the media coverage concerning me has been inaccurate - to say the least. But now readers can decide for themselves.

Looking back on my arguments about Europe having to take in far larger numbers of immigrants to avoid a too-rapidly-aging demographic profile: I run into Europeans all the time who say, "That's easy for you to say but we have to deal with these people! And pay for it all!"

Well . . . having run that very experiment in my own family (three biological kids later augmented by one Asian and two Africans) . . . yeah, I do know a thing or two about the complications, costs, challenges, etc.

And I still make the same arguments. In this world, you go diverse or you're going down.

Fortunately, despite the nativist white blacklash here in the States, that's how the vast majority of Americans feel too, according to this Economist-published polling:

 

More than half of Americans answered "better" (dark blue) and more than 90% said "better/no difference" (latter being light blue) while less than 10% said "worse" (pink).

The numbers from European countries (larger pink "worse" blocs) are far more "drawbridges up" - as the Economist put it.

Thank God we have always been a synthetic country/citizenry/identity. 

 Yes, I also realize the titles are a bit jacked-up in translation. First think you learn as a writer: you don't get to title your articles/books.

 

12:33PM

Looking for a new career home

In the words of Dane Cook, I did my best.

But it's time to move on to something where I can genuinely move the needle.

My spouse now has her MSW and is interviewing for jobs in the Midwest, so I'm simultaneously more flexible in thinking about a potential new home (the potential for relocation) and more desirous for stability (I'd love to stay here in Madison if I could - for my younger kids' sake and so my spouse can jumpstart her career in a state where she's most credentialed).

I will continue to do consulting and speeching via Barnett Consulting, and I will remain with the Beijing-based Knowfar Institute and the Annapolis-HQ'd iJet in those adjunct positions, but I am actively looking now for a stable base relationship - the sun around which all my other endeavors orbit.

Along those lines, already talking to two places about such a relationship, but I'm also encouraging inbound offers from anyone out there who thinks I'd be a good match. So please contact me at will.

 

12:08PM

Making It Hardest For The Most Resilient Among Us

HUMANITY HAS TRANSFORMED THE NATURE OF LIVING OVER THE PAST CENTURY, ROUGHLY DOUBLING LIFE EXPECTANCY AT BIRTH AND THUS SHIFTING THE MEAN AGE RADICALLY UPWARD. This changes the structure of all societies, albeit at uneven paces. Globally, the worker-to-elder-dependent ratio was 12:1 in 1950, dropping only to 9:1 in the year 2000. But with globalization's profound expansion over the last 25 years, we're looking at a ratio of just 4:1 in 2050 (per the UN). That's an amazing burden shift that will be accommodated by people working later in life, technology and productivity advances, and — most crucially — the proper harnessing of youth as future labor. The big problem? Most of those youth are located in the emerging South, where a 10:1 ratio will still exist in 2050, whereas the advanced West will be looking at an untenable 2:1 ratio.

This is why I have advocated, throughout my career, for the West's open borders and active recruitment of immigrants from younger parts of the world. It is the only realistic solution — necessary even as it's insufficient (people will have to work longer and productivity will need to advance). Right now, Westerners seems to be dazzled by the imagery of robots running all and there being no work to be done, but this is a queer illusion that encourages inward-looking perspectives on the future, the classic example being Japan. The zero-sum mindset is also unrealistically greedy — as in, we have ours, so tough on you.

And yes, this generational divide, so well encapsulated in a North-South divide, dovetails quite negatively with the unequal social and environmental burdens generated by climate change, which likewise pits the "old" poles against" young" Middle Earth.

Simply put, we are eating our seed corn.

On this disturbing global trend comes a great editorial in the EconomistSome highlights, with commentary:

Roughly a quarter of the world’s people—some 1.8 billion—have turned 15 but not yet reached 30. In many ways, they are the luckiest group of young adults ever to have existed. They are richer than any previous generation, and live in a world without smallpox or Mao Zedong. They are the best-educated generation ever . . . they are also more intelligent than their elders. If they are female or gay, they enjoy greater freedom in more countries than their predecessors would have thought possible. And they can look forward to improvements in technology that will, say, enable many of them to live well past 100.

Another theme of my work over the years: when America stood up and took on the responsibility of running the world after WWII, it didn't simply replicate the global orders imposed sequentially by Europe's colonial powers over the centuries. Instead, it fundamentally reshaped it to enable global economic integration on an unprecedented scale — and based on our own model of states uniting. This is the primary reason why global standards of living have skyrocketed over the past half century.

But this creates class and generational consciousness on a global scale:

Just as, for the first time in history, the world’s youngsters form a common culture, so they also share the same youthful grievances. Around the world, young people gripe that it is too hard to find a job and a place to live, and that the path to adulthood has grown longer and more complicated.

The primary culprit? "Policies favouring the old over the young."

Last hired, first fired is the most obvious one:

In most regions they are at least twice as likely as their elders to be unemployed. The early years of any career are the worst time to be idle, because these are when the work habits of a lifetime become ingrained. Those unemployed in their 20s typically still feel the “scarring” effects of lower income, as well as unhappiness, in their 50s.

This is very bad news for a planet experiencing rapid demographic aging, the scariest and most self-destructive expression being the tendency of the old to want to "keep out" the foreign or "scary" young. This is a great deal of the emotion behind America's current passion for such slogans as "make our country great again!" It is simply nostalgia for the way things were.

But it denies us sufficient access to the most important resource on the planet — namely, youthful ambition and drive and creativity:

Young people are often footloose. With the whole world to explore and nothing to tie them down, they move around more often than their elders. This makes them more productive, especially if they migrate from a poor country to a rich one. By one estimate, global GDP would double if people could move about freely. That is politically impossible—indeed, the mood in rich countries is turning against immigration. But it is striking that so many governments discourage not only cross-border migration but also the domestic sort … A UN study found that 80% of countries had policies to reduce rural-urban migration, although much of human progress has come from people putting down their hoes and finding better jobs in the big smoke.

The aging of the North is making it brittle, self-centered, and selfish in spirit, and this is being increasingly reflected in government policies, in large part because, on average, 3 out of 5 elders regularly vote while only 1 out of 5 youth do.

The old have always subsidised their juniors. Within families, they still do. But many governments favour the old: an ever greater share of public spending goes on pensions and health care for them. This is partly the natural result of societies ageing, but it is also because the elderly ensure that policies work in their favour. By one calculation, the net flow of resources (public plus private) is now from young to old in at least five countries, including Germany and Hungary. This is unprecedented and unjust—the old are much richer.

This is where the newspaper nails the long-term danger:

That is a cruel waste of talent . . . Rich, ageing societies will find that, unless the youth of today can get a foot on the career ladder, tomorrow’s pensioners will struggle. What is more, oppressing youngsters is dangerous. Countries with lots of jobless, disaffected young men tend to be more violent and unstable . . .

The great challenge of the North's rapid demographic aging is resisting the general political crabbiness that comes with growing old, which eventually turns us all into cranky, get-the-hell-off-my-lawn types.

I don't know about you, but I don't dream of a future of gated communities populated mostly by the elderly who receive "personal care" from robots. That sounds more like the North turning itself into a giant nursing home.

Social resilience is a renewable resource, but it gets renewed generation by generation. We are not promoting that dynamic today in the West/North, and it will come back to haunt us.

 

3:56PM

The Internet of Things: Resistance Is Futile, But Resilience Is Fruitful

 

CONTINUING LAST FRIDAY'S THEME OF WHO'S-SPYING-ON-YOU, A DISTURBING ARTICLE FROM CBS NEWS HIGHLIGHTS HOW YOUR SMART PHONE CAN BE USED AGAINST YOU IN A VARIETY OF CRIMINAL/NEFARIOUS WAYS. What this reminds us is that, per the security expert cited in the story, we're all basically carrying around a mini personal computer in our pockets all day long, and that can be as disastrously hacked as any desk or laptop. Indeed, it can be far worse because of the camera, video, and recording capacities that we tend to view primarily as standard technologies kluged together in one unit, when they're all – to varying degrees –accessible to hackers via the software.

Some highlights from the piece:

Popular apps on your smartphone can be convenient and fun, but some also carry malicious software known as malware, which gives hackers easy access to your personal information.

A security firm found that between 75 and 80 percent of the top free apps on Android phones or iPhones were breached. The number jumps as high as 97 percent among the top paid apps on those devices.

Two caveats can be offered.

  1. There is the argument that mobile devices are more secure than personal computers and servers, because they're less open (a countering argument being that PCs and servers are targeted far more because that's where the good stuff is – i.e., the data).
  2. Many experts will also draw a distinction between Android phones and iPhones in terms of architecture and hence security.

With my limited technical knowledge, I'll buy both.  But here's the thing, with the blossoming Internet of Things, the number of devices grows fantastically, and the security features built into all those devices tends to be less comprehensive and robust, primarily because these devices are designed for consumers versus enterprises, meaning ease of use and access are paramount. Thus, as we rapidly build out the Internet of Things, we create sort of a wild-west frontier that surrounds all the critical infrastructure upon which these devices depend, allowing for a radical expansion of attack vectors by criminal and malicious actors.

That's certainly not an argument against pursuing the Internet of Things, but it does say that we need to build it out with more care and vision regarding the resilience of the critical infrastructure being increasingly exposed. In effect, our critical infrastructures are going to be subjected to an evolutionary leap of sorts, so we either adapt them in turn (keeping pace), or we suffer new and worse vulnerabilities.

Back to the story and quoted "cybersecurity expert Gary Miliefsky, whose company SnoopWall tracks malware."

Milifesky said when you download an app, you also give permission for it to access other parts of your phone, like an alarm clock app that can also track phone calls.

"You think an alarm clock needs all those permissions? Access to the Internet over wifi, your call information, calls you've made, call history, your device ID? This to me is not a safe alarm clock," Miliefsky said.

And there's the weather and flashlight apps that he says exploit legitimate banking apps to capture information, as he showed us in a demonstration of what could happen when someone takes a photo of a check to send to their bank.

"The flashlight app spies on the camera and noticed the check and grabbed a copy of it. Shipped it off to a server somewhere far away," Miliefsky said.

Last year the group FireEye discovered 11 malware apps being used on iPhones that gathered users' sensitive information and send it to a remote server, including text messages, Skype calls, contacts and photos Apple fought back by removing the apps and putting stricter security measures in place.

"They get at your GPS, your contacts list...to build a profile on you," Miliefsky said.

Some apps are simply collecting information for advertising purposes. In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission settled a lawsuit with a company over its popular Brightest Flashlight app, alleging it transmitted consumers' personal information to third parties without telling them.

But Miliefsky said he's found another flashlight app that can do much more troubling things.

"This one turns on your microphone in the background, listens in on you, and sends an encrypted tunnel to a server we discovered in Beijing," Miliefsky described.

That certainly gets your attention, yes?

Whether or not we buy into the darker, more geo-political aspects, it's clear that we're all being subjected to a game-changing degree of personal transparency, and that, in political terms, the question of who's watching the watchers is just starting to be explored.

Now, a lot of people will respond to these developments by attempting to reduce their exposure, just like a lot of enterprises have attempted over the years. But that approach typically comes with too big a price in terms of lost efficiency, convenience, and sheer opportunity. Building more firewalls as the Internet of Things comes into being is not the answer.

In short, while resistance is futile when it comes to the Internet of Things (and the Borg, of course), resilience becomes the new prime directive for individuals, families, enterprises, communities, governments, and nations.

 

 

3:56PM

How Climate Change Truly Tests Human Resilience Is By Pitting Middle Earth Against the Poles

YES, IT IS COMPLETELY UNFAIR THAT THE INDUSTRIAL NORTH, WHICH IS MOST RESPONSIBLE FOR GLOBAL WARMING, WILL RECEIVE MOST OF ITS BENEFITS, WHILE THE SOUTH, EAGER NOW TO ACHIEVE SIMILAR LEVELS OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, WILL BE MOST HAMPERED BY CLIMATE CHANGE. And yes, this disparity will cause a great deal of political-military tension between that equatorially-centric band and the rest of humanity. We see an early version of this already in the migratory flows from central and north Africa, across the Mediterranean, into Europe. You may think it's all about civil strife in Libya and Syria, and there's plenty of that, but the consistent, long-term pressure of bodies heading north is more about climate-change-fueled desertification than anything else, reflecting the fact that it's growing harder to live in those regions.

A big part of why it's harder for humans to live in those central regions of the globe is that climate change is slowly draining them of resources, something we've noted for years in the poleward and upward (in elevation) movement of plants and animals, a dynamic that has recently been studied in a comprehensive manner (as described in a recent Newsweek posting):

As the planet warms, plants, trees, fish and other natural resources are on the move, shifting toward the poles, in the direction of higher elevations and deeper into the seas, states a paper published February 24 in the journal Nature Climate Change. This natural capital has economic value, especially in developing countries where it accounts for a large share of resources. The team of researchers led by Eli Fenichel, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, say that where the fish migrate, money will follow, but that it’s not as simple as this.

The findings suggest that it’s not enough for policymakers to look for biophysical changes, such as the increase of fish in one place and the decrease in another, to see how wealth is shifting in response to climate change, but that they should also take “inclusive wealth” into consideration. Inclusive wealth is an economic framework that accounts for the sum of traditional, human and natural capital, in an effort to measure a country’s ability to sustain human well-being. Wealth that is stable or which increases over time indicates overall sustainability. The framework can be applied to track the broader impacts of climate change on local and global sustainability: When natural capital shifts due to climate change—either toward the poles or toward the mountains—its value changes in response to new pricing that takes into account these social considerations in addition to the biophysical change alone.

The study, worth reading, employs scenarios to illustrate climate change's winners and losers, positing two fishing communities in the north (winner) and south (loser). The point was to examine the socio-economic changes in human behavior that arise from this pronounced resource shift:

“People are mostly focused on the physical reallocation of these assets, but I don’t think we’ve really started thinking enough about how climate change can reallocate wealth and influence the prices of those assets,” says Fenichel. The study uses fish as an example, but natural capital can include plants, trees, and other assets valuable to humans.

“We don’t know how this will unfold, but we do know there will be price effects. It’s just Economics 101—prices reflect quantity and scarcity and natural capital is hard for people to move,” Fenichel says. “It’s as inevitable as the movement of these fish species.”

“To be clear, the ‘gainers’ here are clearly better off,” he says. “They’re just not more better off than the losers are worse off. The losers are losing much more than the gainers are gaining. And when that happens, it’s not an efficient reallocation of wealth.”

The study's primary author then takes a stab at analogizing the resulting political-military tension:

It’s sort of like taking a piece of birthday cake from one child and giving it to another child who already has cake, according to Fenichel. One child undoubtedly stands to benefit more. “But the kid who got the second piece of cake is going to be a lot less happier than the kid who lost their only piece of cake will be upset.”

That analysis reminds me of the Western academics who examined China's gender imbalance and immediately went to positing Chinese military aggression so as to burn off the excess males. Not only was it bad political-military analysis (modern warfare is no longer ground-troop centric, as it was in the past, so just loading up the military with extra bodies accomplishes nothing), it simply ignored the realities of modern life, which says males seeking spouses don't simply sit put, accepting their fate, but rather tend to do whatever it takes to find mates. With modern travel networks, this includes the "unthinkable" of going abroad and marrying non-Chinese, like we've long seen in other Asian societies suffering over-concentrations of males in various geographic pockets or age cohorts.

And guess what, the same thing will happen (as we're already seeing in Europe) with climate change. The people of Middle Earth won't simply tough it out forever. Instead, they'll head north and south . . . to where there's growing amounts of arable land freed up by climate change.

The good news is, an older North (and developed South) should logically welcome this influx of fertile youth, because that's how we'll keep our own populations from aging too rapidly in coming decades. Yes, there will be politicians who call for "walls." There are plenty of them in North America and Europe now, and frankly, Russia's renewed interest in the Middle East is largely driven by that fear of an influx of radicalized Muslims. But, rest assured, they're coming. Nature will drive them and the rest of us will simply have to accommodate them in one of the greatest political experiments in human history.

 

 

1:09PM

Rising Sea Levels, Rising Awareness, Rising Resilience?

 

IN GENERAL, HISTORY SAYS HUMANS DO BETTER WHEN IT GETS WARMER AND WORSE WHEN IT GETS COLDER. There are a number of reasons for this, but the simplest explanation is energy: (1) it's easier to cool people than to warm them; and (2) it's easier to grow human energy (food) when it's warmer than when it's cooler. But that's a uber-macro take on the subject, when regional variations in climate change will be the real story of this century — namely, the middle regions of the world will get much hotter and drier while the most northern and southern bands will grow more temperate. Humans will adapt to all this, and huge numbers will be put on the move — poleward (just like plants and animals have been for decades now), but there will be a tremendous die-off of species from this rapid change (not rivaling other mass extinction periods in Earth's history in scope [one, for example, encompassed 96% of all species], but apparently surpassing them in speed). None of this is really negotiable at this point; it's a done deal. We can delay some impacts, or take the worst edge of others, but they are coming — with the bulk arriving in the lifetimes of our children.

No, we're not going to roll back human progress, nor will we succeed in demanding that the still undeveloped regions of the world stay that way to atone for the North's sins. And yes, we will engage in Noah's Arc-like activities designed to transplant vulnerable species to new areas where they might survive and hopefully thrive.

In short, we will continue remaking this planet in our image, because that's what humans do.

But it's the oceans where we have so little say in the matter, even as we have had enormous impact. This is where community, regional and national resilience will be tested the world over.

On that score, lots of new studies just out suggesting that rising sea levels and associated flooding will likely be as bad as most of the scariest predictions have indicated — but again with significant regional variations.

First, from a WAPO story on one just-published study:

A group of scientists says it has now reconstructed the history of the planet’s sea levels arcing back over some 3,000 years — leading it to conclude that the rate of increase experienced in the 20th century was “extremely likely” to have been faster than during nearly the entire period.

“We can say with 95 percent probability that the 20th-century rise was faster than any of the previous 27 centuries,” said Bob Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who led the research with nine colleagues from several U.S. and global universities . . .

The study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Seas rose about 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) from 1900 to 2000, the new study suggests, for a rate of 1.4 millimeters per year. The current rate, according to NASA, is 3.4 millimeters per year, suggesting that sea level rise is still accelerating.

So, rising more than twice as fast this century versus last — achieving the dreaded "hockey stick" graphs displayed above.

Now, for the variation in the US, from another WAPO story on anther study:

Writing in Nature Geoscience, John Krasting and three colleagues from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration find that “Atlantic coastal areas may be particularly vulnerable to near-future sea-level rise from present-day high greenhouse gas emission rates.” The research adds to recent studies that have found strong warming of ocean waters in the U.S. Gulf of Maine, a phenomenon that is not only upending fisheries but could be worsening the risk of extreme weather in storms like Winter Storm Jonas.

“When carbon emission rates are at present day levels and higher, we see greater basin average sea level rise in the Atlantic relative to the Pacific,” says Krasting. “This also means that single global average measures of sea level rise become less representative of the regional scale changes that we show in the study.”

The Atlantic suffers this additional stress because it churns/circulates/ventilates more than the quiet Pacific.

But, getting it back to us humans, these are emerging realities for our local ecosystems, and, by that, we mean the local operating environment of families, businesses, communities, cities and the like. Our local support systems, or the networks upon which we rely for our organizations' smooth functioning, are all going to come under more regular stress and suffer more regular crises. This will arrive in the form of increasingly weird, unpredictable, and severe weather all over America, but with the added danger of storm surge flooding and destruction along the lowest portions of the coastlines (particularly along the Atlantic).

According to NOAA:

In the United States, counties directly on the shoreline constitute less than 10 percent of the total land area (not including Alaska), but account for 39 percent of the total population. From 1970 to 2010, the population of these counties increased by almost 40% and are projected to increase by an additional 10 million people or 8% by 2020. Coastal areas are substantially more crowded than the U.S. as a whole, and population density in coastal areas will continue to increase in the future. In fact, the population density of coastal shoreline counties is over six times greater than the corresponding inland counties.

Globally, it's even more concentrated, with 44% of humanity living within 150 km of coastlines.

How prepared are we for rising sea levels?

If you're the Dutch, you're feeling pretty confident, because (a) you're rich, and (b) you've been doing this for centuries. If you're Bangladeshi, you're a whole lot less confident ...

The good news is, globalization is reducing global poverty dramatically (spreading wealth) while spreading technical know-how. So we can all be more "Dutch" over time (with their help, as the Netherlands' aid agency specializes in transferring such knowledge).

On that score, we have plenty to do, says Time:

The [recently published] research adds to growing evidence that communities around the world are vastly unprepared to defend against the effects of sea level rise in the coming decades. Rising sea levels erode coasts and place coastal cities in danger. Even areas that may seem safe will be vulnerable to floods that could inundate entire cities and contaminate freshwater supplies ...

“We’re just at the beginning of the curve,” says Benjamin Strauss, co-author of the Climate Central central study. “I think in the next two decades things will deteriorate a lot faster than they did over the last two decades.”

But that's how it is for most things in life: it gets slightly worse for a long time and then gets dramatically worse in a short time. Solutions, per the Dutch and others, are well known:

In addition to mitigation, vulnerable communities should adapt to protect themselves from rising sea levels, researchers say. Those protective measures can take the form of levees, pumps and elevated homes. In other places, policymakers have built up natural defenses like mangroves and reefs. These provide the added benefit of sucking up carbon from the atmosphere and they often cost less than their steel and concrete equivalents, according to Jane Carter Ingram of the Nature Conservancy’s Science for Nature and People Partnership.

The problem is local leadership:

But many of the most vulnerable communities have been reluctant to change. Policymakers in Florida, for instance, have been hampered by elected officials who question the science of climate change despite the state being among the country’s most vulnerable.

We can't be resilient if we can't look problems straight in the eye.