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China's future with a only-child society

NYT story on Science article describing Australian research on the only-child phenomenon inside China.  This wasn't interview based, but actual work with kids, testing their trust behavior (a simple drill involving money).

The result:

The researchers concluded that the "one-child-policy" players were less trusting, less trustworthy, less competitive and more risk-averse than the older participants.

And on the basis of a personality test, they were also "less conscientious, more neurotic and more pessimistic ...

What is interesting:  China is already all those things in terms of top leadership stuck in a single-party mode. What this says is, there is quite possibly no hope on the horizon in terms of top-down reform/democratization dynamics.  Yes, the leadership will talk such lines (reforms) and hint at such possibilities (democracy), but they won't move down this path without pushing from below - and hoping generational changes will trigger top-down dynamics is probably far too optimistic.

A bit more depressingly, it also says there may only be a generational window of people, roughly corresponding to the 6th generation of leadership (on slate to rule 2022-2032), who are able to trigger the bottom-up dynamics necessary for change (i.e., serious demand for it from below that pushes the way-too-cautious elite to finally do something real and not just experiment and talk and promise).  To me, that says the 2020s may be it - as in, get the system moving in the right direction or China loses its nerve - both above and below - to make the difficult steps happen for the post-Mao system's full maturation (reforms, marketization, globalizing, middle-class and then democracy).

A worrisome observation, but not an insurmountable one.  The Chinese system is already rife with intense populist anger and it's growing by leaps and bounds.  We can hope Xi Jinping and Co. catch a clue, because if they don't, China - in terms of generational leadership - might have only one more swing at the plate to get it done before turning - yet again - back in on itself.



The global security system's latest "gap"

New location, old story.

Been saying for about a decade now that Long War eventually migrates to Central Asia (less likely) and Africa (more likely), because it's "losing proposition" would eventually wear out its welcome in the Middle East (latest version now unfolding in Syria).  Will it succeed in Africa?  Only in the harshest locations above and around the tenth parallel that divides a predominately Muslim north ("cowboy" in American parlance, which sounds better than "herder") and a predominately Christian/animist south ("farmer" or any location-fixed economic activity). These two characters have never been friends anywhere and anytime in this world - no matter what Rodgers and Hammerstein said.

What is the dynamic we see?  We see a crisis du jour (Tuaregs in North Mali) attract co-ethnic mercenaries with nothing to do after Libya (and flush with small arms).  We also see an extremist Islamic uptick as an identity unifier.  Then, to no surprise, al-Qaeda shows up.  Where is this place?  Unbelievably remote.  Hillary Clinton called it "one of the remotest places in the world." (How many times have we heard that?).

Next, the words "save haven" pop up and we have a Western intervention seguing into all the usual insurgency/counterinsurgency dynamics.  The Long War doesn't go away because America takes most of its "ball" and goes home (or to East Asia); it merely keeps shifting location - as it has done for a couple of decades now (check out AQ Central's many addresses over the years - all garden spots).

This is the small-wars world we live in (subject of my upcoming "think again" piece in Foreign Policy).  We can get all jacked about China but, quite frankly, that's a self-liquidating problem (China's slowdown and other internal contradictions, plus the natural security balancing in East Asia like Japan moving to spend more on defense and logically go nuclear eventually).  

America thinks it's in charge of all this, so when we decide the "decade of wars is over" (Obama), then by God, they're over - right?  No American troops, no headlines (that matter) and no wars (that count).  Instead, we now "stand up" to those dastardly Chinese because it fits our fiscal fights and the Pentagon's need to find a distant and relatively benign "floor" to its budget ("Let's plan for an imaginary super-cool high-tech war with the Chinese so we can buy stuff like crazy - or as crazy as Congress will let us be for now.").  Thus we "heal the force" by getting rid of bodies (personnel) and restocking our toys.  China is the perfect cold-war-like foe for that. Chances of real war?  Virtually zero.  But, man, what a force sizer! (Actually not so good, but you make do with what you have in tough times, right?).

And meanwhile, the Long War keeps unfolding.  No argument on Obama's symmetricizing the fight (our SOF v. their terrorists), but since we're no longer in the business of "healing post-conflict societies/nations/etc" because in the past we insisted on doing it all ourselves (and all our own way) and that's too costly now (plus, we could never cooperate with those dastardly Chinese), those places just get shot up by our SOF and drone and get left with the smoking holes.  If these places are lucky, there's something for the Chinese to come in and extract.  If not, they are simply left behind by an uncaring world that will show up to kill bad guys and nothing else.

This is Colin Powell's dream world; no wonder he admires Obama so:  "I'm just here to kill bad guys and when there are no more bad guys to kill, I move on."  That's the Powell Doctrine in a nutshell (insert "overwhelming force" HERE).

But Obama is the great peacemaker.  We know this because he has a medal to prove it.  He stops America's over-stretched ambitions on nation-building and replaces it with worldwide targeted assassinations, and we are pleased with his wisdom.  But his total lack of caring for what happens next in those places where the smoking holes are all we leave behind?

History will judge that as both strategically unwise and incredibly cruel.

"Lead from behind" is a brilliantly descriptive phrase.


China's rising pool of college grads - and expectations

NYT story on the 8m college grads that China cranks each year at the cost of about $250B a year.

The comparison that comes to mind is the US post-WWII and the remaking of society and politics that ensued (think of all that change across the 1960s and 1970s).

Yet another reason why I stick with my prediction that China is democratized by 2030.  This article speaks more of economic strengths than challenges, but the real danger (which appears only when you get to the jump page) are the social expectations and - if they are met - the resulting political confidence that will be hard to manage on a mass basis.

When people make the effort and sacrifice for that degree, the same-old, same-old factory job won't do.  This forces China into a race up the production ladder alright, and that fits the nation's desire to base more future growth on domestic consumption.  But that desire forces a progressive agenda to fix their healthcare and pension problems, which are not all that different from the US in their ability to mess up economic growth.  In China's case, the two issues combine to depress consumption by forcing individuals to save mightily against fate's whims. So if the government wants all that domestic consumption-led growth to make all those white-collar jobs happen so all those college grads can be happy (and not too disruptive politically), then major government efforts along the "great society" trajectory will be forced by all these dynamics.

Even if China pulls all that off, and then suffers the natural slow-down in growth that occurs when you start better covering the needs of the left fortunate (Freudian slip, as I meant less unfortunate) in society (a costly proposition), then you move into the next tier of problems:  all those college grads now making it and living complex lives will bristle at being spoken down to regarding political debates and government transparency.  We saw this big time in South Korea roughly a generation ago.  China is now 10-15 years (at best) from confronting that fabulous problem.

All of this is to say that, if you imagine that China somehow becomes truly powerful down the road but will still look like today's single-party state, you'd be wrong by every experience of history that we know.  Once you embrace the markets and all the other great aspects of modern society, the politics must change in reponse - eventually.  Yes, the Chinese are adept at postponing that reality.  

But it will not be postponed forever.

A truly strategic thinker worries about handling a democratizing China down the road more than some single-party state.  A single-party state is inherently cautious; it cannot suffer a genuine overseas debacle because there is no throw-the-bums-out dynamic to stabilize the system.  But a democratizing China looks more like the rising US of the late 19th century.  I personally don't foresee that being an unmanageable problem, given all the domestic issues that China will still be finessing throughout that transition, but it will definitely be a new and different China "challenge."


Fmr US Ambassador to Mali: Why we must save country

Nice op-ed in NYT on Tuesday.

A familiar charge:  "Islamist terrorists want a lawless stronghold in West Africa."

US, we are told, has spent $500m over past decade to keep violent Islamic extremists at bay in West Africa, but it's still too busy elsewhere to mount any serious Mali effort.  Thus the onus is on interested local powers like Algeria and interested outside powers like France.  Otherwise we get more Benghazi-style attacks.  This is a natural external cost of the Arab Spring - new garbage to be taken out.

Usual lead-from-behind pitch: US supports with logistics and intell and we need OCT (other countries' troops).

This is the reality of the Obama administration's decision to "pivot" to East Asia and disavow a troop-based approach to frontier settling in Africa.  It's tough love to say the least.

It's just so odd that we're always so intent on simultaneously containing China AND carrying its water (so to speak) elsewhere in the world, except now we're endeavoring mightily to make it somebody else's blood for Chinese resources.  It's just weird that we essentially refuse to cooperate when our strategic interests overlap JUST because of the tensions in East Asia.  Back in the day (read, Nixon & Kissinger), we had more of a linkages perspective.  But with Obama, continuing the Bush thing, it's our way or the highway; you either cooperate across the board or we oppose you across the board.

We need another Nixon to rationalize our relationship with China, because it is beyond Obama's strategic capacity.


A Wikistrat job posting: business development person



Be Part of a Revolution in Consulting.



Wikistrat Inc. is the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy. It leverages a global network of over 500 subject-matter experts via a patented crowd-sourcing methodology to provide insights unavailable anywhere else. This online network offers a uniquely powerful and unprecedented strategic consulting service: the internet's only central intelligence exchange for strategic analysis and forecasting, delivered - for the first time - in a real-time, interactive platform.


THE OPPORTUNITY: Chief Business Development Officer

Wikistrat is looking to identify an outstanding sales executive / business development professional with extensive experience in taking consulting services to global organizations. Candidate should have a minimum of 10 years of experience, a track record of building long term customer relationships, and widespread government and private sector connections.



  1. Integrity.
  2. Track record of taking wargaming services to the defense sector, intelligence community, and multi-national corporations.
  3. Educational background in political science and/or MBA.
  4. Career experience in strategic analysis and planning of global security issues.
  5. Superb communication skills for enthusiastic and proactive salesmanship.
  6. Extensive connections to the defense sector and intelligence community. 



  • Closing sales with major government and corporate clients.
  • Expanding sales pipeline and developing new leads and joint offerings.
  • Managing Wikistrat’s growing network of channel partners. 


Send Applications (Cover letter + CV) to: or to


Download of posting


The feminization of politics


That picture of all the women in the US Congress (taken on the steps at the start of each 2-year session, very posed) gets bigger every time.  Europe (and especially the Nordics) beat us hand down - us being the collective United States.  But the real way to compare the US and Europe is to compare us in chunks with the corresponding chunks in Europe.  So we have our Mediterranean types (South) and we have our Nordics (Northern Midwest and New England) and so on.

Thus, no surprise to read how New Hampshire is setting US standard for state almost exclusively headed by women (two US congressional seats, both US Senate seats, plus governor and speaker of house and chief justice of state too).

You can see this trend coming many miles away by enrollment in US law schools and grad schools in general. 

Then there's the general demographic advantage (better health deeper into lives and longer lives in general).

By the time I die (hopefully late in the century ...), I expect politics to be a predominantly female occupation.

And yes, we will be the better for it.  More analytical, easier compromisers, less given to unreasonable stands.  

I say, bring it on ladies, because we are suffering the political leadership we have in this country.

Women will process the BS faster - you know, the stuff that's going to happen and gets interminably drawn out.

I remember coming to Harvard in 1984 and they were still fighting divestiture on South Africa, which my undergrad school, Wisconsin, had knocked in about an afternoon several years earlier. Harvard thought it was so cutting edge, but it was VERY male dominated (not sure about today). Wisconsin?  Less so.

So no surprise that New Hampshire has already dealt with gay marriage (and held off a repeal effort - truly impressive).

If the US is going to get its progressive era started and then processed with all speed, more women need to be at the helm.  So this is how I vote.



Iran's fear - in a nutshell

NYT story:  "Monks Lose Relevance As Thailand Grows Richer."

Per my post yesterday about individualism:  the connectivity afforded by globalization and the wealth creation diminishes the hectoring/exemplary power of religious leaders who, under past harsher times, were better positioned to keep the social peace by encouraging a certain morality.

When globalization comes in, the socio-economic change happens in a heartbeat, and the churches/faithes/religious leaders simply can't respond fast enough.

As one Thai monk is quoted in the piece: 'Consumerism is now the Thai religion."

He's wrong, of course, and he needs to get off his ass and stop whining.  New spiritual challenges naturally follow.

The monks need to summon up their inner Joel Osteen - or just find one quick.

But yeah, this is EXACTLY what Iran's mullahs fear in any genuine opening up to West/globalization.  Better to pretend it's all about the nukes.


The adaptability of people is consistently under-estimated by experts

Pair of NYT stories from earlier in the month.  Both speak to the realities and myths of people's adaptability.

First one is about how Latvia (a place I very briefly visited back in the 1980s when it was still back in the USSR) and it talks about how, during the Great Recession, Latvians were able to handle the harsh austerity (sort of crew cut instead of the usual haircut).  

Second one is about how Russians are already mall fanatics. I remember Zbig Brzezinski saying, when the Wall fell, that it would be decades and generations before Russians figured out markets, etc.  It was all so godawfully patronizing (as only a Pole or Ukrainian might be WRT Russians).

My point in citing them together:  people are amazingly adaptable.  Latvians remember worse days (like your Great Depression parents or grandparents) and so they are unfazed, but Russians have no trouble slipping right into being material boys and girls (as did the Latvians for a while there and as they will again soon).

Americans have this tendency to believe we're the only adaptable people in the world, and it's true on some points:  on religion and "sacred soil," we are freakishly flexible.  If they declared that the US was being moved to Canada next week, most of us would pack up and go, because it's the freedom rule-set that we're most addicted to, with darn near everything else being negotiable.

Yes, the world is still full of traditional cultures wedded to sacred soil and religious identities (like . . . fuh-ever!), but given even the slightest chance, man, will they ever break out of their shells - and I mean everybody.  Sure, it's the kids who always lead the way, but guess what?  Traditional societies are youth-skewed (all that baby cranking) and they often feel the huge need to BE traditional precisely because there are all those young minds that need bending.  And yes, when the change comes, it does seem like the "end of X civilization," just like when Elvis and The Beatles and Stones showed up. And yes, many prices will be paid and much of the culture transformed and made that much harsher by all that individualism (to include the freedom to be miserable), but people really are the same all over - when given the chance.  No, that expression doesn't come in some archetypal "American" way.  At the end of the day, Russians are still Russians and Chinese are still Chinese (go figure!), so the applications are always different. 

It's just that the freedom impulse (far more economic in nature than political) is the basically the same:  I get to do what I want, when I want, how I want, buying what I want, etc.

So no, no 50-year transformations required on the economics.  It's the politics (single-party states in particular) that go slow.

That's what the military and intell people NEVER understand.  They think the politics (aka, intentions) can go like "SNAP!" while the economics will never change (or capabilities change slowly).  

Truth is, it's entirely the other way around. And all that economic freedom is what drives the super-fast technology adaptations (meaning HOW people use tech is nearly always more revolutionary than the tech itself).

Just my 2 cents .....


Interview with Radio Free Russia on Wikistrat's projections for 2013 (surprises)

Did the interview Thursday morning and it ran Friday morning.  I didn't write this one up, so it was good to see a sim run within the community and resulting in a solid product by a senior analyst (Wikistrat is maturing as a start-up in good order).

From the page:

WASHINGTON -- Wikistrat runs simulations on future events by crowdsourcing hundreds of online analysts, and hopes to be the next big thing in prediction.

Kim Brown interviews Managing Editor Chrisella Sagers Herzog, ofDiplomatic Courier Magazine, and Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, chief analyst of Wikistrat: 


Wikistrat bills itself as "the world’s first Massively Multiplayer Online Consultancy (MMOC)". It is made up of hundreds of analysts, connected globally through the internet, who run simulations on possible future events.

Large companies and even the federal government have expressed interest in using Wikistrat, who runs simulations for a consulting fee. Right now, they're working on predicting the future of Syria and Assad's regime.

Find the page here.


Does Obama let the transatlantic bond fade too casually?


I have been preaching for well over a decade now that America needs to realize that it's most productive allies going forward, when it comes to security affairs, are going to be different from those upon whom it relied in the past.

It's a simple logic that fits global trends:  Europe was incentivized big-time before, it's far less so now.  America feels a different responsibility on a global scale.  China and India rise, their global interests expand, and they display more and more interest and capacity to defend those interests.

So not a hard leap:  you work with those most similarly incentivized in the era that you're in right now.  You don't hold to nostalgia.  You want allies with big (and growing) militaries), growing interests, and a clear willingness to go place and kill people to protect those interests.  Crudely put, but there it is.

We are currently in an age of transition from a familiarity and comfort-zone with Europe to one in which we are inevitably drawn into cooperation with India and China to manage this world from a security perspective.

And yet, there is a part of me that says, what matters most going forward is who gets to the shared future in the best shape.  And that means, who processes (as I've said in the brief for a while now) the widespread populist anger and pursues a sufficiently progressive agenda to clean things up and get their countries in shape for the economic competitions still to come.  By that last part, I mean, we see a global middle class rise now, and we face an era of extreme technological change as a result.  Why?  The compelling global need to disconnect standard of living from consumption - plain and simple.

For now, I like the path America is going to have to go down regarding painful reforms and improvements better than I like those of India or China (also a staple of my brief).  We've engaged in such progressive eras before and we're well suited to that task.  We simply lack the political leadership now.

And here's the rub that creates the doubt.  

If we run off too seriously in our strategic "pivot," I fear we engage in the usual escapism ("Look Ma!  I'm fixing the future!") instead of looking within and making the necessary changes happen.

Europe faces many of the same advanced challenges.  We unconsciously model ourselves on them, and they on us, far more than either cares to admit.  Read the Economist if you don't believe me.

So my concern is this:  are we missing the great opportunity for co-evolutionary dynamics if America turns too swiftly and deterministically on this pivot?

Obama is an arrogant man and an even more arrogant president.  Not as bad as Bush, but still.  

I fear this strategic "pivot" is one of the most poorly considered shifts the US has ever made.  I usually cite the foolishness of picking fights with one's banker, and there are many more, but this time I think we're losing our center of gravity some inside globalization.

I also fear we're missing a chance to reform ourselves as needed.  We'll find no answers in China and India on this score.  And - again - the sense of geo-political escapism is palpable regarding the Arab Spring, Africa's churn, our need to integrate more with LATAM.

Don't get me wrong: I don't see scarier worlds out there that need more US military operations.  I see a world of small threats, small wars and small - networked - efforts.

And then I see a president with this grand notion of boxing China in - no matter what fine words he's using - and I see a narrow vision arrogantly pursued.


A heal-the-force national security team

Obama selecting Chuck Hagel as SECDEF and John Kerry as SECSTATE could not send a stronger signal: two Viet war vets with intimate knowledge of the hollowed-out force phenomenon of the later 1970s.

Look for both to do their best, now that Iraq is done for the US and Afghanistan is slated for closure next year, to avoid sending US forces anywhere if possible.

This will be portrayed as an "abandonment" of the world, but it's chickens coming home to roost.  Bush burned out the force, so Obama is tasked with "healing" it.  "Heal the force" is a Pentagon term of art.  It carries great meaning and is emotionally charged when it comes to the subject of actual servicemen and women and their families.  It is a different definition of patriotism, and, quite frankly, it fits the times.  America is on the verge of significant renewal (if the politicians could only get out of the way), and it needs to husband key resources.


Tough week

Wikistrat is running a huge sim (about 100 analysts in all) for client and relatively extreme volume of content flow (almost scary number of scenarios) is keeping me buried (like more than 100 emails an hour announcing each change to each scenario page on the wiki - vritually around clock). It's exhilerating and it carries its own weird creative buzz (much like the effect I seek to create with my "fire hose" style brief), but it is killing me when it comes to this blog (which, oddly enough, takes a second place to my family).

I was at Lambeau Sat night with son Jerry  (working the wiki on my iPhone the whole way up and down in the car (wife drove to help out), plus during every timeout and throughout halftime), and I still haven't read a single web story on the game!  There is no more "busy" for me than that.

I will try to get back to things tomorrow.


China has to learn how to take better care of its own

NYT front-pager on how new model of outreach and service to HIV community is being appreciated as possible approach to host of underserved populations currently in the official shadows, to include the mentally ill, the extremely impoverished, and the environment. The key is letting NGOs rise as part of a general maturation of civil society.  The simple but harsh reality for the Party is that, by spending so much time obsessing over political speech (Kristof's point in his op-ed of same day), it's losing ground on a host of government support/regulation areas where the public desperately needs help.  The result?  Rapacious behavior all around, but especially on the part of the elite - a growing problem that only hyperventilates the already profound populist anger.

The conundrum is solved, in both instances, by the Party actually extending more trust to the public it claims to represent, because, right now, the combination of over-exertion on political speech and under-exertion on everything else is a losing battle.  As progressive agenda items pile up (what is more progressive than extending coverage to the underserved?), the Party ends up looking like it's only concerned with its own power - along with its own greed (all that corruption).

You put that all together, and I don't know how pundits see a triumphant Chinese model, because it's stalling at the same point that all industrializing powers do, and the answers are still the same - more and better democracy, or more opportunity extended to the people to take more responsibility for themselves and each other.

China's model is not "better" than ours by any stretch.  Instead, it's an insult (growing) to the Chinese people, who prove themselves to be smart and responsible and capable the world over - whenever they're extended the chance to prove that.

The Chinese Communist Party lives in fear of its own people, and that's sad - and ultimately self-limiting for all.

That's why democracy is coming.  People want more and achieving more requires it.


Indian women and the push against gender violence

NYT story on widespread protests in New Dehli over the apparent gang rape and (eventual) murder of a young female student (23) on a bus.  The woman died from her wounds, which included penetration by a metal rod.

Gruesome stuff, to say the least.

The nature of the violence isn't what catches my sense of historical timing.  Men in packs will do the most atricious things.  

What's interesting here (and it corresponds to a scenario proposed by a Wikistrat analyst at a recent sim we ran) are sociologists linking this growing pack violence against Indian women to a growing disparity in gender numbers - i.e., excess males after years and years of discarding female fetuses.  The result is an age cohort where there are too many guys, too few females to court, and a budding social anger among the males that translates into violence against women and implicit attacks on their rights and standing.  In short, too few women relative to men = social devaluation of females, making them "fair game" in the minds of angry young men.

I will tell you, I buy excess males turning against governments when jobs are not there, and I buy this too.  I've never bought, in the modern context, the bit about having to place excess males in the military and then going to war.  That's applying old logic to modern situations.

But the "war" does come, is the point.  It's just a war against women.

The upside?  It forces women to fight harder and more pervasively for their rights in society, and here the historical timing reminds me of the US in the 1960s and 1970s - a time of seismic and permanent change for women in American society.  I was born (1962) into one world regarding the role of women, but by the time I was a young male courting (1982, when I met my wife and started dating her), it was a very different universe. My wife was the only daughter of a woman who divorced her husband and left to pursue her PhD - I mean, really radical stuff in the early 1970s.  That experience made my spouse a very different person, and thus forced a different relationship (trivial but telling example:  my second middle initial comes from my taking my wife's maiden name of Meussling, thus rendering, in the eyes of the USG, my original name (Thomas Patrick Barnett) as my "maiden name" for all time).

It's a tiny example of how much change happened in the US on womens' issues across the short timespan of my first 25 years of life.  I can't possibly guess at the rate of change that older civilizations like India and China will enjoy/suffer.  I can just speculate that this awakening is coming, and that it's going to be huge.


Paging China's muckrakers!

Great NYT piece that's filling in for the missing muckraking function within China (although it's emerging, it just doesn't manage stories like this because only sacrificial lambs [mid-level Party functionaries] may be sacrificed - officially):  investigative piece showing how the giant state-owned shipping company, Cosco, managed to sell off its stakes in Ping An Insurance in the period prior to its IPO to two companies essentially owned by the families of senior political elites (the third is owned by a HK magnate who, we can presume, is a good friend of the Party). The result is not all that different from the robber-baron phase of Yeltsin's reign in Russia: a few insiders go from rich to billionaires overnight.  One family was that of just departed PM Wen Jiabao, so"Uncle Wen," for all his platitudes and caring, takes care of his own and the masses be damned.  The other involved the family of the former central bank chief who oversaw the insurance industry.  Talk about brazen!

The "princelings' rationalize all this by saying the transition from state-ownership to private-ownership needs to be safe-guarded by the "party," but this is robber-baron, oligarch greed of the highest order.  If they took some, and let the rest go "free" into the market, they'd get away with it, but they want close to all of it.  Their greed knows no bounds.

This kind of behavior will create massive populist anger over time, as more and more of these stories are written. 

We will be reading this stuff for the next two decades...  


World's biggest snowman sighted in Indiana


WAPO WonkBlog: "What will we smuggle in the future? Drones, coal, and honeybees."

Psst, got any HCFC-22?Everybody’s making predictions for 2013 right now, but why not aim farther? Recently, the consultancy group Wikistrat ran a large crowd-sourced simulation to try to figure out what sorts of items would be smuggled in 2050.

That’s right, smuggled. The idea is that you can tell a lot about a society by what’s available on its black markets. And over the next four decades the combination of new technologies, environmental pressures and shifting consumer preferences is likely to lead to a whole slew of products and behaviors being banned or restricted.

So here’s what Wikistrat expects will thrive on the black market by 2050. Note that the group mainly focused on identifying new types of contraband — no doubt old crowd favorites like drugs and guns will still be trafficked for decades to come:

Read the entire post at WAPO's WonkBlog.

The pic and caption are apt.  I got the idea for designing the sim from reading a newspaper account of how freon is now a smuggle-able item. Of course, we used it for decades in air conditioning units, but then, about 20 years ago, it was ordered phased out by an international treaty.  So voila!  Two decades later it's perfectly illegal - in some parts of the world, thus the smugglers' market.

Well, that got me thinking:  If we project ahead to 2050, which of today's legal items would become illegal? (And no, I disagree with the blog author noting that we "omitted" foreign arable land sales and leasing as "unconventional" smuggling, because that's an abuse of the term when the item in question cannot be moved across sovereign borders.  Although the concept makes me laugh to remember Woody Allen's "Love and Death" where his Russian father carries around a chunk of sod, pulling it out for friends and declaring, "Someday, I hope to build on it!")

Several dozen analysts cranked a few dozen ideas.  I then grouped them and wrote up the report.  It was a pretty good sim, and it generated (as I suspected it might) the right kind of material that a MSM outlet might like to publicize.

Access the full Wikistrat report (PDF) here and the executive summary too.


Time's Battleland: National Security - Just How Intelligent is the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030?


Every half-decade, the National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends” series produces a roughly 20-year predictive analysis of the world’s evolution – an analysis considered to be the best long-range geopolitical forecasting conducted by the U.S. government. These multi-year efforts involve consultations with hundreds of experts from around the world (the last two drills have featured interviews and presentations from yours truly.) The NIC also conducts global “road shows” to collect feedback for great powers like RussiaChina and various European states.

Simply stated, the biggest problem with this year’s Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds is the lack of internally consistent logic throughout each of the worlds presented.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.


12/21/12 Battleland post footnote #1: My case for Sino-American partnership

*First footnote to Battleland blog post "A Critique of the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds:

  • See also Blueprint for Action:  A Future Worth Creating, see Chapter 3: "Growing the Core By Securing The East," in the subsections "Locking In China At Today's Prices" and "In The Future, America's Most Important Allies Will Be New Core States."


12/21/12 Battleland post footnote #2: My criticism of past NIC Global Trends reports from "Blueprint for Action"

*First footnote to Battleland blog post "A Critique of the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds:

** from Blueprint for Action: A Future World Creating, 2005, Chapter 1:  "What the World Needs Now," subsection "Barnett's A-to-Z Rule Set on Processing Politically Bankrupt States."

The National Intelligence Council is sort of the “Supreme Court” of the intelligence community, which is spread across fifteen individual agencies, including the well-known CIA. The Council, or NIC, as most people in the business call it, is made up of a collection of National Intelligence Officers (or NIOs), each of whom is the government’s top expert on some particular subject, such as “economics and global issues” or “East Asia.” Collectively, this organization issues significant reports known as National Intelligence Estimates, which guide senior decision makers throughout the national security establishment in matters of war and peace. But to the public (and especially the Web community), the NIC is probably best known for its “global futures” reports that regularly project the future of the planet ahead a good fifteen years or more. These reports are by far the best examples of futurology to be found within the national security community, in large part because the authors eschew the usual doom-and-gloom of the Pentagon’s futurism, which always portrays the world going to hell in a handbasket. Why? Because that’s just good for business.

Over the course of my career I have participated on several occasions in the NIC’s long process of consulting with “outside experts” as they build these “mapping the global future” reports, and National Intelligence Officers came to virtually every workshop I ever put on at the Naval War College. I came to respect the NIC’s institutional process of looking ahead, because of its willingness to listen to alternative viewpoints, meaning those that posited hopeful or at least benign developments lying ahead and not just the negatives. Soon after The Pentagon’s New Map came out, I was asked by the Intelligence Council to participate in one of these gatherings, a workshop focused on the future of war. I was given the question “Does the United States face a never-ending future of subnational and transnational violence?” I answered yes, and that this was a good thing compared with the Cold War’s far higher levels of interstate warfare and the threat of global nuclear clashes between superpowers.

But I didn’t stop there. I said that future was benign enough only if the United States took it upon itself to try and fashion new rules and new international organizations designed to focus on these particular problem sets. Absent this effort, our tacit acceptance of heightened worldwide levels of such civil strife and terrorism certainly would be bad, in large part because if we didn’t deal with these problems, inevitably some other great powers would feel compelled to do so on their own, possibly triggering intra-Core arms races or—worse—the return of great-power rivalries inside the Gap (i.e., wars by proxy).

Well, the resulting NIC report, Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council’s 2020 Project, lived up to the Council’s usual fine standards. It lacked the typical hyping of the threat and presented future scenarios in highly imaginative ways. Naturally, when it came out in early 2005, a lot of my Weblog readers pressed me for comments, knowing I had been involved in the process. The blogosphere, the universe of bloggers, was discussing the report at length when it came out, and the judgment of this crowd, full of both amateurs and professionals, was rather uniform: “a very sobering and disturbing view of the future.”

My take was a little different. All the NIC really said in its projection of the world in 2020 was the following: the United States wouldn’t dominate global affairs as it does today; China and India would be far more powerful players; Russia and the Central Asian republics might take several steps backwards politically; the Middle East could experience some serious democratic reform—or not; terrorism would still exist but would be expressed in different, probably more challenging forms, especially as proliferation of weapons of mass destruction continued; and the UN would probably be far more marginalized as new political realities emerged in the global security order as a result of all this change. That’s it. That’s the “very sobering and disturbing” future the blogosphere was gobbling up and digesting as a source for pessimism about the world in 2020.

In my view the report was basically a careful, realistic, straightforward projection of today’s trends over the next decade and a half—absent any sort of imaginative response from the global community as a whole. It was like a warning from a physician to his middle-aged male patient: “If you don’t change your lifestyle whatsoever, this is what you’re going to look like in fifteen years: older, flabbier, and generally less healthy.” Surprise, surprise.

By its very nature, the intelligence community feels that it must never engage in advocacy of any particular policy, meaning it defines its job as “just projecting the trends, ma’am,” as it avoids telling the US Government what it should or should not do in response to such projections. That’s their code: Analysts don’t have opinions, just analysis. So what happens when the NIC projects a global future is that the authors feel compelled to describe what every other country in the world will do in response to this unfolding series of events while essentially keeping the United States itself static, meaning the whole world’s experiences change while the United States does not—at least not in any proactive way. Sure, we’re allowed to “age” like everyone else in the scenarios, but the maturation process of other states is dynamic, whereas ours is not.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that in its zeal to avoid policy advocacy, the NIC comes up with future global scenarios that essentially ignore the ability of the play’s leading protagonist to develop further as a character across the unfolding plotline. This is not only ahistoric—meaning it doesn’t jibe well with America’s long-standing role as a generator and purveyor of new rules for the global system—it also sends all the wrong signals to unsophisticated readers about what’s truly possible. By its very character, the NIC can describe only the future “floor,” not the “ceiling.” It can only give us a sense of the natural decay of international order, not its potential for positive regeneration. In short, reports such as these can only describe how bad it would get if America basically did nothing, not how good it could get if we chose to do something about it.

The problem is that most people read these reports and take them as the gospel truth (“After all, these guys know all the secret stuff, right?”), but instead of motivating them toward action, these scenarios drive readers toward fatalism and passivity. Most futurology has this effect: after you put the book down and contemplate its depressing description of what lies ahead, you either want to get the frightening image immediately out of your head or—as so often is the case now—go online and Chicken Little it to death. Frankly, that’s why my blog readers tend to be so loyal: I am a shining beacon of counterintuitive analysis, which in this environment means I am a cockeyed optimist.

Why is that? Aren’t we all working off the same trends? Sure we are. We just choose to view those trends differently. Whereas most national security analysts define their professional environment as “futures to be avoided,” I focus on a future worth creating. They see trends that are inescapable, and so their goals tend to involve finding ways that America can shield itself from dangerous outcomes. I see trends that determine reasonably identifiable incentives among major players, incentives that can be structured in ways that turn potential flash points into opportunities for new rules, new relationships, and safer outcomes. In sum, your average security analyst doesn’t want to engage the future but escape its inevitable grasp (“America will be less powerful!”). What I want to do is embrace that future and shape it from within. So my advice is always, When you see fear, start running toward it.

I can’t write a global future with the lead protagonist stuck forever in some Hamlet-like pose of “To shape the security environment or not to shape, that is the question.” My America has always shaped the future, typically arriving there years before anyone else. As history goes, we’re not the kid in the backseat asking incessantly, “Are we there yet?” Hell, we’re the teenager at the wheel going way over the speed limit, assuming we’ll live forever because we’ll be forever young. And you know what? That spirit is what I like best about this country, and deep down, it’s what the rest of the world likes best about America. We are an insanely optimistic people, and because we are, our brand of leadership tends to scare more than soothe. Because every time the world thinks it’s got the current rule set down in its head, those “damn Americans” try to come up with a new one, always describing it as some “revolution” or something. It’s the “sexual revolution,” or “women’s liberation,” or the “information revolution,” or the “cyberrevolution.” Whatever the rule set, it’s always cast as some damnably unstable impact on global order—and, of course, that’s what it usually is.