Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Inspired by two superb posts at The Eide Neurolearning Blog, and with a pointer or two from Critt, I have made my maiden post at Newsvine on "Complexity and Simplification in Cognition".

A sample quote:

"Furthermore, complex thinkers are also well placed to propose solutions or plans of action in a chaotic environment as their "transdiciplinary" perspective is essentially a bias toward horizontal thinking, looking across multiple domains to see the interconnections, parallels, analogies and symmetries. Organizations that emphasize promoting individuals of this type will be likely to be more resilient and creative in adapting to change.

At the other end of the spectrum, thinkers who are adept at simplification will also prove highly useful. I queried the Eides for a neuroscientific follow-up along these lines and they obliged: "

Read the whole thing here.

On the subject of Newsvine:

It is not as user friendly a format as Blogger and writing that post was probably about 25 % more time consuming than it would be here. On the other hand, it exposes my writings to a different online audience and posseses some features that Blogger does not have ( most of which I have yet to explore). I've dipped my toe into Newsvine at Critt's urging, and given his impressive track record, I thought that his recommendation might pique the interest of the more computer literate folks out there.

So if Sean, Younghusband or Dan would like to give me their informed opinion, fire away !

Following up on the post by Dr. Barnett, a sampling of other recent views on dealing with Teheran:

Marc at American Future

praktike at American Footprints

Kobayashi Maru

Austin Bay

Bruce Kesler ( Interesting Stuff # 62)

Dr. Judith Klinghoffer

Dr. William Polk


Sic Semper Tyrannis


That's it !
Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Dr. Barnett posted one his more intriguing examples of strategic analysis with "Only Ahmadinejad can go to Washington", where he gamed the complex and dangerous diplomatic minuet between Teheran and Washington. It's a great post which should be read in full and Tom's interpretation of events raised in my mind all kinds of questions and ideas. More on that in a bit.

The post also elicited some interesting comments from T.M. Lutas, Tangurena and Porphyrogenitus, the last of whom brought up the issue of Kremlinology, an example of a kind of scholarly discipline you must adopt if you choose to analyze secretive, hostile, dysfunctional, regimes that govern against their own society and are ridden by factions and conspiracies. Opacity makes analyzing these kinds of states more art than science. Iran as a whole is not as closed a society as the old U.S.S.R. but its upper reaches of government are probably far less well understood by American experts on Iran today than the politburo once was by CIA sovietologists.

I'm not certain if Dr. Barnett would consider himself an ex-kremlinologist or sovietologist, but as he was taught by some of the best who were, you can see Tom applying those skills here:

"Ahmadinejad is irrelevant on the nuclear issue. It began long before he took power and reflects a concerted ayatollah-led bid for both national prestige and protection from U.S. invasion. Ahmadinejad's agenda overlaps on that issue only to the extent that he discovered, early in his administration, that it's faltering stature could be instantly improved with a very impatient and demanding public, if he chose to align himself with that strategy. In this move, Ahmadinejad has proven himself to be a very clever politician and a superb propagandist who plays the Americans, and especially the American-Jewish community, like a banjo (he plucks, we sing).

Our myopic focus on that nuclear bid (still several years off, but no matter to the propagandists on their side or the Chicken-Littles on ours) has obscured what is truly powerful and useful about Ahmadinejad's administration. As this article argues very well, the mullahs realize that having themselves represent the nation abroad isn't working, thus the apparent compliance in letting Ahmadinejad move in the direction of creating a political party powerbase that is, despite his personal religion, basically secular and more traditional...

...Ahmadinejad is pursuing a revamp of both economics and politics in Iran that is of almost Gorbachevian-level ambitions. In effect, to save the theocratic regime, he believes a separate political party needs to be built outside of the mullahs for regime legitimacy: in effect, handing us, out of his sense of political desperation in the face of the "challenges buffeting Iran" ("economy is in shambles, unemployment is soaring, and the new president has so far failed to deliver on his promise of economic relief for the poor"; "Ethnic tensions are rising around the country, with protests and terrorist strikes in the north and the souhhd, and students have been staging protests at universities around the country"), that which we seek--the marginalization of the mullahs or de-theocratification of the regime.

In short, we're so much closer, due to Iran's internal problems, in achieving that which we need most to achieve with Iran, a development that would make the achievement of nuclear capacity irrelevant (Iran having nukes isn't the problem--we can deter; Iran giving nukes to terrorists is).

Many of Ahmadinejad's critics inside Iran believe he will fail. This article gives us real pause for hoping for that outcome. He may well end up being our "Nixon" who can, on the basis of his unassailable rhetoric and staunch, anti-Israel reputation, the exact tool we need for our strategic purposes."

I found Tom's choice of Nixon as an analogy for Ahmadinejad fascinating yet also inexact. The subtle diplomatic signalling is reminiscient of 1969 -1972, as is the potential for secret realpolitik between ideological adveraries.

Obviously, there is some analogical traction in the two situations. "It takes a Nixon to go to China" is now a cliche, but at one time, the idea of Richard Nixon shaking hands with Chairman Mao in " Red China" would have provoked gales of laughter. Moreso, than the idea of Ahmadinejad shaking hands with Bush would today - the two leaders are, for example, respectfully juxtaposed on Ahmadinejad's own website. It is hard to imagine hyperideological Chinese Red Guards entertaining something similar in the advent of Nixon's trip to Beijing.

Like Ahmadinejad's reputation for Islamist militancy today, Richard Nixon's anticommuninst credentials were more than secure in 1969. Having " made his bones" with the Alger Hiss case, his hardline foreign policy positions as Vice-President, his role as Eisenhower's emissary to the right wing and a record of redbaiting of Democratic opponents, Nixon did not feel a need to even emphasize the issue when running against Hubert Humphrey. The only elections Nixon ever lost, in fact, were the time an opponent outflanked him to the right ( JFK, 1960 ) and in the 1962 gubernatorial race, where anticommunism had less salience as an issue.

Nixon's political confidence was such that he was always far more concerned about keeping the
" liberal" State Department in the dark about his China policy than he was about the inevitable reaction of the GOP far right, whom he had effectively isolated. With my albeit very limited insight into Iranian political affairs, there does not appear to be anyone in Iran today to " the political right" of Ahmadinejad; he has the support of the Pasdaran commanders and the most extreme senior Ayatollahs. Supreme Guide Khameini is actually marginally more moderate, as is the powerful former president Rafsanjani.

On the other hand, there some very substantive differences between the two situations as well, strategically as well as in terms of politics or biography. First the strategic differences:

First, the hard " triangular" relationship of the United States, Soviet Union and China positioned in rivalry to one another is lacking today with Iran. Nixon's " China Card " was a geopolitical Ace of Spades coming up with two aces showing; it caused an earthquake in international relations.

While there is an " EU card", an "IAEA card" a "Russia card" and various China, UNSC, India and Iraq " cards" today in the face-off with Iran, these cards are all more like pairs of threes or twos as far as both players are concerned. None of them help all that much. Like it or not, this issue will be decided bilaterally and the only "ace in the hole" is if Iran acquires a nuclear bomb sooner rather than later.

And most importantly, globalization, with the subsequent diffusion of power and the erosion of old international relations rule sets, have given Iran and the United States more options, fewer restraints and less downstream control over events than statesmen faced in Nixon's day. Nor is Iran a power on par with China in 1972 or as isolated a state as China was under Mao. These factors probably make miscalculation far more likely with Iran even if the stakes, thankfully, are far lower than during the Cold War.

Now for the politics, Iran's and Ahmadinejad's. Dr. Barnett writes:

"Now, the idealists will say, "This is horrible. We trade the mullahs for a real strong man."

But first things first. We have to kill the revolution and that will a trusted agent (not by us, but by the mullahs). To survive this process, Ahmadinejad needs to deliver. And since we know what he needs to deliver, we finally have some real influence and power over the situation, when we have neither now. Knowing what he needs to survive and knowing it is within our power to grant that, we begin a dialogue that can serve our purposes in Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Beirut, Damascus, Riyadh, Islamabad--all over the dial.

...And the fear-mongers on our side want to have you believe that Ahmadinejad is JUST a nutcase whose irrationality means we must pre-empt and pre-empt now.

We have consistently misread and underestimated the complexity of Iranian domestic politics.

In reality, we have Iran right where we want it and need it to be: needing help from us to survive. If we had any diplomats of Kissingerian brilliance, we'd seize this opportunity and dismantle the mullahs' rule by 2010 (my prediction going back to PNM). Our biggest problem right now is the lack of strategic imagination and skill among the senior ranks of this administration."

This is where Iranian " kremlinology" gets exceedingly tricky.

Dr. Barnett has the call right that Iran's leadership, for the first time since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, is speaking with one voice and is asking for negotiatons with the United States. Unfortunately, their mouthpiece also gives regular and frequent examples of disturbing nuttiness, including veiled threats of nuclear genocide and ethnic cleansing. Something that Israel at least finds difficult to disregard. Nukes are not Saddam's Scuds.

So the question here is this Iranian rhetoric simply high octane ideological vapors like Mao's regime was churning out in public even as Zhou Enlai hosted Henry Kissinger in private ? Or is Ahmadinejad sincere in his wackier beliefs but is bending to the will of the unified clerical establishment until he can make himself their master ? Both ? Neither ?

I can't answer those questions but I think we have nothing to fear from negotiations so long as we keep our powder dry. One useful aspect about Iraq is that the world pretty much believes now that uncontrollable consequences won't stop the Bush administration from making a major military move on Iran. The Iranian leadership seems to believe that.

And they should.
Monday, May 29, 2006

A selection of articles and essays with a a few of my choice words.

"The Long Small War: Indigenous Forces For Counterinsurgency" by Robert M. Cassidy in PARAMETERS.

In this Bobbitt-influenced article, the use of loyalist paramilitaries - in a variety of formations and roles to encourage evolution and adaptability - is examined as a critical tool for the War on Terror. Examples drawn from classic French and American examples in Vietnam, Algeria and the Philippines.

"Al-Qaeda Doctrine: The Eventual Need for Semi-Conventional Forces " by Dr. Michael Scheuer in The Jamestown Foundation

Dr. Scheuer, since having left the CIA, continues his steady output of analysis and commentary related to Islamist terrorism. Here he shows al Qaida cribbing military theory from General Giap and planning for an Islamist " post-conflict stabilization" of Iraq.

"Taking Aim at Scientific Journals" at SEED

Legislation sponsored by Senator Joe Lieberman would put approximately 65,000 peer-reviewed, scientific, papers that have been funded in part by Federal dollars, online to be easily accessed by the public.

''Somalia's Tangled Web Becomes Contorted'' by Dr. Michael A. Weinstein at PINR

Weinstein untangles the " hyper-complexity" of the Islamist vs. Clan warlord conflict raging in Somalia.

"Robot hand controlled by thought alone" at Newscientist.com

Self-explanatory title. Is there any reason this couldn't be done with a robot that was a thousand miles away from its controller ?

" The First Installment: Diary of Anatoly Sergeevich Chernyaev" (PDF, 177 pages)at The National Security Archive.

Anatoly Chernyaev, a former top adviser to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is having the first installment of his diary translated into English, shedding much light into foreign policy making at the uppermost reaches of the CPSU in 1985. A significant addition to historical knowledge in terms of U.S.-Soviet relations during the late Cold War and early Glasnost period.

Critt connects his conversation to the Indonesian Earthquake.

" How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world."

~William Shakespeare
Sunday, May 28, 2006

The world-travelling Sinophile, Dan of tdaxp, has already declared his Summerblog '06 to have begun [ ed. isn't it still Spring?] . Up so far are two great extended series by Dan, based on some of his graduate research:

Redefining The Gap

Perspectives and Peers

Each are worth your time, each will take some time, so " pop open an extra Corona " and enjoy !
Saturday, May 27, 2006

The cortisol charged timespace that I call " last week" has left me behind on blogging and there are a number of good pieces I need to attend to, including posts like the one by Collounsbury on the Gerecht piece advocating reform of clandestine ops. Col had a number of observations that I wanted to highlight and remark upon ( my comments will be in normal text).

"First, as an outsider with contact with US diplos for business for various reasons (US firm, US client firms, etc.), I have long remarked that the American rotation system, which seems to effectively cycle in MENA virtually on a 2 yr basis although I believe the normal rotation is 3 yrs seems to be designed for maximum ineffectiveness on the part of the US diplos. Most Euros are around longer, and seem to cycle back through their region. US diplos seem to get sucked off hither and thither, willy nilly.

As such, first, one is just starting to get a working relationship going when they have to fuck off. It takes at least a year to be cogniscent of a country's working environment. Second, of course, in the long term if they are depending on the long term "foreign service nationals" - and certainly I have seen that they do to an amazing extent, as in MENA the US diplos rarely have the language skills to be effective in my experience, never mind they are there for such a short time as to make your head spin, and they never seem to come back - then much of the supposed purpose (avoiding corruption, making sure the information they generate is independent, etc) is completely defeated, as they are deaf and dumb....

It amases me that the American foreign presence is so .... badly designed and executed"

First off, regarding both State and CIA folks operating out of diplomatic postings, Col is exactly right. It takes a great deal of time to acquire linguistic fluency and cultural intelligence in the operative sense so that you can move about in a radically different culture effectively as well as without attracting undue attention. This requires considerable " in country " experience that, unfortunately for reasons related to Cold War CI security policies, that the USG does a good job of preventing its personnel from ever acquiring.

If the analytical division at the CIA could use a healthy dose of diversity in methodological approaches and multidisiplinarity, then the field personnel need deeper regional specialization. If you want CIA and State personnel who talk like native speakers and intuitively grasp how a person from the target culture is going to react, then a long-term investment is required. Nothing else will do.

All the moreso for those CIA or DIA people who operate without benefit of diplomatic cover. Their only safety net is their knowledge base. Is it impossible to infiltrate Islamist groups ? No, but you must effectively become an "Islamist" - not only be perceived as but really be a serious student of Islam - as the " American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, a mere kid from California, was accepted as a brother by Yemeni and Pakistani madrassas, the Taliban and two Islamist terrorist groups, al Qaida and Harakat-ul Mujahedeen-Al Almi.

"Finally with respect to the advice, it strikes me as well-conceived. I have only listened to diplos and spies talk, but the mention, as Gerecht does of the personnel system and of such incentivises on way of approach (as well as his emphasis on the non-official cover) strikes me as exactely the right thinking. Within an organisation one has to look at what the actual performance incentives are - incentive structure and how it actually will operate when it comes into contact with reality are the keys to understanding how to make an organisation work. "

Very true. If there seems to be a theme that runs across the military, foreign service and IC community bureaucracies it is the need to serious reform the personnel system and incentives for promotion or careeer advancement. While I do not have a good overview of the CIA personnel system, the current military promotion system originated in the 1890's. The State Department's stretches back to the 1920's. Both were, in their day, radical and effective administrative reforms but the era in which they were created long ago passed into history.

Our eye should be on 2030, not 1930 or 1949 or even 1991.

Critt Jarvis was kind enough to add me to his wiki discussion team at Connecting in Conversation for his new gaming project.

It's an honor to be included in a group of creative minds alongside such accomplished people as Art Hutchinson, Dave Davison, David Galiel , Alice Taylor and, of course, Critt himself. The discussion has already been a stimulating opportunity to engage in horizontal thinking by interacting with experts from other fields.

Watch the game evolve and give Critt your feedback.

" All men's gains are the fruits of venturing"

- Herodotus
Thursday, May 25, 2006

A very interesting, long, link-rich, post on the atttention economy and " attention scarcity" at Edge Perspectives with John Hagel. Midstream, Hagel observes:

"There is no question that the dynamics of the attention economy will redefine media economics and particularly advertising, but a more fundamental question needs to be addressed before we can gain a clear view of the implications for media and advertising: what is behind the desire to receive attention?"

This is an economic issue predominantly for those already ( by global standards) who are rich and safe and can afford to divert scarce resources toward ego fulfillment instead of satisfying more urgent needs. By definition, access to the internet creates considerable self-selection bias in a world where over a billion people subsist on pennies a day and a billion or so others enjoy a precarious status only marginally more secure.

Nevertheless, as internet use has now reached, possibly, a billion users, the aggregate effects of attention-related behaviors are certainly worth consideration. In Hagel's view:

"But the discussion to date about receiving attention misses a couple of key points. First, there is a powerful dynamic between giving and receiving attention. In a world where more and more options are competing for our attention, we are unlikely to offer that attention unless something of compelling value is offered in return. We become much more selective and demanding in terms of who or what will get our attention.

...There’s a second dynamic that will reinforce the first. We all find ourselves in a globalizing world where we must find ways to develop distinctive and rapidly evolving capabilities. That is the only way to carve out sustainable livelihoods in the face of intensifying competitive pressure.
In this context, what we know at any point in time has diminishing value. We all need to find ways to tap into a broader set of experiences and perspectives to refresh our understanding of the changing world around us. To do this effectively, we need to receive the deep and sustained attention of those who have the most to offer and we cannot do this unless we can offer compelling value in return. If we cannot build deep and sustaining networks of attention (in other words, networks of relationships), we will find it more and more difficult to remain relevant and productive.

Together, these two dynamics create a self-regulating mechanism. In a world of attention scarcity, we will not continue to receive attention unless we earn that right. If we do not receive attention, we risk becoming progressively marginalized. Receiving attention becomes far more important than it ever was and will require far more effort than in the past. This is the strong message for the media business, but it applies much more broadly to all businesses, other institutions and individuals. In the process, advertising, at least as we know it today, will become less and less effective, no matter how creative we become at grabbing the attention of unsuspecting customers. "

Uhh..where's my Ritalin ?
Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A PDF by Reuel Marc Gerecht entitled " A New Clandestine Service: The Case For Creative Destruction". (Hat tip to Shloky )

I have just rapidly skimmed this but it looks very interesting. A critical review of the Cold War to Terror War performance of the CIA. Not pretty.

I caught a few breezy generalizations by Gerecht - Oleg Penkovskii, for example made a significant difference with the nuclear weaponry intelligence he provided in our not having had a nuclear war over Cuba with the Soviet Union. Without Penkovskii's insight into the paper tiger state of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, the temptation for JFK 's administration to strike first and hard would have been much stronger. That operation alone probably justified the CIA's whole existence, warts and all.

Secondly, I have heard exceptionally bitter criticism from a senior CIA field veteran over the CIA DO being shackled in Iran by successive administrations of both parties, at the request of the Shah. So blindness in Teheran in 1979 cannot be laid entirely at the CIA's door. The Carter administration, which was still dominated intellectually at the time on key foreign policy questions by Cyrus Vance, only wished to hear what it wanted to hear about Iran and disregarded everything else ( Iran and Afghanistan proved to be the eclipse of Vance's influence with President Carter - and hardly a moment too soon. The man was a fountainhead of bad advice). Clearly they understood Ayatollah Khomeini not at all and prohibited the CIA from finding out much of anything.

Going to give it a closer look over lunch.

As I promised, here are some bloggers commenting on the Barnett-Robb dialogue of yestersday:

Curtis Gale Weeks at Phatic Communion -"Barnett Against Connectivity: Or, How I Survived High School"

Dan of tdaxp -" Cheeky? Maybe. Thrilled? Definitely! "

Shloky - " Clash of Titans" and " More on Disruptive Innovation"

Have to add Shloky to the blogroll. Special thanks to Curtis for pointing out how I was screwing up my permalinks :O)
Monday, May 22, 2006

Nepal's Maoist insurgents send out a mild-mannered, computer engineering, nerd type to charm the Western media into complacency ( not a very high bar to surmount, historically speaking, for Communist guerillas) and the guy can't get out two minutes of talking points before breaking into a glassy-eyed trance, reverting to type, and praising Stalinism and China's Cultural Revolution.

Think what the scary Maoists are like in a rural village at night.

Curzon has a firsthand report at Coming Anarchy.
Sunday, May 21, 2006

Dr. Philip Bobbitt , author of The Shield of Achilles.

A grand tip of the hat to Eddie of the excellent Navy blog, Live From the FDNF for sending me this gem.

Link Preface:

"Primary loyalties in Basra" by John Robb

"Robb's weak day" by Thomas P.M. Barnett

"Barnett Bites Back? " by Federalist X

"Barnett Dings me Too" by John Robb

"Unpacking the connectivity straw man" by Thomas P.M. Barnett

"The Global Platform: Connectivity can be both Good and Bad" by John Robb

DC, a commenter, asked me the following question:

"where you stand on the basic difference between JR / TB, as it looks, on whether the US is (i) in principle capable of connecting a country like iraq or (ii) whether in principle such difficult/complex 'imperial' tasks are beyond a modern democracy itself wired to media and system that enforces transparency to a large degree and therefore inevitably torpedos difficult projects..."

First, I have to allow myself a caveat that I understand Thomas Barnett's ideas probably better or more comprehensively than I do John Robb's for the simple fact that Robb's book hasn't come out yet and I have not had the same opportunity to enjoy his laying out a methodical argument. John's blogs have given me a decent grasp, I think, on his strategic analysis but the book will give me a better one. So, while I will do my best, I am more than open for correction from John if he believes I've misunderstood or forgotten an important aspect of Global Guerilla theory.

My interpretation of the basic differences between Tom Barnett's and John Robb's approaches to analysis is determined first, by selection of perspective and timeline; secondarily, through the emphasis of a particular operational dynamic, though there remains a lot of overlap between the two ( my kingdom for a venn diagram designed by Dan of tdaxp !).

As an object will look different when viewed with a telescope or with a magnifying glass, a geopolitical situation can give you a significantly different concern depending on what point of the strategic hierarchy you care to view it. Barnett and Robb are both experts and capable of giving you chapter and verse on Iraq, or Afghanistan or wherever from the tactical level upward to the enunciation of grand strategy. By inclination, education and background, Tom tends to focus on long term strategic outcomes and grand strategy while John is generally more over the board but definitely edges toward tactics, grand tactics and scenarios with shorter time horizons ( incidentally, this focus is better suited to blogging as a medium. I expect John's book will be more strategic in outlook than some of his daily readers of his blogs are used to, but that's just an intuitive guess on my part).

In terms of dynamics, Robb frequently refers frequently to the negative potentialities and implications of systemic disruption, an approach I once categorized as entropic. Dr. Barnett tends to look beyond tactical disruptions until you reach the "Big Bang" level of magnitude, a full-fledged system perturbation. Tom's focus on the effects of connectivity is an investigation into nonzero sum outcomes, an evolutionary and somewhat economically deterministic perspective. John too recognizes the power of the evolutionary paradigm in his discussion of "open-source" developments, though on military topics he's usually talking about something destructive like rebels or terrorists becoming more efficient at wrecking havoc.

Are Barnett and Robb writing about mutually exclusive variables? No. Are these variables all interacting at once at varying and constantly changing degrees of scale and situational importance ? Yes. Is the interrelationship of the variables perfectly discernable and easily conveyed ? Hell, no ! That's what they are arguing about. You're an impressive intellect if you can get even part of the comprehensive picture right most of the time ! There's a lot of room to debate even if you agree on a conclusion.

Now for the second part of DC's question:

Do democracies have the grit or persistance to endeavor to undertake long term and comlex tasks of strategic policy without undermining themselves through the intrinsic nature of media drenched democratic politics ?

Democracies are more politically resilient than we tend to give them credit for being. Containment was undertaken for a half century despite numerous catastrophes and misfires along the way. One of the worst debacles, American involvement in Vietnam, was by itself a seventeen year project. European integration was nearly fifty years. German reunification, from Brandt to Kohl was twenty years. Democracies can muster longitudinal will to carry out a policy with greater endurance than can tyrannies but what democracy cannot guarantee is that the policy will be carried out with either wisdom or ultimate success The media is a factor, yes, but not a primary variable. It is a method of communication, the content of the message still matters and facts of a certain strategic importance can neither be finessed nor spun.

Iraq has been carried out, after the initial, brilliant, military operations, about as poorly as can be imagined short of the destruction of the American Army. On the other hand, if you look at Kurdistan, you see how "connecting" the Gap might work when the Core's efforts are in sync with the aspirations of the residents we are trying to help ( if anything, the Kurds are far more enthusiastic than we are, given our sensitivity to the concerns of the Turks and Saudis) instead of in violent opposition to a significant minority.

The learning curve has been costly.


More posts today... I will try to update if /as more develops...other bloggers besides Tom or John who are also commenting can email me a link and I will include your two cents as well.

"Unpacking the connectivity straw man (II) " by Thomas P.M. Barnett

"Barnett and Robb " by John Robb

"The dangers of the blogosphere dialogue" by Thomas P.M. Barnett
Saturday, May 20, 2006

Steve at ERMB has already commented on the most recent post* by Wiggins at OSD, entitled " Of Moral Resilience and Technical Resilience" where Wiggins wrote:

"There are two related ideas here. One way to understand them is as two aspects of resilience. The first issue is resilience on what Boyd would call the moral level. The second issue is resilience on a technical level. There is a complex feedback loop between these two aspects of resilience; it leads to both excitement and confusion. This is my attempt to explore that relationship. Be warned, my enthusaism might overwhelm my clarity.

Moral resilience is what Boyd focused upon late in his life and a topic that Chet Richards has expanded upon in Certain to Win. The issue they consider is why certain organizations have been able to consistently prevail against adversity. They have concluded that success depends upon maintaining internal cohesion while disrupting the cohesion of your adversaries. When Mark discusses the importance of consilience, I see him implicitly recognizing this. It is not sufficient to just bounce back quickly, because such a strategy is inherently reactive. It abdicates iniative, conceeding the most important factor to
one’s competitors. "

Very much in agreement. Moreover, Wiggins direct reference to Colonel John Boyd's ideas allows us to move the resilience ball further down the field from the organization or group (moral resilience) to the individual(psychological resilience). In Patterns of Conflict, Boyd summarized the "Essence of Moral Conflict" which relates directly to a group's resiliency:

Essence of Moral Conflict

Negative factors

* Menace:
Impressions of danger to one’s well being and survival

Impressions, or atmosphere, generated by events that appear ambiguous, erratic, contradictory, unfamiliar, chaotic, etc.

Atmosphere of doubt and suspicion that loosens human bonds among members of an organic whole or between organic wholes


Internal drive to think and take action without being urged

Power to adjust or change in order to cope with new or unforeseen circumstances

Interaction of apparently disconnected events or entities in a connected way

As a military theorist, Colonel Boyd was concerned primarily with collectives - the enemy, one's own forces, the uncommitted civilian population - into which individuals and their behavior were perforce subsumed. However, Boyd's elements of moral conflict and some of his other ideas can also help explain an individual's psychological resiliency or lack thereof, being affected by extrinsic factors like social relationships and shared values.

When an organization goes beyond a mere functional objective and deliberately inculcates a coherent and identifiable set of values in its members, it is engaged in building moral resilience. We are familiar with many examples - the cadet honor code at West Point, Bushido of Japan's medieval samurai, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s philosophy of nonviolence - all of which were adopted by large numbers of followers and expressed within such groups not only with a common vocabulary but with mutual understanding.

These programs of moral resilience were reinforced by the dynamics of a social network so that individuals, when put under stress or hazard, would face not only a trial of their conscience but the expectations of their peers, superiors and subordinates that they live up to the movement's ideals. Psychologically, this would tend to increase individual resiliency in the following ways:

* Reduction of Uncertainty:

There is no moral confusion only a moral choice. Values, once deeply internalized represent a cognitive frame through which all situations are evaluated. Paralysis is avoided and the individual moves quickly to decide and to act ( Conversely, uncertainty is increased not by increasing the level of stress - many hard-core believers in a cause will welcome sacrifice as proof of their devotion - but by delegitimizing the underlying values that provide the resilience).

*Reduction of Anxiety:

As the individual enjoys the benefits of moral resilience their response to stress is less. Their thoughts are focused, clear, determined to adapt, overcome or if need be, accept the consequences of a situation in a way that does not betray their values (Conversely, the way to raise the anxiety level here is not through a frontal attack but by offering temptation ).

*Increase in Motivation:

Resilient individuals faced with a challenge or a threat are apt to react by fighting back - to take the initiative, as Boyd suggested- while identifying all the more closely with the value-set that provides the core of their moral resilience. Persecution seldom does anything but reinforce the ideological intensity of the group being oppressed ( Conversely, a lack of friction with the outside world -despite the best efforts of group leaders to incite it - can often instigate a devastating cycle of ideological de-escalation and complacency among the membership. A Zen proverb relates that if you wish to fence in your bull, you give him a large meadow).

Moral resilience operates on multiple levels. First, at the level of an organization as a result or product of what Colonel Boyd described as:

"A grand ideal, overarching theme, or noble philosophy that represents a coherent paradigm within which individuals as well as societies can shape and adapt to unfolding circumstances—yet offers a way to expose flaws of competing or adversary systems. Such a unifying vision should be so compelling that it acts as a catalyst or beacon around which to evolve those qualities that permit a collective entity or organic whole to improve its stature in the scheme of things."

Secondly, as the membership internalize the values of the "unifying vision" and acquire moral resilience which in turn produces psychological resilience in the form of the individual's behavioral response to stress or threat.

Thirdly, moral resilience is itself an attractive meme, a " beacon" that draws support in the form of new members ( a "catalyst") or the admiration of uncommitted observers. Or perhaps, repeated demonstrations of moral resilience may have a daunting effect or undermine the morale of adversaries and competitors.

Resilence operates across a spectrum of dimensions and by overlapping your levels of resilient scenarios they will become mutually reinforcing.

Working on a couple of complicated posts related to resiliency which are not quite finished but I saw some very interesting things online last night:

Chirol at Coming Anarchy has a great post " Forget the Gap, try the Middle Ages" and Curzon delves into ancient biographies.

Speaking of the ancient world, Dave Schuler disputes the authenticity of the Greco-Roman legacy of the West.

Critt unveils the Basic Cultural Unit at Connecting in Conversation.

Steve DeAngelis introduces his readers at ERMB to " The Medici Effect" - a cool concept - and leads us directly to Shawn's fantastic mega-post on resiliency at Asia Logistics Wrap.

That's it ( for now- more tonight).
Thursday, May 18, 2006

Critt Jarvis

Secrecy News

Thoughts Illustrated

Power Politics


Check them out !
Wednesday, May 17, 2006


An interesting and provocative take on the NSA-CIA-Hayden story by Nadezhda at American Footprints:

" The CIA and NSA brouhahas have more in common than simply Gen Hayden's nomination. "Intel reform" seems to be turning into another debacle a la the Dep't of Homeland Security. And for many of the same reasons -- not just politicization by the Bush Admin's hackocracy. These problems include:

* an over-emphasis on a narrow definition of "threat" as a specific class of terrorism anignoring other threats or the context in which the threats emerge

* a penchant for hierarchical bureaucratic (and political) control -- trying to address the need for information-sharing and rapid response by shifting organizational boxes or adding top levels of "coordination" rather than breaking down silos

*a preference for big-ticket, high-tech solutions over people -- we've gone from a "military-industrial complex" to a "military-security-intel-industrial complex" in just five years, with the connivance of Congressional porkers in appropriations committees, of course.

It's not easy to assemble a coherent picture of what's really happening. Opacity comes with the territory as soon as the word "intelligence" is uttered, compounded by the Bush Admin's well-known obsession with secrecy. Also as Nell suggests, the sowing of confusion about the reform battles -- deliberate or otherwise -- interferes with the ability of journalists and Democrats to present a simple, damning narrative.

So I don't pretend to have a coherent view of what's wrong and how it ought to be fixed. Rather, I've collected below a variety of critiques that, together, help us see the puzzle a bit better. I've divided them into four broad themes:

* wrong approach to "dot connection" -- Negroponte is appropriating "Central" in the CIA's mission

* wrong agenda -- we don't do "strategic intelligence" and couldn't even if we wanted to

* wrong understanding of "intelligence" objectives and processes -- especially ignoring the importance of open source intelligence.

* the growing reliance on technical intelligence collection is the Star Wars of the GWOT -- Bill Arkin today put in print a thought I've had as I've watched the NSA saga unfold. "

Excluding the brief bits of irrelevant partisan blather, many of the methodological and organizational criticisms that Nadezhda offers in her post are spot on, though not all of them ( and even those that are off are, nonetheless, interesting). I fully endorse Nadezhda's call for a first rate OSINT effort which has already started expanding on the old FBIS. A few comments:

The 9/11 Commission Report was the political driver of Intel reform and the commissioners zeroed in on creating the DNI post as a way of resolving the perennial "wearer of two hats" conflict inherent in the position of DCI ever since the creation of the CIA. This was a mistake and the effort wasted here would have better been put toward more substantive reforms. There have been only a handful of " great" - i.e. historically important and influential - DCI's and none who mastered both running the CIA and uniting the fractured and compartmentalized intelligence community.

DCI's like Dulles, Turner or Casey were powerful primarily because they had the unstinting backing and active interest of a President, not because of the title they held. Without the consistent and high profile support of the White House, John Negroponte's position as DNI would be a pointless sinecure ( Negroponte, well aware of the political reality, is rapidly building a bureaucratic base in the IC to sustain the function of his office past January, 2008).

In terms of " strategic intelligence", Nadezhda is corect that we do this poorly but is wrong when she claims we cannot do it if we wished or that OSINT can substitute. The " strategic intel" problem is resolved by separating the need to feed the insatiable appetite for " current" information from the task list of those IC personnel who engage in espionage in order to collect secret information of strategic importance by clandestine means. Current intelligence, which requires monitoring a flow of events is best done by analysts reviewing the data provided by OSINT, SIGINT and IMINT agencies. Strategic intelligence, which requires patience and a depth of investment in HUMINT should be done by an agency devoted exclusively to clandestinity and nothing else (1).

The NIE process can then be retooled to better utilize clandestine HUMINT intelligence data to make predictive " warning" scenarios of a strategic within a global intel picture. That means disrupting the insularity of the IC by bringing in more outside experts as is often done in the NSC and engaging in deliberate cognitive exercises to break down the preexisting" frames " brought to the table by the analysts so the data can be viewed from new as well as orthodox perspectives. Analysts, in other words, do not just need more " content field depth"; they need to acquire a much greater range of analytical-methodological tools in order to widen their field of vision. It is counterintuitive but the relative lack of thirty year veteran, narrow field, experts among the IC analysts today will make reforming strategic intelligence easier rather than harder.

All in all, a impressive post by Nadezhda.

1. See Johnson, William R. "Clandestinity and Current Intelligence", Studies in Intelligence, vol.20, No. 3 (Fall 1976) pp 15-69. Johnson bemoaned the corrupting effect of " journalistic" practices on the IC.


Dave Schuler had a nice post analyzing the politics of the President's immigration speech, upon which I can offer only a comment but not an improvement as we are substantially in agreement:
"I liked a lot of what I heard in Bush’s speech. I believe he’s responding to the nation’s consensus position on the topic. I wish he’d delivered this speech and taken this course 5 years ago.

I’d like for there to be a timeline. If you construct the fence and improve patrolling of the border in 2008, have a new biometric ID in 2009, and strong enforcement laws against hiring illegals in 2010, I’d be okay with a guest-worker program in 2012. I wouldn’t be happy with a guest-worker program in 2008 and a fence constructed by 2012.

I think that penalties against hiring illegals should be much more severe, even confiscatory, and the enforcement should be much more serious. Hiring illegals should cease to be a viable business plan. IMO that’s a prerequisite for what I believe is the necessary expansion of immigration into this country. At this point part of the attraction of illegal migrants for some employers is the fact that they are illegal. Expansion of legal immigration or any guest-worker program without severe penalties for hiring illegal migrants would merely replace the current set of illegal workers with a new set.

I also wish that President Bush had devoted some time to the push factors that drive people out of their native countries. We’re all aware of the many pull factors that draw people to the United States. I think that we should be devoting a lot more effort to motivating other countries to ameliorate some of those. "

All true as they deal with the root of mass migration - Mexico's unfree and oligarchical society and the desire of Big Business to hold down real wages by flooding the labor pool with mostly uneducated but hardworking illegal immigrants ( who liberals see as potential Democratic voters and clients of big government largesse). In my view neither President Bush nor the Congress nor either Party are the least bit serious about stopping illegal immigration.

What the political elite really wants is to continue the status quo - de facto completely open borders with Mexico. That message won't sell, so both parties are going to attempt to stall and distract - mostly with heated arguments about deportation - hoping that the issue will die down in time. Deportation is irrelevant. Most of the illegals here, outside of the criminal gang element, are not the problem, we can legalize them all as of tomorrow without even noticing a thing, except perhaps some fiscal benefits in terms of moving a large mass of people into the aboveground economy.

The real problem is the illegal immigrants coming over the next twenty years who are not here yet, but will be someday. Why ? Because the elite - our bipartisan ecclesia that exists in the Beltway - have consciously chosen to perpetuate illegal immigration for narrow, selfish, undemocratic, reasons of class interest and political career.

Reasons, that for the last generation and a half, they have consistently put above the good of their country.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Belatedly on my part. Chester of The Adventures of Chester, a blogfriend who shares many of the same topical interests as I do, offers an inspirational counterpoint and perspective to the ongoing political discussion begun by Bruce Kesler.

is at Phatic Communion has begun a resiliency symposium and his synthesis and horizontal thinking has gone into maximum overdrive:

"Singularities and Resilience

I have been surprised and slightly awed by a new post at Responsible Nanotechnology. After responding at ZenPundit a few days ago, I’ve had my own thoughts, Federalist X’s thoughts, Vonny’s thoughts, and Mark’s in mind, and have been contemplating the subject without yet being prepared to blog about resiliency. Then, today, I read Mark Treder’s report of the audience response at a recent Singularity Summit, reproduced here in its entirety:

Based on audience response to the ideas presented at today’s Singularity Summit, here are some general observations:

1. Humans are, by nature, conservative. In an auditorium filled with people attending an event focused on techno-change — and in a university set in the middle of Silicon Valley, no less — still the largest applause was reserved for those with the most reactionary views.

2. We fear change. That’s normal and even healthy. In fact, it’s a survival mechanism, hard-wired in through thousands of generations of natural selection. When taken to excess, obviously, it can be paralyzing. Moreover, those who challenge the human tendency toward caution are those who most often make the greatest discoveries (or die trying).

3. Progress — technological and social — continues to occur and eventually is accepted by nearly everyone. I call this phenomenon “Unconscious Confirmation.” It’s like the wonderful quote from John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Seemingly unacceptable change is what happens while we’re busy doing other things.

4. Truly disruptive global change on a rapid timescale is something we have never experienced. We are thus unprepared for it, and it could even be argued that we are incapable of adequately preparing. I hope that’s not true.

His last point describes the motivation behind my play as Devil’s advocate to Mark Safranski’s post: The more dynamic the world (disaster, disruption, whathaveya), the less likely that kind of resiliency is going to obtain. But every point, and the four observations considered as a whole, represent a succinct outline of the problem facing any human network in a dynamic world. For those unfamiliar with the subject of Singularity, I suggest reading the Wikipedia article. [update: see also The Great Singularity Debate.] Some detractors of singularity theory scoff at futurists (e.g., at Ray Kurzweil) from a belief that now is then, whether the then is past or future. I.e., detractors cannot easily see a future outside the framework of present world views, and some may even be the type of conservative that believes present dynamics are the same as past dynamics: “nothing new under the sun.”

Singularity theorists, however, are attempting to anticipate future disruption — usually, as influenced by technology — in the standard flow we call humanity. Futurists like Mike Treder have given much thought about “proactive resiliency,” even if that is not the term they have used to describe this aspect of their

thought. "

Treder's fourth point quoted by Curtis is describing a System Perturbation - which by definition overcomes systemic resiliency and leaves an aftermath that is so " rewired" that a
" rule-set reset" is required to adapt global society to the changed environment.

Curtis also pulls off a neat comparison of the operational tension between the meta-principles of resiliency and consiliency:

"Because the concept of consilience is still rather new to me, I’m more likely to resort to an etymological exploration of the term. Mark also dipped into the etymology in his post on consilience: resilience is a “bouncing back” (really, a jumping back) but consilience is a “jumping together.” Thus, when Steve DeAngelis says that resilient networks have people “willing to reach across those departmental lines themselves,” he is not talking about a resilient behavior but a consilient behavior, and he is talking about being able to operate across domains."

My intuitive thought here is that resilience and consilience are not antipodes but complementary concepts in which some situations may arise where they are not entirely congruent for the actors struggling with a particular problem or crisis.

Very stimulating post by Mr. Weeks which should be read in full.


Steve DeAngelis at ERMB responded to posts by Wiggins, Curtis Gale Weeks and myself on SOA and resilience vs. consilience. First, SOA:

"As Enterra Solutions envisions it, Development-in-a-Box is like an open IT architecture that offers any organization the ability to "plug & play" as their particular capabilities are required in the development process. Organizations must be free to decide for themselves when it is time to join and when it is time to depart from any particular operation. Otherwise, many of them simply wouldn't play at all because they don't want their organizations perceived as supporting any particular country's foreign policy or any agenda besides their own. "

Second, on resilience, consilience and Enterra Solutions:

"Both Safranski and Weeks are correct that resilience, strictly defined, refers only to a bouncing back. Unfortunately, I live in the business world where words are used to "sell" not just explain. In Enterra Solution sales pitches we try to make the point that resilience (i.e., bouncing back) is no longer sufficient if organizations want to thrive, not just survive, when faced with emerging 21st century challenges. I agree with Safranski that the two terms, resiliency and consiliency, are complementary concepts. My problem is that I would spend more time explaining a concept like consilience than advancing my business interests were I to use the term. Even Weeks who, as informed as he is, admits the concept of consilience remains a new concept to him. That is one reason I started this blog, to further the discussion of resiliency (and consiliency) beyond glossy sales brochures. Thanks to both men for adding to the discussion."

Theory vs. Practice. Steve obviously does both but his clients most likely do not. Putting myself in the shoes of an organizational leader, I would be looking for resiliency programs in order to strengthen my core operations and systemic ability to weather unexpected challenges or, more seriously, an existential crisis created by an act of terrorism or a natural disaster. If 9/11 demonstrated a moment of resilience for the city of New York then Hurricane Katrina amply detailed what a lack of resiliency looked like in New Orleans.

Consilience consulting, hypothetically speaking, would be for an organization looking to develop new potentialities from old formats or explore verges where current activities blend or connect with other fields. It requires stepping outside the normal perspective and reevaluating all the premises on which the organization is based - not to reject or refute them but to examine what possibilities have been missed along the way.

Finally, I would like to highlight the comments of Dr. Von in the comments section which are worth reading in full:

"When doing simulations of networks, 'rewiring' is randomly changing some small subset of links from individual agents of the network...this is the programmer's way of introducing 'noise' into the network, and it is precisely this type of noise that causes barriers between local sections of differing states to break down, causing a consensus to be reached. These are some of the results I've mentioned in some posts that are fairly new (just within the last couple years). It seems as if a growing number of people are observing such a phenomenon and drawing conclusions similar to those from the simulation work.

On another note it seems to me that some level of consilience is required to be truly resilient. To be able to react and adapt to any random perturbation will presumably require some level of understanding, or at the very least identification, of the perturbation. Since there are large numbers of possible disturbances that can unleashed on a given system, some amount of knowledge of or experience with of each type would be ideal."


Von also has posted on resilience and consilience today.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ok, Critt now has me on something called "Newsvine". I'll post something there once I get a feel for the culture.

Sonny at FX-Based has published "In Defense of EBO - Part 2".

Given the drubbing Sonny gives Peters on the details of EBO, I'm even more inclined to believe John's interpretation that Peters was posting up to try and slow the momentum for war against Iran. When a great writer and thinker like Peters is sloppy, sometimes there are reasons.

I had the pleasure of exchanging ideas this weekend with Critt Jarvis, formerly of Enterra Solutions and Dr. Barnett's original webmaster (duties now ably carried out by Sean Meade). Critt is embarked on an exciting developmental project with Dave Davison, to create an international relations game that reflects critical concepts from The Pentagon's New Map along with Development in a Box and emergent principles like resilience.

Is this game Risk for futurist wonks ? Critt's vision:

"For me, I see a MMPORG designed to allow participatory experience in learning to make global connections. The goal? Experiment in a virtual world, influenced by current events in-game and then be inspired to try it in real life. Educational, inspirational. Now that would be a conversation worth creating"

Critt emailed me a copy of the conceptual core of the game " The Basic Cultural Unit " for commentary which I gave, plus the feedback of a select group of my students. As soon as I can figure out how to repost the image here from a PDF file into blogger, I'll solicit the input of Zenpundit readers.

Ah, my kingdom for a webmaster....
Sunday, May 14, 2006

Had to take a couple of days off from blogging and in the interim there were some excellent, stimulating and important posts out there. This is one of those times that I wish there were four of me so I could have thrown my two cents into these discussions. I still may, but in the meantime:

Bush GOP loyalism vs. Movement Conservatism? :

Bruce Kesler, always lucid and hard-hitting, initiated a major debate in the Right Blogosphere over "Conservative Battle Fatigue" which he followed up with "Selling-out our principles: Reason to break with the administration?" and "Tapscott’s New Contract With America". Conservative bloggers who joined Bruce include Mark Tapscott, Captain's Quarters ( also here and here), Professor Bainbridge (and here and here), The Anchoress, Instapundit,
and Adam Graham. The debate is also being noticed elsewhere.

On Liberal Education:

Federalist X at Amendment Nine has the second part of his series on liberal education, "(ii) Liberal Education in a Nutshell " ( Part I is here ) looking specifically at the ideas of Jacob Klein and the "New Program" of St. John's College. Hint - clicking the wiki entry is worth it if you want to measure your own progress in reading great books. My reads were scattered throughout the list.

War and Strategy:

Wiggins at Opposed Systems Design has two excellent posts "Yarger’s Little Book" and "DoD 3000 follow-up: Momentum and SOAs" while Sonny at FX -Based defends EBO from a slashing attack by Ralph Peters ( see also John Robb on Peters/EBO).

On Iran:

Matthew Hogan of Aqoul has two posts worth reading - " First As Tragedy, Then As Farsi: Ahmadinejad's Letter" and one which will interest Dave and Marc, "Ahmadinejad's 1953 Reference: The Skeleton in the Regime's Closet Reaching Out?".

On Networks (and resiliency):

Dr. Von has two posts here "Some Quick Thoughts on Resiliency in (Social) Networks " and
"Analyzing the War on Terror in the Context of Network Theory" . Noah of DefenseTech
enlists Valdis Krebs to analyze the NSA story ( hat tip John Robb) .

That's it.
Thursday, May 11, 2006

Steve DeAngelis of ERMB continued our discussion of resilience with a new post on the interface of technology, organizational culture and individual action. A critical excerpt:

" But the organization becomes truly resilient when its leaders, managers and staff are willing to reach across those departmental lines themselves -- when they collaborate to bring all of the organization's resources to bear on the threat or the opportunity. Technology supports resilience -- but true resilience also requires cultural and psychological comfort, as well as intensive training in the operation of resilient systems. Resilience requires a constant interplay between technological and human factors, with each reinforcing the other.

In the past, we've described resilience as the ability -- of an individual, or an organization, or a nation state, or a trans-national system -- to draw on all available resources in the face of a challenge. There is clearly a cultural component to this. Londoners were resilient in the face of the Underground bombings -- and New Yorkers were resilient in the face of the September 11 attacks -- in some measure because of a shared culture and heritage that they could draw on. They knew how to think about the challenge and how to rise to meet it. The same can hold true in an organizational setting -- the people in a resilient organization know how to respond, have access to systems that support resilience, and know how to use them

This is a very apt description of the resiliency dynamic ( the cool part of interacting with sharp thinkers like Mr. DeAngelis is the speed with which they can extend or deepen any point of discussion) and here's why:

Most of us have been educated to think in terms of compartmentalization, isolation, sequence and hierarchy which would be the entirely wrong paradigm for considering the effects of phenomena like resilience. Instead, we should reorient our cognitive perspective toward integration, synergy, interdependence, feedback and simultaneity - a more useful framework for understanding networked behavior. Resiliency has its greatest effects as a systemic characteristic and as such, it is a conceptual tool for systems analysis or engineering.

What therefore do we need to ask ourselves to pursue resiliency on a practical, useful level ? Here are some of the concepts and questions I would like to consider in future exchanges with Steve ( since the tech "platforms" aspect currently being discussed by Tom Barnett and John Robb are far, far, far outside my area of expertise, I'll leave that subject to them and for Steve):

The strategic edge provided by resilient cultures.

Engineering resiliency and cultural evolution

Can resiliency be a two-edged sword?

The psychology of resiliency

Educating for resiliency

The " flow" of the resilient moment.

Comments, criticism, suggestions from readers are solicited.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Very interesting discussion going on over at Dr. Barnett's over a TCS Daily review of Blueprint For Action by Max Borders, the TCS managing editor and think tank scholar. In his review of BFA, Max wrote:

"And it is in Barnett's recommended process of transforming Gap states into Core states that we see the age-old tension between theory and practice start to emerge. Before attempting to expose this tension, we should note that Barnett's Blueprint for Action is a worthwhile effort. Still, it falls short -- not due to the Wherefores carefully elaborated the first book, but due to some of the Hows elaborated in the sequel. The shortcomings of the second stage of Barnett's grand strategy -- implementation -- are, in some respects, due to what Friedrich Hayek called "the fatal conceit." In other words, Barnett focuses too much on nation-building and not enough on institution-building

...The most important aspect of any SysAdmin effort should be institution-building, not just nation-building. This is where the UN and the quasi-governmental behemoths have failed so utterly in just about everything they've done. To build a nation without transfusing vital institutions is to build a house of cards ready to collapse. To wit: India and China are in no position to contribute to institution-building, as they're still grappling with the internal transformation of their own institutions. The most successful Core states are the states that look the most like the US in their institutions. So while you might want Britain or Australia to contribute to institution-building, you're not likely to want Russia or Brazil to do so."

( Hat tip to Bruce Kesler )

Borders review deserves to be read in its entirety, but the point about institutions has become a focal point of discussion. Tom responded in his own post:

"His larger critique that I focus too much on nation-building vice institution-building is at worst a misrepresentation of my ideas (BFA is full of discussion on the latter, which, quite frankly, is logically indistinguishable from the former--to wit, what is a nation but a collection of institutions?) and at best an argumentative ploy (reminding me of the criticism that "Barnett should think less about shrinkíng the Gap and more about growing the Core," to which I reply "Fine, call it whatever you want.").

Borders' points about the complexity of the challenge are all good and his emphasis on, and articulation of, the goals of institution-building are most welcome. But he needs to put his considerable brainpower to the "how' answers, not just the "how not" summaries of past experience. "

As I commented at Tom's, the issue here is primarily one of scale ( a point on which Max strenuously dissents) though nations and states are separate questions. I'm pretty sure we can build states which are nothing more than a large network enjoying the function of sovereignty and a monopoly over the legal use of force. Inevitably, any Sys Admin force will have to build both institutions and the state simultaneously to some degree in order to create a zone of security and order in which civil society and the market can evolve and thrive. I don't see this issue as an either-or proposition but "both".

Nations are another question. A functional, competent, state can certainly help the nation-formation process ( Prussia 17-19th century) and a dysfunctional, corrupt or illegitimate state can impede it ( Mobuto's Congo, today's Nigeria) but the sense of nationhood comes from the heritage of a shared experience that bridges tribal, sectarian or other associational primary loyalties. We can encourage that or discourage it but I'm not sure that such a thing as a " nation" in the organic sense can be built.


I wanted to call your attention to a recent post by Eddie at Live From the FDNF who has given a lot of thought this past year to humanitarian intervention problems. In "Sys-Admin Academy & Exchange", Eddie throws out a number of intriguing yet pragmatic ideas regarding Sys Admin possibilities.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Curing Analytic Pathologies:Pathways to Improved Intelligence Analysis by Jeffrey R. Cooper.

If, like me, you enjoy contemplating issues of human cognition, intelligence analysis, reforming the CIA and IC bureaucratic culture, you will probably find this a fascinating read. If not...well...it is 73 pages of what I just described. :O)

Hat tip to Defense Tech.

Hat tip to Secrecy News ( which I will soon add to the blogroll).
Monday, May 08, 2006

An interesting and well-crafted essay by Harold James at HNN that fuses analogies with imperial Rome and Great Britain with Schumpeterine creative destruction. " Our Roman Predicament " postulates what the Old Marxists might have called the "contradiction of capitalism", that geopolitical success of the liberal order undermines itself. A nod to cyclicalism, a theory that stretches back to Polybius:

"In these monumental and parallel works, Smith and Gibbon explored what I term the “Roman predicament”: the way that peaceful commerce is frequently seen as a way of building a stable, prosperous and integrated international society. At the same time, the peaceful liberal economic order leads to domestic clashes and also to international rivalry and even wars. The conflicts disturb and eventually destroy the commercial system and the bases of prosperity and integration. These interactions seem to be a vicious spiral, or a trap from which it seems almost impossible to escape. The liberal commercial world order subverts and destroys itself, and Smith’s gloomy concluding chapters are a long away from the apparently optimistic beginning with the immense productivity gains possible as a result of the division of labor.

...Today there are no grounds for thinking that the United States – or the global economic system – has reached any kind of inherent limit to growth. The pace of technical innovation even seems to be increasing, and the U.S. is one of the world’s most dynamic and innovative societies.

The possibility of an unraveling of the U.S. position comes rather from political developments that respond to the uncertainties of the new economy as well as the new security situation. Some of the backlash stems from fears of immigration, even though it is precisely the openness to immigration that has made the U.S. so dynamic. Our political and social psychology responds to globalization by imagining an idealized safe and closed off world. The more we think of the military and security challenge, the more likely we are to try to close ourselves off. "

I am not persuaded by James argument of the decisive nature of inequality, which he correctly diagnoses as evidence of economic growth. Human beings have an immense capacity to tolerate political and economic systems that produce both real and relative inequality - what they tolerate poorly is personal regression to a lower status. Peasants, who are acclimated to famine, have rebellions; the newly hungry urbanite though, will make a revolution.

I also found James section on rule-sets superficial and weak:

"The central problem is that we need rules for the functioning of complex societies, whether on a national (state) level, or in international relations. But we do not always comply voluntarily with rules, and rules require some enforcement. In addition rules need to be formulated. The enforcement and the promulgation of rules are both consequences of power, and power is concentrated and unequally distributed. Even when we think of voluntarily negotiated rules, there is the memory of some act of power, the long shadow of a hegemomic strength – the shadow of Rome - falling on the negotiators. The propensity for subversion and destruction of a rule-based order comes about because and whenever there is a perception that rules are arbitrary, unjust, and reflect the imposition of particular interests in a high-handed imperial display of power. "

That section cried out for deeper treatment.

Rules need to be enforced, certainly but they do not simply flow out of " hegemonic power" but must reflect the conditions in which the hegemonic power, so-called, operates. They need to match reality, partly as a matter of functionality and so as to also have legitimacy in the eyes of the ruled. Legitimacy comes in part from the character of the power attempting to secure compliance but the rule itself must make sense or provide a recognizable benefit. Rules rise or fall on securing at least the grudging voluntary compliance from the vast majority of society. Catch-22 situations breed resistance and can result in a hoplesss task in terms of enforcement ( Napoleon's Continental System proved so unenforceable that the French government eventually granted exemptions to legitimize some of the ongoing smuggling and profit from it).

Despite having numerous disagreements with the author on a nuber of levels, I still found it a stimulating piece of synthesis.

Steve DeAngelis, founder of Enterra Solutions was kind enough to comment on my recent post over at his Enterprise Resilience Management Blog:

"This is an important discussion. While we're grateful for Mark's positive comments about Development in a Box, we are even more grateful that we can join a conversation about the ways in which the Enterprise Resilience Management framework interacts with and transforms organizational culture. Enterprise Resilience Management is not just a technology solution -- though it has a significant technology component. And it is not just a management methodology, though it starts with a comprehensive assessment of critical assets and the processes and best practices that support them. Rather, the framework combines best practices and technology to create an entirely new organizational architecture. Methodology and technology, working together, break down the barriers between organizational silos and create new systems -- both cultural and technological -- for whole-organization response.

The resilience of an organization depends only in part on its willingness to adopt new technologies. Resilience also depends on the ability of people -- leaders, line managers and staff -- to create a resilient culture."

Very true. An important point which leads me to explain why I consider "Resilience" to be a meta-principle governing an emerging world where the governing paradigm will be a complex system of systems. Evidence of resilience as a phenomena is manifested across both an enormous scale of magnitude and in multiple domains, including:

1. Complexity Theory

2. Network Theory

3. Ecological-Environmental-Economic systems

4. Social Networks

5. Security Policy and Counterterrorism

6. Human Psychology ( see NYT here)

There are probably infinite possibilities here.

I would expect that any in any adaptive complex system , regardless of the field in which it is traditionally categorized, evidence of resilient characteristics will be readily discoverable ( at least until you reach quantum or cosmological extremes of scale, there I'd have to hedge my hypothesis and let more qualified people speak to that). I would further suggest, more to Steve's point in his post, that overlapping levels of resilience will be highly beneficial.

An organization with a resilient culture will help its employees or members become more resilient themselves by providing a shared "cognitive template" or schema that encourages the practice of resilient behaviors, which with time, may become internalized. Conversely, psychological resiliency among key personnel - the leaders and "hubs" of the organization's social network - are indispensible in building a coherent organization from the ground up or weathering a severe crisis. Resilient leadership operating in a resilient organizational culture are apt to be synergistically reinforcing and, therefore, likelier to pass on the institution and its mores to successive generations.

How many generations ? If you think of corporations, states and organized religions in terms of their formal structures, the timeline now runs into centuries. In a few cases, thousands of years.

Now that's what I call being resilient.
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" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli

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