Framing the Security Challenge

The world may be flat because of globalization, but we may want not to be flattened. The trouble with analyses like Freedman’s is there is a God called “Globalization” hidden away in the bowels of the earth, which creates automatic effects and benefits for something called the “global economy.” Nations disappear; power is the hidden hand of 18th century philosophes and somehow the system works for the greater good.

The difficulty with such an understanding is that it ignores the core role, which the United States and Western Europe have played in guaranteeing global economic, military and political security. The democratic system has not been perfect, and is clearly in transition, but stability has been anchored by core nation states. What is not clear is that with the rise of Asia, and the growing salience of the commodity states, what system will replace the Western system. And indeed, the terrorist threats to the Western system are designed, in part, to try to block the evolution of the Western system into a genuinely global system of prosperity and security on anything akin to the Western model.

Rethinking Globalization Models

National bargains are a key part of the global transition. Nationalism has not gone away, just visit China during the Olympics if you need to be reminded how bumpy the “flat” world is in reality.

Virtually all globalization models ignore the security element. Without security for air, ground, and maritime transit, there is no globalization. Without secure cyberspace, there is no effective transfer of information and data in the world wide web. And the world wide web was built by the American military for national purposes – C2 survival in times of nuclear attack. The WWW was built to secure communications, not to make the world flat.

There simply is no guarantee of freedom of commerce, information, currency and security of persons, data and goods and services. The United States and European nations have been at the heart of creating such guarantees for national purposes. Leaders in the post-WW II environment have seen it as essential to guarantee these freedoms against Soviet threats. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the erosion of Communism in China, the goals of Western leaders have been extended outside of the West.

We stand at a transition whereby the challenges of continued guarantees of security will need to be provided by new stakeholders in the Western system as that system transmutes into a global one. The core challenge is to find ways to provide for the public good of global security without shutting down the very openness, which makes globalization work.

Inevitability of the Security Challenge

Macro-economists tend to view defense and security as drains on productive resources. Yet productivity in a nascent global system rests on security and defense. Indeed, the line between defense and security capabilities is being blurred by modern states as their interests reach way beyond traditional national boundaries and traditional measures of national power.

And a global system in which the flow of data, currency, goods and services flow world-wide through mechanisms like just-in time production is increasingly vulnerable to disruptions. Indeed, strategic disruptions are built into the global system. The need to manage such disruptions (to plan for, to provide for, to shape decision-making and implementations tools for) is a growing public good. Yet one can look in vain for much significant strategic thinking or investment in ways to cope with strategic disruption.

And the decentralization of the global economy and global information grid is enhancing the ability of small groups and even individuals to engage in activities, which can significantly disrupt the global system. While one might criticize the terms, which the Bush Administration used to characterize the problem (the Global War on Terrorism), it is clear that the growing capability of small groups bent on disrupting the world system and seeking to divert it to their advantage is a real threat, no matter how you label them.

Meeting the Challenge

Risks need to be dealt with and managed as a normal task in coping with globalization. Clearly, it is impossible to build a completely risk-free global infrastructure. But what is troubling is how little investment is being put in place to at least deal with crisis contingencies, or to provide, a “surge” capability to provide for short-term amelioration for the shut down of ports, airports, train lines, or protect against what the Gartner Group calls the danger of a “digital” Pearl Harbor.

The first task is to build into our decision-making systems capability to plan for and expect strategic disruption. Herman Kahn, the famous nuclear strategist, called for “thinking the unthinkable.” Kahn was one of the first nuclear strategists and crafted the study of how to conduct nuclear war if such a horrific problem emerged. If Kahn were still alive today he would write a new book about strategic disruption as “thinking the unthinkable.”

The second task is as important as the first. Assuming we could craft decision- making systems which could plan for strategic disruption, how would we get today’s fractious societies to even want to think about such pain. Pain avoidance is the goal of modern democratic society, unless it is self-inflicted in seeking higher metaphysical states. But before we reach such a state we might find our way of life significantly threatened by small groups possessing weapons of mass destruction seeking to send us via an alternative pathway to reaching the next life.

How will we implement decisions in a timely and effective manner? What tool sets do we need for effective implementation? How can we train and prepare Western publics for the unexpected? From watching soap operas to preparing for the reality of strategic disruption is a crucial transition necessary to guarantee tomorrow’s democratic societies.

Building an Effective Tool Kit

In other words, Western decision-making systems need to craft effective tool kits to deal with risk management. We need security and military tools robust and flexible enough to aid in prevention and response to strategic disruption.
Among the tools necessary are redundant and hardened communications systems, interoperable communications and information systems, ability for key public and private institutions to share data and to communicate in crises, and an ability to train for crisis.

We should learn to be at least as effective as terrorist groups in using decentralized structures. Decentralized structures are probably optimal in maximizing survivability and the ability to be flexible enough, rather than presenting rich target sets associated with vulnerable networks.

Crisis leadership rooted in decentralized structures would provide not only an effective tool in dealing with actual strategic disruption, it might well deter groups from random strategic disruption attempts.

As we have modernized our militaries, we are seeking to decentralize operations and secure the networks of information and decision-making, which allows for effective operations. As we seek to secure our social, economic and information infrastructures, some of the same principles apply. Instead of running from our efforts at military modernization, we should embrace the best lessons learned.

Conclusion: Crafting a Risk Management Posture

In preparing for strategic disruption, we seek to find the right mix of response capabilities. We need to be able to combine proactive, active and reactive elements in our decision-making and implementation capabilities.

We need to blend three core elements. First, we need to have robust and redundant communication and information systems. Second, we need to have resilient organizations capable of absorbing shocks. And, third, we need to have alternatives, certainly in crisis periods, to single-source dependencies.

In short, the strategic challenge is to craft, forge and reinforce decision-making systems with several key competencies:

  • Right mix of centralization and decentralization in execution;
  • Fail-safe procedures;
  • Shape a sufficient cadre of well-trained first responders;
  • And generate a significant and meaningful number of exercises and simulations to frame effective procedures for the unexpected.

Strategic disruption is not a surprise in a globalized environment; it is a given. Effective risk management policy will be the result of policy, not simply the outcome of chance. Coping with chance can be used to shape effective policy, but only after the fact. It is better to plan for the unexpected because it isn’t.

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***Posted September 4th, 2009

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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