Remembering 9/11: Anticipating Risks

2017-08-27 By Robbin Laird

For me, having been at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, unanticipated events are a key part of being realistic about risks.

What risks are we not focused upon that are anticipatable?

What does the current bias of policy making and the politically correct definition of the world factor out of risk calculus?

For those of us who are not expecting to see a world concert along the lines of a global High School Musical, what risks need to be thought about beyond the range of currently defined policy reality?

I am not interested so much in the world in 20150 for I will be dead much before that.

I wrote my dissertation focused on how to understand historical change, and one of the conclusions was clearly to focus on how the questions change for communities as they face the next phase of history.

During my recent visit to Australia, I had a chance to talk with a leading Aussie strategic thinker about how to consider risk management in terms of shaping an evolving combat force.

In shaping force design, the core focus is upon building the force from platforms and enablers into an evolving combat force.

But the evolution of a force will be shaped as much by the “externalities” such as the real state of economic development and other “exogenous” risks to shaping a coherent and effective combat force.

John Blackburn, Air Vice-Marshal (Retired) and a leading defense analyst, is broadening his analytical scope to work in this challenging area.

What risks are likely to shape in a real sense how we can build an effective 21st century combat force?

What priorities should the military and defense pursue as economic, logistic and other exogenous variables effect the real development of the force?

“It’s a prioritization issue, but it’s also an analytical problem.

“As we try to design the future force, one of the things we have to be really conscious of is what assumptions are we making as we design that force.”

“I am confident that when using scenarios to test our future designs, we have the appropriate tool sets to do it.

“Where we run into difficulty is when we step outside of Defence’s traditional area of responsibility and make assumptions that are not fully explored.”

“What are some of the assumptions that we’re basing our design of the force on?

“And how realistic are these assumptions? And what happens when alternative external realities confront the force design?”

Blackburn has previously raised his concerns regarding the assumptions made that effect the future force design, in a particular those related to the resilience of commercial fuel supply chains.

An additional concern he has expressed is the broadly held assumption that we will experience an average world GDP growth of about 3.5% in the next 20 years.

“There are a many lead indicators, in particular the growth of unsustainable debt levels, which suggest a growing fragility of economic systems, not just in Australia, but globally.

“Having been through a financial crisis not that long ago, I am reading expert views that suggest that the lead indicators we’re seeing now are not just an echo of the past, they’re an amplification of it.

“We cannot assume such straight-line growth when designing our future Defence capabilities; we need to look at risk in a range of economic scenarios, for example, so that we can shape informed choices about our future force design.”

Based on such thinking, one needs to think through defense priorities and how to achieve them in a changed environment.

“If we prioritize the force, within a budget envelope based primarily on consistent economic growth projections we are taking a significant risk with our future integrated force capability.

“We need to do focus on what we think are the non-negotiables within Defence that we must have to perform essential, integrated, functions.

“We need to identify what are the capabilities that we may have to give up, if we have a major problem in our economy?”

This is especially important as threats move from the wars of choice to the conflict and wars of necessity.

With pressures to look at national direct defense more closely and fundamentally, this question of ensuring the achievement of core fundamentals for national defense is clearly of growing importance.

“There are lead indicators of significant challenges within other areas, such as energy.

“It’s not the absolute availability of fossil fuels that is a near term concern but rather the cost and risks associated with assumptions concerning the reliability of logistics chains in conflict scenarios.

“Such scenarios have not been addressed in Australia’s National Energy Security Assessments published to date. That lack of analysis is an assumption that must be tested.

How will that affect us?

“What I’m concerned about is that as we mature in our analysis, and planning, and delivery of the future integrated force, the assumptions we’re making that are outside of Defence’s control could be a major risk to us, in having a force that has lots of pieces but remains far short of the integration which we will need to have to address emerging threats.”

“We have a risk of becoming a hollow force, not through any design fault, or lack of planning, but because we have not fully considered the potential risks, for example, of a major financial correction.

“That’s not Defence’s job to do by itself, but this is a part of the more complex integrated threat in the future, Defence needs to be a part of that broader integrated team, analyzing that problem.”

“Many experts in these areas work in stovepipes. Some look at climate, other at energy and others at the economy.

“But we fail to address the complex interaction of these areas in terms of risk factors.”

And the ability to analyze in a comprehensive manner the interactivity among exogenous factors shaping the resources available to defense is not going to come simply from stitching together the kind of stove piped analyses and stovepipe thinking often conducted by Government departments.

Blackburn underscored that he saw the Australian military as doing a good job in thinking through and crafting an integrated force.

What he sees as necessary is shaping a team approach within and outside of government that shape an understanding of the broader picture which can impact significantly on the ability of Australia to defend itself effectively as the social, economic and environmental base changes fundamentally.

Editor’s Note: Credit for the Graphic:

A graphic image depicting the measurement of risk in business.

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

—General George Patton Jr.

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