Editorial Note: This is the third in a series of posts on resilience as a proposed focus for a homeland security strategy.
The Long Blog: A strategy of resilience (October 19)
In his February 1946 Long Telegram from Moscow to Washington D.C., George Kennan set out reality-as-perceived-by-our-adversary. He then derived four deductions from this analysis.
So much for premises. To what deductions do they lead from standpoint of Soviet policy?
Kennan’s deductions de-mystify the strategic perspective of the Soviet leadership. It is a reality warped by ideology. But precisely because Soviet perception is so ideologically blinkered, it is predictable. Kennan argued the US could best advance its interests when it acted with this predictable worldview as a principal target.
Many of the threats confronting the United States today are beyond the scope of accurate analysis or, even, consensus judgment. The unpredictability of the H1N1 pandemic is good evidence. The potential implications of climate change, resource shortages, and the range of weapons and targets available to our adversaries challenge the imagination and arguably exceed our analytical capacity.
A colleague who served for many years in the intelligence community has critiqued the National Intelligence Strategy as fatally flawed because it is so far-reaching. In his view it is undisciplined in target-selection and thereby condemns the intelligence community to almost certain failure. Their limited assets will be stretched too thin.
His operational concern is undeniable. Yet I perceive the greater flaw is in too narrowly defining threats as externalities. In 1946 the Soviet threat was clearly primus inter pares. In 2009 choosing among threats can sometimes seem a game of musical chairs.
A deep knowledge of an other is helpful, but no longer sufficient. Other-awareness must be complemented with self-awareness. Risk emerges from threat and vulnerability. Threats are often beyond our reach, vulnerabilities are usually self-generated. We require a deep understanding of our self.
Kennan found four action principles flowing reasonably from his seven perceptual premises. For a Soviet leader who has confidence in his perception of reality, the prescriptions for action are self-evident. Kennan encourages his Foggy Bottom masters to recognize the internal logic of the adversary’s worldview.
Broadly accepting the worldview set out by the National Intelligence Strategy, I propose four action principles:
1. The United States is, by-far, the most powerful single player on the planet. More than most, we are masters of our own fate. We have the resources, systems, and culture to actively participate in shaping the future. Despite this, some perceive the best days are behind us. Certainly, many would say, 1946 was golden compared to our reduced current condition. That could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But three factoids:
GDP compared to principal putative adversary:
1950: US:$1.45 trillion v. Soviet Union: $510 billion (1991 $)
2007: US: $14.2 trillion v. China: $4.4 trillion
1946: 121.7 percent
2009: 66.2 percent (projected)
US median household income (constant 2007 dollars):
Some will argue China’s trajectory is stronger than the Soviet Union’s. I do not disagree, that seems likely. But in 1946 central planning had not yet fallen out of favor. That year Britain nationalized both the mines and banks. Many in the capitalist world were expecting a repeat of a big post-war depression, “just like” 1929. Communism was still seen as a realistic alternative to capitalism in producing reliable economic prosperity. Present problems can diminish our memory of past concerns.
2. Despite our great power, the United States confronts a strategic context much more unstable than 1946. Today there are many more nodes of significant influence than in the immediate post-war period. The interactions — social, intellectual, economic, and political — between the various nodes constitute a rich web much beyond that of 1946. The spread of H1N1 was much faster than any prior pandemic and going viral is no longer limited to viruses. The pace of change has accelerated. We have much more virtual proximity to – and real dependence on — decisions and actions occuring well-outside the direct influence of the United States.
3. As a result, the contemporary strategic context is much less predictable than 1946. Kennan’s fundamental thesis was that the ideological rigidity of the Soviet regime made it predictable and thereby manageable. There is evidence he was right and during the Cold War US policymakers and strategists often (not always) were guided by this insight. But the range and type of challenges facing the US today are not anything as predictable. Rather than a “simple” bi-polar (pun intended) world, we are surrounded by random outbreaks of mass neuroses and peculiar psychoses.
4. With very limited predictability regarding our threats, national policy and strategy should aim to optimize our adaptability to a range of risks.
In his four deductions Kennan is more concise — perhaps purposefully provocative –than the preceding. But then in Part 2 of the Long Telegram he proceeds to analyze “certain aspects” of what he has confidently exposed. Please come back on Monday as we undertake to do the same.
(Some readers have indicated their intention to take up the discussion over the weekend, so you might even look in — and join in — before Monday.)