Monday I participated in an “Emerging Threats Forum.” Facilitated by Toffler Associates, a major jurisdiction was working to think through the atypical and potentially new. Among the issues offered were:
- Aging Infrastructure
- Engineered Viruses
- Climate Change
- Cyber Attacks
- Nano robots
- Solar Weather
And more. I perceive the purpose was less a matter of tactical planning and more an effort to conceive a strategic stance that might meaningfully engage a wide range of threats, not just those specified.
While our rather small, but diverse group was in conversation, the National Intelligence Council released it’s quadrennial report: Global Trends 2030: US Leadership in a Post-Western World. (Warning: 20-plus MB)
If you read HLSWatch, I’d be surprised if you have not already read a news piece or two on the report. The Telegraph (UK) headlined: US will be “first among equals by 2030.” The Economic Times (India) headlined: India- China unlikely to topple American supremacy by 2030: Intelligence. Same report viewed from two different contexts.
Here’s how the Office of the Director of National Intelligence frames the report:
“Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” projects that by 2030 the U.S. most likely will remain “first among equals” among the other great powers, due to the legacy of its leadership role in the world and the dominant role it has played in international politics across the board in both hard and soft power. The replacement of the U.S. by another global power and construction of a new international order is an unlikely outcome in this time period.
Nevertheless, with the rapid rise of other countries, the “unipolar moment” is over and no country – whether the U.S., China, or any other country – will be a hegemonic power. In terms of the indices of overall power – GDP, population size, military spending and technological investment – Asia will surpass North America and Europe combined.
The empowerment of individuals, the diffusion of power among states, and from states to informal networks, will have a dramatic impact bringing a growing democratization, at both the international and domestic level. Additionally, two other “megatrends” will shape the world out to 2030: Demographic patterns especially rapid aging and growing demands on resources such as food and water, which might lead to scarcities. These trends, which exist today, are projected to gain momentum over the coming 15-20 years.
On Tuesday Dan O’Connor asked, “Why are Americans so scared?” Well, if you’re predisposed to fretting there’s plenty of encouragement in the Global Trends report. If worst case thinking is your particular fetish, the six Black Swans described will be as titillating as the Four Horsemen.
I was surprised how the emerging threats conversation unfolded. To effectively deal with any exotic threat — and many others as well — those in the room concluded there was a need to proactively engage the public. The public should know the government does not have sufficient capabilities to effectively respond to many of these threats. As a result, individuals — and the private sector generally — should be self-sustaining for a significant period, potentially well-beyond the 72-hour window. It is especially important that those with the financial and physical capacity to be self-sustaining do so in order to allow the government to assist those without such capacity.
In other words, the conversation gave much more emphasis to shared vulnerabilities than to specific threats. The strategic stance focused on individuals and the community being informed, realistic, and proactive regarding existing vulnerabilities. (The group also perceived it would be difficult — both politically and functionally — to achieve this strategy, but that is for a different blog post.). At least one HLSWatch reader was also involved in the discussion, I will be interested if she finds this a fair representation of what seemed to me to be a consensus conclusion.
The National Intelligence Council addresses vulnerabilities (and opportunities), but it does so within a rhetoric that presumes a threat. The calculus of action and options unfolds from preventing or mitigating a threat.
The micro does not always translate into the macro but as the father of young children I discouraged attention to potential threats, even while I encouraged sustained attention to potential vulnerabilities. I was taught by my parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, and community that strength emerges from diligent self-development — doing my very best — not from preoccupation with threats or competition. For better or worse — and I think mostly for better — this is the strategic stance with which I have lived my life.
Are we vulnerable or are we threatened? Does it make a difference?