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Gunnar Peterson interviews Thomas P.M. Barnett

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Cybersecurity expert and blogfriend Gunnar Peterson of 1 Raindrop snagged a multi-part interview with grand strategist and blogfriend Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of Great Powers. Peterson is doing a superb job at elicitation with his questions:

Tom Barnett Interview

GP: ….It seems that the emerging middle class is the main factor that separates the developing countries’ past and future, they always had some very rich people and many very poor people, but now depending on how you measure it, India’s middle class is 200 million people. What trends should we watch as the global middle class emerges? What milestones will mark key events along the progression?

TB: The one of greatest interest is when per capita income gets in the range of $5,000 per year.  Somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 is where you see previously authoritarian, single-party-dominated states move into the process of increasingly pluralism, typically started when a reformist faction breaks off from, and begins to challenge, the dominant party.Obviously, India is already blessed in that regard, so China is the one to watch there.  Until China reaches such a level of development, all talk about authoritarian capitalism being superior to democratic capitalism is historically premature.  Authoritarian regimes do well with extensive growth (simply adding in more resources) but then tap out when it comes to shifting into innovation-based, intensive growth….

Tom Barnett Interview Part 2 »

TB:….At initial glance, China’s route has higher risks concerning its political system (all those unruly and increasingly assertive urban laborers can go all Marxist on Beijing’s allegedly “communist” ruling party), but India has higher risks concerning its economic trajectory (you point about scaling out badly).  It’s just easier to imagine-for me at least-China having to change politically than India somehow avoiding industrialization and the social tumult/reformatting it will cause the country’s rural life.  China’s got a lot of that already under its belt (although its rural impoverished population remains vast, there are plenty of opportunities for village employment or migration to the cities), and its government seems willing to do whatever it takes to encourage and accommodate the migration from rural areas to cities.  But India moving far more tepidly in this direction, the result being that, what rural-to-urban migration does occur, often results in rather scary urbanization scenarios (more slumdog than millionaire).  

Tom Barnett Interview Part 3

GP: Many security writers and thinkers are obsessed with threats, they throw a dart a connected systems, extrapolate worse case scenario and everything goes “boom!”; your work is different, it accounts for system perturbation from threats but has more focus on the system resiliency to deal with events over the long haul. I find this system thinking lacking in many of your peers, and have never understood how worst case threat extrapolation can automatically lead to a parasite that takes over its host. Can you explain why its different to think of security in terms of resiliency rather than simply threats? What insights fall out of this distinction?

TB: Worst-case thinking obviously has its uses in the national security realm.  I just think we got into very odd, extreme tendencies during the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear conflict distorted our thinking unduly.  We’re just beginning to see thinkers and analysts and strategists emerge from a post-Cold War educational environment, like my nephew Brendan who’s studying Russian and International Relations (as I once did) at my alma mater, Wisconsin.  The problem is, the field of international relations, as Brendan will attest, is still obsessed with game theory and all sorts of artificial schools and still tends to be way too insular (economics still needs to embraced far more, not in some antiseptic academic sense but more in a keen understanding of how international business works).  But the key thing is, Brendan and others of his generation won’t be held to the extreme fears that my generation was, despite the constant hyping of the threat of nuclear proliferation, so they’re forced to cast their nets wider and that’s a good thing.

Tom is pointing to the “higher level of play” that leaders need to operate at if their foreign policies and national security strategies are to be based upon sound assumptions ( I would also throw in accounting for greater systemic instability or probability of Black Swan   system perturbations)

An old saw is that amateurs study tactics while professionals study logistics. Strategists study geoeconomics because the structural economic shifts within and between countries and regions are not only predictive of where strife is likely to occur or never materialize but they set the framework or parameters on how effectively states are able to exercise “hard” forms of power. Interdependence wrought by globalization multiplies your leverage but it also constrains it’s uses.

For a great power, it’s a very short step in statecraft these days between “zen master” or as a “pitiful, helpless, giant”.

Sunday, February 4th, 2007


Sunday…Sunday…Sunday….where action is the attraction…

Bruce Kesler -” Interagency Coordination Requires Dems & Reps To Come Together

Top billing. The issue, while seemingly a dry one of inside-the-beltway bureaucratic wrangling among deputy assistant secretaries really could not be more important for increasing the resiliency of U.S. foreign policy. Why can’t the United States respond effectively to nimble 4GW groups ? Look to the lack of “operational jointness“, ” unified action” and ” System Administration” and the plethora of turf battles and bureaucratic empire building. More on this topic in the near future.

James McCormick -“Iklé — Annihilation From Within

A deep and probing review at Chicago Boyz of an important book (I’m reading it now).

Gabriel Kolko at DNI -” The Age of Perpetual Conflict

Kolko is the well known Marxist historian and one of the more credible scholars (i.e. he’s a real historian, not a Noam Comsky type polemicist) with an unrelentingly critical view of the United States. I’m holding this one up as a negative example; as a vigorous argument for isolationism and for a weakness of reasoning that assumes as static benefits of global interventionism ( bad actions deterred by the potential of intervention are ignored but are assumed to continue after a shift to isolationism) as a given while counting only the costs.

Catholicgauze -“Turkish Payback to Ralph Peters and Signs of Things to Come?

I agree this is disturbing. I am no expert on Turkish politics but there seems to be an emerging strand of crypto-Islamist rejectionism of the West in Turkey that is larger than issues over Iraq. To hazard a guess, anti-Americanism is partly a safe “euphemistic” discourse to hide opposition to secularist Kemalism ( which if you oppose openly in Turkey -or even not so openly -that gets your party banned and perhaps you a jail sentence). Anti-Americanism or anti-Westernism can be presented as Turkish nationalism, even when it masks an ideology that is decidely transnationalist.

Marc Schulman – “Who Is George Soros?

Speaking of disturbing. George Soros appears to be becoming unhinged. Does he realize that he – a major Democratic Party and liberal organization contributor – is openly suggesting introducing Kangaroo Courts to try Republicans and conservatives or is he so isolated in a bubble that he does not realize how that statement sounds to folks who are not on the MoveOn.org email list ?

How would Soros like somebody saying ” We should de-naturalize and deport politically active, authoritarian, crackpot, billionaires who violate the Logan Act ?”

Gunnar Peterson – “Protect the transaction

System security expert Gunnar Peterson opines on Col. David Kilcullen’s post Two Schools of Classical Counterinsurgency from his professional perspective.

That’s it.

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