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Archive for June, 2007

Sunday, June 24th, 2007


I have a review of The Changing Face of War posted at Chicago Boyz.

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007


This will delight some, intrigue many and annoy others but I found it to be a good counterintuitive question worth considering.

Ahistoricality, posting at ProgressiveHistorians regarding the latest Failed States index, wonders about applying the criteria for state failure, used by Foreign Policy, to the linchpin of the global Core, the United States:

“The annual “Failed States Index” is out. The concept is an interesting one, indicating our very recent idea that national governments are supposed to be stable, almost eternal, and that society is supposed to manage all its conflicts with policy, that all land and people deserve stable governance. I’m not criticizing the ideas, I’m just pointing out that they are recent conceits, not eternal verities, and up to the end of WWI the most likely response to a failed state was imperial takeover.

The headlines regarding the index are highlighting Iraq’s precarious position as the second most failing state in the world, but it was a tight finish between the Sudan, Iraq, Zimbabwe and Somalia for the top spots. The only two non-African nations in the top ten of this list are Iraq and Afghanistan. Two things come to mind immediately when I look at this list: first, our imperial interventions are clearly short-term disasters, and; second, the history of failed post-colonial states suggests that they might well be long-term ones.

The full list of 177 states is interesting reading. The top thirty-two (the most critical, by their reckoning) are dominated by post-colonial African and Asian states. The rest of the top sixty adds some Latin American and Central Asian governments. Russia and China are tied with Azerbaijan and Lesotho for 62nd place.

The US ranked 160th, or 18th from the top in terms of state stability. I wonder, though. I’m including the list of factors they considered: do you think we’re as safe as all that?

Social Indicators

1. Mounting Demographic Pressures
2. Massive Movement of Refugees or Internally Displaced Persons creating Complex Humanitarian Emergencies
3. Legacy of Vengeance-Seeking Group Grievance or Group Paranoia
4. Chronic and Sustained Human Flight
Economic Indicators
5. Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines
6. Sharp and/or Severe Economic Decline

Political Indicators
7. Criminalization and/or Delegitimization of the State
8. Progressive Deterioration of Public Services
9. Suspension or Arbitrary Application of the Rule of Law and Widespread Violation of Human Rights
10. Security Apparatus Operates as a “State Within a State”
11. Rise of Factionalized Elites
12. Intervention of Other States or External Political Actors”

Naturally, I disagree that the United States is in danger of imminent or medium term state failure though such things are not impossible. The secession crisis before the Civil War was an event of critical state failure. Late 1932 and early 1933 saw at least symptoms of state failure and delegitimization amidst the economic implosion of the Great Depression and the collapse of the banking system.

What do you think ?

Friday, June 22nd, 2007


Squared off against The Firstborn and the Son of Zenpundit yesterday in a running supersoaker gun battle, occasionally involving the use of heavy artillery (the hose) and antipersonnel mines ( the sprinkler) by a winded Zenpundit, who denies any violations of the Geneva Convention.

Thursday, June 21st, 2007


Art Hutchinson has had a very stimulating series of posts at Mapping Strategy that cover many topics related to strategic thinking and futurism that I cannot let pass without a high recommendation and brief commetary:

1. “Perils of Prediction: The Elusiveness of Certainty and the Value of ‘Simulated Hindsight’

Art lauds Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” and discusses using “simulated hindsight” as a cognitive tool. This is not unlike counterfactual history exercises applied to futurism.

2. “sdrawkcaB gniknihT – Mind Game or Creative Lever?

Art is concentrating here on reverse order thinking exercises which powerfully disrupt our brain’s natural preference for automaticity in “learned” activities, forcing a rexamination of assumptions in terms of process, sequence and causation. Art also explains why some folks are more equal than others with this technique.

3. “Thinker or Tinker – In Pursuit of Practical Strategy

Partly a blog dialogue between Art and Dave Snowden on narrative and scenario strategies and Art’s advocacy of modular, interactive scenarios. Art also keys into the creativity/innovation aspect of recognizing and managing possibilities at what in the Medici Effect would be called ” intersections”.


Tuesday, June 19th, 2007


Tom brought an excellent post by Curtis Gale Weeks at 5GW to my attention and then offered his own commentary. Here are the posts:

On the Barnettian 5GW” by Curtis Gale Weeks

Nice post by Curtis on 5GW” by Dr. Barnett

I have to agree with Tom and Shane that Curtis really hit his stride with that post. I have a few comments of my own on their 5GW exchange.

Curtis wrote:

“—There is a term used variously and vaguely in these discussions; I myself conflated two interpretations of the term. The Robbian view seems to depend on unequal distribution of “-powerment”, in which some individuals or groups become more powerful than the general human population; whereas, at heart Thomas Barnett’s Core/Gap paradigm and strategy seem to depend upon an eventual equalization, or a relative equalization (which is a type of oxymoronic phrase), of individual empowerment across the globe”

I don’t think Curtis’ use of ” relative equalization of individual empowerment” is actually as oxymoronic as it seems. This is an astute normative economic observation on Week’s part. Instead, it illustrates the aggregate effect of Schumpeter’s creative destruction rippling across the globe as the spread of economic connectivity and information technology proceeds apace. The spread, of say, cell phone-based wifi internet access to states with sketchy (at best) landline telephone service, is a quantum leap forward for equalization of empowerment on the macro- scale even as certain small networks or individuals of those states on the micro- scale, possess the ability to leverage still greater levels of empowerment to become “more equal than others”.

This seeming dichotomy are flip sides of the same coin in any true market action and is always ongoing to some degree, provided the market is permitted to function. Unless the comparative advantage is artificially locked in by force ( this is what tyrants of disconnectivity, like Mugabe and Kim Jong-Il, do – force everyone else to remain still in order to retain their own local “super empowerment”), any individual or entity’s “super empowerment” is apt to be a fleeting condition unless constantly maintained by adaptive improvements.

Much later, Curtis opined:

“Many people seek saviors of one sort or another; many are happy to delegate responsibility for the things they themselves cannot touch or do not have the time or motivation to fix themselves — or do not understand, themselves. The crux of the Barnettian paradox involves the manner and method of assigning these delegations so that the general man-on-the-street can rest easily knowing his prosperous future is assured. Even within the Core, much doubt about this process of delegation exists; various superempowerments within and without the Core threaten to upset faith in the systems of the Core. “

Visible super empowerment within a society is a condition representing both change as well as inequality; two phenomena against which it is nearly always possible to rally anger, envy, fear and political opposition.

Tom Barnett wrote:

” Instead of trying to be all things to all individuals in Vol. III, I’ll explore the one thing I know well. I do that because I feel the knowledge is important in its own right, addressing a serious gap in our tool kit vis-a-vis other, rising societies of SEIs (especially China and India).

….The book on SEIs remaking the world in their vision–positively–is a book I could see writing with Steve a few years down the road.”

The accent on positively remaking the world by Dr. Barnett is a noteworthy point to keep in mind. Numerically speaking, most highly intelligent, energetic, creative and task persistent individuals who function as change agents are overwhelmingly positive actors. Maslow wrote of a stage of self-actualization and in a certain sense, exceeding oneself by changing society in a positive direction may be an expression of both self-actualization as well as super empowerment The Ted Kaczynskis and Osama Bin Ladens are perverse and statistically rare anomalies; exceptions that prove the rule, in a sense.

Unfortunately, the exceptionally negative super empowered individuals do and will exist and have the potential to inflict system perturbations, at least on a one-shot, ” black swan“, basis. Deep uncertainty regarding the nature of such future superempowered individuals’ actions has to be dealt with in terms of proactively engineering systemic resilience to cope with these malicious one-hit wonders. Steve’s Development-in-a Box paradigm at Enterra is one effort to begin comprehensively addressing these deficits. Tom’s Sys Admin is another. Building new, highly decentralized, “Wikinomic” mass-collaborative platforms from scratch, may be yet a third.

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