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Two Quite Reasonable Observations

From John Robb at Global Guerillas:

The US national security budget is nearly $700 billion a year (much more if the total costs of Iraq/Afghanistan are thrown in), more than the rest of the world combined. Unfortunately, within that entire budget there isn’t a single research organization or think tank that is seriously studying, analyzing or synthesizing the future of warfare and terrorism. Fatally, most of the big thinkers working on the future of warfare do their critical work in their spare time, usually while working other jobs to put food on the table for their families. In sum, this deficit in imagination will soon be the critical determinant on whether the national security bureaucracy remains relevant in a rapidly changing global security environment. That relevance is the key to its future.

From Fabius Maximus:

This has been criticised as dividing insurgencies into rigid categories – black and white, not accounting for the shades of grey found in all human experiences.  That is both true and a good thing.  All rules of thumb are arbitary, in some sense, but useful for practicioners who know their limitations.  Even the exceptions to this “rule” about insurgencies, and I believe they are quite few, tell us something new.  For example, the Malayan Emergency shows the importance of having a legitmate local government to do the heavy lifting (even though the COIN literature tend to follow the Brits’ view, considering it “their” win – not that of the locals).

The value of these kinds of insights was well expressed by a post Opposed Systems Design (4 March 2008):

A deeper understanding of these dynamics deserves an organized research program. The first concept – an artifically binary distinction between “foreign COIN” and “native COIN” – has served its purpose by highlighting the need for further work on the subject.

One reason for our difficulty grappling with 4GW is the lack of organized study.  We could learn much from a matrix of all insurgencies over along period (e.g., since 1900), described in a standardized fashion, analyzed for trends.  This has been done by several analysts on the equivalent of “scratch pads” (see IWCKI for details), but not with by a properly funded multi-disciplinary team (esp. to borrow or build computer models).

 We are spending trillions to fight a long war without marshalling or analysing the available data.  Hundreds of billions for the F-22, but only pennys for historical research.  It is a very expensive way to wage war.

When the Cold War was as young, the newest of America’s armed services, the Air Force, sought an intellectual edge over their venerable and tradtion-bound brothers and funded the ur-Think Tank, RAND Corporation. I say “funded” because the USAF brass, while they expected products that would justify a strategic raison d’etre for the Air Force to Congress, wisely allowed their creation autonomy and this in turn yielded intellectual freedom, exploration and creativity. The Air Force and the United States were richly rewarded by these egghead “wild men” who advanced nuclear warfighting and deterrence strategies, Game Theory analytics,  a renaissance in wargaming, Futurism and a multilpicity of other successes. Moreover, RAND itself became a model for a proliferation of other think tanks that created an intellectual zone for public intellectuals and scientists outside of the constraints of academia.

We need something like that today. A few years back, I called for a “DARPA for Foreign Policy” but the need is equally critical in considering the future of war and conflict as is taking a multidisciplinary, intersectional, insight-generating “Medici Effect” approach.

We can do better.

Wow-That-Was-Fast Department:

Wiggins extends the conversation on RAND’s origins as an inspiration for today.

8 Responses to “Two Quite Reasonable Observations”

  1. Opposed Systems Design :: A 21st Century Golden Age :: March :: 2008 Says:

    […] by Mark’s stimulating prompt, some thoughts on the Golden Age of […]

  2. Wiggins Says:

    A very provocative post, Mark.  Started to comment here, then ended up just posting a response over at <a href="http://opposedsystemsdesign.blogsome.com/2008/03/08/a-21st-century-golden-age/">OSD</a&gt;.

  3. zen Says:

    We are slightly asynchronous tonight Wig. :o)

  4. judasnoose Says:

    Right after 9/11, some scary spooks suggested doing a futures market to predict terrorism.  They might have done something worthwhile, and they might have just profiteered, but in any event the public story was that no one trusted them enough to let them do it, particularly not with taxpayer money.So … at minimum, the USA is about 6 years late to the party.

  5. Moon Says:

    Proposed name for ringleader zenpundit’s "ur-RAND":
    IDEM, both as an implied back-citation to something (RAND in this case); and as a contractronym:  Invert, Distribute, and EMerge (contemporary themes).  ;-\

  6. zen Says:

    Hi Judasnoose

    I may be wrong but I believe the IC eventually went ahead with prediction markets on the quiet once the furor died down.

    Hi Moon,

    Sounds good to me.

  7. Fabius Maximus Says:

    Part of our problem is that the necessary research involves working against our current DoD apparatus, and there is neither internal DOD nor outside institutional support for this today. Unlike RAND, where the USAF was certain to get some value for its money.
    Another aspect of the problem is that everyone wants to do high-level research.  But what we need first imo is basic grunt-level research. Legions of grad students collecting information on the past century or so of 4GWs (however defined), on a systematic framework that allows comparisons.  With that then we will have a strong basis for analysis.   This is the kind of work that requires long-erm institutional support.
    What we have now are individual craftsman doing fine work, but with scraps as raw material.

  8. Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics « Fabius Maximus Says:

    […] “Two Quite Reasonable Observations“, posted at Zenpundit (8 March 2008) […]

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