Monday, March 20, 2017

The Parity Problem

Sometimes a dose of Churchill can cleanse the cognitive cobwebs, if for nothing else, than to enjoy the profundity of precise pontificating. Churchill could read aloud a phonebook and it would sound powerful. That is in part why his portrayal of the War to End all Wars, The Great War, is on many levels…powerful. Read for instance his several sentence summary of the entire war on page 558, around the middle of the page. Consider the problem of parity that essentially entangled both sides of the war, as they struggled against each other — more importantly as they struggled against themselves. In many respects, the parity problem was a function of concepts, not capabilities. They struggled with their own selves trying to figure out how many of the new means of warfare could be used to effect and for advantage. Both sides had plenty of capability; what they lacked was a concept to put those capabilities to use. In the process, both sides literally went to ground as they could gain little more than feet and yards at a time against each other. Should we consider a similar problem today as the ubiquity of information, communication, and connected data technology are transforming the means of waging warfare? Are there virtual trenches from which we may one day find ourselves fighting as we struggle with one another, trying to break through the latest breakthroughs? Consider instead how “Craft, foresight, deep comprehension of the verities, not only local but general; strategems, devices, manoevres…” might instead form the basis for how we find potential in the parity problem.[1]

[1] See Winton Churchill in the The WorldCrisis (abridged), Scribner, 1992, p. 573.

Monday, March 13, 2017

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? Have you ever heard that adage? Well, consider this. What’s in a doctrine? Even more, what’s in the name of a doctrine? For instance, what is meant by the doctrine of deterrence? That is the doctrine that seeks to protect our own interests by making the pursuit of other’s interest either untenable or un-affordable. During the Cold War era between the late 1940s and early 1990, deterrence made sense as a doctrine that guided thinking about national security approaches. During that period, several countries acquired the means to inflict such devastating damage to another actor that the cost of doing so became both untenable and un-affordable as a reasonable means to secure one’s own interest. The security option just made little sense. Therefore, nuclear options had an inherent deterrent quality in and of themselves.

What about now? Nuclear considerations are still an important factor guiding relations between international actors, but something else has been added to mix. That is the consideration of cyber. Cyberspace and all the nuances related to connected forms of data and information technologies potentially complicates how states and other major international actors are guided by underlying schools of thought about protecting their respective interests. In other words, the doctrines that guide thinking about relations in an age of digital ecosystems are likely more sophisticated than those aiming to deter or encourage consequent behaviors.

To help frame our thinking about this is an important essay from Joseph Nye about Deterrence and Dissuasion in Cyberspace. In this piece, Nye looks at the efficacy of the doctrine called deterrence, and he raises the question as to whether this doctrine sufficiently achieves what national security needs it to achieve with respect to threats from cyberspace. His point is that the notion of deterrence may not fit with the speed and attribution issues associated with confrontations presented through cyber realm. Those challenges are both instantaneous and attributable, or mostly hard to attribute without intense forensics. These factors of responsiveness and attribution present us with a bit of a conundrum. How do we discourage such actions? How do we discourage such behavior? Can we adequately reciprocate instantaneously to whomever perpetrates a consequential cyber offense? These are important questions because they are undergirded by a doctrine that should guide thinking about to deal with these problems. The real question is, then, what is that doctrine? What is the name of the underlying thought guiding our thoughts about virtually securing the nation. Is it deterrence? Or is it something else?  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Consider This — The Paradigm Paradox

Can we really imagine what the next few years might look like, let alone out to 2035? Think back to 2010. It seems like just yesterday, but it was seven years ago! Do you remember what life was like before you used to Uber your way around town…before your phone really became a part of your life (for most of you)…before apps were your day to day connection to the rest of your day to day life (again for most of you)…before your 3-year old begged to play the latest coding game on that same phone…before drones became mainstream ways of war…before drones with HD cameras and infrared night vision with automated sensors controlled by simple apps…on your phone…available at Toys-r-Us for $29.99 became ubiquitous? If you cannot, then what you have experienced is what Thomas Kuhn would call a paradigm shift. Since 2010—really about 2007—there has been a paradigm shift in how we interact with the things of this world.

Now, imagine yourself in 1910. What will the next seven years look like? What will life look like in 1917? Will we get around town in the same fashion? Will we travel in the same way? Will we travel to the same places? Who will lead the countries of the world? Which are the remaining countries—or empires—of the world, and who are the emerging powers that we would not have necessarily noticed, like the United States.

Here is a great piece, that I think I may have recommended before that will give you a glimpse of the paradigm change about to change how the world worked and how that world would be organized. Margaret MacMillan’s essay, as part of the Brookings Institute’s essay series, is a concise parallel to her fantastic book, The War that Ended Peace, which details how the pressures of new technologies, new alliances, new economic relationships, new ideologies converged, resulting in the war to end all wars. Consider this—can you hear the echoes of history sounding similar today? Can we begin to make out what our next paradigm shift will unveil, or is the paradox of such thinking too immature that it just has to occur for us realize it?

Of note, for those following the blog and the book-a-week club, remember this month is a month of functional fictions. Last week should have looked at Joseph Heller’s, Catch-22. This week was scheduled Franz Khafka’s The Metamorphosis; however, I haven’t received my copy yet, so I may flip-flop with The Ugly American. Either way, as you follow along with this month’s fictions, you should be refreshed by some witty hindsight that will open your eyes to previous paradigms that actually still very current. The question, then, is are they really paradigms or are they conditions of human nature?