Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tsunami: Geopolitical Implications

As the full scope of the disaster from the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean unfolds, I can't help but wonder what additional impacts of this event are not being discussed. News agencies around the world are just now coming to grips with the scope of this tragedy--one which they have been consistently underestimating. The latest figures of 80,000 (from deaths will probably change before noon. I have been struck by this underestimation if only because it seems so obviously apparent that the death toll will rise: until this morning I had head nothing reported about deaths on the Andaman and Nicobar islands... and now the first reports are streaming in that at least 10,000 people are missing on a single island in the Andamans. The death toll in this archipelago alone could top 100,000. And when will we hear from Myanmar? It will take longer for news to trickle in from this military dictatorship, but it will not likely be positive when it does finally arrive. There are hundreds of thousands of "sea-gypsies" that lived in floating villages among the Mergui archipelago alone--will we ever hear of the impact on such marginalized (and largely unrecorded) populations??

The inability of the news media to cope with this disaster raises several questions, none of which are being adequately addressed at present:

1. How will this disaster affect the Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka? The worst-hit regions are Tamil territory. Will aid to the Sri Lankan government reach the Tamils? Will this incite new conflict? How did the tsunami impact the effectiveness of landmines in the border-areas (the second most heavily mined region in the world, after the Korean DMZ)?

2. How will this disaster affect the Acheh insurgency (ground zero for the tsunami) in Indonesia? Will the tragedy short-circuit the insurgency in favor of national unity following Yudhoyono's leadership under crisis? Will the government's inability to prevent starvation and disease further fracture an already fragmented nation, emboldening countless Islamic and ethnic splinter-groups?

3. To what extent will the devastated populations blame the US for lack of warning, followed by paltry aid donations? Following comments that US donations were "stingy", America upped its aid pledge to $35 million... approximately what is spent ever 3 and a half hours in Iraq. How will this missed opportunity to at least pretend to care about the fate of the third world affect the "Global War on Terror"??

4. Finally, as this crisis grips the world over the course of the next month, what actions will go unnoticed in the runup to the January 30th Iraq elections?

Monday, December 27, 2004

Pax Americana?

The golden age of the Roman Empire is often called the Pax Romana... it ended with the death of the last of the "5 Good Emperors", Marcus Aurelius, in 180 C.E. It was characterized by a lasting peace within the Roman Empire -- but a peace that was maintained only by nearly continuous warfare at the periphery.

While it is often said that history repeats itself, these cycles are not exact reproductions of the past, but rather take the form of chaotic self-similarity across scale owing to common causal mechanisms. During the Pax Romana, Rome was under increasing pressure on its borders from "barbarians". Nearly 100 years ago, Nietzsche asked "Where are the barbarians?". I think that he would consider his question answered if he were alive today. Are we now at the dawn of a Pax Americana--a lasting period of domestic peace sustained only by warfare on the periphery? Or are we at the close of that era (the Post-WWII golden age of America)?? Perhaps this quote provides the best summary, as it seems to fit well into history's self-similarity across time:

"Although things did seem to be getting better, there were problems on the horizon. Barbarian pressures were mounting. There was a considerable decline in the slave population and the army was no longer large enough to maintain the frontier."

Taken from Steven Kries' "Lectures on Ancient and Medieval European History" , it describes the state of Rome at the death of Marcus Aurelius.

On a loosely related note, if you haven't already read Michael Parenti's "The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People's History of Ancient Rome", I highly recommend it for its insight and timely nature.

Friday, December 24, 2004

DoD Propaganda Machine In Full Force

The latest issue of the magazine The American Enterprise (January/February 2005) printed a Letter to the Editor, ostensibly written by First Lieutenant Michael Erwin of the US Army (article link HERE). It reads like a run-down of Pentagon talking points carefully compiled by Army Public Affairs. In the letter, PA -- or, rather Lt. Erwin -- explains how great a victory the recent assaults on Najaf and Falluja were for the American people, and how despicable and evil the Iraqi insurgents are. Allow me to quote from this letter, and illustrate the bald-faced deceptions employed by the Pentagon PR machine. Hopefully Lt. Erwin won't take my commentary too personally--after all, he can point the finger at his friendly local Public Affairs officer:

American Enterprise intros the letter with a little commentary on the recent operations in Najaf and Falluja that Lt. Erwin participated in: "two of the trickiest and most successful combat actions carried out by the US military in the last half century". Given AE's standard bias on these matters, I'm not surprised by their assessment, or that they picked this letter for publication despite the fact that it clearly follows a list of talking points and key-phrases. Never-the-less, I would be remiss to allow such an assumption to pass unchallenged. The operation in Najaf was only finally settled when Hussein Sharistani brokered a deal by convincing al-Sadr that the Shi'a would dominate the country if he would back down and facilitate January's elections. Due to the US military's inability to handle the issue directly (because there were no adequately trained Iraqi forces to deal with Najaf), they gave Sharistani (and Sistani) the keys to the country. In the process, they created a future of Iranian influenced Iraqi policies in one fell swoop. Falluja was equally a failure, as it outraged Iraq's Sunni population and failed to crush any leadership or command structure of the insurgency--witness that attacks have picked up since the city was declared "under control" of the Marine Corps.

AE's editors also suggest that Erwin's letter sheds light on the "previously unreported revelation that Muslim holy warriors traffic in illicit drugs". Here are Lt. Erwin's actual words: "They also found large amounts of drugs--mostly speed and cocaine. Many of these jihad purists apparently drug themselves up for pleasure and to give themselves the boldness and stupidity to fight". Ignoring, for a moment, the unsupported assumptions on Erwin's part, let me point out that Lt. Erwin knows exactly why the insurgents take cocaine (a stimulant) and speed: to enhance combat alertness and performance over the many days that they must stay awake at one time. Not coincidentally, this is the exact same rationale that the US military gives for issuing "Go-Pills" to their soldiers. "Go-Pills" are actually Dexadrine. Dexadrine is the brand name for dexamphetamine, which is speed.

Erwin goes on to complain that "They [insurgents] placed snipers, mortar observers, and men armed with RPGs in the minarets of their mosques." According the US military, and the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) which they created and unilaterally decided to apply to the insurgents, this is not kosher. Erwin also states that the US military destroyed "any vehicle that had been parked in the same location for more than three days. We guessed they might be car bombs..." Having been through countless hours of LOAC training myself, I am well aware that both of these actions, one by the insurgents and one by the US military, violate the law. In my mind, both are smart moves--the hypocrisy lies in the fact that Erwin points out only the enemy's violations. Not to mention the general hypocrisy of attempting to apply one's own laws to another party which has not agreed to the former's social contract, a phenomena that I wrote about HERE.

Erwin continues with a statement demonstrating such ignorance that I am forced to either re-evaluate my esteem for his West Point education, or chalk it under the column of "Public Affairs actually wrote this letter":

"This city [Falluja] was the center of the resistance against the new Iraqi government."

The insurgents form an acentral, rhizomatic network. US military and CIA intelligence briefings both say this. Erwin apparently doesn't understand that a decentralized network doesn't have a center. Visit: for a lengthy discussion of this by a former military specialist in insurgent organization.

Next on Erwin's talking-points memo was this: "Some of the torture chambers were extremely gruesome. These insurgents are sick people." I wonder what kind of generalizations Erwin would be willing to make about all members of the US Army (of which he is part) given the abuses at Abu Ghraib??

As if he were trying to trip over every single ghost in the US military's closet one at a time, Erwin proceeds to begin arguing the merits of the Falluja operation based on body counts: "Over several days, American forces killed 1,200-1,600 insurgents." Someone should let this guy know how well Vietnam turned out for the US...

But the real icing on the cake came in Erwin's closing comments: "I see firsthand in Iraq that we cannot live peacefully back home right now unless we stay on the offensive against our enemies in their own backyards." Hubris, it seems, has no bounds. If I may humbly suggest that if we stopped killing, manipulating and exploiting people in far away lands, we may find ourselves finally at peace both at home and abroad. That seems a fitting comment on which to close these Christmas Eve comments...

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Hierarchy Hangover

Hierarchy creates great empires, large corporations, huge displays of its capability to command coordinated action. Hierarchy, however, is also an inefficient mode of organization. It depends on surplus energy. As small-scale hierarchies emerged at the dawn of written history, this surplus energy was obtained from hydraulic projects (irrigation systems), harnessing animal energy, cutting down the forests of Europe for firewood or developing new technologies like crop rotation to better free the energy of rich soils. Surplus energy is measured as a ratio of calories made available per calorie of human energy expended. Return:Investment. The higher the ratio, the more hierarchal the resulting government. The Nile provided a great surplus energy, and resulted in the hierarchal systems of the Egyptian pharoes. Constant warfare brought a constant source of slaves to the Roman empire to fuel the surplus from its great North African wheat plantations (latifundia). Coal and colonies provided the surplus energy for the rise of the British Empire. Today's hierarchies are are in turn dependent on the greatest source of surplus energy ever to be tapped by human civilization: oil. Oil produces more available calories of energy per calorie of human input than any other energy source available. It is, quite literally, the most concentrated form of solar energy available on the planet. The result of this great energy surplus has been great hierarchy: the empires and wars of the last hundred years have been defined by this phenomena.

What will happen when this source of surplus runs out? It may take 5 years or 100 years, but there is no doubt that this great surplus is draining away. Optimists (perhaps an inappropriate title) always state that we will surely find another--perhaps even greater--source of energy surplus. The facts belie the rhetoric, however: Hydrogen needs surplus energy to be produced. Oil shale provides a far smaller surplus ratio than the Gahwar fields of Saudi Arabia. Nuclear energy has never provided a surplus ratio without the subsidy of the military-industrial complex. There simply is no replacement for the surplus energy of oil.

As this surplus fades away, the era of hierarchy will slowly--if fitfully--fade with it. It not be likely to go quietly into that good night--as we may already be witnessing in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia today. Only societies and economies not dependent on this surplus ratio will survive--societies that are capable of existing on just the real-time solar energy hitting the earth. Such energy patterns will demand a rhizome mode of organization. The greatest question is: can we demonstrate the foresight to utilize some of our surplus now to lay the foundation for a zero-surplus society in the future? Or will we squander our fast-dwindling resources in an attempt to hold on in the face of inevitable change, only to lose our one chance at setting up a sustainable but advanced society? Many peak oil theorists think that our planet--that every planet--only gets one shot at setting up a sustainable society before their resources run out, and that if they miss, then they will fade into the obscurity of nature from which they came. Perhaps that won't be such a bad thing, but it strikes me that a middle ground--a sustainable, ontogenetically compatible, interconnected and informed society--may be possible. I think that is something to shoot for.

Hierarchy and Central Planning

It seems rather odd that, for all of its expressed disdain for centrally planned economies, capitalism is founded on the pattern of hierarchy -- itself an example of central planning.

Hierarchy is most simple defined as a pattern where one or more entities are being operationally controlled by a ruling (arkos) entity. It is, at its very core, a pattern of central planning and control. Traditional economics has long dealt with this apparent inconsistency of doctrine by stating that economic organization, below a certain level, is called a "firm"-- and is treated as a monolithic entity, thereby obscuring its centrally planned nature. Above the level of the firm "free-market" forces are presumed to be at work which facilitate the use of price to efficiently manage the masses of information in the market... and the sermon goes on. Let's take a look at these two separate economic levels--the "Firm", and the "Firm-Complex"--and see what is really going on:

The firm is a purely centrally-planned economic entity. At a certain size--a single employee, or a half dozen workers skillfully led--the firm represents the efficiencies of central planning at a small scale. Hierarchy--or central planning--creates initial efficiencies through central command and control, stratification, specialization, etc. However, it does not need to grow much beyond a handful of employees before the burden of information processing placed on the central planner (boss) exceeds that individual's capacity to efficiently process information. At larger sizes, more and more of the resources of a firm must be allocated to deal with this ballooning information-processing burden. And no amount of resources allocated to information-processing and analysis can make the firm process information perfectly. Just as US economists criticized the Soviet economic planners for their inability to replace the price mechanism, large firms cannot adequately cope with their own information processing burdens. Today, with the increasing horizontal and vertical integration of multi-national corporations, this information burden (and the resulting inefficiencies) is even approaching the scale of the problem that faced Soviet economists.

Beyond the firm, in the "free market", individual firms repeatedly and successfully lobby government (itself a centrally-planned "firm") to exert centrally-planned influences on the economy. Defense contractors lobby for contracts--this is pure central planning, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff certainly don't represent a true picture of "market" demand. All forms of political pork--all political spending and economic regulation, period--represent central planning of the economy above the level of the firm.

So... our "free market" economy is really anything but. Any economy that is based on the pattern of hierarchy will always be centrally planned. It may have multiple centers, even competing centers, but this very centralized nature will incur all of the inefficiencies of central planning.

The real difference between the central planning of the US economy, and the central planning of the Soviet economy is that--at least in theory--the US centrally plans for the concentration of wealth and the Soviet economy centrally plans for the distribution of wealth. Both do so rather inefficiently, due to central planning, and due to the fact that there remain (or in the case of the USSR, remained) conflicting voices within their own planning structure. But because both systems opted for the use of the pattern of hierarchy as their fundamental organizational mode, both systems are clear-cut cases of central planning and its related inefficiencies.

Is there any hope to escape from the inefficiencies of central planning, from the exploitation, reduction in freedoms and inequality that always accompany it? In my opinion, if hierarchy is at the root of the problem, then the answer will lie in the opposite mode of organization: rhizome. Only an economy grounded upon countless, independent but interconnected nodes can exist without succumbing to hierarchy. Many people have asked me: what kind of solution to these problems do you envision?? What would that economy look like? I have tried to create a solution to our problems that is scale-free and implementable immediately. I will begin a series of posts shortly to explore exactly that question:

What will the society of Netopia look like?

Stay tuned to find out...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Mortar Attacks in Mosul: Psychological Significance

At noon on 21 December, multiple rounds exploded in the dining hall of a US Army base near Mosul, Iraq. The source of the attack is still unclear. The most likely candidates are mortars or rockets, but the reporting of multiple rounds striking the dining hall suggest an accuracy and cluster of impacts that would most likely be the result of a mortar attack. The Pentagon has reported 22 killed and over 60 injured in the attack. This attack is highly significant for two reasons.

1. This is the first major success by insurgents to attack the soft center of US bases with indirect fire. Since the first American bases were established in Afghanistan and Iraq, they have been subjected to regular mortar and rocket attacks. The vast majority of these have been wildly inaccurate and ineffective. Prior to deployments to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan and Tallil Air Base, Iraq, I briefed units to expect infrequent mortar or rocket attacks, but that these attackers had demonstrated their inability "to hit the broad side of a barn", and that they posed little risk. But this latest attack demonstrates a new level of proficiency on a number of fronts.

Accuracy: The majority of previous mortar and rocket attacks were "accurate" if they landed within the perimeter of the base, with an average CEP (circular error probability) of over a quarter of a mile. This attack demonstrated a CEP of 50' or so -- quite respectable.

Targeting: The timing of the attack -- 12 noon -- suggests that the impact in the dining hall was intentional. Not only does this suggest that the accuracy of the attack was not a fluke, but it also demonstrates that insurgents have sufficient intelligence about the internal layout of the base to know the location of the dining hall, and that they have the insight to select such an effective target, both militarily and psychologically. Which brings me to the next reason why this attack was so significant: psychology

2. The psychological impact of this attack will have the most lasting effects. Previously, despite the theoretical threat while inside a US base, soldiers could relax both mentally and physically while inside the walls of the larger, better fortified bases. Now, with the effectiveness of this latest attack, there is no psychological safe haven for US forces. Especially if insurgents can continue this type of successful attack, it will sharply undercut the psychological well-being of US forces. The Pentagon is already reporting that 17% of returning forces demonstrate symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (which is startling, because onset normally takes months or longer). This type of psychological trauma will have a two-fold impact: Forces in Iraq will be more likely to act in a rash, irrational and reactionary manner. That means that the type of incidents that inflame the situation (prison abuse, civilian casualties, etc.) will become more frequent. Secondly, this lead to an increased spike in extremist and militia-type activity within the US in the coming years.

Following the first Gulf War, returning soldiers dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and "Gulf War Syndrome" (probably a result of aerosolized depleted-uranium, which will also be worse after this conflict) became a ready-made recruiting pool for extremist, anti-government and far-right militia groups. The Oklahoma City bombing was a direct result of this process, as well as the general spike in militia activity in the mid 1990's. All indicators suggest that the US will experience the same type of aftermath to this latest conflict. This time, however, with longer deployments, more personnel involved, more casualties, longer-term depleted-uranium exposure and--as this latest attack underscores--more psychological trauma, the symptoms promise to be far worse.

Many unanswered questions remain. Over the next few weeks, look for the following: will insurgents be able to continue this type of successful indirect-fire attack? Will the US counter-battery radars and response forces succeed in dealing with the attackers? Will the US take the logical countermeasures (as I recommended to the commander of the US base at Doha International Airport in 2003) of distributing dining hall facilities and other large congregations of personnel? Will the US military be foreced to change their fundamental operational methodology of lighting raids from highly secure compounds??

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

"Open Source Warfare" vs. "Arcane Use for Power"

SETEC ASTRONOMY aside, there really are TOO MANY SECRETS. But enough with the anagrams…

Question: Has information secrecy, and the concept of secrets in general, outlived its usefulness?

I’ll go ahead and give a bold answer, and then try to support it: secrecy is an inefficient and outmoded symptom of hierarchy. While this theory has many adherents in the intellectual property and computer programming worlds, it is nearly universally rejected in the areas of foreign policy, security and warfare. Why?

First, let’s take a look at the mechanics of secrecy. Secrecy is based on constraining information access to select nodes in an organizational structure, which in turn creates new chains of information flow (see Diagram 1). Sometimes, due to the associated need to ensure secure transmission of secrets, additional communication links must be established between two nodes with access to a secret: one for non-secret communication, and another for secret communication. This burdens the communications structure of an organization. When our subject is a hierarchal structure, the extra burden imposed by secrecy further compounds the primary weakness of the organizational structure: the energy allocated to information processing. As R. A. Wilson has demonstrated, at some point in its growth, the information processing burden of a hierarchal structure exceeds the other efficiency gains of hierarchy. The demands of secrecy quickly mushroom (DoD has more than 6 levels of information classification transmitted over more than 4 separate and non-interacting networks), creating an extremely inefficient system.

Is this inherent inefficiency a cost worth paying for protecting critical secrets? That is the conventional wisdom, but I am proposing that there are two main reasons why secrets are not worth the cost of protecting them: the OODA loop and Economic Game Theory.

OODA loop

Air Force Colonel John Boyd developed the OODA loop model: Observation – Orientation – Decision – Action. It models how military forces (and almost anyone else) process information. An organization’s information processing capabilities are committed to observing a situation, orienting themselves and their goals to the observed situation, making a decision on how to act in order to best realize their goals given the situation, and then taking that action. Every step in the OODA loop is dependent on the information processing capability of an organization, and involving secrecy in the process slows the realization of action based on a given observation. The time that information remains in the loop before it is acted upon is critical: action is never based upon a current observation of a situation, but rather is based upon an observation of how a situation was at the time that the observation was made and the OODA loop process was initiated. While secrecy of information may prevent decisions and actions from getting into the hands of the enemy, it also results in taking action on increasingly outdated information. In contrast, the absence of secrecy of information, or open source warfare, facilitates a much faster OODA loop process, which grounds decisions and actions in much more current information. An enemy can only take advantage of available information if their OODA loop operates quickly enough to observe the available information, orient their goals to it, make a decision and take action inside the time frame of their opponent’s OODA loop. This is the fundamental information battleground: getting inside your opponent’s OODA loop. Secrecy or availability of information is irrelevant if your loop is quicker than your opponent’s, and secrecy only serves to slow down your loop!

Economic Game Theory

The second reason why secrets are not worth the cost of protecting them draws on economic game theory. Specifically, I will use the prisoner’s dilemma model. Conventional wisdom suggests that one should guard information about plans to exploit, harm or take advantage of another party, as the other party may react negatively if they learn of this information. First, I should point out that if Party A’s OODA loop operates more quickly than the OODA loop of Party B, it won’t matter if Party B finds out Party A’s nefarious intentions – it will be too late. But, more controversially, I will suggest that it is always in Party A’s best interest not to adopt plans to exploit, harm or take advantage of Party B in the first place. The Prisoner’s Dilemma will explain why:

For those not familiar, the prisoner’s dilemma is based on the following scenario: two thieves, X and Y, are arrested for collaborating on a robbery, and are held in separate cells for interrogation. If neither X nor Y confess and rat on the other, then neither serves jail time. If X confesses and rats on Y, but Y refuses to confess and give up X, then X gets a reduced sentence and Y goes to jail for a long time (and vice versa). If both X and Y independently confess and rat on the other, then both go to jail for an intermediate period. So, if you are X, and don’t know what Y will do, what action do you take?

If this process only plays out a single time (as with criminals), then it is difficult to reach an optimal conclusion: you don’t know what Y will do. But if this process plays out over and over again with the same actors (as in international relations, trade sanctions, etc.), then both parties can make calculations based on their counterparts previous actions. If the cycle is stuck in a process of reciprocal retaliation (both X and Y ratting on the other out of mistrust), then X has the option of making a conciliatory gesture—not confessing and ratting out Y. While X may suffer increased consequences in the short term, in the long run Y will realize that by working with X and not ratting each other out, they can both enjoy greatly increased benefits. Likewise, by not adopting plans to exploit, harm or take advantage of one’s counterparts, in the long run trust will build and parties can engage in mutually beneficial actions: free trade, information sharing, reduced protective and defensive expenditures, etc.

And here’s the kicker: the most efficient way to get other players to enter into cooperative, mutually beneficial endeavors with you is to adopt a comprehensive policy of no secrets. If you don’t have secrets, if you don’t have the capability to process information secretly, then trust builds very quickly that you do not have a secret motivation behind your friendly gesture.

Bottom line: information secrecy is not worth the cost. Faster OODA-loop processes prevent a potential adversary from exploiting your open information, and the Prisoner’s Dilemma demonstrates that your openness will increase interaction efficiency for all parties, over time.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Adapting the Exploitation Model: Does the US have NO plan, or a NEW plan?

What are the Bush administration’s plans in Iraq? On the surface, everything is going badly. The Jan 30th elections are destined to fail, and there are huge structural obstacles to overcome before Iraq can become a stable, peaceful nation. On top of that, the Iraq situation is so closely intermingled with two neighboring crises, in Iran and Saudi Arabia, that it will be exceptionally more difficult to deal with any single problem in isolation. Does the Bush administration have a plan to deal with this web of problems? Are they just blazing ahead with a plan that they know won’t work for lack of any viable alternatives? Or… are they pioneering an entirely new strategy in international relations: Intentional Instability? In order to answer that, I must first lay a foundation:

The Exploitation Model of colonial control, and the legacy of British cartography: England is a small country, with a relatively small population. They were never able to field the kind of imperial expeditionary forces of other empires. Instead, from the very beginnings in India, they pioneered a new means of controlling colonies: exploit internal divisions. I call this the “Exploitation Model”, and it has been used with great success, first by Britain, then by the US in all corners of the globe. It started in India, where the British recognized that they could not field a force large enough to control the hugely populous and well armed people of the subcontinent. They recognized, however, that India was rife with internal divisions, fractured into a complex web of princes and potentates each with long-running internal disputes. They learned that by leveraging their forces in the support of one local group against another, they could greatly multiply their power, and effectively control a nation several times larger than their own. It was in India that they laid the groundwork for the Exploitation Model: leverage a minority group with the promise of “If you help make us rich, we’ll see to it that you also get a disproportionate share of the wealth”, and ensure loyalty by withholding access to some critical part of the machinery of power – make them rely on you just as much as you rely on them.

This model was used by the British to establish and control their empire: from the apartheid exploitation model used in colonial Africa to the tribal exploitation model used to establish the House of Saud, as well as control the remnants of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

With rise in expectations for independence and self-determination beginning in the 20th century, Britain had to adapt their model to the changing geo-political arena. They had to permit the appearance of independence to their colonies, while maintaining the flow of wealth and resources on which they depended. The Exploitation Model adapted quite well to this end: if a minority group depends on your support to control an “independent” country, then you can exert the exact same level of influence on this “sovereign” nation as you can over a colony – perhaps more, because you are no longer as culpable in matters of starvation, poverty and human rights. In addition to adapting the exploitation model to the changing world stage, the British carefully used their monopoly over cartography to ensure that these newly independent entities were cut up into chunks that would perpetuate ethnic strife and provide a ready pool of minority groups bidding for British support to their power with offers of enhancing British influence over the nations affairs.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are both excellent examples of the success of the British Exploitation Model in the 20th century, as well as Britain’s passing of the torch to the United States. However, no nation in the world better exemplifies this process more than Iraq.

The British first gained control of what is now Iraq after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire following World War I. The value of controlling Iraq’s oil wealth was not lost on the British, even during the war, as the secretary of the War Cabinet, advised Foreign Secretary Arthur Belfour in writing that control of Persian and Mesopotamian oil was a “first-class British war aim.” The territories gained from the Ottomans were quickly divided up by British cartographers into units more compatible with the exploitation model: Kuwait was parceled off from Mesopotamia (later to be renamed Iraq) in an action quite reminiscent of Gerrymandering, ensuring that the Shi’ite majority in Iraq could be effectively managed by the British-supported Sunni minority, and that the British could in-turn exploit internal Shi’ite divisions in Kuwait.

From this point, up until 1990, the US and Britain effectively used the Exploitation Model to control Iraq through support to the Sunni minority. This raises the question: what is the US doing to control Iraq at present? The January 3oth elections scheduled to create a new Iraqi government seem, on the surface, to violate every tenet of the Exploitation Model: the 60% Shi’ite majority will clearly win control of the government, they have very close ties to Iran, and will essentially exclude the US from significant control in the affairs—especially the economic affairs—of Iraq. In fact, the new Iranian/Iraqi Shi’ite position will assist Iran’s power play in the region, also at the expense of US influence. So does the US have a plan? Or are they stuck between a rock (Shi’ite Control, Shi’ite/Sunni civil war) and a hard place (Fixing the election and inciting Shi’ite/Iranian violence), and are simply pressing ahead with the better of two very bad positions? Is it time for the Exploitation Model to take another evolutionary leap… is there some entirely new US strategy afoot?

What I am proposing is the possibility that the US is intentionally pressing ahead with an entirely new model, what I am calling the Intentional Instability Model. The impetus for this development is the understanding that the situation in Iraq will deteriorate significantly no matter what happens on January 31st (it will likely be accelerated by the election), and that it is critical to US economic health to stabilize the interrelated crises in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia simultaneously.

There are some pretty simple issues that underlie this problem. The US economy is dependent on the regular supply of petroleum from the Middle East. The US economy is dependent on the continued use of the petrodollar (dollar denomination of petroleum sales) standard. The US has the most powerful and projectable military force in the world, and will maintain this advantage for the next 10+ years. The Intentional Instability Model is based on the principle that fostering, not resolving instability in a region is the most effective way to ensure acceptance of the use of dominant military force to exert influence. Intentional Instability creates the kind of permanent-crisis mentality first suggested by George Orwell’s continuous state of “war” in his book “1984”. Intentional Instability facilitates the kind of Keynesian stimulus favored by the power elite: defense spending and economic subsidies that concentrate power in the hands of the few. Intentional Instability in the region will provide the context to support the House of Saud when that crisis matures into a full-blown insurgency. Intentional Instability provides a context to contain Iranian ambitions – especially those of establishing an Iranian/PetroEuro alternative to the Saudi/PetroDollar standard upon which the entire US economy hangs. The January 3oth elections will create a civil war in Iraq along Sunni vs. Shi’ite lines, and will ensure the US presence in the region for decades. In classic Exploitation Model manner, the US military will continue to leverage local fighters and governments against each other, attempting to reserve its military power behind protective barriers to launch lightning-quick strikes against carefully planned targets. In my estimation, the Intentional Instability Model will work, and it will work well. That is, until adversaries learn the tactics of net-war, understand how to amplify the effects of their attacks by targeting critical nodes, and realize the fundamental weaknesses of hierarchy. But that could take years, and in the mean time, the situation in the Middle East will take only one path: increasing instability. The most important question, in my mind: is this the result of a new, intentional US strategy, or is it simply incompetence on the part of American foreign policy.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Messina 2005

Update: The Mediterranean Studies Association (ASU, KU, UMass affiliated) has accepted my paper, "All Roads Lead to Rome: Processes of Hierarchy, Subsidy and Control in the Evolution of Empire" for presentation at their 8th annual conference in Messina, Italy.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Corporate Interest & Bhopal

It's been a few days since the 20th anniversary of Bhopal, and I think that it's worth taking a moment to look at "corporate responsibility".

In summary, in 1984 a large quantity of a still unknown poison gas was released from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. 20,000 people died from exposure, and 150,000+ more are disabled for life, requiring ongoing medical care. Union Carbide reached a negotiated settlement with the Indian Government for some $470 million ($23,500 per death), of which only one quarter has been paid to victims. Most Indians received only $300 - $500 each for life-long injuries--a payment that covers less than one year of medical treatment. Union Carbide has to this day not decontaminated the Bhopal site, resulting in ongoing contamination from groundwater and latent exposure. Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson has been charged with manslaughter by the Indian government, but refuses to appear before an Indian court, and the US government refuses to extradite him.

Here is an excellent site with information on Bhopal:

In 2001, Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide, with full understanding of the history of the company. Is anyone surprised that neither Dow Chemical or Union Carbide before them has refused to properly compensate and clean up Bhopal? Racism (In the words of a Union Carbide spokesman, "$500 is plenty good for an Indian") has certainly played a role, but it is the fundamental design of the corporate structure that has driven the actions of both Dow and Union Carbide. Recent events make this very explicit:

Just last week, in a live interview on BBC news, a Yes-Man member representing himself as a Dow Chemical spokesman Jude Finisterra ("Jude", patron saint of lost causes and "Finisterra", end of the earth) made a public apology for Dow's actions since assuming control of Union Carbide, and laid out a $12 billion plan to make right the situation. It took less than 2 hours for the farce to unravel and for BBC to issue a retraction, but in that time Dow Chemical stock lost 4.2% of its value.

I have often heard companies like Dow say that they "are dedicated to serving our customers", or that they "understand their responsibility to...". Unfortunately, the truth rarely comes out: Corporations are by their very nature dedicated and responsible to only one goal: increasing stock value to shareholders. The shareholder reaction to the false Dow announcement makes this very clear: they don't care if Dow does the right thing. They don't own shares in Dow for it to do the right thing. They own shares in Dow to make money. Period. Any claims of corporate responsibility extending beyond that simple goal are pure fantasy.

The corporation is a non-sentient structure. It doesn't fell good or bad about what it does. Even its human officers aren't really concerned with good or bad. By the very structural nature of the corporation, the humans behind the corporate front are only responsible for pleasing the shareholders. If responsibility for moral or just action exists at all, it lies squarely on the shoulders of the shareholder. Shareholders make their desires very clear indeed: they must choose between money and morality--the corporation cannot by its very structure make that decision for them.

The primary problem with regulating corporate action through a shareholder sense of morality is the very size of large corporations. Small corporations, with only a handful of shareholders (i.e. not publicly traded), can be effectively regulated by shareholder morality. But when there are thousands and thousands of shareholders with little personal affiliation or association with the corporation, it becomes very easy to think that "I don't even own 1/10 of 1%", or "It's just something that my mutual fund owns". From the standpoint of societal good, this is the core of the problem with the corporate structure: responsibility for the action of a corporation is diffused so thin among vast seas of shareholders that very, very few will choose to obey their sense of morality over their drive for profit.

The corporation is a structure that, like a virus, is very nearly alive. It has its own free will, a will that is every bit as much determined by its ontogeny as that of a human's free will. The problems caused by large corporations will, therefore, only be effectively solved by addressing this fundamental structure and ontogeny.