Monday, May 12, 2008

Center for a New American Security: More Palliatives from Policy Wonks

A friend at the Pentagon recently sent me a copy of this article from Jim Thomas of the Center for a New American Security entitled "Sustainable Security: Developing a Security Strategy for the Long Haul." CNAS seems to be something of a democratic alternative to PNAC (Project for the New American Century--the incubator for "NeoCon" thinkers in the Bush administration). Its approach, while somewhat different from PNAC (well, radically different if you only consider the highly constrained spectrum of "conventional" options), is equally, disappointingly misguided. Thomas's policy proposals in "Sustainable Security" are particularly misguided. He essentially suggests that we pour more concrete on the Maginot line, and his "solutions" are equally "sustainable." Saddly, CNAS is likely to play a role in any upcoming democratic administration similar to that of PNAC from 2000-2008 (here's Hillary Clinton speaking along these same lines while giving a keynote address at a PNAS event).

First, Thomas fails completely to understand the constitutional basis of our Nation-State system, and why it is breaking down: increasing discontinuity between a State and its constituent Nation, and the simultaneously increasing failure of the Nation to justify the Nation-State order by actually ensuring the ongoing welfare of its component Nation. The Author clearly hasn't read (or absorbed) Phillip Bobbitt, who's "Shield of Achilles" is the seminal work in this area. Then, the author proposes to solve a problem the genesis of which he fails to comprehend. That's a tall order...

2. After assuming that A) the viability of the Nation-State system is a prerequisite to our security, and B) we can prevent its decline without addressing the increasing discontinuity between State and Nation (both inaccurate assumptions, in my opinion), the author proceeds to offer a number of palliatives about how we can shore up that system and create effective partners for cooperative action through simple (to articulate, not necessarily to implement) policy means. And they'll greet us with flowers on the streets of Baghdad--this has failure written all over it.

The mess in Iraq is a classic example of how the post-Colonial Nation-State fiction rests on a fundamentally rocky (and worsening) foundation (there, when the French and British draw nice lines in the sand pursuant to the Sykes-Picot accord and then assume that this haphazard jumble of disparate national groups can form the "Nation" to underly a "Nation-State"). One maxim: a suggested solution that clearly demonstrates a lack of comprehension of the cause of the problem is highly unlikely to be successful.

Of course, it wouldn't do for me to simply critique another's solution without offering one of my own. Here's a link to my paper, "The New Map: Terrorism and the Decline of the Nation-State in a Post-Cartesian World" (also now available in German). I presented it at the 2006 Yale Journal of International Law symposium, and developed it further with feedback from Ved Nanda (of the Nanda Center for International Law). It discusses the genesis of the declining Nation-State system, the forces that are currently exacerbating that trend, how the Nation-State system is not our end goal per se but rather an outdated means to achieve our end goals, and how, in light of the inevitability of its decline, our policy position should be to support the development of an alternative paradigm to the Nation-State system (among the many alternatives currently in competition) the supports our end goals. Specifically, develop networked nodes of localized self-reliance. Radical solution, I know, but interestingly another theorist out of USAFA, John Robb, has recently shifted to saying much of these same things in his new "resilient community" set of briefs and is grabbing the ear of many Pentagon insiders. I think that the institutional inertia is, frankly, too great to adapt such a radical (but I think fundamentally necessary) change, and that current leadership would rather take the safe route of pedaling just another set of palliatives as if it were substantive policy change, but maybe I'm wrong...

...either way, you heard it here first: Judging by the buzz inside the Pentagon and the list of email addresses that are enthusiastically forwarding this article to friends (note: my source was not among the enthusiasts), CNAS is an acronym that we will hear much more of, especially when it is time to for the party out of power to start apportioning blame for our next round of failed energy/security policy.

18 comments:

Theo_musher said...

I think the Nation State was a fiction from the beginning. I have been reading Bucky Fuller and he confirmed something I have suspected for a long time:

The World has been ruled by pirates. Literally, pirates, as in Aaargh. There really is no deep esoteric sybolism behind the Yale skull and bones other than its the Jolly Roger. Pirates never were enchanted by the idea of the Nation State. Its is a fiction they helped develop for their own purposes. Pirates move from port to port. They see the big picture perspective. Bucky said that the Great Pirates ruled by dividing and conquering. They got all the smart people to spcialize into narrow areas of expertise. The great Pirates then ruled by connecting the dots. Bucky thinks this worked up until WWI when scientists got into physics. Then the pirates could no longer connect the dots. They could no longer make "sense" of the world as in the five senses.

So anyway, these pirates were kind of insular and secretive and now their grand kids have dropped the ball. Just look at the amount of generational entropy from Bush I to Bush II. But the multinational corporate networks are already put in place and have been perpetuating themselves mechanically and deterministically through time. But there is no oe at the helm.

The last pirates had some epistemological errors. They were Malthusians. They passed this error onto their heirs who perpetuate the error.

BTW, Bucky was not a Malthisian.

Wisconsin_cur said...

so when you speak of networked nodes of self-reliance what I hear (and tell me if I am wrong) is a federalist type system with increased sovreignty given to the local government. So we could (in theory) go back to a time when the county judge could sentence a convict to hanging and military units would be recruited and organized by county. What I hear is America circa 1859.

Recognizing that the future need not look like the past, would that be in line with what you are thinking?

Rice Farmer said...

Theo Musher makes an interesting point. It seems that the up-and-coming field of political ponerology is helping us see that empires and indeed many nation-states are ruled by psychopaths. Certainly it is true for the US. We keep repeating history because the power-mad psychopaths who rule us do the same things over and over again.

A couple of years ago I saw the movie "Alexander" about, you guessed it, Alexander the Great. It spurred me to write this blog entry.

http://ricefarmer.blogspot.com/2006/01/alexander.html

Indeed, what is so "great" about Alexander? How many people suffered and died miserably to realize his sick dreams of empire? And of course Alexander suffered no qualms because he was a psychopath. Only someone who is sick could lecture us about how glorious it is to die in battle.

Anyway, thanks to Jeff for the heads-up on CNAS.

Theo_musher said...

Well the upshot is that the Global communication and trade networks the pirates built to rule the world can be used for good.

Fuller called it "Grunch of Giants" its like a big machine that no one really controls. It is just a self perpetuating system.

The people that benefit most from it is a cabal he called "MMAO"

Stands for "Machievelli, Machiavelli, Atoms and Oil"

Psychopathic rulers is nothing new though. That preceded the Great Pirates. What the Great Pirates did is make all the local strongmen into Kings and Politicians, playing them against each other. So then everyones eyes are on the Local despots and not the Global ones.

I have to say I admire them for the groundwork they layed. I think that its time for us all now to step up to the plate and begin to co-operate globally for the good of all. No one is really in charge. It takes a sensitivity to understand the potential positive implictions of globalization that despots don't have.

Theo_musher said...

I think the organizations that will have the most impact in the future will be centered around global collective intelligence:

The Transitioner.org

If not this one than other oners along these lines.

Theo_musher said...

Here is a good synopsis of Buckminster Fullers Pirate narrative if anyone is interested:

the Great Pirates

I'll have to check out Bobbitt again in light of this narrative.

Jeff Vail said...

I think what we're seeing here--and what Theo is capturing with his discussion of Fuller's pirate narrative and Rice Farmer with the discussion of Alexander the Great--is the transition from the nation-state to the market-state.

When the "nation" is the constitutional basis for the state's authority, there was a brief period where the state had to, at least ostensibly, frame their efforts in terms of how it best serves the demands of the constituent nation. This was a major change from the prior constitutional bases of princely-state/kingly-state (essentially divine right theoreis), and even from the State-Nation, whereby the nation and their interests were defined by the state within which they fell.

Today, I think we're experiencing a de-facto and accellerating transition from Nation-State to Market-State: while polticians certainly realize the expediency of continuing to frame their programs in terms of benefit to the "nation," the reality of globalization demands that they increasingly transition to progams that support the Market-State in fact. Free Trade is a Market-State program. So is cap-and-trade of carbon emissions. So are tax-cuts. So is the massive subsidies to education and R&D that are the actual result of politician pandering to the Nation's interest in "education." Immigration is almost exclusively a Market-State vs. Nation-State debate (with Lou Dobbs et al. on the side of the Nation, at least on the surface). Support to the Nation-State system (as advocated by PNAS and covered in this post) is really support for the STATE system in an attempt to suppress disassociated nationalist movements and maintain a viable legal, infrastructure, and security framework for the market within these states.

This is the new frame for viewing international affairs: it's the Market-State in Nation-State clothing engaged in a battle to the death with the non-conforming nationalist movement. More on this to come...

Jeff Vail said...

Wisconsin_Cur-

I don't know if I like the notion of devolving into a series of county-kingdoms. That sounds more like feudalism, or, if you want to use the example of ante-bellum America, more like a State-Nation with an antiquated judicial system.

I think that networked nodes must exist at a resolution much smaller than the county--that size of organization still demands hierarchy, and results in exactly the kind of abuses of power that you mention. Rather, the level of the self-reliant node would (in my theory, at least) exist at the extended family scale.

Coincidentally, ciminal law itself is a fabrication of the State. If someone murders your brother, he is tried for murder for the crime that he committed against the state, not for the wrong that was inflicted on you. If something isn't a wrong against the state and the state's desire for an orderly populace, then it isn't a "crime," no matter how much "wrong" it may inflict on you. That "wrong" is covered by tort law ("tort" meaning essentially "wrong"). Criminal law seeks to punish under one of several theories of punishment (incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution, etc.). Tort law seeks to redress wrongs--to compensate all victims of an unreasonable action that is protected by societal norms. These are very different things. Tort law is a private action between the person wronged and the person committing the wrong with the intent of righting that wrong to the greatest extent possible. Incidentally, this is exactly how tribal, non-hierarchal justice functoned.

It's certainly an area for debate, but I would be in favor of a society both composed of minimally self-sufficient, networked nodes, and a society that has dispensed with criminal law entirely and replaced it with an evolved form of tort law. I've written more about this in Tort: The Once and Future King

Rice Farmer said...

Jeff, I look forward to more on the Market-State, which is an area of great concern to me.

bryant said...

Jeff,

I seems as though the abbreviations of the two think tanks have become co-mingled...PNAS instead of CNAS.

Fortunately, I am more an adherent of Carl Jung than Freud.

Jeff Vail said...

Thanks Bryant... will be fixed shortly. Freudian slip or are they both examples of an archetypal model of institutional incompetence/subterfuge (depending on how much conspiracy one wants to throw in the mix)?? Worth pondering...

Rice Farmer said...

Jeff, William Engdahl claims that 60% of oil price is speculation.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8878

Although much of what Engdahl writes is worth reading, I personally find it hard to agree with this. What's your take?

BTW, you are probably aware that Engdahl crossed over to the "abiotic oil" camp last year. Methinks this has something to do with this stand on oil prices.

Jeff Vail said...

Yeah, I think Engdahl has likely gone off the deep end, but there's always the risk when evaluating the merits of truly unconventional thinkers that they're actually the only ones who have it all figured out (sometime I use that defense for myself, so it's nice to turn the tables once in a while!).

Regarding speculation, it would seem to me entirely possible that, but for speculators in a given market, prices would be 60% lower IF that market is not a non-stored consumable.

Let me explain what I mean by that. Ultimately, price is just a way for economists to label the amount that people are willing to pay for an item. IF oil is being stored in some big vast repository by these alleged speculators, then it is possible that their hoarding of oil is responsible for the price increases. That is not, however, what is happening. We have good data for the amount of oil in storage, and it is 1) not much--only a few weeks supply, and much more importantly 2) not increasing in any statistically significant way. This is key--in aggregate oil is not being stored, so all the oil that is being produced daily is being consumed daily, with a little leeway one way or the other over the weeks and months. Oil, as a consumable, is actually being purchased at these prices. Prices of a consumable commodity that is not being hoarded in storage somewhere CANNOT increase beyond what consumers are willing to pay for it, because that is exactly what price means--the amount that end consumers are willing to pay. Oil companies would be stupid (and in breach of their fiduciary duties to their shareholders and therefore liable in court) if they sold oil for any less than consumers were willing to pay. I've heard Engdahl's soundbite-sized comment on speculators before, but I'd like to hear how he addresses these issues specifically: no increase in storage and all production is being consumed by paying consumers who seem to be showing a very inelastic demand for the stuff.

So, I guess in that sense, Engdahl is right--it is consumers, speculating that they will continue to be able to live an oil-intensive lifestyle (or, in the developing world, that they will be able to attain Western standards of consumption), that are really to blame for the high price of oil.

Ryan said...

Something I never got around to talking to you about last time we talked on the phone, is what is your take on Congress voting to stop filling the SPR (it is a little near and dead to me since SOR was a predictive variable in the oil paper I sent you)?

My take, the SPR can act as a cushion to the randomness by allowing it to be filled more when prices are low and emptied to provide relief. Choosing to abolish it all together would seem to make us more vulnerable to shocks.

More bad economics coming out of Washington.

Jeff Vail said...

My take on the SPR is that Congress doesn't understand what Price is supposed to reflect.

If we accept that price reflects what the market, on average, thinks the commodity is worth, then stopping filling up the SPR because oil is too expensive is irrational. And that was the reason given (well, and that by stopping we could temporarily increase apparent supply, but not for long since the SPR is already 97% full). IF one argues that we don't need the strategic cushion, then it makes sense, but I don't think anyone is making that argument (if anything, we need the strategic cushion now more than ever). So I agree--bad economics. I'd actually like to see a gas tax where part of it goes to pay to increase the SPR even further--it could decrease consumption in the mean time and make alternatives more competitive, AND increase our strategic cushion. But that certainly won't happen...

Theo_musher said...

Jeff,

This isn't directly related to this post. But you may be interested in reading my two last blog entries. They are related to what seem to be your two main ideas: The Problem of Growth and the Problem of Hierarchy.
To me they are in conradiction, because growth is not bad and its not caused by hierarchy but rather Hierarchy creates scarcity.

Direct link:

Free Range OPrganic Human

Ted

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