A Race To The Future

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This last week, we learned of the new defense policy that shifts the U.S. from a full two war capability to a “win-spoil” plan, where we have the ability to fight one war, but still disrupt the military aspirations of another adversary elsewhere.

While we would all like to have unconstrained capabilities for both “guns and butter”, budget realities do not permit limitless spending on anything or anytime.

The Wall Street Journal (7-8 January 2012) had an interesting editorial that cautioned against reduced military spending and latched on specifically to focusing too much on the Asia-Pacific region and somehow neglecting other danger spots around the globe.

Basically, the author says it is dangerous for us to put all our proverbial eggs in one basket. As he writes, this single-focus approach or “strategic monism” is predicated on our ability to accurately predict where the trouble spots will be and what defensive and offensive capabilities we will need to counter them.

In contrast, the author promotes an approach that is more multifaceted and based on “strategic pluralism,” where we prepare ourselves for any number of different threat scenarios, with a broad array of capabilities to handle whatever may come.

What is compelling about this argument is that generally we are not very good at forecasting the future, and the author points out that “the U.S. has suffered a significant surprise once a decade since 1940” including Pearl Harbor (1941), North Korea’s invasion of the South (1950), the Soviet testing of the Hydrogen bomb (1953), the Soviet resupply of Egypt in the Yom Kippur War (1973), the Iranian Shah’s fall from power (1979), the Soviet Union collapse (1991), and the terrorist attacks of 9-11 (2001).

Similarly, Fortune Magazine (16 January 2012) calls out “the dangers inherent in…long-term forecasting” and points how almost comically “the 1899 U.S. patent chief declares that anything that can be invented has been.”

The Fortune article goes on to say that a number of the experts interviewed for their Guide To The Future issue stated that “cyberterrorism, resource shortages, and political instability around the world are all inevitable.”

In short, the potential for any number of catastrophes is no more relevant now in the 21st century, than at any other time in history, despite all our technological advances and maybe because of it.

In fact, Bloomberg Businessweek (19-25 December 2012) actually rates on a scale of low to high various threats, many of which are a direct result of our technology advancement and the possibility that we are not able to control these. From low to high risk–there is climate change, synthetic biology, nuclear apocalypse, nanotechnology weaponry, the unknown, and machine super intelligence.  Note, the second highest risk is “unknown risks,” since they consider “the biggest threat may yet be unknown.”

So while risks abound and we acknowledge that we cannot predict them all or forecast their probability or impact accurately, we need to be very well prepared for all eventualities.

But unfortunately, being prepared, maintaining lots of options, and overall strategic pluralism does not come cheaply.

In fact, when faced with weapons of mass destruction, threats to our homeland, and human rights abuses is there any amount of money that is really enough to prepare, protect, and defend?

There is no choice but to take the threats–both known and unknown seriously–and to devote substantial resources across all platforms to countering these. We cannot afford to be caught off-guard or prepared to fight the wrong fight.

Our adversaries and potential adversaries are not standing still–in fact, they are gaining momentum, so how much can we afford to recoil?

We are caught between the sins of the past in terms of a sizable and threatening national deficit and an unpredictable future with no shortage of dangers.

While everyone has their pet projects, we’ve got to stop fighting each other (I believe they call this pork barrel politics) and start pulling for the greater good or else we all risk ending up on the spit ourselves.

There is no option but to press firmly on the accelerator of scientific and technological advancement and break the deficit bounds that are strangling us and leap far ahead of those who would do us harm.

(All opinions my own)

(Source Photo: here)