Sunday, March 29, 2009

Great Powers Chapter 7 Reading Group

Chapter Seven changes gears from the trinity of diplomacy, defense and development (we spent the last three chapters learning how they must be realigned). My first impression as I began reading this chapter was the connection made to the ultimate transparent network, the Internet and how it has changed the structure of the world by spreading faster than any infectious pathogen or conquering army. By comparing Internet users to the global pyramid where the rising middle-class inhabit the space between the top-down planners (empires) and the bottom billions (failed states) we are given a hand-drawn map to begin our exploration of The Rise of the SysAdmin-Industrial Complex.


Reading this section made me think of my own six degrees of connection to America's past and what motivated my forbears to leave their familiar homelands and journey to America. My family's story has been repeated millions of times and continues with the landing of every jet and the dusty tramp of feet across our southern border. Part of that motivation is fueled by the need to solve a problem. This problem-solving ability has become the core to innovation that has marked the rise and spread of the American System's DNA as Tom Barnett explains in the preface, to all points across the globe. The concrete observation of this section is that "Every nation's average citizen does better in America than back home." Spreading globalization has led those whom we can't ever accommodate to use our system, globalization, to become super-empowered individuals at home in the form of a rising middle-class.


Reading this section made me think that the threats we now fret over, pirates, smugglers and trans-national criminals, have always existed. In earlier times, unless directly confronted with the threat, it became the gist of adventure tales of far off lands or consigned to an occasional sermon by the local pastor about the sins of mankind. Instant communications networks have brought those threats riding alongside the same conduits that carry the staples of our consumer demands. Adjusting to those threats is the goal of this section.


The four V's velocity, volume, variety and visibility lead off this section and are drawn from Nayan Chandra's Bound Together. Taking examples from the previous section of how "bad actors" will use all this connectivity to carve out their share of goods and services. This reminds me of how road agents used to prey on stagecoaches and rob trains in our own expanding west. In those days we countered with all types of measures, private guards, US Marshal's and the Army to secure the supply chains. Our response today requires us to go beyond the old tried and true security measures, as the threats don't hide in the rocks alongside the chain, but integrate themselves as fellow passengers to spring forth at the opportune time to strike.

Combating these new bad actors will take the collaboration of nations and individuals to share technology and innovations by adopting a structure that is connected, as equals, and willing to share and act globally.


This section comes at a topically approriate time. Tom Barnett testified this week before the House Armed Services Committee about the requirements for the future capabilities of the United States maritime forces. His testimony called into sharp contrast the gulf between those who go to bed dreaming of the glory of the conflicts of their grandfathers and those who are dreaming of a future that mirrors the huge changes wrought by the connectivity described in the opening of this chapter. A paragraph that stood out for me in this section was on page 319, where a well-attuned public is defined as the best strategic deterrence in the global age. As one who has transitioned from learning by studying manuscripts in dead tree form to logging on and drawing from literally an uncounted tableau of resources, I find the contrast stunning. For me, a historian retrained in the information age, it has led to an appreciation that may be lost on the average person and caused conflict among those who still cling to the old ways and resist all mention of Wikipedia as a source for information.


The past couple of years I have traveled to Europe and Asia. To me the greatest contrast happens when you land at any one of the new air terminals that now serve the major cities around the world. They are gleaming symbols of the gateway to that nation. They are laid out to accommodate the traveler and speed them on their way. Contrast this to arriving and being processed through the Bradley Terminal at LAX, where long overdue construction now restricts most of those waiting to pick up arriving travelers to waiting outside in benches while the terminal whose area to greet incoming fights resembled a grungy big city bus terminal is being very slowly renovated.

Until we in America begin to direct more funds to rebuilding our own infrastructure the opportunities that beckon in this section are huge. It is projected that $20 trillion in infrastructure will be built in the emerging markets in the next ten years. That figure should stimulate any red-blooded American construction company to think about what Barnett writes about in this section.

First, ... get in on this going on in Asia...

Second, ...not being there..means no roll-up season... Meaning being in on the M&A to create the giants to build all this expansion.

Third, there to partake in the...R&D that will..come with accompany this...development.

Finally, ...learning to sell to the bottom of the pyramid.

Just look at Wal-Mart as an example of a company that learned to sell in this environment.

I would counsel my son as he prepares for his future to look to using his multi-language skill combined with his acquired understanding of the world to join in exploring this next great build-out of connectivity. The rewards will be both emotional and monetary.


The focus in this section is to build on the previous and offer an example of several companies who have made that connection and become frontier integrators by seeking opportunities in areas of the world that are recovering from traumas caused by conflict and disaster.

Reading this section makes me wish to be younger, for if I were, the company I would love to work for would be Enterra Solutions. Tom Barnett's description of the founding and how he came to be associated is a compelling story that for me is a beacon to inspire others to join in making a better world by becoming as Tom asks the reader to imagine, the United States as a developer of a vast housing subdivision he calls the global economy. Well worth a careful reading, then let your imagination soar regarding the possibilities.


For those who, since President Eisenhower, have warned against the rise of the Military-Industrial Complex, this section offers compelling hope. It would be understatement to say that I am touched by this section. Tom acknowledges my tiny contribution to this work by including a comment I made in response to a post quoting Chet Richards about our efforts in Iraq.

The bottom line of the message in this section and I dare say the whole book is that we have a very limited window to realign our grand strategy. Three points stand out. First, we can not win solely with kinetic solutions (guns). Second, we can not win alone, without peers. And finally, we can not win by concentrating on a "Global War" with only the twin opposing objectives of terrorism and democracy.

When I began to read about Lockheed Martin and how they are evolving into a global security contractor, I thought of my uncle, J.R. Janssen who worked for Lockheed for over thirty years from their early days as a fledgling airplane company to their halcyon days as a card carrying member of the military-industrial complex. Lockheed cut their teeth building the P-38 fighter, one of the contributors to defeating Japanese air power in the Pacific.

Today, Lockheed Martin has seen the future and it involves more than precision weapons of war. Their future includes building systems that make people feel secure and helps prevent the rise of conditions that can lead to war.

The integration of military applications and global security is further illustrated by the account of the development of sea traffic control, first tried in the Mediterranean and then spreading across the globe to form a network of receivers to track the movement of ships. I found it interesting that the Med was the appropriate test bed for this concept. Because of the unique geographical feature of being surrounded by mountains, much of the sea can be viewed and if at sea, landfall is visible allowing for safe transit between ports in Europe and Africa.

The final message is clear: in order to adapt to a changing world, we need to, as a nation, create a new set of rules and complexes that can meet both the challenges of opportunities other than war, while still maintaining our ability to discourage big wars.

The discussion table is open.

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