Fair Competition and Deterrence
Competition is a powerful, and often misunderstood, concept. Fair competition – of ideas and enterprises, among individuals, organizations, and nations – is what has driven Americans to achieve greatness across the spectrum of human endeavor. And yet with globalization, we seem to have developed a strange apprehension about the efficacy of our ability to apply the innovation and hard work necessary to successfully compete in a complex security and economic environment. Further, we have misunderstood interdependence as a weakness rather than recognizing it as a strength. The key to sustaining our competitive edge, at home or on the world stage, is credibility – and credibility is a difficult capital to foster. It cannot be won through intimidation and threat, it cannot be sustained through protectionism or exclusion. Credibility requires engagement, strength, and reliability – imaginatively applied through the national tools of development, diplomacy, and defense.
In many ways, deterrence is closely linked to competition. Like competition, deterrence in the truest sense is built upon strength and credibility and cannot be achieved solely through intimidation and threat. For deterrence to be effective, it must leverage converging interests and interdependencies, while differentiating and addressing diverging and conflicting interests that represent potential threats. Like competition, deterrence requires a whole of nation effort, credible influence supported by actions that are consistent with our national interests and values. When fair competition and positive influence through engagement – largely dependent on the tools of development and diplomacy – fail to dissuade the threat of destructive behavior, we will approach deterrence through a broad, interdisciplinary effort that combines development and diplomacy with defense.
A Strategic Ecology
Rather than focusing all our attention on specific threats, risks, nations, or organizations, as we have in the past, let us evaluate the trends that will shape tomorrow’s strategic ecology, and seek opportunities to credibly influence these to our advantage. Among the trends that are already shaping a “new normal” in our strategic environment are the decline of rural economies, joblessness, the dramatic increase in urbanization, an increasing demand for energy, migration of populations and shifting demographics, the rise of grey and black markets, the phenomenon of extremism and anti-modernism, the effects of global climate change, the spread of pandemics and lack of access to adequate health services, and an increasing dependency on cyber networks. At first glance, these trends are cause for concern. But for Americans with vision, guided by values, they represent opportunities to reestablish and leverage credible influence, converging interests, and interdependencies that can transform despair into hope. This focus on improving our strategic ecosystem, and favorably competing for our national interests, underscores the investment priorities cited earlier, and the imaginative application of diplomacy, development, and defense in our foreign policy.
Many of the trends affecting our environment are conditions-based. That is, they have developed within a complex system as the result of conditions left unchecked for many years. These global trends, whether manifesting themselves in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Eurasia, or within our own hemisphere impact the lives of Americans in ways that are often obscure as they propagate over vast areas with cascading and sometimes catastrophic effect.
Illiteracy, for example, is common in countries with high birth rates. High birth rates and illiteracy contribute to large labor pools and joblessness, particularly in rural areas in which changing weather conditions have resulted in desertification and soil erosion. This has led to the disruption of family and tribal support structures and the movement of large numbers of young, unskilled people into urban areas that lack infrastructure. This rapid urbanization has taxed countries with weak governance that lack rule of law, permitting the further growth of exploitive, grey and black market activities. Criminal networks prey upon and contribute to the disenfranchisement of a sizeable portion of the population in many underdeveloped nations. This concentration of disenfranchised youth, with little-to-no licit support infrastructure has provided a recruiting pool for extremists seeking political support and soldiers for local or foreign causes, often facilitated through the internet.
The wars and instability perpetrated by these extremists and their armies of the disenfranchised have resulted in the displacement of many thousands more, and the further weakening of governance. This displacement has, in many cases, produced massive migrations of disparate families, tribes, and cultures seeking a more sustainable existence. This migration has further exacerbated the exploitation of the weak by criminal and ideological profiteers and has facilitated the spread of diseases across natural barriers previously considered secure. The effect has been to create a kind of subculture of despair and hopelessness that is self-perpetuating. At some point, these underlying conditions must be addressed by offering choices and options that will nudge global trends in a positive direction. America’s national interests and values are not sustainable otherwise.
We cannot isolate our own prosperity and security from the global system. Even in a land as rich as ours, we too, have seen the gradual breakdown of rural communities and the rapid expansion of our cities. We have experienced migration, crime, and domestic terrorism. We struggle with joblessness and despite a low rate of illiteracy, we are losing our traditional role of innovation dominance in leading edge technologies and the sciences. We are, in the truest sense, part of an interdependent strategic ecosystem, and our interests converge with those of people in virtually every corner of the world. We must remain cognizant of this, and reconcile our domestic and foreign policies as being complementary and largely congruent.
As we pursue the growth of our own prosperity and security, the welfare of our citizens must be seen as part of a highly dynamic, and interconnected system that includes sovereign nations, world markets, natural and man-generated challenges and solutions – a system that demands adaptability and innovation. In this strategic environment, it is competition that will determine how we evolve, and Americans must have the tools and confidence required to successfully compete.
This begins at home with quality health care and education, with a vital economy and low rates of unemployment, with thriving urban centers and carefully planned rural communities, with low crime, and a sense of common purpose underwritten by personal responsibility. We often hear the term “smart power” applied to the tools of development and diplomacy abroad empowering people all over the world to improve their own lives and to help establish the stability needed to sustain security and prosperity on a global scale. But we can not export “smart power” until we practice “smart growth” at home. We must seize the opportunity to be a model of stability, a model of the values we cherish for the rest of the world to emulate. And we must ensure that our domestic policies are aligned with our foreign policies. Our own “smart growth” can serve as the exportable model of “smart power.” Because, truthfully, it is in our interest to see the rest of the world prosper and the world market thrive, just as it is in our interest to see our neighbors prosper and our own urban centers and rural communities come back to life.
Closing the “Say-do” Gap - the Negative Aspects of “Binning”
An important step toward re-establishing credible influence and applying it effectively is to close the “say-do” gap. This begins by avoiding the very western tendency to label or “bin” individuals, groups, organizations, and ideas. In complex systems, adaptation and variation demonstrate that “binning” is not only difficult, it often leads to unintended consequences. For example, labeling, or binning, Islamist radicals as “terrorists,” or worse, as “jihadis,” has resulted in two very different, and unfortunate unintended misperceptions: that all Muslims are thought of as “terrorists;” and, that those who pervert Islam into a hateful, anti-modernist ideology to justify unspeakable acts of violence are truly motivated by a religious struggle (the definition of “jihad,” and the obligation of all Muslims), rather than being seen as apostates waging war against society and innocents. This has resulted in the alienation of vast elements of the global Muslim community and has only frustrated efforts to accurately depict and marginalize extremism. Binning and labeling are legacies of a strategy intent on viewing the world as a closed system.
Another significant unintended consequence of binning, is that it creates divisions within our own government and between our own domestic and foreign policies. As has been noted, we cannot isolate our own prosperity and security from the global system. We exist within a strategic ecology, and our interests converge with those of people in virtually every corner of the world. We must remain cognizant of this, and reconcile our domestic and foreign policies as being complementary and largely congruent. Yet we have binned government departments, agencies, laws, authorities, and programs into lanes that lack the strategic flexibility and dynamism to effectively adapt to the global environment. This, in turn, further erodes our credibility, diminishes our influence, inhibits our competitive edge, and exacerbates the say-do gap.
The tools to be employed in pursuit of our national interests – development, diplomacy, and defense – cannot be effective if they are restricted to one government department or another. In fact, if these tools are not employed within the context of a coherent national strategy, vice being narrowly applied in isolation to individual countries or regions, they will fail to achieve a sustainable result. By recognizing the advantages of interdependence and converging interests, domestically and internationally, we gain the strategic flexibility to sustain our national interests without compromising our values. The tools of development do not exist within the domain of one government department alone, or even one sector of society, anymore than do the tools of diplomacy or defense.
Another form of binning that impedes strategic flexibility, interdependence, and converging interests in the global system, is a geo-centric approach to foreign policy. Perhaps since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, westerners have tended to view the world as consisting of sovereign nation-states clearly distinguishable by their political borders and physical boundaries. In the latter half of the Twentieth Century a new awareness of internationalism began to dominate political thought. This notion of communities of nations and regions was further broadened by globalization. But the borderless nature of the internet, and the accompanying proliferation of stateless organizations and ideologies, has brought with it a new appreciation for the interconnectivity of today’s strategic ecosystem. In this “new world order,” converging interests create interdependencies. Our former notion of competition as a zero sum game that allowed for one winner and many losers, seems as inadequate today as Newton’s Laws of Motion (written about the same time as the Westphalia Peace) did to Albert Einstein and quantum physicists in the early Twentieth Century. It is time to move beyond a narrow Westphalian vision of the world, and to recognize the opportunities in globalization.
Such an approach doesn’t advocate the relinquishment of sovereignty as it is understood within a Westphalian construct. Indeed, sovereignty without tyranny is a fundamental American value. Neither does the recognition of a more comprehensive perspective place the interests of American citizens behind, or even on par with those of any other country on earth. It is the popular convergence of interests among peoples, nations, cultures, and movements that will determine the sustainability of prosperity and security in this century. And it is credible influence, based on values and strength that will ensure America’s continuing role as a world leader. Security and prosperity are not sustainable in isolation from the rest of the global system. To close the say-do gap, we must stop behaving as if our national interests can be pursued without regard for our values.