Receive "The World According to Tom Barnett" Brief
Where I Work
Search the Site
Buy Tom's Books
  • Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
    Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
    Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • Romanian and East German Policies in the Third World: Comparing the Strategies of Ceausescu and Honecker
    Romanian and East German Policies in the Third World: Comparing the Strategies of Ceausescu and Honecker
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 2): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 2): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 3): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 3): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 4): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 4): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 5): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 5): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett, Emily V. Barnett
Monthly Archives
Powered by Squarespace
« Brief Reminder: A booming export market for the SysAdmin (1970s-1990s) | Main | The blog strikes again! »

Blast from my past: PNM's "New Rules for a New Crisis"

[NOTE:  As I slowly rebuild old pages from the old site, I will use this weekly feature for that purpose.]


Deleted Scene #22

Chapter Five: The New Ordering Principle

The Missing Section Entitled: "New Rules for a New Crisis"

Commentary: This twenty-second "deleted scene" was the originally planned third section of the chapter (coming after "The Rise of System Perturbations" and before "The Greater Inclusive"), which Mark Warren cut simply to reduce the size of the chapter. My sense was that he felt the chapter already had more than enough theoretical material and did not need this long detour on rule sets. I include the section here because I really do like the material quite a bit, even as tough as it is to lay out before the reader without lapsing into theoreticalspeak. Plus, this section was my sole capture from the one workshop I ran for the Office of Force Transformation during my stint there, so I feel like the bits of wisdom I pulled from that effort (and all those big brains that attended) should find a home somewhere!


I should note who were the attendees at that workshop in March of 2002. Here's the list:

1) Arthur Cebrowski, Office of Force Transformation
2) John Garstka, Joint Chiefs of Staff C4 Directorate 
3) Stuart Umpleby, George Washington University 
4) Douglass Carmichael, Big Mind Media 
5) John Petersen, The Arlington Institute 
6) David Gordon, National Intelligence Council 
7) Stephen Schlaikjer, Political Advisor to Chief of Naval Operations 
8) Shane Deichman, JFCOM 
9) Ahmed Hashim, Naval War College 
10) Daniel Pipes, Middle East Forum/N.Y. Post 
11) Jeff Cares, Alidade Consulting 
12) Richard Landes, Center for Millennial Studies 
13) Kori Schake, National Defense University 
14) Joshua Epstein, Brookings Institution 
15) Mitzi Wertheim, The CNA Corporation 
16) Tony Pryor, International Resources Group 
17) Hank Gaffney, Center for Strategic Studies 
18) Yaneer Bar-Yam, New England Complex Systems Institute 
19) Lee Buchanan, consultant 
20) Bill Halal, George Washington University 
21) Adam Siegel, Northrop Grumman 
22) Cdr. John Dickman, CNO Strategic Studies Group 
23) John Landry, National Intelligence Council 
24) Jerry Hultin, Stevens Institute of Technology

Here is the agenda of the workshop:


Check-in and continental breakfast

Barnett briefs the System Perturbation slide package

GroupSystems warm-up
INSTRUCTIONS: The scenario is this: you are asked by the Mayor of New York City to pen a paragraph on the significance of 9/11 for inclusion in a time capsule to be buried beneath the permanent memorial being erected at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. In the next 5 minutes please enter your thoughts on the laptop in front of you. At the end of five minutes, you will be encouraged to read the entries of others and enter additional comments on those texts.

SESSION I: Does 9/11 serve as existence proof for the concept of System Perturbations as a identifiable category of international crisis?
INSTRUCTIONS: After some introductory slides on this notion, you will be asked to participated in a GroupSystems brainstorming activity of approximately 5-7 minutes, answering the question, "Please give us examples of System Perturbations in history and explain what each example tells us about this concept." Following that activity, Dr. Barnett will lead a discussion on this question for approximately 30 minutes. At the end of that discussion, you will be asked another GroupSystems brainstorming question, "What are the lasting perturbations to the global system from 9/11?" You will be asked to enter your ideas into 6 separate "buckets": 

  1.  Economics
  2.  Politics
  3.  Technology
  4.  Environment
  5.  Cultural/media
  6.  Security.


Coffee break

SESSION II: Can/should System Perturbations serve as a new ordering principle for U.S. national security?
INSTRUCTIONS: After some introductory slides on potential outcome scenarios for the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), you will be asked to participated in a GroupSystems brainstorming activity of approximately 5-7 minutes, answering the question, "Give us your description of the defining global conflict paradigm for the next 10-to-20 years." You will be given four, admittedly overlapping "buckets" to choose from in terms of placing your entry:

  1.  Division by competency/success
  2.  Division by culture/civilization
  3.  Division by great power-led camps
  4.  Division by ideology.


Following that activity, Dr. Barnett will lead a discussion on this question for approximately 30 minutes. At the end of that discussion, you will be asked another GroupSystems brainstorming question, "What are the new rule sets that emerge as a result of 9/11 and the ongoing GWOT?"You will be asked to enter your ideas into 3 separate "buckets":


  1.  Security within our borders
  2.  Security at our borders
  3.  Security beyond our borders.


SESSION III: Who are the dominant crisis trigger agents in the current global era?
INSTRUCTIONS: After some introductory slides on potential downstream institutional consequences for DoD as a result of 9/11 and the GWOT, you will be asked to participated in a GroupSystems brainstorming activity of approximately 5-7 minutes, answering the question, "What will future enemies of the U.S. learn from 9/11 and the GWOT?" You will be given three "buckets" to choose from in terms of placing your entry:

  1.  Super-empowered individuals
  2.  Transnational networks
  3.  Nation-states.
Following that activity, Dr. Barnett will lead a discussion on this question for approximately 40 minutes. At the end of that discussion, you will be asked another GroupSystems brainstorming question, "What are the long-term institutional ramifications of the home game/away game dichotomy?" You will be asked to enter your ideas into 3 separate "buckets":
  1.  A future Department of Homeland Security will someday rival DoD in importance
  2.  DoD will remain the predominant national security player in all spheres
  3.  DoD will bifurcate into a classic warfighting force and a constabulary force
 (Back to the pre-WWII future).


1200-1300 Lunch break (served in the conference room)

SESSIONS IV-IX: Building the System Perturbation model piece by piece
INSTRUCTIONS: After some review slides on the six proposed categories of the System Perturbation, you will be asked to participate in 6 sequential 20-minute sessions exploring each category. Each 20-minute session will begin with a 5-minute GroupSystems brainstorming activity where you will be asked to offer new or better definitions, examples, analogies, etc. for the category. Following that, you will participate in a facilitated discussion for 15 minutes before moving on to the next category. The six proposed categories are:

  1.  Agents
  2.  Triggers
  3.  Medium
  4.  Transmission
  5.  Barriers
  6.  Consequences.


1500-1515 Coffee break

SESSIONS X-XII: What is to be done by whom?
INSTRUCTIONS: After some introductory slides on the concept of burden-sharing and new linkages with regard to System Perturbations, you will be asked to participate in 3 sequential 30-minute sessions exploring three broad questions:

  1.  In responding to future System Perturbations, how much responsibility falls to DoD versus the rest of the US Government?
  2.  How much falls to the public sector versus the private sector?
  3.  How much falls to the United States versus the rest of the world?
Each 30-minute session will begin with a quick GroupSystems vote, followed by approximately 20 minutes of facilitated discussion, and ending with another GroupSystems brainstorming activity where you will be asked to suggest useful steps the US Government could take in the coming years to meet the challenges associated with future System Perturbations such as 9/11.


SESSION XIII: The Elevator Drill
INSTRUCTIONS: You will be given an opportunity for one last comment, the scenario for which will be revealed at this time.


Here are the slides that resulted from the workshop:

Finally, here is the deleted scene itself ….

Deleted Scene: Barnett's Rules on System Perturbations


Since I am constantly going on about "rules," it only seems fitting that, along with this definition of a new crisis type, I offer some rule sets regarding how it unfolds and what are good strategies to deal with it. Truth be told, what I will offer here are more observations than rules, but in keeping with my rule that no audience likes a wishy-washy visionary ("Oh, I dunno, it could sort of be like that"), let me display the usual arrogance of the grand strategist and pretend what I am about to tell you are hard rules.

How did I come about these rules? I did the usual thing one does in my business: I held a workshop and invited all my friends, plus some newbies to shake things up. You invite your friends because you want a good conversation, and because you know what they are capable of in terms of big ideas. These are the people that will not fight your ideas and premises tooth and nail because you have a reputation with them. But you do not want a lovefest. Although I always say my workshops are all about making me smarter, you do not want to go overboard in that arena, like it is some communist party congress and your brilliant observations are constantly interrupted by [stormy applause]. No, you want some agitators in the group, or some people who will, by their very nature, anger plenty of others in the room.

The agitators need to be serious experts in the field you are stealing from. I say "stealing from," because I do not pretend to generate original thought, by and large. As my mentor Art Cebrowski likes to describe me, I am a true synthesist, which is a polite way of saying I never really come up with any ideas of my own. But Art is right: I basically weave ideas and concepts together from other sources, other fields, other cultures. I am a concept arbitrager, who learned this skill less from any one field of study than from simply learning a number of languages over the course of my life (French, Russian, German, and Romanian). Can I speak any of them today? Not really. But what I can do almost instinctively is learn new languages quickly -- I mean really plunge into a field and come back out with enough terminology and understanding to manage a dangerous version of its spoken language. I say "dangerous" because, inevitably, my use of that language angers the purists, which is my snotty way of saying people truly expert in the field. That gets me back to the agitators.

I invited a few people truly conversant in complexity and chaos theory to the workshop, knowing that my use of System Perturbation would offend their sensibilities. I mean, they already have loads of fairly firm rules about their ideas, and both these terms (system and perturbation) have specific meanings to them. I wanted to respect their expertise, but only up to a point, because I am engaging in conceptual arbitrage here -- moving concepts from one field to another. Since my field, political science, is essentially a bastard science with almost no good rule sets, it is hard to offend anyone in my neck of the woods. But when I start talking System Perturbations and using words like medium, transmission, etc., I invariably anger the complexity guys, because they believe that, by using their tools, you really can explain the world and how it works -- almost from A to Z. Of course, most of their computer models tend to zero out human emotions, reducing everything to rational choices by rational people, but since I have never really visited their world of rational people always acting rationally, I think I can only do so much damage with a few of their concepts.

Now, the rules I will present here really are not based on complexity or chaos theory, but based on observations I arrived at after listening to a bunch of social scientists discuss the concept of System Perturbation as a new definition of security crisis, with a smattering of complexity theory types in the room to goad and taunt them about their lack of true expertise in the subject-matter. Naturally, I conducted such a deviously designed workshop inside the Beltway, which such behavior is considered quite normal.

What I got from the workshop was a ton of disparate ideas about how vertical and horizontal scenarios play out among vertical and horizontal political systems. That was the weird thing about this workshop: I introduced the concept of vertical and horizontal scenarios and pretty soon everyone in the room was talking about vertical and horizontal societies or political systems. I like those phrases better than "authoritarian" and "democratic," because those phrases come with so much baggage and are so all-inclusive, whereas my workshop participants seemed to use the phrases vertical system and horizontal system with far greater freedom. For example, both China and Russia could be described as having far more horizontal economic systems than political systems, meaning their economies are increasingly built more around ties among firms and among individuals thanbetween the political leadership and firms, or the more vertically arranged patterns of authority and activity under past communist rule. Their political systems may still be quite vertically arrayed, from top to bottom, but their economic systems are far more horizontal.

You might ask, Why not just call them authoritarian market economies? Clearly I could do just that, but I prefer referring to vertical and horizontal systems because, that way, I can talk about how different aspects (i.e., economic versus political, or social versus security) of China might respond to a System Perturbation differently. I think China's economy and society are more horizontal in form than vertical, but I believe the Communist Party and People's Liberation Army remain extremely vertical in form, so a System Perturbation hitting China hits different sectors differently. Why is that important? Well, here I go back to the dinosaurs and mammals notion: a System Perturbation may disrupt or destroy different aspects of different systems across China. For example, SARS was more challenging for the political leadership than for the economy, which in the end proved awfully resilient whereas the Party looked awfully stiff. The mass media displayed a surprising amount of horizontal form, whereas the military assumed its usual stonewall stance. You get the idea. I just want more flexible concepts because I am still fumbling my way around this new strategic concept.

Before I give you the rules, let me spin out this description of vertical and horizontal systems a bit more by offering a series of examples. I will say horizontal systems tend to be replete with elites, meaning they possess multiple types of powerful people: political, business, military, technology, mass media, cultural icons and heroes, and so on. Vertical systems, on the other hand, really only have one elite -- the political leadership. You can tell you are in a vertical system when the political leader is also the military leader, is also the richer landowner, is also guiding hand of the economy, and so on. In vertical systems, you have to join the government to have power and wealth, but in horizontal systems, you typically have to leave the government to get wealth.

A second difference I have touched upon before: horizontal systems rotate leaderships with routine regularity, while vertical systems tend to have permanent leaderships. As such, horizontal systems tend to feature market-dominated economies, while vertical systems tend to feature state-dominated economies.

A third package of differences concerns the nature of communications and dialogue. In the horizontal system, you tend to see universal networks, where everyone can connect up to everyone else. This facilitates a question-based dialogue, where basically all subjects are on the table. The government in a horizontal system tends not to make any effort to steer that discourse, but only to deal with downstream behavior that may result. You want to yell "fire" in a crowded theater and people get hurt in the resulting stampede? Well then, you are going to be in trouble.

Vertical systems are just the opposite on communication. Their networks tend to be drill-down networks, or connectivity that runs from the leader to the led. Instead of letting any and all conversations occur, vertical systems typically feature upstream content control, because the dialogues that are permissible are severely restricted in terms of taboos. In short, it is a world of "don't go there, girlfriend!" I use the feminine here with purpose, since far more of the taboos involve women and restrict their behavior. What do young Iranian women do overwhelmingly when they get on the Internet? They race to Yahoo chat rooms to discuss sex, dating and marriage? Why do they have to go to such effort? These subjects are not discussable in public Iranian society under the mullahs. So what do you talk about in a country like Iran? You mostly talk about what you cannot talk about. That is what I did in the Soviet Union when I lived there briefly: I had lots of conversations with Russians where we talked about all the subjects you could not talk about. We did not actually discuss those subjects, we just talking about Russians' inability to talk about them. Vertical systems are a sort of strange, Seinfeldian universe in that way: all of your conversations really are about nothing.

Now that I have explained my terminology, let me lay out the five questions I seek to answer with these rules:

1) Who's really in charge during a System Perturbation? For example, is the agent which triggers the vertical shock really running the show?

2) What's really at risk during a System Perturbation? Are all systems equally at risk of disruption and crisis?

3) Where are the boundaries of a System Perturbation? Where do these horizontal waves tend to dissipate? What are the natural barriers to transmission?

4) When do we gain the upper hand in a System Perturbation? Which is another way of saying, How do you come out on top after one?

5) How do we deal with other states during a System Perturbation? Who naturally tend to be our friends and who are our natural enemies?

Let me assigns three rules to each of those five questions, starting with question 1 and working my way down.

Who's really in charge during a System Perturbation? 

Rule #1: Super-empowered individuals may rule vertical scenarios, but nation-states still rule horizontal scenarios. I got this one from a senior personal aide to the Secretary of Defense, who made the observation during a brief I gave him and a slew of his colleagues. His point was simple: a terrorist like Osama bin Laden can put together the people, money, and logistics to hijack three planes and fly them into buildings, but that vertical shock will trigger significant long-term responses from the threatened nation-states. The responses from these states are true horizontal scenarios that stretch on for years, like the global war on terrorism. A serious campaign like that takes an enormous amount of resources, which really only nation-states can muster. So, a super-empowered individual like Bin Laden can certainly pull off a "heist" here and there, but the "police" are able to spend years hunting him down. As my old boss Art Cebrowski likes to say, the terrorist has few resources, but lots of will, whereas the state tends to have lots of resources, but difficulty maintaining will, or vigilance. So it is a cat-and-mouse sort of game over the long run: he has to be shifty, we have to be relentless.

Rule #2: Vertical scenarios choose us, but we choose horizontal scenarios. This concept stems from an observation made by an historian of millenarian movements, or groups with apocalyptic agendas. Richard Landes of Boston University says, look back through any nation's history and you will find defining moments, or what he calls "chosen trauma." These events shape the ethos of the society because people there have chosen to mark them as key turning points in their collective history. In the United States, our chosen trauma include the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Gettysburg, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and now 9/11. Not every bad thing that happens triggers this response. America could have chosen to respond to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center to launch a global war on terrorism, but we did not. In general, a chosen trauma can be summarized by the phrase, "Remember the ______!" So Americans "Remember the Alamo!" and "Remember the Maine!" But we do not really chose to remember Columbine or Oklahoma City in the same way. The point of this rule is simply to remind us that we have the ability to say no to responding to a vertical scenario, and that when we do decide to respond, like with a global war on terrorism, that is not a choice forced upon us, but one we make freely -- thus signifying control. It is one of those things we all learned in kindergarten: anyone can hurl an insult or a rock, but you only have to fight when you want to.

Rule #3: Once the vertical scenario plays itself out, control reverts back to nation-states, so long as they stay on the offensive. You could say this one also comes from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, because that has been the basic philosophy they have advocated in America's global war on terrorism. In other words, once the dust cleared after 9/11, it was America's task to keep hounding Bin Laden and Al Qaeda until they are completely destroyed as a threat. Our enemy's goal is clear: they need to keep hitting us with vertical shocks that cumulatively depress our stock of rules, our collective sense of individual security, and our belief in the stability of our system. A vertical shock like 9/11 immediately creates a sense of rule-set void: people are thinking, "We are clearly short of the right rules because if we had had them, this disaster never would have happened in this way." If an Al Qaeda can maintain a certain frequency of shocks, America never really fills that void back in with new rules, because we would be constantly scrambling to understand -- yet again -- "how something like this could happen?" But if we maintain a constant pressure on the enemy, those vertical shocks are few and far between, allowing us to fill in any voids created by our original sense of shock and horror. This is the essential difference between America and Israel since 9/11: we have never been hit again, but Israel keeps suffering the vertical shocks of suicide bombings, thus Israeli society suffers systematic brutalization and thus responds more brutally with time. My point: you take the offensive, you limit the need for brutality in your response. You get the bad stuff over as quickly as possible.

What's really at risk in a System Perturbation?

Rule #4: In response to System Perturbations, horizontal systems tighten up vertically, but vertical systems tighten up horizontally? After 9/11, a horizontal system like the United States will tighten up its rule sets by forging more comprehensive cooperation between local, state and federal agencies, or along vertical lines of authority. Horizontal systems like the U.S. naturally fear that their distributedness is their weakness, when in reality, it is their strength. But tightening up along vertical lines only makes sense, sort of defense-in-depth philosophy that is more logical than, say, states coming together per se. In a vertical system you tend to see the opposite sort of response: when the Great Leader finds his rule under attack, he starts reining everyone in because he is never quite sure who to trust. So you see crackdowns on untrustworthy groups and more palace guards. That was basically Saddam Hussein's tack across the nineties after the U.S. booted Iraq out of Kuwait: he kept creating new, ever more trustworthy troops to surround him, and he put those troops under his most trusted relatives. More generally in response to 9/11, we saw plenty of vertical political systems around the world use the excuse of the global war on terrorism to target dissidents, separatists, and the like, reclassifying everyone as a terrorist and seeking the U.S.'s blessing for that designation. So what is at risk here is basically the civil rights of citizens the world over, because a vertical shock can easily send even the most horizontal systems over the top in their search for security.

Rule #5: Vertical scenarios scare horizontal systems more, while horizontal scenarios scare vertical systems more. People living in horizontal systems typically enjoy significantly larger amounts of freedom, and so it is easier to slap a vertical scenario like a terrorist attack on an open society than a closed one. Naturally, people living in more horizontal systems understand that vulnerability and fear vertical scenarios, or the bolt-from-the-blue, far more than horizontal scenarios, or some slow-developing problem against which you can mobilize your network of resources. 9/11 really shocked America, even though the death total was fairly small when you compare it, say, to deaths from car accidents each year (40 to 50 thousand), but those death unfold in small increments, spread out across the land, whereas 9/11's victims died all at once. Plus, Americans understand the risks of driving; we know those rule sets. But 9/11 triggered the response of "People just shouldn't have to die that way," meaning it offended our sense of rules regarding warfare. Bolts-from-the-blue like 9/11 tend to haunt U.S. strategic planners, because we know there is little we can do to prevent an enemy from getting that first sucker-punch in on America, whereas in a long, knockdown drag-out fight, we are very confident that we will prevail. Vertical systems tend to fear horizontal scenarios more, say, like the slow build-up of resistance to rule. Soviet Russia went nuts over individual dissidents like Andrei Sakharov, because they feared he would slowly "poison" the minds of an entire generation, making both rule and reform impossible. They were right to be afraid. Similarly, the political leadership in China runs scared when a Falun Gong movement develops secretly on its own, using the network connectivity of the Internet to spread its gospel. When several thousand Falun Gong disciples showed up one morning on Tianammen Square, what was frightening to the Chinese leadership was less their non-violent protest than the their obvious self-organizing capabilities. So if horizontal systems fear political assassinations, vertical systems live more in fear of grass roots movements. 

Rule #6: Vertical scenarios harm vertical systems more, while horizontal scenarios harm horizontal systems more. This rule simply says that Rule #5 is basically wrong, despite what people in both systems tend to believe. In reality, vertical strikes can do little damage to truly distributed systems. If someone wipes out the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court one afternoon, nothing would really change in our country in terms of our ability to maintain rule. Yes, it would be a huge shock, but it would not be hard to replace all those leaders rather quickly. I could find you 535 ex-senators and representatives living within a ten-mile radius of the Capitol itself who could easily step back into rule, tell me how hard it would be to find nine lawyers in Washington who think they are smart enough to sit on the Supreme Court! But even beyond those facile examples lies the reality that we have 50 "farm teams" around the country, each complete with their own set of executives, supreme courts, and legislative branches. You if you wipe out our national leadership you do not really kill our capacity for leadership, because we have got more political leaders than we can count! What really stresses out horizontal systems like the U.S. are the horizontal scenarios that never seem to end, like a Great Depression, which really only ended when the vertical shock of Pearl Harbor put the country on another pathway. In contrast, vertical systems like Saddam Hussein's regime can really be dismembered quite profoundly simply by taking out the leadership. Remember the "most wanted" deck of cards? That said we really needed to nail only about 50 bad actors in Iraq and we would have eliminated the bulk of the Baath party rule.

Where are the boundaries in System Perturbations?

Rule #7: Vertical scenarios are always preceded by horizontal scenarios that generated the preconditions for system shock. This one I definitely stole from the complexity guys. Their basic point is that no vertical shock occurs in a vacuum. With 9/11, there were a host of horizontal scenarios on our side that led to all that lax security and our government's downplaying the threat from Al Qaeda. So looking for that one "smoking gun" is always an illusion, despite the fact that we always pretend to ourselves that we have really found one, like the FBI "Phoenix Memo." To believe that one little memo should have turned the tides on all those long-term horizontal scenarios is just fantasy. You cannot turn conventional wisdom on its head without a serious shock. On Al Qaeda's side, 9/11 was the culmination of a slow build-up of capabilities and demonstrated strikes over the years. This group did not appear out of nowhere, nor did their grievances.

Rule #8: Vertical scenarios are invariable followed by horizontal scenarios that generate preconditions for future shocks. This one sort of says, "Be careful what you wish for." Japan attacks Pearl Harbor and hopes it will shock the U.S. into rapid defeatism. Instead, we respond with the Pacific Campaign, or a methodical dismantling of Japan's empire. Hitler thought Germany might conquer Russia with the same blitzkrieg that overwhelmed Poland and France, and he got the Battle of Stalingrad and the Siege of Leningrad instead. Al Qaeda thought America would be shocked into isolation after 9/11, and got a Bush Adminstration hell-bent on transforming the Middle East. Of course, as part of that transformation, we invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. That was the "big bang" America put on the Middle East as a whole. But that vertical shock invariably creates its own horizontal scenarios like leaving tens of thousands of U.S. troops trapped in Iraq for the long haul, pulling in jihadists from all over the world to try and kill the "infidels," and forcing the U.S. into an accommodation with the UN it had long sought to avoid regarding postwar Iraq. What new vertical shock comes out of that maelstrom of horizontal scenarios? Good question.

Rule #9: The potential for conflict is maximized when states with differing rule sets are forced into collaboration/collision/clashes. This rule basically defines America's dilemma in pursuing this global war on terrorism: we will constantly be getting into bed with countries whose rule sets do not go well with our own, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or even Syria. How does America cooperate with essentially non-democratic states to spread democracy? Then again, if you want converts, you better work among the sinners, yes? But even tougher questions abound in response to 9/11. You could say, for example, that in pursuing this war on terror, America is basically adopting the Israeli approach of an-eye-for-an-eye, which is problematic for most Americans. Israel may, for religious and cultural reasons, be comfortable with that Old Testament approach, but America is basically a New Testament-style democracy, where the "golden rule" of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" drives most of our rule sets. As I stated earlier, I think the Core-Gap division forces some genuine bifurcation in our security rule sets, and yet, there is no pasting over the reality that this war on terror will cause very profound rule set clashes within America itself.

When do we gain the upper hand in System Perturbations?

Rule #10: A strong offensive strategy can force a certain amount of structure on the most asymmetrical of enemies. Because I believe state-on-state wars are fundamentally a thing of the past, I have strong expectations that the enemies -- whatever form they take -- will be both fairly distributed in their organizational structure and seek to wage war on us in the most asymmetrical means. This enemy could be an Al Qaeda, or a SARS, or an anti-American intifada in Iraq. In these situations, defensive strategies inevitably fail, because all the initiative is left to your enemy. Some might say, "But if you cut off one head of the Hydra, then ten more with appear!" But to be perfectly blunt, I hate arguments that take you down the path of saying in effect: "Whatever we do, let's not piss off the terrorists." If you don't take the fight to the enemy, the enemy brings the fight to you, so we can do this in Manhattan or in Iraq -- and I prefer Iraq. You can counter with, "But what all those soldiers dying in Iraq?" Those lives are no more, nor any less precious than the almost 3,000 we lost on 9/11. But the big difference is that there are soldiers, not civilians. Taking the fight to the enemy forces that enemy to adapt himself to whatever offensive strategy you pursue. If you shoot on sight, then he will hide. If you track him across networks, then he will have to stay mostly off-grid. If you plant yourself in Iraq and Afghanistan, then you will fight him in Iraq and Afghanistan, not New York and Washington.

Rule #11: Our individual plays unfold with utmost speed, but in ignoring any "game clock," we remember that our strength is our inevitability. America's strategic tempo in this global war on terrorism must be deliberate, not rash. We need to line up allies before we strike, not be forced to bribe them afterwards. We want to make clear every time we act, what rule sets we are upholding or proposing. In sum, it is a "rash" U.S. military establishment the advanced world fears most: reckless, trigger-happy, and prone to unilateralism. An inevitable military Leviathan, on the other hand, is what the global system needs most: decisive in its power projection, precise in its targeted effects, and thorough in its multilateralism. So while we will strike with amazing speed, and coordinate our operations with eye toward rapidly dominating any enemy we take on, our strategic choices must be made with great care. Living in an interconnected world, America must understand that almost any time it intervenes militarily overseas, it sets off a series of horizontal scenarios both good and bad. The rest of the Core will invariably have to live with all those resulting scenarios, so they cannot just be forewarned, these countries must be consulted, enlisted, and convinced to the best of our abilities, and that takes effort up front. So tactical and operational speed are doubleplusgood because they save our soldier's lives¸ but strategic speed is fundamentally bad because of its negative effect on the global security rule sets we seek to enhance with every intervention we undertake.

Rule #12: Our efforts to dissipate horizontal scenarios will invariably trigger unintended consequences that take on a life of their own. In the Y2K scenarios, we called this the "Iatrogenic Zone." Iatrogenic refers to "unexpected side-effects that result from treatment by a physician." People who own computers know this one instinctively, whether they realize it or not. Iatrogenic is when you try to download this nice little program from the web to fix this itsy-bitsy problem on your computer, and three hours later you are looking at a complete wipe of your hard drive for your troubles. America's occupation of post-Saddam Iraq places the global war on terrorism in the Iatrogenic Zone. The USA Patriot Act, in many critics' minds, places the Justice Department squarely in the Iatrogenic Zone, where they fear the new powers to fight terrorism will represent a cure worse than the disease. But again, while I cite this rule I see no need to slavishly submit to its logic. All "slippery slope" arguments end up pushing you toward inaction versus action, defense versus offense, and disparate tactics instead of real strategy, so you do not want to go too far with this one.

How do we deal with other states during System Perturbations? 

Rule #13: There is no statute of limitations on cultural blowback, so avoid providing future foes with chosen trauma. Middle East experts will tell you 9/11 is twenty years of blowback from Afghanistan and the mujaheddin we supported there, half a century of blowback from the creation of the state of Israel, and even eight centuries of blowback from the Crusades. Like in your marriage, no "past sins" are ever forgotten, so it is crucial that in our responses to any System Perturbation, we do not simply plant a host of new historical grievances in the hearts of those we hope ultimately win over and integrate into the Core. This is, of course, the great danger of the Big Bang strategy of toppling Saddam Hussein's regime. My Muslim colleagues from that part of the world have told me repeatedly that, immediately following 9/11, America had the chance to win over not just a small percentage of the Muslim world, but a very large one -- depending on its response. These same friends tell me now that that share of potentially winnable Muslims is far smaller, and far more difficult to win, precisely because we have provided them with a newchosen trauma. What is our solution now? As Thomas Friedman likes to argue, America's best hope now is to do whatever it takes to make Iraq a beacon of freedom and progressive change in the Middle East. In effect, we need to turn that chosen trauma into a chosen triumph -- not ours, mind you, but the Iraqi people's.

Rule #14: In response to vertical scenarios, horizontal systems naturally come together, as do vertical systems. This one we saw in spades following 9/11, as the world's free states rushed to our support and joined our substantial multinational coalition that toppled the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan. Horizontal systems naturally saw a common threat in the attacks, meaning something that could just as easily happen to them. But vertical systems, in general, saw something very different in 9/11. First, since many such states are not our friends, they saw America receiving her comeuppances for past sins. Second, since a few of these states have long been identified as state sponsors of terrorist groups, they knew they could soon be on receiving end of any general U.S. response. Of course, when President Bush identifies an "axis of evil" by name, then the U.S. simply drives this countries even closer together, furthering their collective disconnectedness from the rest of the world. I do not see anything wrong with that, because I believe in calling a spade a spade. It is just that once you generate such a list, expectations are immediately raised about what you intend to do about that list, so follow-through is crucial. In that way, you could say that the "axis of evil" is a self-declared "domino theory" for the global war on terrorism: America sets itself up for having to deal with the entire lot to demonstrate significant milestones in the war. Is this an aggressive approach to shrinking the Gap? You bet.

Rule #15: Transitional states are forced to choose during System Perturbations, and their choices reveal which direction they are truly heading. By this I mean that the world is full of states trapped somewhere between truly vertical and horizontal system status -- China, Russia, Iran, to name a few. For these states, a System Perturbation represents a real moment of truth: to which "side" do they move? This is what Thomas Friedman describes as the choice between the "Lexus world" and the "olive tree world," and it is what I call the choice between the Core and the Gap, or -- most fundamentally -- a choice between connectedness and disconnectedness. I think we learned plenty about Russia, China, India, and several other New Core members following 9/11. In the case of those three countries, despite the fact that the Pentagon had more than a few nasty things to say about each prior to 9/11, all came down firmly on the U.S. side following this huge loss in our security. They chose. How did Iran choose? Saudi Arabia? Here I fear we are talking about states moving in the wrong direction, although there are better signs from Riyadh following the fall of Saddam Hussein. With SARS, China clearly had a choice to make, and it did so clearly, again reinforcing the perception that the nation is moving deeper into the Core. With our Big Bang in Iraq, America has forced a lot of countries to choose all over again, and we will know the outcomes according to the uniforms that ultimately appear in any UN-sponsored peacekeeping force for Iraq.

* * *

One of the main reasons why I think we are far enough along in our understanding of System Perturbations to start identifying some of the rule sets is because 9/11 was not just an existence proof for the concept, it started a whole new discussion on -- even a whole new lexicon for describing -- the nature of system-level security crises. Look at how the phrase "9/11" has become a touchstone for shocks that remake rule sets. The Chinese have repeatedly referred to SARS as "our 9/11." Australia suffers a great loss of life due to terrorist strike against its citizens touring in Bali, the biggest number of Australians killed in one hostile act since World War II, and they refer to it as "our 9/11." India's Parliament is bombed by terrorists, and many Indiana refer to it as "our 9/11." Russia is confronted by terrorists holding a theater full of hostages in Moscow, and its tragic outcome is described by many Russians as "our 9/11." In each instance, people are talking about security suddenly revealed as inadequate, rule sets suddenly sent into flux, and political systems deeply perturbed.

Understanding how System Perturbations unfold is crucial, in my mind, for understanding war within the context of everything else. This understanding is not only good for helping us stabilize the Core progressively over time, but also in shrinking the Gap, a process that is likely to be regularly punctuated by significant System Perturbations perpetrated by the United States itself, the most revolutionary country the world has ever known. To that end, the Pentagon needs to rethink its ordering principle, as does the entirety of the U.S. national security establishment. The wars we wage and the peace we win across the 21st century will be shaped decisively by how America comes to define crisis in the age of globalization.


Reader Comments (1)

Man! This new tinfoil hat is Da Bomb! Didn't have to suggest today might be a good time to bring Ruleset reset front and center, just came to the blog and it's already done.


(Might be helpful to revisit M-Curve of Influence, you think?)

June 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCritt Jarvis

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>