Solutions of the first kind: new things (i.e., robots, autonomous flying vehicles,
software to help us understand and manipulate foreign societies).
Solutions of the second kind: new ideas about tactics and strategy.
Solutions of the third kind: new ways to shape our institutions (aka politics),
usually by altering how they recruit, train, and promote people.
Shawn Brimley has provided an example of a solution of the second kind with “A Grand Strategy of Sustainment“, posted at the Small Wars Journal (20 March 2008). I agree with almost everything he says, which seems to be in the broad current of work about grand strategy in the era of post-trinitiarian conflicts — in which 4GW has become the dominant mode of war. William Lind, Chet Richards, me, and many others have said similar things.
Most of these works focus on description of a desired new tactic and strategy, with little analysis of why we in fact do things differently or how can our institutions effect these new ideas. Such analysis usually features ample use of “American should do” this and that. A key factor in solutions of the second kind is why we have our current policies, and that answer suggests the cure used by each author.
- Ignorance — Folks just do not have the necessary information about costs and consequences. Providing information starts the process of reform. This has worked in some aspects of public policy. News about the benefits of adding chlorine and fluoride to drinking water, or the bad effects of smoking tobacco, initiated political and social processes which eventually implemented desirable institutional changes.
- Innocent mistakes or stupid leaders — As with ignorance, the cure is information about costs, consequences, and alternatives.
- Schemes of corrupt or evil leaders — The remedy is not just information (as above), but also alerting citizens to the motives of those initiating and/or supporting these policies.
The common assumption to all of these is that change will start once people see the right solution. This is the “Dear Abby” class of solutions, in which the advice is good but operationally useless — since the problem is not imagining a better state but how to implement it. There is another perspective, in which two factors make public policies difficult to change — and these factors should be the focus of analysis when recommending changing policies.
- Structural: policies result from constellations of powerful private interests that gain from them, and will actively resist change.
- Procedural: few public policies offer clear and compelling benefits on the scale of public heath programs (stop smoking, live longer).
Accordingly, I recommend that the community of people concerned with American geopolitical policy concentrate their efforts as follows.
- Showing the costs and weaknesses of current policies is both useful and necessary to effecting change, and must continue. But describing alternative new policies to each other probably contributes little. We have long since reached the point of repetition, imo.
- Unique definitions are polluting the discussion. We need some agreement on the words as well as the music. I made a first cut at this here, for example in the relationship of non-trinitarian conflict to 4GW. Also, agreeing to use the “DOD Dictionary” would help (JP 1-02, see the pdf here).
- Shift the focus from imagining alternatives to devising ways to implement them. That is, the interesting analytical problem is the factors supporting current polcies and institutional structures, and how to change them.
An even better comment on Brimley’s proposed strategy was posted by Dan Kervick at Matthew Yglesias’ blog:
Another “Grand Strategy”. Awesome. Let’s make room on the shelf next to all the other grand strategies.
If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below. You may find answers to your questions in these.
Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest these days:
Post in the series “Solutions to 4GW”:
- A solution to 4GW — the introduction
- How to get the study of 4GW in gear
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
- Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
- 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
- 4GW: A solution of the second kind
- 4GW: A solution of the third kind