After WWII we entered the age in which 4GW is the primary mode of warfare. In response first come analysts, followed by visionaries, then solutions (in three kinds).
Analysts (see this chapter) and visionaries provide the foundation on which solutions are build. Visionaries propose radical ideas for the conduct of warfare (beyond anything we can do today) or even visions of new geopolitical regimes. They play several essential roles. Their creativity provides new directions to more conventional experts. Their imaginations provide vigor and energy to stimulate others to write about 4GW. Their writings appeal to both the public and decision-makers in a way that few analysts can equal, communicating the nature of modern war to a large audience much as Carl Sagan did for science.
Like Sagan, successful visionaries earn more money than almost anyone else in their field. This is the “sweet spot” in any profession, offering fame and fortune.
To some extent we are bounded by the imaginations of visionaries. Today that means the 4GW result from the imagination of Tom Barnett (in America) and Osama bin Laden for the jihadists. Their work illustrates the power of a visionary to shape the discussion of geopolitics — and the weakness of implementing visions before the necessary work has bridged the gap between imagination and execution. Premature use of Barnett’s ideas led us into Iraq (intended as an illustration, not to imply that he was the primary designer). Premature use of bin Laden’s ideas mobilized western nations against al Qaeda before it developed a strong structure and destroyed the primary host government (the Tailiban in Afghanistan)
Visionaries drive the process of society’s adaptation to a changing world. This works unless we confuse their dreams with actual plans. That is, visionaries becomes problematic for policy-formation only when their work exerts too strong a pull on the imaginations of professionals, taking their gaze away from the messy details and constraints of the real world. This euphoria may have contributed to the flawed planning of our Iraq Expedition. This is a failure of the professionals, not the visionaries.
Characteristics of visionaries and their solutions
Any particular visionary will exhibit some, not all, of these. Also, most writers about 4GW have visionary elements to their work. Schema like this are simplifications — abstractions — to better understand the social processes at work.
- Solutions tend to some combination of simple, easy, and fast.
- The solutions are certain to succeed.
- Little or no discussion about the consequences if their solutions’ failure.
- Seldom estimate the cost of their solutions, or compare this cost to alternative solutions.
- They usually ignore the structural and institutional basis of current policies
The last is perhaps the most important. These are, explicitly or implicitly, “clean slate” solutions. “If only we do these things all will be well.” But of course there are powerful reasons we do things differently today. We cannot change the world by willing it be different. This is the “Green Lantern theory of Geopolitics” described by Matthew Yglesias (TBM Cafe, 10 July 2006 — one of the best blog posts).
Once we have a good vision, then we are ready to begin the process of solving the problem. Having the vision is not progress or movement. The first step consists of planning how to implement the vision. How to gain attention of key groups and individuals. How to convince them that this set of changes is desirable. Overcome obstacles. Change institutional procedures. Gain the necessary funds. Specific tactics and strategy; details about logistics.
Solutions to 4GW come in three kinds.
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.
Recommendation: You might find this post from last week worthwhile reading: We are withdrawing again from Iraq, forever.
Articles about the works of Thomas Barnett
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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