Current Issue - See Below Archived Issues - Click Here
The Global Systems Review Issue 16 May 2010
The Global Systems Review is a periodic e-newsletter that explores critical world issues through the lens of whole systems thinking.
President Obama will announce his new national security strategy this week. Both the May and the June issues of the Global Systems Review are dedicated to an exploration of emerging national security narratives.
In this Issue:
Redefining National Security
By Louise Diamond
In systems theory we speak of patterns across scale: that what we see at the micro-level is repeated at and relevant to the macro-level. We are invited to pay attention to ever smaller parts and ever greater wholes, and to make the connections across scale that will strengthen the entire fabric. To that end, I believe that in any discussion of a grand strategy for national security we must include issues related to our domestic strength as well as to our global posture.
In 1992 I wrote an article published in Pathways Magazine called ‘Redefining National Security.’ In it, I said:
The term ‘national security’ has traditionally been associated with our military and political strength vis a vis other nations. I believe that we must redefine the term, and recognize that the true security and the true power of our nation arise from the integrity of our domestic social, economic, and political fabric. While we must continue to look outward toward our global relationships in an increasingly inter-dependent world, we must also look inward and be concerned with our inner stability.
Now nearly 20 years later, I believe this even more strongly. The internal threats to our well-being – the increasing political polarization and incivility that has rendered Congress ineffective and poisoned the airwaves; a financial system that rewards greed and high-risk gambling while leaving millions of people without jobs, homes, and health care; our continued state of denial about peak oil, climate change, and other environmental ravages, and lack of a full commitment to sustainable and renewable energy sources; and more – are not benign in the larger scheme of things. They translate directly into our ability to be a stabilizing presence and effective leader on the world stage.
While each of these issues, and others related to our domestic concerns, have a place in our national conversation, rarely do we hear them described as issues of national security. Yet how can a nation, strong as it is in other ways, be secure if the web of its internal well-being is ragged and weak? How can a nation stand up in the global community as a credible leader when it is vulnerable to such divisiveness and turmoil inside?
In addition, the very threats we see externally – climate change, terrorist attacks, economic crises, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, pandemics, environmental disasters, etc. – live potentially within our borders as well. We can no longer assume that our national security means defense against that which comes at us from ‘enemies’ on the outside. The line between inside and outside is hazy in this time of globalization and inter-dependence.
As previewed in his recent graduation address at West Point, President Obama’s new national security strategy will stress the need to foster greater innovation at home. By that he means primarily technical and scientific innovation, I believe, but I would like to take the broader meaning as innovative and creative ideas and solutions for the complex challenges we face, both internally and externally. Later in this issue Col. Mark ‘Puck’ Mykleby will ably take on the subject of sustainability as key to national security, and another time these pages will address the economic stresses in our society. Here, then, I will discuss the polarized political climate.
Differences are good; diversity of opinion and perspective makes for a more healthy and resilient system. However, I would suggest our current state of extreme adversarial and fragmented political culture has tipped us far beyond the point of usefulness into a land of deeply entrenched ‘us against them’ just when we most need to bring the best thinking of all of us to engage the highly complex threats we face. What would that look like in practice?
There’s often talk of more bi-partisanship, yet there is a stage even beyond that if we are indeed to be innovative in our thinking. Let’s call it trans-partisanship – the ability to move beyond party identification and engage our collective intelligence for better solutions than any one party or individual can propose.
The underlying skill for successful trans-partisanship is the ability to know our own perspective well, yet accept that in the great pool of potential there are opportunities that might build on or even transcend what we hold dear. In other words, we must be willing to be changed; willing to contribute what we have to offer as a spark to a wider synthesis rather than as the one and only answer.
This, in turn, requires what we call beginner’s mind. This is a place of non-attachment, openness and emptiness, where we come to an issue with a sense of not-knowing, of wonder, of curiosity, of receptivity. If we engage with our mind full of our own righteous clarity, there is no room for new thought to evolve. Beginner’s mind does not require us to ignore or repudiate our beliefs; it only asks that we offer them as part of the larger emergent whole, not as the one true truth. When many people with differing perspectives engage with each other in this way, that larger whole – the creative sense of the group – does emerge, and it can be breathtakingly simple, ingenious, and productive all at once.
Is this, then, what national security comes down to in the end, the ability to approach our gravest challenges with beginner’s mind for co-creative and innovative solutions? It could be worse; we could come with our minds already made up, ready to fight with one another for the supremacy of our particular way, and look where that has brought us.
I’m reminded of the poem we learned at school about ‘…for want of a shoe the horse was lost…’ Could it be that the whole interconnected chain of our national security – as we face serious and complex external and internal challenges – rests on something as simple as learning a new way of thinking? Einstein told us many decades ago: “You cannot solve problems with the same mind that created them.”
Once President Obama presents his new national security strategy there will be lots of media conversation about the philosophy and specifics of his vision. My guess is there will not be a lot of discussion about how we use our best collective intelligence to think through the challenges – both domestic and global – within the framework he presents. Our policy world tends to be heavy on content – what to do – and lighter on process – how to think about what to do. I’m voting with Einstein on this one.
National Security and Sustainability
By Colonel Mark ‘Puck’ Mykleby, UMSC
Today, the words “national security” invoke the specters of our worst fears, anxieties, and angst…Al Qaeda, China, Iran, etc…all threats that must be defended against. And this is the problem. As a product of the Cold War, we have blurred the distinction between defense and national security; so much so that we tend to use the terms interchangeably. The end result is that we are effectively undermining our national security in the name of defense and contributing to the unsustainable nature of our entire national system. Simply stated, we are depleting our national resources and bleeding our national strength by seeking to preserve a perceived status quo with an almost obsessive focus on risks and threats.
In 1961, President Eisenhower presciently warned against such a dynamic in his farewell address to the nation. In his address, he shared his concerns over the “military industrial complex” and its inherent threat to our nation’s fiscal solvency. Today, we are seeing Eisenhower’s warning come to fruition in front of our eyes. We continue to expend enormous amounts of national resources on a machine whose original purpose, national defense, has been eclipsed by the need for the machine to feed itself even at the expense of the security of our nation. We continue to pour more and more resources into calcified organizations, inflexible institutions, irrelevant processes, and paradigmatic weapon systems without ever challenging the logic or efficacy of our actions.
All the while, we marginally address the root causes of the most problematic, complex, and very real challenges to our national security: an exorbitant national debt and the real possibility of fiscal insolvency; waning global influence and credibility as a result of our perceived national hubris; the pervasiveness, corrosive synergies, and state-like influence of nefarious non-state networks (terrorist organizations, illicit narcotics industries, organized crime syndicates, etc); suburban sprawl incoherently designed to accommodate cars rather than people; a gluttonous national lifestyle that creates systemic, preventable health problems that cost our nation billions of dollars each year; a food production and distribution system dependent on subsidies, petroleum, and farming techniques that degrade our soil and damage our national health; unsustainable energy policies and infrastructures that disregard the limits of the earth’s energy resources; a general disregard for the environment and the overt rejection of our responsibility to bequeath to our children a world worth living in; and a lackluster educational system that has resulted in a general decline in our national capacity to innovate and compete on a global scale.
These are but a few of the products of an outdated model for civil society that is wholly dependent on a never-ending petroleum supply and the hope that we can control global dynamics to such an extent that the status quo will continue ad infinitum. Unfortunately, neither oil nor the status quo will make this model work for the model fails to accept the realities of our world; the interconnectedness, the interdependencies, the emerging (perhaps unseen) challenges, and, most importantly, the opportunities.
The national security implications of these phenomena are as severe, if not more severe, than any external threat we can imagine lurking in the dark. If we are to be truly “secure” in the future, we must recognize that today’s complex and interdependent world demands that we move beyond a system of defense that leverages force and power as the means to control perceived risks and threats. We must move to a system that addresses our own national health so that we can compete globally for the opportunities that continue to emerge within the dynamic, interdependent, and uncertain global ecology in which we live. It is through our national strength, manifested in credibility and influence rather than through power and coercion, that we can most effectively pursue our enduring national interests of prosperity and security.
As such, we must move from a legacy strategy of containment that seeks to control the “system” to an opportunities-based strategy of sustainment that seeks to thrive and adapt within the “system.” We need a “grand strategy” that focuses foreign and domestic policies toward the common goal of building our national strength and credible influence so that we can compete for global opportunities over the long term; a strategy that creates a national system that allows us to adapt, compete, grow, and evolve in a manner that is commensurate with our values as a people and sustainable over time. Simply stated, we need to raise sustainability up to be our national strategic imperative for the 21st Century.
It is time for us to look ourselves in the mirror and not only question our national direction; we must challenge our own national myth. Do we have the courage and vitality to address the challenges of the 21st Century? Or are we going to continue to pine for what used to be and propagate a way of life that promises the decline of our nation?
If we are looking for anything in our past, it should be our forgotten “national narrative” of hope, opportunity, and innovation that historically has defined us as a people and proved to be the source of our strength, credibility, and influence worldwide. The domestic policies that frame how we grow and develop here at home are essential not only to our quality of life, they are also essential to building the image and confidence we need as a nation to effectively engage the rest of the world. The example we set at home will prove critical to enabling our foreign policies to create the credibility and influence we need abroad to pursue our enduring national interests of prosperity and security. The manner with which we live our lives will constitute our “counter-occidental” narrative that we need to negate the pervasive and persuasive modern anti-American caricature of a consumption-driven, decadent empire that is in a state of decline.
In the domestic context, we need to embrace the concept of sustainability as a new paradigm for how our nation will develop into the future. We need to adopt “smart growth” as our domestic policy imperative that complements a foreign policy that leverages “smart power.” A new community model is called for; one that moves beyond our present understanding of sustainability and adds resiliency to the social, economic, and environmental elements of the current sustainability model. By adding resiliency to the sustainability model, a more holistic system can be designed to address both the opportunities and challenges we will face in the 21st Century. Functionally, this new model should leverage the converging interests as well as the resources of the public, private, and civil sectors such that “smart growth” can occur for both private profit and public good.
Sustainability is not an endstate in and of itself. It is a strategic mindset and philosophy that can carry us forward in time just as the concept of "containment" carried our nation through the Cold War years. This is what our nation needs right now; a mindset and philosophy that acknowledges and actually addresses in efficacious terms the very real challenges facing our nation, but most importantly sets a positive and, dare I say it, hopeful trajectory for our future growth as a people, just as it is articulated in the Preamble of our Constitution. We need to start looking beyond threat and risk toward the opportunities we need to pursue and the capacities with which we need to pursue them if we are to remain vibrant and healthy as a nation.
Such an enormous paradigm shift in how we view domestic policy, national growth, and national security is no small matter. In fact, it seems overwhelming. But all is not lost. We should not forget that, in his farewell address, Eisenhower also proposed a solution to overcome what he saw to be a burgeoning storm: “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Today, we as citizens must become “alert and knowledgeable.” We must recognize that the way we are living our lives at home, in our communities, and as a nation is unsustainable. Moreover, we must realize that the challenges to our national security are not limited to foreign threats; they reside right here at home as well.
It is in this spirit of hope, opportunity, and innovation that many in our nation, and around the world for that matter, have taken a look into the mirror and determined that the design of our daily lives must change. Our national security depends on it. If we can get this mindset and philosophy implanted in some key influencers (policy makers, private industry, think tanks, etc) as well as the American citizenry writ large, policies, institutional reforms, and, most importantly, local action will follow.
We can take a bit of solace in what President Kennedy said in his 1961 State of the Union address. JFK stated that our nation was "in an hour of peril and national opportunity." He went on to lay out how our nation needed to address both the peril and the opportunity and, in so doing, articulated a holistic strategic mindset that was primarily based on a positive and confident belief that we would endure. We urgently need to do the same. The concept of “sustainability" as a national strategic imperative for the 21st Century can create the "pattern language" we need as a nation to thrive in our own "hour of peril and national opportunity."
Mark Mykleby is a colonel in the United States Marine Corps. The views expressed by Colonel Mykleby are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Marine Corps, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.