by John Brian Shannon | December 31, 2015
While my default mode is to proactively engage with vision, leadership, pragmatism and organization, in order to preempt or preclude situations that allow dangers to form and thence for risk to concern us — there is certainly a time to take stock, to measure our place in the world, and to put our perceptions to the test in order to assess future threats.
Each year-end presents a wonderful opportunity to do exactly that.
We must keep in mind that every problem on this planet is a human-caused problem — and because we’ve caused them — we can solve them if we choose.
Humans alone wrote the madcap play that we’re the actors in.
The Eternal Question: Should We Steer Our Ship by the Stars, or by the Sea?
1. We must remember that when viewed through the prism of American or European thought, we in the West cannot fully understand the Russian mindset.
Yes, the Russians look like us, they buy many of the same products, they may even vacation in similar locales. But it would be a big mistake to think they are us or think like us based on those superficial comparisons.
Their national experience since October 1917 couldn’t be more different than our own.
Although the Soviet Union was founded on revolution, their experience in WWII (for example) was much different than ours. The people of the USSR endured almost inconceivable suffering and millions more deaths happened on the Soviet front as compared to our side of things during WWII, and so consequently, their response to us during the Cold War and their evident bias to not only end the Cold War but to disband their entire bloc and rewrite their constitution, were shaped by those experiences.
Suffice to say that the worldview of everyday Russians and their leaders are significantly different from North Americans and Europeans.
If we base our policies and subsequent actions on a flawed interpretation of the Russian mindset we are likely to be enablers of dangerous situations, resulting in increased risk.
Therefore, everything Russia must be viewed not only from the American or European world viewpoint, but through the lens of the Russian leadership and of the citizens of that country.
And frankly, that hasn’t been done as well as it could and should have been done, since the days of Kissinger, Brzezinski and James A. Baker III.
Our #1 risk factor isn’t Russia, it’s our lack of understanding.
2. China is a large country that isn’t going anywhere. We’ll be dealing with China for many decades to come. And they’ll be dealing with us.
If anything, we should avoid conflicts with China — and instead of always trying to ‘put them in the wrong’ we should become their guide, their facilitator, their mentor, and always be trying to ‘put them in the right.’
Every day of the year, we humans are teaching other humans how to treat us.
If we teach China that we are all about hostility, they’ll learn that fighting us is the way to deal with us. If we constantly criticize China, they’ll condemn us in return. If we give China reason to fear, we all know that “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.”
It’s a great Star Wars line, isn’t it? Still, it’s just as true on Earth as it is in adventure movies.
To lower our risk with China, we need discipline. We need to be setting the bar, showing the way, shining the light, and using constructive criticism — praising publicly and criticizing privately.
In this way, we’ll be the Father, the Mentor, the Guide, the Explainer — and what we teach China about who we are, will tell them how to treat us.
If we teach China that use of force always works and that diplomacy doesn’t — we’ll be the worse off for it, and so will they.
Yet, it will have been us that wrote that madcap play.
Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy to Peking (Beijing) as it was then-called by the West, was a great start.
Smatterings of constructive engagement since, have been helpful (but only in a smattering kind of way).
And Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ may yet turn out to be, in retrospect, inspired — if handled correctly and properly followed-up. And the recent joint U.S.-China CO2 reduction plan seems to have added some amount of normalcy that has been otherwise lacking in that relationship.
Yet, the Windows of Lost Opportunity have been stupendous!
It’s a somewhat unmanaged relationship, with far too occasional bright moments of successful diplomacy.
Had the Sino-American relationship been handled proactively and correctly all along, the $1 Trillion dollar Apple success story would have represented only one of many similar stories. Perhaps a thousand similar success stories.
In reality, thus far, the relationship between China and the U.S. has been one of staggeringly huge, missed opportunities, and even worse, minor sabre-rattling.
Although China seems a willing partner and wants to engage, the same cannot be said of America. Europe is doing a little better, but only recently.
If China represents a risk to the West, it’s because we’ve been very busy with less important matters.
3. Except for the Western-inspired ‘Arab Spring’ the MENA region might have made some small amount of forward progress in the 2010-2020 timeframe.
I doubt anyone would suggest that citizens of the affected countries are any better off now, as compared to pre-Arab Spring.
Yet with the Iran nuclear deal secured and Israel now turning to domestic issues, the >1400-year-old chess game between Sunni Arabs and Shia Persians will continue as uneventfully as ever, I suspect, for many decades. (Lots of smoke, very rarely, any fire)
Containing ISIS and keeping Western nations safe from ISIS terror attacks would be best served by getting Western nation forces out of Syria (leaving the Syrian situation to the Syrian government and the Russians) and concentrate on increasing the coalition presence in Iraq, with plenty of assistance for Turkey, which has two problems: millions of refugees and a security threat on its southern flank.
4. The world (not just the U.S. and Europe) needs a dedicated (and properly funded) cybersecurity organization on par with INTERPOL, but geared to identifying and combatting cybercrime in realtime, and to offer all manner and levels of support to domestic agencies involved in countering cybercrime.
EXAMPLE: Whether that proposed anti-cybercrime organization is assisting a small town 5-person police department putting together its first anti-cybercrimes programme, or is assisting the Chief of the NYPD cybercrimes division to combat a cybercrime in progress, or briefing Homeland Security or the Pentagon (and other police and security organizations in other countries) it must meet those agencies and departments where they are and provide what they need in realtime.
If not, catastrophic failure will be the result.
The present situation just isn’t up to the forming threats. As well-intended as each department and agency’s efforts in this regard surely are, their capabilities are at least one order of magnitude less than what is required to defend us from cyberattacks against government and industry infrastructure and cybercrime that impacts private citizens.
By 2020, it might be two orders of magnitude short of reasonably preventing the most serious cyberattacks.
We spend money to insure our cars and trucks (in advance of mishap or misadventure) for good reason, because on an otherwise average morning, we might step outside to find that $50,000. of damage has occurred overnight to the $70,000. vehicle in our life.
A properly funded and properly overseen global anti-cybercrimes support centre would provide the ‘insurance’ we need to counter future cyberthreats.
TO SUMMARIZE: We live in a world of risks
However, that doesn’t mean that we have to play their game — after all, why play to our opponent’s strengths?
With the right vision (to preclude falling into ‘risk’ in the first place) and the right leadership (to put that vision into practice, or at the very least, turn-negatives-into-positives if things go awry) and by providing the proper support for those who negotiate or fight on our behalf — we can either change the game completely to better suit our strengths — or at the very least, lower our risk.
And that, my friends, is how to play the game of Risk and win, more often than not.
- The Global Economy Confronts Four Geopolitical Risks (Project Syndicate)