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Strategy In An Age Of Devolution

In his book New Glory: Expanding America's Global Supremacy author Ralph Peters refers to the current time as an "age of devolution." In an era of change defined by the ascent of the information age and the passing of the industrial age, Peters says it is also an age of the "breakdown, of the last dismantling of empires." He offers two engaging arguments.

First, is that the diplomacy used by nation states today to engage one another is a throwback to the nineteenth-century model developed by Europeans to maintain a monopoly of power over their colonial empires. As such, it is not adequate to twenty-first-century demands. To support his argument he offers as proof that, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, every war in which the United States has committed armed forces is a legacy of the devolution of the historical drawing of national borders by European nations in order to advance their own interests. He gives as examples Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, as well as on a lesser scale Rwanda, West Africa, the Caribbean, Pakistan, and the Philippines. According to Peters "diplomacy is dead" in the twenty-first century.

So what of Peters' argument? And what of its effect on the current strategic environment of the United States?

The United States must now compete in an information-age world in which geography, military power, and time to react are no longer sufficient to guarantee its national security. It must transform its strategic thinking from the two traditional models of "inside the box" thinking and "outside the box" thinking to incorporate a third alternative of "there is no box." During the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union came to resemble one another and both sides sought the assurance of stability to avoid either nuclear or conventional confrontation. The struggle between the two superpowers took on the aspects of a ritualized dance, with highly routinized bureaucracy and predictability.

The challenge for the United States now is to transcend the industrial age environment of the Cold War and engage its potential enemies in the information age environment in which the War on Terror is being waged. The information age has resulted in the death of routine and the elimination of geography and time as security buffers. It has ushered in the concept of unrestricted warfare, which transcends the traditional notion of wars occuring only within or between nation states, and which incorporates the strategic thinking model of ?there is no box.? This environment is increasingly shaped by globalization and the pace of change.

In a sense, Peters is right. Globalization is transforming societies and redefining them in the form of communities held together by culture and common interests rather than geographic boundaries. The impact of the pace of technological change, and changes in the nature of threats, peace, warfare, force, and information is leading to the development of community clusters held together by self-interest, although they are not necessarily enlightened or democratic in nature. Instead, the motivation of communities is more likely to be driven by imperatives similar to those identified by Benjamin R. Barber in Jihad vs. McWorld: market imperatives which erode national societies and give rise to non-state entities; resource imperatives under which all nations need something another nation has, and some nations have almost nothing they need; information technology imperatives which lend themselves to surveillance as well as liberty; and ecological imperatives driven by the impact of globalization on ecology. As these imperatives clash with nationalism in various regions of the world, Barber predicts that they will lead to re-tribalization of large swaths of mankind. Regardless, the information age is bringing about the inevitable diminishment of societies, as described by Peters above, and the rise of communities -- and adversaries -- in new, unimagined forms.

Over time, the United States must transform its definitions of diplomacy, to include all the elements of national power; and of war, to include all the means of force - both military and non-military, to engage its new potential adversaries. The new definitions must be unrestricted and must reflect the Nation's ruthless self-interest. The Nation must be prepared to respond to the arrival of non-state entities as well as tribes with flags as capable competitors with nation states upon the international scene. Failure to engage these new arrivals on the international scene will have grave strategic consequences for the United States, to include gradual but inevitable decline from its current position of global leadership.

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