Strategic State Collapse.
In the international system, some states matter more than others. There are a number of states whose stable functioning is uniquely important to the United States and its interests. Most of these states harbor vast potential for harm should they succumb to sudden, catastrophic instability or failure. This is true regardless of their pre-collapse disposition toward the United States—friendly, benign, or neutral. These are “strategic states” that:
• Possess significant employable weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capacity;63• Possess significant strategic resources, economic capacity, and/or dominant geographic lever-age;
• Are in close proximity to the United States or a key strategic partner and have a large dependent population vulnerable to uncontrolled migration;
• Could with unanticipated destabilization trigger contagious instability in an important region
• Are allies or key strategic partners.INSERT:
"The CWID 2008 scenario's theme began with a pre-existent, moderate-sized International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) conducting stabilization operations in one nation. Regional unrest then escalated to a regional multinational insurgency, cross-border invasion and mid-intensity conflict. Destabilization, humanitarian crisis, and hostilities required the deployment of coalition task forces to re-instate regional stability."
"Scripted Environment for Technology Trials
The scenario described notional coalition task force operations applicable in the current environment with terrorist backlash and natural disasters for North Ameirican Defense (HS/HD) component. The simulated operational environmental provided context for validation of proposed technology solutions."
"NETWORK ENGINEERING SUMMARY
A Dynamic, Three-Enclave Network
The CWID network was a dynamic environment which included several CWID firsts. Engineers created three security enclaves: the Homeland Security/Homeland Defense (HS/HD), unclassified; Coalition Task Force/NATO Reaction Force (CTF/NRF), secret; and the CTF High, secret enclave, a notionally higher classification than CTF/NRF. The CTF High enclave supported cross-domain solution trials that did not use a tested guard, so were unable to pass data from CTF/NRF to HS/HD.
30None of these categories are mutually exclusive. Failure, uncontrolled instability, or collapse of states exhibiting one or more of these qualities would present the United States with complex hybrid challenges.
They may, for example, pose grave harm to the security of an important region. Alternatively, they may suddenly provide consequential opponents of the United States unrestricted access to or influence over a victim state’s assets, resources, and political outcomes. There are a number of plausible collapse scenarios. Triggers for collapse are rooted in irregular, catastrophic, and hybrid threats of purpose and context.
Given the recognized instability of some strategic states, collapse might mark a natural endpoint to an already recognized and unfavorable trend. In other cases, strategic state collapse may arrive via “Black Swan” with little or no strategic warning. For DoD, the collapsed strategic state presents an immensely complex defense relevant challenge. Sheer capacity alone indicates a decisive DoD role in restoring a new more stable status quo.
Fulfilling that role would be problematic given the character of the post-collapse environment.64 In the collapsed strategic state, elements of the armed forces and security services may remain under coherent command and control and actively resist intervention. Dedicated agents of the prior unstable status quo are prone to fight—often violently—to protect or restore vestiges of the old order. Criminals and “pop-up militias” are likely to carve out new, defensible spheres of influence from pieces of the fallen state. Adjacent powers will rush in physically, politically, and/or materially to decisively influence outcomes. Long- repressed political constituencies will be prone to seek 31 out former oppressors and exact vengeance.Local nationalists will resist foreign imposed or inspired solutions. Some internal constituencies will fight to rebalance political authority. Others will fight against that rebalancing. Finally, supercharged indigenous and expatriate constituencies may sow instability beyond the borders of the victim state. All of this will occur in an environment where the surety of nuclear or biological weapons is in question, critical strategic resources are at risk, and/or the core interests of adjacent states are threatened by spillover. Further still, this will all occur in a sea of abject human insecurity.One of the most dangerous prospective contingencies in this regard might be collapse of a large capable state that results in a nuclear civil war. Uncontrolled proliferation in the event of a nuclear state’s collapse is an ever-present threat. However, here also DoD would have to contend with stabilization in the aftermath of nuclear use. It might be the lead agent in reassertion of responsible control over substantial nuclear weapons capabilities. Finally, it would likely be responsible for the armed separation of nuclear-armed opponents and the deliberate disarmament of the various parties to the conflict. All of this would occur under the constant threat of continued nuclear use within or outside the confines of the victim state. Violent, Strategic Dislocation Inside the United States.As a community, the defense establishment swears to protect and defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. DoD’s role in combating “domestic enemies” has never been thoughtfully examined. Thus, there is perhaps no greater source 32 of strategic shock for DoD than operationalizing that component of the oath of service in a widespread domestic emergency that entails rapid dissolution of public order in all or significant parts of the United States.While likely not an immediate prospect, this is clearly a “Black Swan” that merits some visibility inside DoD and the Department of Homeland Security.To the extent events like this involve organized violence against local, state, and national authorities and exceed the capacity of the former two to restore public order and protect vulnerable populations, DoD would be required to fill the gap. This is largely uncharted strategic territory. Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.Deliberate employment of weapons of mass destruction or other catastrophic capabilities, unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters are all paths to disruptive domestic shock. An American government and defense establishment lulled into complacency by a long-secure domestic order would be forced to rapidly divest some or most external security commitments in order to address rapidly expanding human insecurity at home.
Already predisposed to defer to the primacy of civilian authorities in instances of domestic security and divest all but the most extreme demands in areas like civil support and consequence management, DoD might be forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and 33 reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance.A whole host of long-standing defense conventions would be severely tested. Under these conditions and at their most violent extreme, civilian authorities, on advice of the defense establishment, would need to rapidly determine the parameters defining the legitimate use of military force inside the United States. Further still, the whole concept of conflict termination and/or transition to the primacy of civilian security institutions would be uncharted ground. DoD is already challenged by stabilization abroad. Imagine the challenges associated with doing so on a massive scale at home.Politics, Economics, Social Action, and Political Violence as Hybrid War. The United States might also consider the prospect that hostile state and/or nonstate actors might individually or in concert combine hybrid methods effectively to resist U.S. influence in a nonmilitary manner.65 This is clearly an emerging trend.
Imagine, for example, a China-Russia axis that collectively employs substantial political power within international institutions and markets to hold key American interests at risk. At the international level, actors like this might employ extant and emerging political/economic arrangements as instruments for purposeful resistance and war.66 34At the national and subnational level, purposeful opponents could synchronize nonmilitary effort, agitating quasi-legitimate proxies into concerted social action and precision political violence targeted at nullifying traditional U.S. military advantages, limiting American freedom of action, and adversely shaping the strategic choices of or political outcomes inside key but vulnerable American partners.67 Imagine “a new era of containment with the United States as the nation to be contained” where the principal tools and methods of war involve everything but those associated with traditional military conflict.
68 Imagine that the sources of this “new era of containment” are widespread; predicated on nonmilitary forms of political, economic, and violent action; in the main, sustainable over time; and finally, largely invulnerable to effective reversal through traditional U.S. advantages. The pressure on the United States would be cumulative and persistent. In the extreme, it could drive U.S. decisionmakers into increasingly desperate and potentially illegitimate counteraction. Under these circumstances, when competitor militaries are in the mix, they are less tools focused directly against U.S. military superiority and more effective foils against American military intimidation.
In this regard, U.S. military forces would be sidelined. Employment of U.S. military power would hold little promise for reversing adverse political and economic conditions. Further, the overt use of military force by the United States would largely be viewed as illegitimate for redress of competitor success in nonmilitary domains. Finally, should the competition involve major competitors like China or Russia, U.S. military action might hazard unacceptable costs or unwanted and uncontrolled escalation.69 35
In this regard, the role of DoD would be more nuanced but also critical. This is particularly true to the extent that a hybrid competitor leverages some discriminate political violence against the United States or its partners as a force multiplier. Under conditions of hybrid war fought largely with nonmilitary and often nonviolent means, defense capabilities for direct action and intelligence gathering would need to be fine-tuned to both the more unconventional character of the conflict, as well as the high risks associated with military imprecision and miscalculation.
To the extent a hybrid conflict like this endures and remains substantially nonmilitary in character, DoD might witness both a significant re-rolling and a substantial loss of material resources as U.S. political leaders shore up more useful nonmilitary instruments of power. In either case, there is no contemporary strategic or doctrinal appreciation for the role of DoD in warfare prosecuted against the United States by other than military and predominantly nonviolent ways and means. Strategic shock would follow.CONCLUSION—AVOIDING THE NEXT BLUE RIBBON PANEL —OR WORSE
The aforementioned are admittedly extreme. They are not, however, implausible or fantastical. Avoiding the next “blue ribbon panel,” chartered to investigate future failures of strategic imagination, requires that DoD continue its commitment to identifying and analyzing the most credible unconventional shocks on the strategic horizon. Increased attention to unconventional shocks in defense strategy should neither supplant prudent hedging against conventional surprise nor routine preparation for the likeliest 36 defense-specific traditional, irregular, and catastrophic challenges.
It should, however, become increasingly important in routine defense decisionmaking. Historically, shocks like Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and the Iraq insurgency have generated wrenching periods of self-examination. However, these periods of introspection most often focus on solving the last problem versus deliberately avoiding or contending with the next one.
For example, DoD is admittedly better at COIN and CT in light of its post-9/11 experience. It is, however, reasonable to ask how relevant these are corporately to the next defense-relevant strategic shock. Absent continued reconnaissance into the future, there is no good answer to this question.
Thus, prudent net and risk assessment of (1) the myriad waypoints along dangerous trend lines; (2) the sudden or unanticipated arrival at the end of the same trends; and finally, (3) rapid onset of the rarer “Black Swan” are increasingly important to DoD. Under this administration, valuable work has begun in this regard. This work should continue to mature uninterrupted. Preemptive examination of the most plausible “known unknowns” represents a reasoned down payment on strategic preparedness and an essential defense investment in strategic hedging against an uncertain and dangerous future.
It would be wise for the next defense team to recall the experience of its predecessors. On September 11th, 2001, the latter witnessed the disruptive collision of defense convention and strategic reality. The rest, as they say, is history.
1. Hart Seely, “The Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld: Recent Work by the Secretary of Defense,”Slate, available fromwww.slate.com/ id/2081042/, accessed August 28, 2008. Seely quotes Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s now famous assertion, “As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there areknown unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns. The ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
2. This is a common theme in post-9/11 government and academic commentary. See, for example, National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the Nation, The 9/11 Commission Report, available fromcnn.net/cnn/US/resources/9.11.report/911Report.pdf, accessed December 27, 2007, pp. 339-348; and Michael Ignatieff, “The Burden,”New York Times Magazine, January 5, 2003, available fromwww.faculty.washington.edu/msingh/ignatieff.htm.The 9/11 Commission argued that first among the four critical failures that led to 9/11 or, at a minimum, led to the United States being caught unaware by 9/11 was a failure of “imagination.”
Similarly, Ignatieff observed, “It was also, in the 1990s, a general failure of historical imagination, an inability of the post-cold war West to grasp that the emerging crisis of state order in so many overlapping zones of the world . . . would eventually become a security threat at home.”
3. Jack Davis, Improving CIA Analytic Performance: Strategic Warning, Kent Center Occasional Papers, available fromwww. cia.gov/library/kent-center-occaissional-papers/vol1no1.htm, accessed December 6, 2007.
4. See Peter Schwartz,Inevitable Surprises: Thinking Ahead in a Time of Turbulence, New York: Gotham Books, 2003, p. ix;
Francis Fukuyama, “Chapter 1: The Challenges of Uncertainty:
An Introduction,” in Francis Fukuyama, ed.,Blindside: How to Anticipate Forcing Events and Wild Cards in Global Politics, An American Interest Book, Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2007, p. 1; and Francis Fukuyama, “Chapter 15: Afterward,” inibid., p. 170. Both Fukuyama and Schwartz suggest that 9/11 and the Iraq insurgency were “strategic shocks.”
5. Both the terms defense-relevant and defense-specific are used in this monograph.Defense-relevant security challenges or conditions are mostly nonmilitary in character but should be of substantial interest to DoD. Adefense-specific challenge is one that springs from a military source and requires primary involvement by DoD.
6. This point was raised in a conversation on this paper by Dr. Carl Van Dyke, a Senior National Intelligence Officer with the National Intelligence Council’s Office of the National Intelligence Officer for Long Range Warning.
7. In this regard, military connotes those threats, activities, capabilities, or circumstances associated with the armed forces of states. Nonmilitary connotes security challenges, activities, capabilities, or circumstances whose origin and form have little in common with conventional conceptions of state armed forces.
8. The same points are argued in the forthcoming CSIS publication by the author entitled “Shifting Emphasis: Leaders, Strategists, and Operators in an Era of Persistent Unconventional Conflict.”
9. Department of Defense (DoD),National Defense Strategy, June 2008, p. 5.
10. The “Strategic Trends and Shocks” project on-going within OSD Policy Planning is a preliminary venture into the routinized inclusion of strategic shocks in defense strategy development. For helpful descriptions of this effort, see Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Transformation Chair, Forces Transformation Chairs Meeting: Visions of Transformation 2025—Shocks and Trends, February 21, 2007, available fromwww.tfxchairs.net/cms/ files/TFX%20Mtg%20FEB07%20Report.doc, accessed August 21, 2008; Terry Pudas,Trends and Shocks: An Alternative Construct for Defense Planning, available fromwww.federaltimes.com/index. php?S=2752923, accessed May 19, 2007; and DoD, June 2008, pp. 4-5.
11. See Schwartz, p. xvii. Schwartz argues that shock (or in his words surprise) is inevitable and predictable. He concludes the preface with the following, “History provides ample reason to believe that we can expect inevitable surprises ahead.”
12. Sam J. Tangredi, “Chapter Seven, Wild Cards,” McNair Paper 63:All Possible Wars? Toward a Consensus View of the Future Security Environment, 2001-2025, November 2000, available from www.ndu.edu/inss/McNair/mcnair63/63_07.htm
, accessed May 19, 2008.
13. Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, “Chapter 9, Ahead of the Curve: Anticipating Strategic Surprise,” in Fukuyama, ed., Blindside, p. 93.
14.Ibid., p. 93.
15.Ibid., p. 94.
16. John L. Peterson,Out of the Blue: Wild Cards and Other Big
Future Surprises; How to Anticipate and Respond to Profound Change, Washington, DC: The Arlington Institute, 1997, p. 10.
17. See Schwartz, 2003, p. 3. Schwartz observes:
There are many things we can rely on, but three of them are most critical to keep in mind in any turbulent environment.First: There will be more surprises.
Second: We will be able to deal with them. Third: We can anticipate many of them. In fact we can make some pretty good assumptions about how most of them will play out.
We can’t know the consequences in advance . . . but we know many of the surprises to come. Even the most devastating surprises . . . are often predictable because they have their roots in the driving forces at work today.
18. NPS Transformation Chair, p. 3.
19.Ibid. This is consistent with the DoD view of strategic shocks. The 2007 Naval Postgraduate School report suggests that DoD’s official view is that strategic shocks “undermine the assumptions on which all current policies are based.” 20.Ibid.
21. Thomas Schelling, “Foreword,” in Roberta Wohlstetter,
Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1962, p. viii.
22. For a valuable description of the idea of “trend lines” in a DoD context, see Naval Postgraduate School Transformation Chair, p. 3. Here trends are described as “(a) path along which events tend to evolve predictably.”
23. These two conclusions were the product of an informal discussion between the author and Kathleen Hicks of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Robert Scher of the consulting firm Booze-Allen-Hamilton
24. See Nassim Nicholas Taleb,The Black Swan: The Impact of the
Highly Improbable, New York: Random House, 2007. Taleb argues a “Black Swan” has “three attributes.” First, they “lie outside the realm of regular expectations”; second, they promise “an extreme impact”; and, third, “in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”
25. NPS Transformation Chair, p. 3.
26. DoD, June 2008, p. 4.
27. Hugh Courtney,20/20 Foresight: Crafting Strategy in an
Uncertain World, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2001, p.
28.Ibid., p. 32.
29. See DoD,The National Defense Strategy of the United
States of America, March 2005, p. 3. The 2005 National Defense
Strategy defines “disruptive challenges” as those that “come from
41 adversaries who develop and use break-through technologies to negate current U.S. advantages in key operational domains.”
30. Schelling, p. viii.
31. The author described irregular, catastrophic and hybrid challenges in great detail in a previous monograph. See Nathan Freier,Strategic Competition and Resistance in the 21st Century:
Traditional, Irregular, Catastrophic, and Hybrid Challenges in Context, May 2007, available fromwww.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/ pdffiles/pub782.pdf, accessed August 5, 2008. The author discusses threats of purpose and context in detail in the forthcoming CSIS monograph “Shifting Emphasis: Leaders, Strategists, and Operators in an Era of Persistent Unconventional Conflict.”
On what the author means by the term “core interests,” see Peter Bergen and Laurie Garrett, “Report of the Working Group on State Security and Transnational Threats,” The Princeton Project on National Security, available fromwww.wws.princeton.edu/ppns/ conferences/reports/fall/SSTT.pdf, accessed December 27, 2007. The Princeton working group led by Bergen and Garrett identified a construct of “six fundamental interests” useful to consider as a template. These include “economic prosperity; governance continuity; ideological sustainability; military capability; population well-being; and territorial integrity.”
32. See Phil Williams,From the New Middle Ages to a New Dark
Age: The Decline of the State and U.S. Strategy, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, June 2008, available fromwww.Strategic StudiesInstitute.army.mil/, accessed September 11, 2008.
Williams reinforces this point when he observes, In the 21st century in most parts of the world, issues of security and stability have little to do with traditional power politics, military conflict between states, and issues of grand strategy. Instead, they revolve around the disruptive consequences of globalization, governance, public safety, inequality, urbanization, violent nonstate actors, and the like. Later, Williams returns to this point when he says,
In a sense, states are being overwhelmed by complexity, fragmentation, and demands they simply are unable to meet. They are experiencing an unsettling diminution in their capacity to manage political, social, and economic problems that are increasingly interconnected, intractable, and volatile.
33. Courtney,20/20 Foresight, pp. 125-126.
34. Dr. Phil Williams, a Visiting Research Professor at the U.S.
Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, made this observation during a conversation on a draft version of this monograph.
35. See war. (n.d.),Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1), available fromdictionary.reference.com/browse/war, accessed August 5, 2008. Here war should be considered “active hostility or contention; conflict; contest.”
36. See DoD, March 2005, p. 2. The word “traditional” in this context implies “challenges posed by states employing recognized military capabilities and forces in well-understood forms of military competition and conflict.”
37. The following section includes adaptations of arguments made by the author in the forthcoming CSIS monograph “Shifting Emphasis: Leaders, Strategists, and Operators in an Era of Persistent Unconventional Conflict.”
38. DoD, June 2008, p. 4.
40.Ibid., p. 9.
41. Schelling, p. vii.
42.Military is this regard connotes security challenges, activities, capabilities, or circumstances associated with the armed forces of states.
43.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the Nation,
The 9/11 Commission Report, available fromcnn.net/cnn/US/
43 resources/9.11.report/911Report.pdf, accessed December 27, 2007, p. 344.
44. DoD, “Section III: Defense Strategy,”Quadrennial Defense Review, May 1997, available fromaccessedwww.fas.org/man/docs/ qdr/sec3.html, accessed May 19, 2008.
45. Fukuyama, “Chapter 1,” in Fukuyama, ed.,Blindside, p. 2.
46. Fukuyama, “Chapter 15,” inibid., pp. 169-172.
47.Ibid., pp. 169-170.
48.Ibid., p. 171.
50. DoD, March 2005, p. 3.
51. See DoD, June 2008, pp. 10-11. This trend endures today.
Note the language in the current NDS.
52. See DoD, March 2005, p. iii. The 2005 NDS recognizes this latter point when, in the foreword, Secretary Rumsfeld observes, “The National Defense Strategy outlines our approach to dealing with challenges we will likely confront, not just those we are currently best prepared to meet.”
53.Ibid., pp. 2-3.
54. See, for example, Schwartz and Randall, p. 93. With respect to 9/11, Schwartz and Randall observe, “(E)ven the most devastating surprises are often inevitable. Many people did anticipate the terrorist attacks of September 11 . . . Yet, most Americans, as well as officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, focused their attention elsewhere while the inevitable grew imminent.”
55. For a discussion of “Project Horizon,” see Sid Kaplan,
Project Horizon—A New Approach to Interagency Planning, available fromwww.epa.gov/osp/futures/Project Horizon.pdf, accessed May 19, 2008.
56. Department of Defense, 2008, p. 5.
57. NPS Transformation Chair, p. 3.
58. Schwartz and Randall, p. 97-98.
59. Tangredi, “Chapter Seven: Wild Cards.”
60.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the Nation, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 344.
61. The detail expressed herein does not reflect official U.S. government policy.
62. See DoD, 2008, p. 9; and NPS Transformation Chair, p. 6.
Strategic state collapse is clearly on the defense radar screen as a prospective strategic shock. The author is currently writing a monograph on the policy implications associated with strategic state collapse.
63. The author is principally concerned here with sizeable nuclear or biological capabilities.
64. See Freier, Strategic Competition, p. 58-59. A similar description of strategic state collapse is included in a previous monograph by the author.
65. Ibid., pp. 47-52.
66. In an initial conversation on this project with with D.
Burgess Laird of the Institute for Defense Analysis, Laird raised existing institutions like the Shanghai Cooperation Council, the United Nations General Assembly, etc. as potential forums for future coordinated political competition with the United States. 67.Ibid., pp. 48-49.
68. Schwartz and Randall, p. 108.
69. Freier,Stategic Competition, p. 51.