On the Beginnings of an Enduring National Security Framework
In my piece on the gestalt of warfare considered across the variable of time, I submit for examination qualities of leadership vital to preparing the United States for amorphous conflicts and suggest specific avenues of investigation to help ensure its capabilities keep up with changing times. In this work, a follow-up and response to same, I focus the lens of my scope on the invisible world which animates and responds to the more concrete world in which we, as humans, operate.
About a month before the #FutureOfWar series began, Phil Walter proposed the establishment of “an enduring national security framework.” While I agreed with most of what he had written, I felt the ideological scaffolding of the opening propositions perhaps a bit too focused to endure through millennia. This is the time frame the future of warfare demands we consider when crafting documents meant to make and keep the US ready for what may come.
Part of the precocious beauty of America is her nurture and protection of these entities in tension; her ability to foster the order and minimize the chaos inherent in these frictions.
Even ideas like freedom and democracy may be monoculturally dangerous, especially if used to define and/or support passage into warfare. Born from the tensions that exist between differing people and opposing objects, ideas, and philosophies are some of the most creative and useful things in the world as well as some of the most destructive. Part of the precocious beauty of America is her nurture and protection of these entities in tension; her ability to foster the order and minimize the chaos inherent in these frictions. As such, any framework for the enduring national security of the United States of America should reflect a comfortableness with living between dualities. Without the proper center of gravity and subsequent posture that such balance demands, the US is vulnerable to all manner of disturbance, both internally and externally driven.
The problem with any ideology is that none are entirely grounded in reason but rely much on what I call here “faith.” This faith arises out of our beliefs in what is fair and not fair, in what is just and unjust, what is correct or not correct, our interpretations of the information handed down to and the information present all around us (I clarify the latter with the examples of religion and science, both presented without judgement). Though we decorate it with the trappings of reason, we at times rely too heavily on this faith, as fractal structures of our feelings, to guide us. Yet there is no such thing as a 100% rational actor; even algorithms pick up biases, learning on datasets tinged with decisions made by actors driven by not-exactly-rational yet effective thinking.
Current international conflicts and uncertainties seem to cant us toward faith at the expense of reason.
Here we have our first tension. Out of the balanced treatment of this tension between reason and faith arises not only American democracy but, as it turns out, America’s security as a state. As evidenced by the current condition of our state, we have forgotten how to surf, how to balance upon shifting tensions in strange tides. Current international conflicts and uncertainties seem to cant America toward faith at the expense of reason. The strains put on political governance and military leadership by warring ideologies and rigid bureaucracies may lead to imbalance and, perhaps, a wipe-out.
Since we are human and bound to fall into the water over and over again, here is my offering toward the beginnings of an enduring national security framework.
America cannot secure itself against a world it does not understand, that it has not approached through the balanced lenses of reason and faith (as defined above).
An active and educated citizenry, fully cognizant of the threats facing their well-being as a nation, has no equal in tackling the challenges that a world full of changing and ambiguous dangers may bring.
To approach the world via reason requires that we begin with an examination of the sets which cover the space of interest and of the members of each set, to speak mathematically. In other words, we must understand the parts which create the whole, in this case, states (and other entities which together comprise the human world) and their citizens and their responsibilities to one another.
Every state relies on its citizens to provide it with the human capital necessary to run itself.
That a state has data on the other states and entities with which it shares a space is a given, more on this under Axiom 2. Relevant to this axiom is the interpretation of this data. Every state relies on its citizens to provide it with the human capital necessary to run itself. The state depends on its people to make accurate translations and interpretations of the data, to glean information from noise, and to decide which actions secure and which actions put the state at risk. One might describe this relationship as part of a feedback loop between citizen and state. Any state, regardless of ideology, relies on this cyclic exchange.
National security is a multidisciplinary endeavor. Factors geo-econo-political should not be opaque to a citizenry which expects its state to survive global upheavals, whether man-made or not. As such, it is imperative that the US encourage and empower its citizens to become cultural citizens of the world. Reactions cannot be predicted without thorough knowledge of the reactants. America’s national security rests on its citizens’ collective understanding of the people who are also planetary stakeholders.
Each and every citizen is implicitly tasked with safeguarding the national security of their state.
We must discover the transformations which map and connect the sets. Because the whole is, more often than not, more than the sum of its parts, we must have a clear grasp of the connections, and more importantly, the flows within and between the disparate entities which inhabit the space we examine.
Examining these relationships shows that national security is a domestic issue. Unrest among citizens, inadequate infrastructure, stark economic inequality, and corruption-riddled governmental bureaucracies are all threats to the security of any state.
The second tension relevant to this analysis is inherent in the paragraph and indeed in the axioms above — it is the tension between the individual and the state.
On the individual role of this tension and what is really the subtext of the axioms above: Each and every citizen is implicitly tasked with safeguarding the national security of their state. All members of a state must grasp this fact in order to effectively prepare and respond to threats their collective may face. It is the role of the state in this relationship to supply the structure for this preparation as well as supplying outlets for the responses of its citizens. Examples of such outlets include service globally in the military and humanitarian aid; service locally in fields such as law enforcement, teaching, politics, and general practice. Many citizens serve by not serving, by instead working hard work at the multitude of jobs which keep an economy going, through informed consumption, and, most importantly in a democracy, through informed voting.
How to inspire more Americans to make the choice of service?
The American system of government balances the tension between the individual and the state very well, yet systemic issues indicate that its actual governance does not. In the theorem of this framework, I included the word ‘active’. I further define it here as active in service. Were a better portion of US citizenry more educated in matters both civic and military, and more active in service, America might not face the issues, shortages or lack of significant talent across many of the aforementioned service sectors.
How to inspire more Americans to make the choice of service? What imbalances the US now is individualism without unity. Individualism and unity are not mutually exclusive properties. Fractious political parties and misdirected bureaucratic intentions breed apathy and distaste for participation among both the electorate and the recruiting pool. The lack of coherent, consistent, and reliable messages from, as well as sluggish response and action at many levels and all verticals of governance puts strain on the relationship between citizens and their government.
As discussed in Axiom 1, any entity which shares a robust feedback loop with its people — in this instance, clear and open communication between a state and its citizens — thus ensures its security as internal issues are no longer a threat. This is not to say that a state cannot have its secrets; it is to say a government should not.
That a state must have its secrets, especially in an uncertain world, leads us back to an examination of the flow between entities as set forth in Axiom 2.
America must foster an understanding in its citizenry that the laws of international econo-political physics dictate that for every action, there is a reaction.
National security depends on the collection of data as well as the accurate translation of same to produce meaningful action which enhances rather than detracts. Information in the form of state secrets (intelligence) is only a single mapping; trade, immigration, intellectual exchange, markets, and humanitarian aid are all transformations between entities. By shifting from qualitative, and at times siloed, examinations of these mappings to a more quantitative view, a state increases the odds that their actions are meaningful and that the alliances they choose are resilient. Accurate metrics and measurements of outcomes with an emphasis on accountability reduce reliance on faith in the form of ideology (whether political or military) to make decisions.
America must foster an understanding in its citizenry that the laws of international econo-political physics dictate that for every action, there is a reaction. Unlike the laws of actual physics, these action and reaction pairs happen with neither equal nor opposite response. If US citizens do not fully understand how the actions of government create ripples, swells and tides across the economic and political world, they will continue to demand that America act (or will themselves act) in ways which threaten national security rather than ensure it.
A democratic state simplifies its foreign policy communication to its peril. The US must ask that people rise to the complexity rather than smooth it out into its simplest form for easy consumption. American citizens must have a deep grounding in the way things work. Early civic, economic, and international education is as vital to our national security as deep education in warfare.
Applying ideology: from reason to faith
Do these axioms of security then suggest that authoritarian ideologies and states are best equipped to maintain national security? From a single-sided (i.e. linear) analysis of the above, one might draw this conclusion: their web of internal influence puts them in a good position to influence the transformations and mappings discussed above; they can enforce a monopoly on belief (of all varieties) via the strict control of information; they can conscript their people into active citizenry.
I hypothesize that these types of manipulations create structural rigidities which are prone to breakage under strain. When the tension between the individual and the state becomes as the tension between puppet and master, the ability of both to react robustly to threats and uncertainties lessens exponentially. A nonlinear analysis of the axioms above supports this hypothesis.
Very crucial to success in war is understanding, and thereby owning, the terrain. By approaching these axioms in a nonlinear fashion, one can immediately see that the terrain is nothing less than the entire natural world. To deny that humanity is a part of the sphere of life on this planet is to deny reality. Nature constantly adapts to threats by basing life on algorithms which allow organisms to independently and collectively pursue optimal paths to survival, not by rigid, top-down control.
Which brings the conversation back, in some ways, to faith. Through the path of reason, I am making an argument for the validity of America’s econo-political faith in freedom, democracy, and the power of free (but fair) markets.
Taking the abstraction of this faith, we see that fractal branches form as varying ideologies which sometimes clash in their interpretation of an entity’s dogma. As the tensions between these sects threaten the integrity and security of the entity itself, new ideologies arise to heal the damage (again, organically pursuing the optimal path to survival), if they are allowed to do so.
The resilience of America lies in the hard- and soft-wired structures of its Constitution and its Declaration of Independence.
Unabstracted examples of the above include
- The current clash of political parties (ideology) in their interpretations of the Constitution (dogma)
- The questions of and clashes within the military as it examines its philosophies of war and of organizational structure and communication within the context of new and emerging threats
American democracy, in theory, allows new ideas to arise without censure and has the mechanisms to apply the best of these as they coalesce, thereby ensuring the security of our nation.
The resilience of America lies in the hard- and soft-wired structures of its Constitution and its Declaration of Independence. These frameworks keep healthy and robust the self-sustaining feedback loop between citizen and government which ultimately drives all states. Encoded into the DNA of the United States of America is the ability to find balance within the tension between ideologies, the tension between individuals and these ideologies made real, and the tension between reason and faith. This places the US in the best position to lead the world by example. America must secure itself such that the world may feel more secure.
Sometimes the best way to manage complexity is not to manage it at all. Rigid philosophical hierarchies only create a false sense of order. America must answer complexity with complexity: leave the track of single-minded thinking and improve the tools as well as the pool of minds and bodies available to those explicitly tasked with safeguarding its security. By doing so, the US will give itself every advantage in mapping nuanced yet effective approaches to problems as they exist and problems as they may arise. America’s national security, in a world already full, is less about defining and/or defending its values and more about how it chooses to meet its own ideals.
While it can be said with some confidence that freedom and democracy practiced by an active and educated citizenry provides a solid foundation for the enduring success of any state, America should be wary of using these ideals as measures of an entity’s immediate threat to its security (depending, of course, on the actions of said entity at any given time) or as a mandate for certain types of action against any entity.
America should focus instead on inspiring its citizens to service and on long-term planning aided by the use of quantitative analysis to complement qualitative evaluations. Such work is crucial to our ability to maintain balance such that we may one day kick out from the waves of war and take a ride in the soup onto a sunny, sandy beach rather than break ourselves upon the reef. At this point on the terrain of time, we are surfing the Pipeline; we must be wary.
Special thanks to Phil for his original post, to Carl Forsling for his inspirational post on public service, and to Holly Hughson and Phil for their very helpful review of the above. Thanks to an angry staff officer for confirming a posteriori much of what I had suspected a priori, and to Diane Maye for providing some clues to what the math might look like in her discussion of strategic setting. For more on ameliorating the cultural gap that currently exists in certain parts of the military side of the equations, please see Embrace the Renaissance for the #FutureOfWar: Developing Diverse Cultural Knowledge.
Irene is an applied mathematician-in-training, with some study in historical and mathematical sociology, interested in robust models that describe the human world. The article above, in addition to being a “call to arms,” is her first-principles-based philosophical exploration which leads the math in such endeavors.
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