Great Power Competition

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The United States has entered an era of great power competition. China and Russia both present a clear and present danger to the security and prosperity of the United States. This competition plays out in multiple ways.

Much ink has been spilled about this competition, some of it good, some shrill, and much in the middle. That is why I was drawn to – and enjoyed – a recent study by CSIS: U.S. Competition with China and Russia: The Crisis-Driven Need to Change U.S. Strategy. Written by Anthony H. Cordesman, one of the sharpest minds regarding American foreign policy, here is how it begins:

The new National Security Strategy (NSS) issued on December 18, 2017, called for the United States to focus on competition with China and Russia in order to focus on the potential military threat they posed to the United States. This call to look beyond the current U.S. emphasis on counterterrorism was all too valid, but its implementation has since focused far too narrowly on the military dimension and on providing each military service all of the U.S. military forces that are needed to fight “worst-case” wars.

This focus on high levels of direct conflict with China and Russia is a fundamental misreading of the challenges the U.S. actually faces from Chinese and Russian competition as well as a misinterpretation of their strategy and capabilities. It ignores the fact that China and Russia recognize that major wars between them and the United States – and particularly any wars that escalate to the use of nuclear weapons – can end in doing so much damage to both sides that they become the equivalent of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD). They understand that the only winner in such conflicts between the great powers would be the one power that could actually find a way to stand aside from such a major nuclear exchange or from a high level of theater warfare between the other two. To quote a passage from Clausewitz’s War Games, “the only way to win is not to play.”

You can read the full report here

Focused Habits

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When things are chaotic and crazy, when the world can feel like it’s falling apart, this is when we need to create structure. Eisenhower famously said that freedom was properly defined as the opportunity for self-discipline, and so it is with disorder—it’s an opportunity to create order.

Maybe right now you’re stuck at home, maybe you’re not working. Your kids might be home with you. Certainly the normal way of doing things has been significantly altered. Well, now is the time to follow the Stoic practices more than ever, to follow the kind of routines that Marcus Aurelius followed every day (like we detail in this video) or the practice that Seneca followed with his evening journaling. Get up early. Be deliberate. Exercise. Set up and stick to a diet. Create limits and order. Clean your house. Attack problems or projects that have piled up.

Marcus said that we must concentrate like a Roman, and there is no time to do that like the present. There is not a lot of good that can come out of a global pandemic, but one positive can be that we use it as an opportunity to get our act together, to adjust and fine tune our habits while we have the time. More importantly, one of the best ways to cure anxiety, to deal with stress, and to become present is to really throw yourself into some means of self-improvement. Don’t allow yourself to be crushed by life as a whole, Marcus said; start with what’s in front of you.

Create some order today. Focus on your habits. You’ll find it does wonders.

Reading Deeply

Books George Galdorisi

There is a saying, “Not all readers are writers, but all writers are readers.” There is a lot to unpack in that short statement.

I read a long, but absolutely fabulous article that gets to the heart of what reading does for all of us, not just writers. Here is how it begins:

Thoughtful Americans are realizing that the pervasive IT-revolution devices upon which we are increasingly dependent are affecting our society and culture in significant but as yet uncertain ways. We are noticing more in part because, as Maryanne Wolf has pointed out, this technology is changing what, how, and why we read, and in turn what, how, and why we write and even think. Harold Innis noted in 1948, as television was on the cusp of revolutionizing American life, that “sudden extensions of communication are reflected in cultural disturbances,” and it’s clear we are stumbling through another such episode. Such disturbances today are manifold, and, as before, their most critical aspects may reside in alterations to both the scope and nature of literacy. As with any tangle between technology and culture, empirical evidence is elusive, but two things, at least, are clear.

For one, the new digital technology is democratizing written language and variously expanding the range of people who use and learn from it. It may also be diffusing culture; music and film of all kinds are cheaply and easily available to almost everyone. In some respects, new digital technologies are decreasing social isolation, even if in other respects they may be increasing it. Taken together, these technologies may also be creating novel neural pathways, especially in developing young brains, that promise greater if different kinds of cognitive capacities, albeit capacities we cannot predict or even imagine with confidence.

But it is also clear that something else has been lost. Nicholas Carr’s 2010 book, The Shallows, begins with the author’s irritation at his own truncated attention span for reading. Something neurophysiological is happening to us, he argued, and we don’t know what it is. That must be the case, because if there is any law of neurophysiology, it is that the brain wires itself continuously in accordance with its every experience. A decade later, Carr’s discomfort is shared by growing legions of frustrated, formerly serious readers.

Follow the link to read this long but truly enriching article:

https://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-erosion-of-deep-literacy

AI – Our National Security Edge

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Artificial intelligence (AI) may be the most beneficial technological development of the 21st century.  However, it is undoubtedly the most hyped technological development of the past two decades.  This hype has raised expectations for results and, unfortunately, has clouded public understanding of the true nature of AI and its limitations as well as potential.

The highest level U.S. security documents demonstrate a recognition of the power of AI to support U.S. national objectives.

The National Security Strategy notes: “New advances in computing, autonomy, and manufacturing are already transforming the way we fight…From self-driving cars to autonomous weapons, the field of [AI], in particular, is progressing rapidly.”

The National Defense Strategy puts it this way: “The security environment is also affected by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war…New technologies include artificial intelligence [and] autonomy.”

The U.S. Navy knows it needs AI, but would be well-served if it articulates these needs better so it can harness this critical technology.

I addressed this subject in my U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article, The Navy Needs AI, It Just Isn’t Certain Why.”  Want more? You can read the full article here

Dedication to a Cause

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Most of us are looking for inspiration during this dreadful pandemic. Here is a story that will make you stop and think. Here is how it begins:

Try the parable of the blind man who gave up political glory for Jesus Christ.

He quickly climbed the rungs of power, became the lieutenant governor of the state of Washington at 35 and had reason to believe that he’d be governor someday, maybe even before he turned 40.

His ascent impressed people all the more because of his disability. At the age of 8, he lost his sight: A rare cancer forced the removal of both of his retinas. He spent the next decades proving to the world — and to himself — that he could nonetheless accomplish just about anything that he set his mind to.

He attended Columbia University. He won a Rhodes scholarship. He graduated from Yale Law. “From Braille to Yale” was how he often described his journey. It made for a great political speech.

Then the man, Cyrus Habib, had an awakening.

“I was in talks with a top literary agent in New York about a book deal, and it was all predicated on my biography, my identity,” he told me recently. He could feel himself being sucked into “a celebrity culture” in American politics that had nothing to do with public service. He could feel himself being swallowed by pride.

“How many ways,” he said, “can you be called a rising star?”

He decided not to find out. Last month Habib, now 38, announced that instead of being on the ballot in November for a second term as lieutenant governor, he would soon leave office to become a Roman Catholic priest.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Big Tech

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Many people, perhaps with some justification, feel that big companies dominate the nation (and the world) in unhelpful ways.

That has been an American inclination since the days of the “robber barons” a century ago. Our attitudes mirror those of our ancestors.

Today, it is fashionable to bash “big anything.” At or near the top of the list has been “Big Pharma,” that was, at least, until we now look to them to find a cure for Covid-19.

Big tech has also taken a beating, with calls to break up tech companies. But big tech does more than manufacture gadgets and software. Here is an article about what Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff did to help. It begins….

Sam Hawgood, the chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco, was getting concerned.

It was March 19, coronavirus cases in California were rising at an alarming rate, and U.C.S.F., one of the Bay Area’s major medical providers, was already running perilously low on personal protective equipment.

The university’s usual suppliers in the United States were short on masks and face shields, and there was no sign that the State of California or the federal government was coming to the rescue. “The supply chain had really dried up,” Mr. Hawgood said.

So Mr. Hawgood called Marc Benioff, the hyperconnected billionaire who is a founder and the chief executive of Salesforce.

In some ways, it was the natural call to make. Mr. Benioff gave the university $100 million to build a children’s hospital in 2010 and remained a major benefactor. But there was no reason to think Mr. Benioff, who runs an enterprise software company, could quickly muster a supply chain for personal protective equipment, especially during a global pandemic.

Nonetheless, that phone call set off a frenzied effort by Mr. Benioff and his team that drew in major companies like FedEx, Walmart, Uber and Alibaba. In a matter of weeks, the team spent more than $25 million to procure more than 50 million pieces of protective equipment. Fifteen million units have already been delivered to hospitals, medical facilities and states, and more are on the way.

Follow the link to read a truly enriching article

Weapons of the Future

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Over the past several months, I have posted blogs regarding the new directions for U.S. National Security embodied in publications such as the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy. Each of these publications notes that the U.S. military must adopt high-technology to ensure the U.S. can deal with increasingly capable peer competitors.

The era of United States technological dominance has ended. Indeed, in many areas, including military technology, this gap has narrowed to parity or near-parity, and potential adversaries have all-but erased what was once the U.S. military’s trump card—superior technology. Nations such as Russia and China, as well as countries to which these nations proliferate weapons, are deploying advanced weapons that demonstrate many of the same technological strengths that have traditionally provided the high-tech basis for U.S. advantage.

One of the most promising emerging military technologies is directed-energy weapons. The U.S. military already uses many directed-energy systems such as laser range finders and targeting systems are deployed on tanks, helicopters, tactical fighters and sniper rifles. These laser systems provide both swifter engagements and greatly enhanced precision by shortening of the sensor-to-shooter cycle.

Now, directed-energy weapons are poised to shorten––often dramatically––the shooter-to-target cycle. Directed-energy weapons provide a means for instantaneous target engagement, with extremely high accuracy and at long ranges.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Looking Ahead – Post-Pandemic

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It is fair to say that no issue has dominated our news – likely for a generation or maybe two – the way the coronavirus has. With over a million infections in the United States and more than 60,000 deaths, this should come as no surprise.

But that said, much of the reporting in online and print media has been anecdotal at best, confusing and ill-informed at worst. That is why I was delighted to read a recent piece entitled, “The Coronavirus in America: The Year Ahead.” It did just what I hoped it would, it looked ahead to the future. Here is how it begins:

In truth, it is not clear to anyone where this crisis is leading us. More than 20 experts in public health, medicine, epidemiology and history shared their thoughts on the future during in-depth interviews. When can we emerge from our homes? How long, realistically, before we have a treatment or vaccine? How will we keep the virus at bay?

Some felt that American ingenuity, once fully engaged, might well produce advances to ease the burdens. The path forward depends on factors that are certainly difficult but doable, they said: a carefully staggered approach to reopening, widespread testing and surveillance, a treatment that works, adequate resources for health care providers — and eventually an effective vaccine.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

MBS

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Most people agree that the center of gravity of conflict in the world has been the area we generally refer to as the Middle East.

Those who follow this area closely typically point to the underlying power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia as the overarching 800-pound gorilla that makes this region so volatile.

A new figure in this equation is the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, otherwise known as MBS.

Until recently, little was known about this once-obscure minor prince. That is why I was drawn to Ben Hubbard’s revealing article: The Ruthless Prince.

It is worth a read if you really want to understand the prospects for this region.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Pixar Magic

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While most of the world is in a virtual lockdown as we muddle through the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are using that time to enjoy new movies or old movies we love.

Full disclosure, like many of you, I am a huge fan of Disney’s Pixar movies (hard to believe that the first one, Toy Story, was released in 1995 – a quarter-century ago!)

Why have they been so successful? We all see and enjoy the animation, but at the heart of each movie is the story.

That is why I was so happy when a screenwriter friend of mine shared the Pixar storytelling secrets with me. As a writer, reading them was an “ah ha” moment.

See for yourself