Thursday, June 19, 2008

From the New Middle Ages to a New Dark Age

The Decline of the State and U.S. Strategy; Security and stability in the 21st century 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, declining governance, inequality, urbanization, and nonstate violent actors. The author explores the implications of these issues for the United States. He proposes a rejection of "stateocentric" assumptions and an embrace of the notion of the New Middle Ages characterized, among other things, by competing structures, fragmented authority, and the rise of "no-go" zones. He also suggests that the world could tip into a New Dark Age. He identifies three major options for the United States in responding to such a development. The author argues that for interventions to have any chance of success the United States will have to move to a trans-agency approach. But even this might not be sufficient to stanch the chaos and prevent the continuing decline of the Westphalian state.

Dr. Williams suggests that analysts and policymakers are reluctant to acknowledge the pace and scope of state decline. He argues that continued assumptions about the central role and vitality of states-a phenomenon he terms "stateocentrism"-blinds us to emerging challenges and alternative forms of government.

He mentions the inability of states to meet the needs of their citizens.

He summarize that the US National Security Strategy has little sense of the tectonic shocks that might be ahead, whereas both the 2020 report and the JOE suggest that we will typically have to confront quakes that are magnitude 8 or above on the Richter scale. The problem is that future shocks could prove beyond the realm of current experience-creating what Nassim Taleb has called a "black swan" event.

Even if the notion of a New Dark Age is dismissed as a truly worst case scenario, a looming crisis of governance and widening security deficits are harder to ignore. They are inextricably linked to increasing global instability.

Williams gives and discusses the advantages and shortcomings of 3 major choices the US has in how it responds to this world of global chaos are:
interventionism, disengagement and mitigation.

The fixation with the centralized state needs to confront realities that point at least towards the serious consideration of alternatives. The problem is that the stateocentric mode of thinking is so highly normative that serious consideration of alternative forms of governance, which does more than treat them as threats, is typically regarded as heretical, irrelevant, or misguided. Yet if we fail to see the decline of the state and to recognize the underlying realities, the prospect of a cascade of strategic surprises and a series of strategic disasters is inescapable.