Perhaps Before We Know It

What do strategists do when they can't predict the future? Eleanor Roy of the Palm Beach Daily News summarized a talk by former NSA director Michael Hayden warning of a growing level of uncertainty in the world. The old international system is failing from multiple causes, he said, and no one is sure what comes next.

“The system that the world has relied on for self-governance for the last three-quarters of a century is pretty much at the end of its fiscal life,” ... He predicted that not long from now, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Lybia will not exist in the form we know now.

“Frankly, they don’t exist now,” Hayden said. “The only organized military force in Iraq today fighting on behalf of what you and I think of as Iraq are the 5,100 Americans. No one else in that country under arms is fighting for Iraq; they’re fighting for Sunni Iraq, Shia Iraq, Kurdish Iraq, Turkmen Iraq.”

He called the process a natural erosion that can’t be contributed to one factor.

“We’re not just [faced] with fixing the problem of the current system. I’m telling you the current system is going under and cannot survive. It is a macro-tectonic issue here,” Hayden said.

He described Russian President Vladimir Putin as not having “more than a pair of 7s in his hand,” and predicted that Russia soon will be forced to reconcile with its nation’s problem of low life expectancy.

In the face of such warnings naturally we have to do something.  The instinctive reaction of politicians when visibility is poor is to repeat the actions which stabilized things in the past. To bar the same doors.  To brick up the same windows.  Toot the same horn.  Thus they do things like reinforcing NATO defenses on Russia's western border; watch North Korea and China. They try to get a grip on the amorphous problem in the Middle East.

Such steps may help, but none of these precautions are necessarily sufficient when the nature of impending dangers is still unknown. Some experts believe the biggest challenge in any future war is to recognize it has started. "The first day of the next major conflict shouldn’t look like war at all according to William Roper, who runs the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, or SCO. Instead, imagine a sort of digital collection blitzkrieg, with data-gathering software and sensors setting of alarms left and right as they vacuum up info for a massive AI. Whoever collects the most data on Day One just might win the war before a single shot is fired."

“My prediction for the future is that when we go out to fly planes on the first day of battle, whether they are manned or unmanned, that the purpose of the first day or the second day will not be to go out and destroy enemy aircraft or other systems. It’s to go out, collect data, do data reconnaissance, so that our learning system gets smarter than [the enemy’s],” Roper said Tuesday at an Air Force Association event on Tuesday. “Every day you fly, you get that exponential increase in sophistication.”