Going West

The following is a piece on defense-industrial innovation that I co-wrote with Tim Wickham, a managing director at Avascent, where I am writer-in-residence:

Red tape, secrecy and politics. These are not things that innovative technology firms want to be known for in Silicon Valley.

These are some of the defense sector’s many burdens as it works to develop a strategic and military advantage for America that can withstand the 21st Century’s breakneck pace of technological change. The Defense Department spends hundreds of billions of dollars annually on weapons systems that are the envy of the world’s militaries, yet still finds itself falling behind the curve.

With renewed support from top officials worried about the future of the American military, the Pentagon is looking beyond the defense establishment as it searches for technologies that will give it a decisive operational edge. Incoming Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has a chance to own this initiative given his stint as the department’s top weapons buyer, and the fact that he was working in Silicon Valley before being nominated for the Pentagon’s top job in early December. Whether he is successful depends on something that so far is missing from the Pentagon’s pitch to those working on America’s technological future: the value proposition.

Read more at National Defense.

The Art of Future Warfare

The Atlantic Council has launched the Art of Future Warfare project. In my role as the project’s director, I am working toward creating opportunities for artists such as writers, illustrators, directors, videographers as well as creativity are seen as essential components of the planning and preparation for the future of warfare and social conflict. Status quo approaches are a liability and the creativity and risk-taking in the artistic community is something to be celebrated.

See the Art of Future Warfare website.

See my piece explaining the project at War On The Rocks, our media partner.

War on the Rocks: Peering into the blind spots

The national security establishment is currently facing criticism for a perceived failure to anticipate Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the capture of a swathe of Iraqi territory by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and the political upheaval of the Arab Spring. The American public expects its leaders to be prepared for such contingencies while also addressing familiar challenges, like terrorism or China’s increasing assertiveness.

The breadth and rising tempo of potential crises, coupled with fiscal constraints, means that national security leaders can’t hope to be fully prepared for all contingencies. But continually focusing on the problem of the day creates blind spots when it comes to low likelihood but extremely disruptive factors. It is one thing to be caught off guard by the anticipatable actions of a nation or even a non-state actor; it is far more serious to be surprised by a new method of warfare.

If there was ever a time to be on guard against disruptions that can upend America’s strategic position, it is now.

Read more at War on the Rocks.

ASP: The cost of creativity

Money is a funny subject inside the Beltway.

Civil servants get by on proscribed grade-guided salaries that often mean commuting dozens of miles to work while those on Capitol Hill learn to walk with a practiced lean against the steady gale of dollars bending and twisting American politics.

At the same time, the more than $1 billion in taxpayer dollars spent daily on defense and national security is essentially incomprehensible to the average American because of its scale. Among wonks, it is just as easy to get lost in the baroque aspects of Pentagon budgeting. Asking “how much?” instead of “why?” usually dominates conversation, particularly ahead of a full budget rollout, in part because it’s an easier question to answer.Of all the comments that have been made about what’s ahead, it’s worth paying attention to what Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox said Wednesday at the American Enterprise Institute. Fox, the former head of the Pentagon’s own office of eagle-eyed budget skeptics, made two important statements, which outsiders might see as contradictory.

Read more at the American Security Project’s Flashpoint blog.

The highest yield

Shareholders want higher returns. Always. Apple’s $100 billion plan to pay shareholders through stock buybacks and dividends is a perfect reminder of what’s at stake for the world’s leading corporations. As American companies such as Apple take advantage of extensive loopholes and accounting tricks to cut their tax payments to the U.S. government and pay out investors, it is worth considering the notion of what they get in return for each dollar they pay the government. What is the yield? What if each tax dollar collected by the government is seen not as a burden but as an investment in American competitiveness? Ensuring it is a meaningful investment will help boards of directors and CEOs make the case for repatriating foreign profits. That is up to the White House and Congress as much as any CEO or board.

Read more at the American Security Project’s Flashpoint blog.

Scandal or symptom?

After the sharp-elbowed politics of the past year’s election, the year started with hope that lawmakers and the White House would be able to finally tackle the profound and structural problems facing the United States.

The list is long. Some interpreted the Obama administration’s victory as a mandate to tackle historic problems like the debt or reforming immigration. Month by month, however, 2013 is proving to be no different than any other year in recent political history. There are a bevy of scandals at hand, constituting an incongruent sweep of subjects covering everything from the rights of reporters to work without government surveillance, embassy security in hot zones like Libya, abhorrent sexual abuse within the armed forces and the abuse of federal investigatory powers into political groups.

All the while, America’s competitiveness keeps taking blow after blow. Congress and the White House run headlong willingly into political skirmishes over these issues while ignoring the big, strategic challenges that will shape America’s security and prosperity well into the 21st Century.

Read the full post at the American Security Project’s Flashpoint blog.

Across the river

Across the river, the Humvees are gone. The helicopters fewer. Sirens a rarity. The guns are back in the armory and the kids are once again at play in the street. Boston is getting back on track after last week’s bombing and the ensuing manhunt that terminated in a Watertown backyard. This weekend, Red Sox slugger David Ortiz helped bookend a tragic episode with his emphatic declaration of allegiance to the city and its people. Indeed, Boston is returning to “normal” even if we will never be the same.

See my latest post at the American Security Project’s Flashpoint blog.

 

The American arsenal at a crossroads

The defense industrial base is tied to American competitiveness in the 21st Century. For that reason, leaders in the private and public sector must take steps to thrive during a drawn out period of changing expectations while also remaining committed to keeping the country strong through innovation, long-term investment and disciplined management.

The defense industrial base comprises much of the country’s aerospace know-how and directly supports the military and intelligence community. Among the threats it faces are stop-and-go program budgeting, sequestration’s across-the-board cuts and instances of poor performance by both industry and government on some of the nation’s costliest and highest profile weapons programs. This dulls America’s innovation edge.

The defense industrial base also poses a test for the country’s resolve to improve our economic capability and resiliency while also strengthening our national security in obvious and not so obvious ways. There are, of course, other crucial components of American competitiveness that also need urgent attention.

Read the latest paper on the defense industrial base and American competitiveness at the American Security Project’s Web site.

The nation behind the brand

There is no better sign of the importance of image and narrative in the 21st Century global economics and politics than can be found in the quarterly financial statements of the advertising industry.

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising and media giant WPP, said this week at an American Security Project event that the fastest growing segment in the company’s array of businesses around the world is government spending.

Narrative or image, however, is nothing without credible offerings, either to the global marketplace or to voters. “The best branding is good policy,” Sir Martin said. “National branding has a hard time overcoming bad policies.”

Read more at the American Security Project’s Flashpoint blog.

A common language

One of the best benefits of learning a new language is you begin to understand your own a lot better.

With that in mind, it is worth looking at China for an important window into how a country that some expect will become the world’s largest economy in a few years is wrestling with a political system and a leadership class struggling to stay connected to the nation’s wider population.

For example, lavish personal spending by officials, fueled by a cocktail of bribes and the state’s coffers, is no longer being tolerated. The New York Times found that everything from an official’s choice of wristwatch to the menus at bureaucrat haunts are being toned down at the behest of President Xi Jinping. Austerity has its own flavor in China.

The wielding of power in a functional political system during times of political and economic transition is critical to a nation’s competitiveness. Corruption, self-dealing and factionalism are liabilities that undermine any country seeking a leading role on the global stage. That is true in the private sector just as it is in government. When both realms are riddled with such flaws a country’s leaders are effectively selling their future to buy advantages today. Just as America wants to improve its own competitive position, other nations such as China are doing the same.

Read more at the American Security Project’s Flashpoint blog.