Devil’s Bargain

 

Devil’s Bargain

Joshua Green’s new memoir Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (Penguin, 2017) has grabbed my attention this week. I’m hoping for some good anecdotes about Bannon’s interest in Michael Milken, his time with Goldman Sachs, his Hollywood financing and documentary film career, and his interest in the Traditionalist scholar Rene Guenon. Green’s memoir will make a good counterpoint to Charles Clover’s Black Wind, White Snow (Yale University Press, 2016) on Alexander Dugin, who is also influenced by Traditionalist writings. This is territory that I first came across in the early 1990s, and it is fascinating to see it evolve.

Dotcom Bubble and Hal Varian

1995-2000 Dotcom Bubble

 

This morning, Patrick O’Shaugnessy retweeted a Carl Quintanilla tweet on the 1995-2000 dotcom speculative bubble. I wrote about the dotcom crash in real-time for Disinformation. A few years later, I did a post-mortem on the 2000 crash whilst studying in Swinburne University’s Strategic Foresight program.

 

I thought this morning about what was the key insight to emerge from dotcom bubble. It was probably Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian’s book Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 1998): a popularisation of information economics and network topology. Varian was at the University of California Berkeley and later became Google’s Chief Economist. Varian’s academic research laid the groundwork for many of the internet’s later manifestations, from recommender systems to search engine optimisation marketing to platform ecosystems.

Homeland Affairs

In 2014, Monash University’s Ben Eltham and I argued in a Contemporary Security Policy article that there were organisational silos in Australian defence and national security policymaking. These organisational silos were a combination of conceptual, institutional, and policymaking gaps.

 

Australia’s Turnbull Government yesterday announced a new Homeland Affairs portfolio:

 

The Government will establish an Office of National Intelligence, headed by a Director-General of National Intelligence, and transform the Australian Signals Directorate into a statutory agency within the Defence portfolio.

The Government will also establish a Home Affairs portfolio of immigration, border protection and domestic security and law enforcement agencies.

The new Home Affairs portfolio will be similar to the Home Office of the United Kingdom: a central department providing strategic planning, coordination and other support to a ‘federation’ of independent security and law enforcement agencies including the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Border Force and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

These arrangements will preserve the operational focus and strengths of frontline agencies engaged in the fight against terrorism, organised crime and other domestic threats.

In view of these significant reforms, the Government will also strengthen the Attorney-General’s oversight of Australia’s intelligence community and the agencies in the Home Affairs portfolio.

 

Yesterday’s press conference, media coverage, and media interviews largely focused on the new US-style Homeland Affairs ministry under Peter Dutton’s control, and the Attorney-General’s counter-balancing oversight role. It did not discuss the planning and coordination changes to the Australian Intelligence Community or the likely effects on ‘street level bureaucrats’. It would be interesting to do so. Ben Eltham’s initial response is here.

Reading Pile

What I’m reading:

 

Crash Early, Crash Often by Venkatesh Rao (Ribbonfarm.com, 2017). The guiding force behind the blog community Ribbonfarm  and the series Breaking Smart  distills a philosophy of midlife reflection from Douglas Adams, James Carse, agile software development, and other sources, in a collection of blog essays. I read Rao as a consulting practitioner who seamlessly blends John Boyd’s OODA Loop with Silicon Valley innovation.

 

Poor Richard’s Retirement: Retirement for Everyday Americans by Aaron Clarey (Aaron Clarey, 2017). Clarey is an unaffiliated economist who saw the 2007-08 global financial crisis as a bank credit analyst, achieved online notoriety as the blogger and ebook author Captain Capitalism, and who then attracted a new audience in the alt.right ‘manosphere’. I read Clarey for his libertarian economic insights. His Trump era rhetoric is a different reality tunnel to my life experience as a working class background, liberal arts major who he would probably despise (Worthless). To sum up Clarey’s advice in this ebook: consume less and avoid over-consumption.

Reconsidering The Early Fourth Generation

In rewriting my literature review chapter I’m reconsidering the so-called fourth generation of strategic culture scholarship. I trace this from the Jeffrey S. Lantis-authored article ‘Strategic Culture and National Security Policy‘ (International Studies Quarterly, December 2002) which integrated the mid-1990s ‘constructivist turn’ with a post-September 11 emphasis on national security policy. I regard Lantis as an important norm entrepreneur and advocate of strategic culture-informed policymaking.

 

Lantis situates strategic culture as an evolving framework that can learn much from constructivism’s emphasis on ideas, norms, and culture. He considers under what conditions leaders might adopt strategic culture frameworks for national security analysis. This mirrored the renewal of interest in culture in Special Operations Forces fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Lantis provides the theory-building emphasis and policy frameworks. The SOF provides lessons in policy implementation and strategic execution. These parallel developments remain unexplored in the strategic culture literature.

Alfred Mele’s Aspects of Agency

An emergent theme of my on-going PhD research is to develop a causal understanding of terrorist organisational decision-making and ways to counteract it. (This will be possible future research under the heading of causal counterterrorism.) This has led me to read current philosophy on causal agency.

 

Florida State University professor Alfred R. Mele has a new book on my ‘reading pile’ to consider: Aspects of Agency: Decisions, Abilities, Explanations, and Free Will (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017). Mele’s discussion of proximal and distal causes is relevant to my analysis of cultural transmission, social learning, and folklore as possible mechanisms. A summary of Mele’s new book:

 

The libertarian theory of free will combines a negative thesis and a positive thesis. The negative thesis is that free will is incompatible with determinism. The positive thesis is that there are actions that involve exercises of free will—‘free actions,’ for short. While remaining neutral on this negative thesis, Aspects of Agency develops a detailed version of the positive thesis that represents paradigmatically free actions as indeterministically caused by their proximal causes and pays special attention to decisions so instigated. The bulk of Mele’s work is a masterful defense of a positive libertarian thesis against objections to theses of its kind. Aspects of Agency includes solutions to problems about luck and control that are widely discussed in the literature on free will and moral responsibility. The seven chapters on free will are preceded by an introductory chapter and three chapters on central issues in the philosophy of action that bear on standard treatments of free will: deciding to act, agents’ abilities, and commitments of a causal theory of action explanation.

Dissuasion By Denial

In a new article for the Australia Journal of International Affairs, Macquarie University’s Adam Lockyer and Michael D. Cohen go beyond anti-access denial and area denial to introduce ‘dissuasion by denial’:

 

Dissuasion by denial seeks to deter an opponent by promising to inflict greater costs on the attacking forces than what the political benefits would be to the attacker if they succeeded. In other words, dissuasion by denial reasons that an attacker will not attempt a conventional military attack on Australia if they expect it to be a pyrrhic victory. (Lockyer and Cohen 2017).

 

The article has a lot of insights about Glenn Snyder, Paul Dibb, J.O. Langtry, and Desmond Ball’s work in United States and Australian strategic thinking. It has a good discussion about threat analysis and how it is relevant to which type of strategic denial that policymakers could select.

 

Lockyer and Cohen’s work is also relevant to the current debate about North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile program and whether or not Australia should invest in missile defence capabilities.

 

 

Beyond The Pale?

Washington and Lee University’s Seth Cantey has a new article out in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism on negotiating with Al Qaeda and Islamic State:

 

This article argues that prospects for negotiations with al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS) have been undertheorized. Drawing on nearly two thousand pages of primary source material – all issues of Inspire and Dabiq magazines published at the time of writing – it examines these groups’ statements about their motivations for violence, their objectives, and their views about the possibility of dialogue with the West. It finds stark differences in all three areas and suggests that assumptions that have prevented theorizing about negotiations with these groups should be revisited.

 

Strategic culture deals with strategic bargaining situations. Its potential use in negotiating with terrorists remains under-explored. Cantey’s article is a first step to further theorising.

Adversary Group Decision-Making Regarding Choice of Attack Methods

Sarah E. Knight, Carys Keane and Amy Murphy (of the UK-based Defense Science and Technology Laboratory  and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service) have a new article out in Terrorism and Political Violence:

 

Anticipating whether an adversary group will continue to use their usual (“conventional”), expected attack methods is important for military and counterterrorism practitioners tasked with protecting the security of others. Conventional attack methods are by their nature easier to plan and prepare for whilst “innovative” methods may take those responsible for security and counterterrorism by surprise and, as such, may have more impact and more serious consequences. The present study aimed to develop understanding of how, when, and why adversary groups might decide to use conventional attack methods or opt to do something innovative instead. A literature review was conducted and findings were applied to develop a thorough understanding of the decision-making process that underlies an adversary group’s choice of attack method. Identified are three stages preceding the execution of an attack: a) “strategic direction”; b) “incubation”; and c) “planning and preparation,” plus “overarching” and “contextual” factors that can influence the process at each stage. It is suggested that it is these factors and how they influence decision-making that result in innovative methods being used to execute an attack, or convention prevailing. Findings can aid practitioners and policy-makers in counterterrorism, security, and law enforcement, to support their understanding, evaluation, and countering of current and future threats.

Amy Zegart on North Korea’s Kim Jong Un

I’ve followed Stanford’s Amy Zegart since discovering her insightful research on analytical misperception in the United States intelligence community.

 

Zegart writes in The Atlantic:

 

Is Kim Jong Un crazy or hyper-rational? Is he bent on destroying America or deterring America? Is his model Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who averted nuclear war by building a large arsenal and threatening to use it? Or is Kim looking at the cautionary tales of Muammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein—two men who lost their power and their lives because American presidents either didn’t believe or didn’t care that they had given up their nuclear weapons programs?

Nobody knows.

 

Answering these kinds of questions is in part what Jack Snyder‘s original policy work on strategic culture sought to do. It’s also what Jeffrey Lantis and colleagues have done in their policy formulation advice for the Defense Threat Reducation Agency. Finally, Jerrold M. Post has published several political psychology books on individual leaders and how they interact with strategic culture.

 

Zegart’s insight gives the so-called fourth generation of strategic culture a new relevance: (1) the proliferation of nuclear weapons to nation-states outside the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; and (2) the crisis decision-making of foreign political leaders who are driven by different ideational factors: beliefs, norms, values, and worldviews.

 

This will inform post-PhD research.