Within a variety of historical contexts, The Shaping of Grand Strategy addresses the most important tasks states have confronted: namely, how to protect their citizens against the short-range as well as long-range dangers their policies confront in the present and may confront in the future.
The rapid, worldwide adoption of advances in computing, robotics, bioengineering, and more by state and nonstate actors is now reshaping what future national security threats and opportunities will look like. Strategic latency may be of greatest concern in the proliferation of WMD, weapons that raise the specter of what Sir Martin Rees called “our final hour.”
To be successful, grand strategy demands that governments and leaders chart a course that involves more than simply reacting to immediate events. Above all, it demands they adapt to sudden and major changes in the international environment, which more often than not involves the outbreak of great conflicts but at times demands recognition of major economic, political, or diplomatic changes.
The combination of science and technology brings change. People who participate in long-range strategic competition planning and analysis—whether with respect to competitors who are threats, friends, or allies—might profitably organize their thinking around certain key questions.
Many of us would like to predict the future. Knowledge of the future would enable us to prepare or even avoid some problems. At a national level, such problems might consist of military conflict, a pandemic, or economic disruption. Strategic latency refers to the inherent potential for technologies to bring about significant shifts in the military or economic balance of power.
According to Christopher Kojm, Chairman National Intelligence Council: Of more immediate interest are breakthrough technologies such as lasers that continue to advance toward an ever more emphatic dual-use status.
This principle refers most directly to the forging of an integrated civil–military dual-use system, especially the establishment of a civilian apparatus that has the technological and industrial capabilities to meet the needs of the military and defense economy.
More than half a century ago, two distinguished students of strategy among nations examined the evolution of the weapons and tactics of warfare, concerned not with “the great generals of history, but with the application strictly of intelligence to the problem of war—of intelligence not as it sometimes expresses itself on the battlefield, but in quiet studies or laboratories far removed.”
The authors traced the advent of gunpowder and its effect on artillery and naval power; the crucial role of the British scientific community in the development of radar, that was central to their triumph against the Germans in the Battle of Britain; and, of course, the impact of nuclear weapons that made “the importance of protecting adequately the main retaliatory striking force of the nation. . .second to no other security question.”
What this study and some others have in common are a focus on nation-states, in particular the “great powers,” and how political and military leaders were (and are) sometimes very slow to appreciate how technological innovation could provide enormous advantages on the battlefield.
Much general knowledge is spread by scientific advancement reported in the open scientific literature, a process intensified by increased exploitation of “open-source” science. Still, secrecy or patents protect much knowledge and know-how. Certain national security-related information is classified. Yet, leaks, theft, and the online publication of “cookbooks” not only make sensitive information available, but also highlight how to use it.
Latent technologies emerged because someone thought they would have a use. The intended use may not be the ultimate use. In fact, some technologies may find no economically viable market, now or ever, and yet may be of security concern. Latency thus suggests some embedded level of potential or an inherent possibility not yet realized. A capability may be dormant, but many latent technologies are not particularly dormant. Much activity is taking place around them, but they are not being applied in an area of significance, much less in an area of strategic significance.
The new book, Strategic Latency and World Power: Published by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Center of Global Security Research, notes that the nuclear age, which Bernard Brodie characterized as being ushered in by the “absolute weapon” in 1946, has now been joined by the information technology revolution, the synthetic biology revolution, and other technological advances that are bewildering in their complexity, uncertain in their path to deployment, and difficult to assess in terms of individual and collective impact.
Second, these advances are not solely in the hands of the great powers, but are accessible to medium powers, failed states, nongovernmental organizations that may or may not be in the service of governments, terrorist groups seeking to overthrow established governments, criminal cartels motivated to utilize these technologies for financial gain, and individuals and small groups who are developing advanced technologies in part to further their definition of preferred societal goals.
One can debate whether the advance and spread of technology in the electronic and digital age has had greater strategic significance in our times than the advance and spread of technology had during the industrial revolution.
Certainly, the defeat of the Russian fleet in the Tsushima Straits in 1905 by a Japanese Navy demonstrated a century ago that newcomers could use technology to quickly catch up and surpass and thus alter history for decades to come. Neither the Russian Revolution nor the Pearl Harbor attack was made inevitable by the surprisingly stark outcome of the Russo-Japanese War, but the
contribution is clear.
Does an actor—state, nonstate, or hybrid—want to achieve a certain capability and does that actor have the technology, industry, and resources to advance toward it? Imagine that we have a graph in which intent is measured on the “x axis,” perhaps as a percentage of maximum commitment to the goal. The “y axis” then might be capability, perhaps measured as a percentage of the capability needed to achieve the goal.
The goal could be something concise such as a nuclear weapon or more complex such as a high confidence antiaircraft carrier capability. We might observe that the two “variables” in practice may not be independent. For example, as a capability grows, interest and commitment may grow because a path to success becomes clearer. Alternatively, recognition that a capability is near may result in a backlash, reducing net motivation. Likewise, capability may expand or contract under the influence of changes in intent.
If an actor had increased both its interest in nuclear weapons and its capabilities, the net vector might be a long arrow moving toward the upper right corner, closer to achieving a capability.
These demands are met increasingly from multinational S&T markets manned by a global S&T talent base. Rather than being “silver bullets,” much dual-use equipment and even some facilities are approaching commodity status. Agile manufacturing and miniaturization of equipment and facilities make more technology affordable as the increased productivity lowers infrastructure and manpower requirements.
This phenomenon is often accompanied by what in the digital age is referred to as “disintermediation” or “a more flat pyramid.” There are strong forces bringing SNSs and mobility together, including the industrywide trend toward presence and personalization.
For 20 years, Pyramid Research has helped companies in the converging communications, media, and technology industries stay ahead of market trends, understand competitive threats, and capitalize on opportunities. Mid-level management is reduced as leaders come to control more employees directly, and empowered employees have greater access to more resources. Those insights can foster innovation, help mitigate vulnerabilities, or catalyze a new application of existing technology.
The variety of technology available today and in the actionable future is tremendous. Interdisciplinary synergism seems far greater than in the past. Synthetic chemistry and biology, genetics, nanotechnology, new materials, cyber and information technology, microelectronics, robotics, photonics, quantum mechanics—all these and many more— provide huge inventories of ideas and innovation.
Nation such as Japan may be toward the upper left reflecting great capability to acquire nuclear weapons but weak intent to do so. A terrorist group such as Al-Qaeda might have a very high measure of intent but minimal capability. Other actors, be they governments, government-related entities, companies, groups, or individuals, could also be plotted.
Strategic latency may be of greatest concern in the proliferation of WMD, weapons that raise the specter of what Sir Martin Rees called “our final hour.” Nevertheless, when in 1940 Winston Churchill said to the people of his island nation that “their finest hour” was to prevent the world from sinking “into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science,” he was speaking of the beginning of a second world war. Nuclear weapons had not yet been created.
Although biological and chemical weapons were used in previous wars, the onslaught Churchill expected was from what we now call “conventional munitions,” indeed crude weapons by today’s standard. Although bullets, artillery, and “dumb bombs” that would be familiar to any veteran of World War II are still manufactured and deployed in large numbers, “conventional” today often means self-propelled, selfguided, precision, or target-sensing weapons with shaped-charges or other advanced kinetic devices or explosives.
Why is the concept of strategic latency important?
Computers and telemetry were once leading edge technologies that might have been considered “space technology” because of their criticality to boosters and spacecraft. They existed prior to the Space Race of the Cold War. In contrast, there are many different types of “information spaces technology” today.
We are increasingly surrounded and increasingly carrying or wearing computing and communication devices, bringing people inside into the “space” changes our views on spaces science or engineering landscape architecture. It all depends ability of members to access a social networking site from anywhere will enhance the utility of the SNS.
Any attempt to evaluate strategic latency will have to examine how specific technologies interact with each other and with the world around them.
Robotics will be an important part of the social and economic landscape of the future. The imperative for governments around the world, working with their respective private sectors, is to begin to think through consequences of the imminent robotics explosion and fast approaching technology revolution and to prepare for, take advantage of, and mitigate the downside risk of these developments.
Understanding the implications of the technology is fundamental. Most technological improvements might be called “better mousetrap technologies,” a little better or cheaper or faster, but the world will probably not “beat a path to your door.” These “accretion technologies,” however, can have strategic significance when small changes have magnified, cumulative effects, either positive or negative.
How an actor acquires a technology is also of interest understanding of strategic latency. A potential application of technology is actualized when an actor makes decisions and acts to exploit technology to which the actor has access. This may be good or bad for the actor and good or bad for others. Of particular interest here are dual-use technologies with strategic implications such as nuclear weapons.
For example, when a country acquires the ability to enrich uranium or separate plutonium, that country, whether it is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in good standing such as Japan or suspected of being in violation such as Iran, often finds itself on lists of those with a nuclear weapons potential. Analysis of the sophistication of that technology, the size of facilities, and its relationship to other capabilities sometimes leads to attempts at more precise guestimates as to how long it would take to realize that capability if and when a decision were made. However, Iran could use the same technology at other, covert, locations for military applications.
Iran continued to pursue an indigenous nuclear fuel cycle ostensibly for civilian purposes but with clear weapons potential. We remain concerned that Tehran may have a clandestine nuclear weapons program, in contradiction to its obligations as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). International scrutiny and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections and safeguards will most likely prevent Tehran from using its weapons program as long as Iran remains a party to the NPT.
We are witnessing today how some technologies—notably armed drones and offensive cyber operations— have become central to President Obama’s national and international security strategy with respect to counterterrorism in the first instance and degrading the Iranian nuclear weapons development program in the second.
Obama famously proposed an ambitious nuclear risk-reduction program in a speech in Prague at the beginning of his first term, and followed it up with a number of early achievements. He reiterated the importance of his agenda in a June 2013 speech in Berlin.
What factors in technology might drive such a trend?
Certainly, globalization and intense competition in technology markets feed off the synergy of multi-disciplinary science that is frequently also multi-mission. This phenomenon is called “technology push.” “Technology pull” is generated by the need for diverse, modern warfare systems using advanced technologies such as electronics, sensors, and computations. Because more types of technology have become critical, more technology becomes significantly dual-use.
Such “technology push” may remain unexploited or even unrecognized, and thus latent, until a combination of factors coalesce to produce a powerful capability. The list of contributing factors can be extensive but generally three rise to the top: national security, economics, and human welfare.
The challenge of strategic latency is that actions of concern may not be highly visible. They may come from many directions. Also, lead times may be so short that reaction times are inadequate, increasing the chance of surprise. Strategic latency may be of greatest concern in the proliferation of WMD, weapons that raise the specter of what Sir Martin Rees called “our final hour.”
Risk is often characterized as the product of consequences and probabilities. In the 20th century, which saw the use in war of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, WMD use was generally considered a highconsequence, low-probability event.
The worst that could have happened in that century did not happen. Nevertheless, well over 150 million people died in the wars and civil wars between 1900 and the beginning of the new millennium. Nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons killed few of those people. Simple bullets or even machetes killed millions.
In considering risks associated with latent technologies, where should we draw the line between what is “strategic” and what is not. Should we confine ourselves to WMD? Should we include other weapons? Should we include means of delivery? Should we include weapons of “mass disruption” such as cyber warfare? Should we include C3RSI? Should we include technologies that alter economic power or political influence?
Perhaps priority should be given to those latent technologies that present the greatest risk to our national interests, in particular those that may present us with sufficient surprise that our response might not be adequate.
Whether or not we consider the highly leveraged potential impact of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, electronic, cyber, advanced conventional, or other technologies on societies as within the realm of strategic latency, all of these fields have similar dynamics.
Nuclear weapons are not as easy to acquire as nerve gas, which may not be as easy to acquire as some biological agents, which are not as easy to acquire as some explosives, or Web-connected computers, or box cutters, but all are becoming easier, quicker,cheaper, more widely disseminated, and more dangerous. If governments and other national security players want to remain ahead of the curve, they will have to reassess their national security strategy starting now.
The imperative for governments around the world, working with their respective private sectors, is to begin to think through consequences of the imminent robotics explosion and fast approaching technology revolution and to prepare for, take advantage of, and mitigate the downside risk of these developments.
To address these issues, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Center of Global Security Research drew on the expertise of top thinkers in national security and more for the new book, Strategic Latency and World Power: How Technology is Changing Our Concepts of Security.
The book is the result of a collaboration between Livermore and Los Alamos National Labs with the US National Intelligence Council to assess the implications that rapidly developing emerging and disruptive technologies are having for national and international security. The chapter authors provide insights into the policies, individual country approaches, and specific technologies that are revolutionizing the global security environment.
Strategic latency volume presents the core definitional and conceptual elements as well as some of the key policy issues associated with strategic latency. Dr. Ronald Lehman, in many ways the founding father of the concept, presents a rich and detailed analysis of what he terms “a package of diverse technologies that can be deployed quickly, often in new ways, with limited visibility that could have decisive military and geopolitical implications.”
Event:Future of Global Security June 10, 2014
Emerging Technologies and the Future of Global Security June 10, 2014 – Atlantic Council event on International Security in partnership with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s to discusses the potential for technology development to contribute to solving global problems on the one hand and enabling dangerous and potentially harmful applications on the other.
Event: the most complex and dynamic global security environment facing NATO Alliance since the end of the Cold War.
Gradually Afghan National Security Forces (ISAF) will take the lead for security across the whole of the country. Implementation is well underway with Afghan forces taking the lead for security for around 87 per cent of the Afghan population. The aim is for Afghan forces to have full responsibility for security across the country by the end of 2014. This target was set at the 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon and confirmed by Allied leaders at the Chicago Summit in May 2012.
Karzai has the United States, leading a coalition of some 50 nations, willing to stay on and help his country succeed. And that after a war that has lasted a dozen years and cost the United States more than $600 billion and 2,000 fatalities. Yet the Afghan president keeps throwing up roadblocks. His latest obstacle was his decision to hold off on signing the BSA.
Karzai has also thrown in new demands—just when we thought the security agreement was a done deal. For one, he wants to compel the United States to release all Afghan detainees in the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay. Part of Karzai’s attitude can be explained by the umbrage he has taken at various Americans, especially in recent years. Some U.S. officials made mistakes in their handling of the complex Afghan leader, such as lecturing him in public about matters such as government corruption. There can be little doubt, though, that Karzai’s own peevishness and ingratitude have played a large role.
On 18 June 2013, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen mark the fifth and final tranche of transition. With this decision,said NATO Secretary marks an important milestone, when Afghan soldiers and police will take the lead for security across the country.
As global power shifts, and new disruptive technologies the NATO Alliance is facing the most complex and dynamic global security environment since the end of the Cold War, with significant threats emanating from a newly assertive Russia, an increasingly turbulent Middle East, and global competition.
On June 25, 2014 Atlantic Council and the Norwegian Institute of Defence Studies will convene leaders and experts from across Europe and North America to discuss the role of NATO and the broader transatlantic community in an era of emerging security challenges.