Small Wars Journal

From Reagan to Entropy: The Need for a U.S. National Technology Based Strategy

Thu, 08/24/2017 - 2:57pm

From Reagan to Entropy: The Need for a U.S. National Technology Based Strategy

Stefan J. Banach

The Rise & Fall of a Super Power

Ronald Reagan was elected as the 40th President of the United States (POTUS) and served our country from 1981 to 1989.  During his tenure as POTUS, Ronald Reagan made a historic and visionary decision of consequence early in his presidency.  Reagan’s strategic choice to pursue a National Technology Based Strategy (NTBS) dramatically reframed the strategic direction of the diplomacy, information prowess, military capabilities, and the global economic growth of the United States of America, in the shadow of the Vietnam War. 

Under the leadership of our 40th President, the United States achieved exponential technology overmatch against every adversary in the world.  When Ronald Reagan left office, the U.S. did not have a near-peer competitor in the world.  The new U.S. technology created under President Reagan generated a “Star Wars” capability that is central in the U.S. missile defense system today, as North Korea and Iran pursue nuclear missile arsenals that can range our homeland.  Other transformational tech advancements included: the global positioning system (GPS), precision strike munitions, stealth aircraft, global satellite communications and enterprise-wide technology growth that enabled the creation of the World Wide Web (WWW) – the Internet in 1989.

In 1981, when President Reagan began his presidency, there were two super power nations in the world, the United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).  The U.S. NTBS was implemented across our country, and over time its effects pushed the USSR off of the global super power playing field.  The Soviet Union simply could not compete with the U.S. technological advancements, in both the private and public sectors that were generated under President Reagan’s leadership.             

The Soviet Union was dissolved on December 26, 1991, shortly after the U.S. military’s overwhelming defeat of the Iraqi army in early 1991.  This victory was achieved with Reagan era technologies.  President Reagan’s vision of a fully implemented NTBS solidified the United States in its dominant position as the only super power on earth.

The Rise and Fall of the United States as a Super Power?

George H.W. Bush became the 41st POTUS and served in that capacity from January 20, 1989 – January 20, 1993.  The elder Bush administration made a decision of consequence, to terminate the NTBS approach, that was put in place by President Reagan in favor of a National Financial Based Strategy (NFBS) approach.  This critical decision began the degradation in global offset technology capabilities for the U.S. in the areas of diplomacy, information overmatch, military deterrence capabilities, and global economic growth.  The NFBS approach, which is still in use today, has proven to be incredibly dysfunctional, wasteful, unresponsive and ineffective.  The U.S. is combatting a growing number of emergent asymmetric virtual and physical battle space threat actors, who do not operate on five-year governmental budget cycles or stiffing procurement and contracting cycles.  

In Financial Based Strategies, the foundation of all decision making is the effective acquisition and utilization of funds.  The measure of success is how well “fund utilization” was optimized to accomplish the objective.  In Technology Based Strategies the foundation of decision making is exploiting the technology more effectively than the adversary or economic competitor to generate a true competitive advantage on the battlefield or in the marketplace.  Competitive advantage is the necessary precondition for sustaining finance-based objectives.  

Bill Clinton embraced the NFBS approach that was put in place by his predecessor.  President Clinton also pursued a “military peace dividend,” which did not exist relative to the growing Middle East terror threats that littered his presidency.  Similarly, there was no rational argument to be made for a peace dividend discussion in relation to the technological and military advancements that China, Russia, North Korea and Iran were making while he was in office.  Russia, North Korea and Iran would later be dubbed, “The Axis of Evil” by Clinton’s successor to accentuate this point.

These presidential decisions of consequence made the U.S. incredibly vulnerable in the short-term to a homeland terror attack.  We saw this play out less than nine months after Bill Clinton left the Oval Office with the terrorist attack on 9/11.  The Clinton decisions placed the U.S in dire straits vis-à-vis the growing nuclear threats inherent in a more emboldened North Korea, which we see today.  In addition, China is now dominating every aspect of the global technology enterprise, and if left unchecked, will supplant the United States as the only super power in the world.  China’s velocity of change, scale and industrial base technology production capacity and potential are unmatched today.   

The Loss of Personal Mastery in Warfare

The U.S. government and its military lost the ability to fight and win the Nation’s wars as a result of the decisions that were made by the POTUS, the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. military leadership from 1993-2001.  Personal mastery, in modern warfare, was also forfeited as a result of rapidly changing technologies that went unrecognized.  The emergence of new civilian terrorist armies and revolutionary heuristics for warfare in virtual and physical battle space put the U.S. government and military in a state of disequilibrium. 

The U.S. military rode the wave of physical battle space success from the 1991 Gulf War straight into stasis until the attack on American soil on 9/11.  Effects Based Operations (EBO) was the proposed doctrine du jour, with an eye on precision strike and “short sterile wars,” despite terrorist attacks: on the World Trade Center in 1993, the Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia in October 1993, the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, the African Embassy bombings in 1998, and the USS Cole bombing on October 12, 2000.  The System of Opposition to the United States was learning, adapting and growing in capability faster than the monolithic archetype, which was and is the U.S. military.  Like the French in the 1919-1939 Interwar Period, the U.S. prepared for the last war that they won, instead of seeing and preparing for the war that was upon them.

Antifragile System of Opposition.  In 2012, Nassim Taleb published Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder.  Taleb’s central theme in the book is that, “Antifragility is a property of systems that increase in capability, resilience, or robustness as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures.” After 16 years of attrition warfare, one could draw the conclusion that the United States and her allies are confronted with an “Antifragile” global system of opposition.

On October 7th, 2001, the first bombs were dropped in Afghanistan.  On October 19th, 2001, U.S. Army Rangers parachuted into Helmand Province and put the first boots on the ground in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT)The United States started out fighting in Afghanistan in October 2001 and is now fighting in seven countries, which we can speak to in an unclassified setting. 

The more physical force that is injected by the U.S. in the GWOT appears to only increase the capability, resilience, and robustness of the global system of opposition, as we have seen terrorism metastasize to six of the seven continents since the 9/11 attack.  Conversely, after sixteen years of attrition warfare since 2001, the U.S. has amassed a 20 trillion dollar national debt and a 200 trillion dollar entitlement debt, as reported in a 2016 online Heritage report, which signals that the U.S. government and its military is now fragile and in a state of entropy.

The System of Problems.  The U.S. military’s logic, functions and form are optimized to destroy large tank armies anywhere in the world – even in today’s degraded counter-insurgency (COIN) state of readiness.  Winning a tank battle is still attainable by the U.S. Joint Armed Forces.  In other words, our current national security apparatus can learn about, frame and solve “Technical Problems,” like the destruction of a Tank Army, better than anyone in the world.

The U.S. military’s logic, functions and form is not optimized to learn about, frame and destroy rhizome assemblages that threaten national security in both physical and virtual battle space every day.  Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari address rhizome philosophy in their 1980 publication: A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.  The manifestations of Deleuze’s and Guattari’s philosophical concepts are resident in “rhizomic” root-like structures that we see in terrorist  organizations today.  These bodies are antifragile in their form, function and logic.  “These forms reject arborescent hierarchical conceptions of knowledge, that adhere to dualist categories and binary choices,” in predominantly Physical Battle Space. 

This best describes the System of Opposition, which has fought the United States military successfully in a growing world war for nearly sixteen years.  Threat troupes to the U.S. are using what Sir Basil Liddell Hart would describe as an “indirect approach” that is not temporally aligned to a four-year election cycle but moreover is designed for several centuries of conflict in both virtual and physical battle space. 

The juxtaposition of growing rhizomic terrorist assemblages and western hierarchical security entities highlights incongruence with a national defense system that is 70 years old.  In other words, our current national security apparatus cannot solve “Complex Adaptive Systems of Problems” in the form of civilian terrorist armies and empowered actors who fight in both Virtual and Physical Battle Space around the world. 

While the U.S. government and military were looking toward the next war, that they were optimized to fight, our country was struck in 2001 by a threat that we still do not know how to defeat in August of 2017.  The U.S. government and its military is incapable of winning 21st Century wars, as they continue to fight predominantly in Physical Battle Space, in regionally aligned and economically cost prohibitive kinetic modalities. 

Conversely, the System of Opposition is exploiting every new piece of technology the U.S., or any other country, creates and wages war in Virtual Battle Space continuously at pennies on the dollar.  These non-kinetic maneuvers set favorable conditions when the rhizomes engage in Physical Battle Space Maneuver, as we saw with the nineteen terrorists who attacked the U.S. on 9/11.

The Four Domains of Warfare

Prior to 1989, there were three domains in which warfare could be waged.  After 1989, a fourth domain emerged, “The Virtual Domain,” by way of the internet, which is far more powerful than any of the three pre-existing domains.  Conflict and full-scale warfare is now conducted in each of the following four domains simultaneously in an asynchronous manner: The Cognitive, Moral, Physical and Virtual Domains. 

Cognitive Domain. Militaries and civilian terrorist organizations routinely begin strategy development and planning for war in the Cognitive Domain as they acquire knowledge and comprehend outcomes from the application of certain maneuvers prior to actual battles.  Sun Tzu’s insight, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting,” speaks to the depth of reasoning required to wage war successfully.  Personal mastery in warfare is contingent on how well leaders adapt their mental models to various types of wars and emerging threats. 

Moral Domain. Stringent analysis, synthesis and evaluation of new intelligence continuously guide military action as western leaders consider Moral Domain implications for warfare.  This includes adherence to the Rules of Land Warfare and values inherent in our cultures.  As we have seen, terrorist armies are not beholden to the Rules of Land Warfare in virtual or physical battle space.  The Moral Domain is, and will continue to be, the epicenter of debate for warfare as we move forward into the 21st Century.  The laws and rules of war for physical battle space, and virtual battle space, are evolving faster than Westphalian states can adapt.  What constitutes an act of war, particularly in virtual battle space, is a subject of great concern, as this form of maneuver has exploded across the world.

Physical Domain. Operations are carried out in the Physical Domain that includes the environments of the Land, Air, Sea and Space.  The U.S. Army’s principal doctrinal focus is in the Physical Domain with regard to itsMulti-Domain Battle Doctrine.”  This is not surprising, given how militaries have historically waged war.  The Physical Battle Space approach to warfare is too narrow, and is no longer sufficient to win another major U.S. war.  Sixteen years of attrition warfare is the evidence.  Something much more indirect, powerful and less expensive is required to win wars today and in the future.  The current U.S. military’s system propensity relative to Physical Battle Space warfare expenditures is untenable going forward.

Virtual Domain. The leadership challenge for the United States is to synthesize and evaluate how Cyber Operations, Media & Social Media, Information Operations, Artificial Intelligence and Stealth Techniques can be applied most effectively in warfare.  Winning in 21st Century warfare must be accomplished in the Virtual Domain and the four environments of the Physical Battle Space. 

After nearly sixteen years of attrition warfare, the U.S. military has increased funding and manpower to pursue aggressive measures to dominate the new Virtual Domain.  The U.S. Joint Force is simultaneously attempting to maintain its competitive advantage relative to its adversaries the Physical Battle Space.  What the world is witnessing is that the U.S. military is losing its competitive advantage in all four domains of warfare relative to nation-state and non-nation state threats.

Creating an “Antifragile” United States of America

The ability to generate and maintain a competitive advantage in both the Virtual Domain and the Physical Battle Space is dictated by how effectively the country exploits existing and emerging technologies.  The U.S. approach to the development, acquisition, and utilization of technology, relative to its adversaries and economic competitors, is central to maintaining our super power status.  How effectively the U.S. exploits technology relative to the adversary, fully dictates both the amount of other resources that are required and how they must be deployed to generate the required competitive advantage in the Virtual Domain and the Physical Battle Space.  These additional resources must be deployed to generate and maintain the required competitive advantage in all the Technology Space dimensions of competition.  The other resources include, but are not limited to: funds, manpower, and natural resources.  Technology exploitation is the foundation of all four dimensions of competition which are discussed below.  (It is the means utilized by Japan to go from a burned-out hulk with minimal resources after WWII to an industrial giant in a wide range of industries in twenty short years.)

Defining Technology

Technology is defined as any application of science to accomplish a function.  The science can be leading edge (e.g., quantum entanglement), or well established (e.g., food preservation), and the function can generate major newspaper headlines (e.g., unbreakable data encryption).  It can also be much more mundane (e.g., ensuring proper nutrition and effective satiation for the troops in the field).  When technology is exploited more effectively than our adversaries it will provide a competitive advantage to the U.S. on the battlefields and in the marketplace.   

Defining Technology Space

The four dimensions of Technology Space are: Technology Structure, Technology Capability, Technology Flow, and Time. The definitions for each are listed below.

Technology Structure. How the technologies interconnect, as defined by the laws of physics that dictate which customer needs can be satisfied.

Technology Capability. The capability levels, of the individual technologies, of the Technology Structure, as defined by the laws of physics that dictate what level the customer needs can be satisfied.

Technology Flow. The flow of the individual Technology Capabilities, as defined by the laws of physics, dictates when the customer needs can be satisfied.

Time. The past and potential future evolutions of the Technology Structure, Technology Capability and Technology Flow, as bounded by the laws of physics, but determined primarily by organizations’ technology strategies.  These factors dictate how customer needs can be accelerated to generate or maintain a competitive advantage.

Figure 1.

As noted in Figure 1, the Virtual Domain encompasses the other three domains, and “4-D Technology Space” is the foundation for the execution of operations in all four domains.

Reframing Conventional Thinking

Conventional thinking, wrongly equates exploitation of technology as a Research and Development (R&D) footrace with its adversaries. This thinking highlights a fundamental weakness of U.S. planners and decision makers throughout the U.S. military and the competitive economic ecosystem.  This flawed belief, which drives U.S. planning, decision making and deployment of resources, assumes that our adversary and competitor approaches mirror the United States.  This thinking attempts to project a list of “hot technologies” and then allocates massive R&D funds to win the race.  By winning the race, the competitive advantage is assumed to be automatic.  Historically the U.S. has had much more money to apply to R&D efforts.  U.S. planners incorrectly assume that we will soundly win and have the advantage.  To U.S. planners and decision makers this is a “foundational truth” and is equally pervasive while also detrimental.  The competitive advantage is always a matter of satisfying the battlefield needs of our warfighters more effectively than the adversary can satisfy their warfighter needs.  This is accomplished by exploiting the technology more effectively than the adversaries. 

China and Russia adroitly maneuver and exploit the technologies of the world.  China and Russia develop and execute holistic “Whole of Nation” technology strategies.  They coherently execute a wide range of mechanisms to out maneuver the U.S. in the development, acquisition and utilization of the full range of "high-tech" to "low-tech" technologies worldwide.  Where the objective of U.S. planners is to win the footrace to the next R&D breakthrough, the objective of our competitors is to excel on the battlefield or in the marketplace by managing world technologies and not just the R&D budget.  As a result, the U.S. R&D approach is being neutralized in the highly efficient technology-based planning systems of China and Russia.

Taking Control of the Technology Foundation

The Socrates Project. The Socrates Project was a joint Reagan White House and U.S. intelligence community initiative.  Its mission was to develop the means to exploit technology for a competitive advantage that was far more advanced than any U.S. adversary or competitor could match or counter in the foreseeable future.  Socrates was fully successful in its mission.

The Foundation: 4-D Technology Space. The Socrates Project determined that all exploitation of technology for a competitive advantage takes place in “Four Dimensional Technology Space.” Technology Space is the complete set of present and future worldwide technologies.  The four dimensions, noted above, fully dictate how technology can be developed, acquired and utilized for a competitive advantage.  To generate and maintain a competitive advantage, a country must out maneuver the adversary or competitor in one or more of the four Technology Space dimensions.  The Socrates Project developed a means to maneuver in Technology Space to create an unmatchable competitive advantage using unprecedented speed, efficiency and agility. 

The Socrates Project had a second major impact on competitiveness.  The initiative enabled all organizations throughout the entire U.S. military and economic ecosystem to establish symbiotic relationships across boundaries.  Per Taleb, these symbiotic relationships “increased the capability, resilience, and robustness” of the U.S. in Technology Space and helped create an Antifragile U.S. nation state.  The U.S. Antifragile nation state was first created during the Reagan presidential era and can be repeated today.  U.S. organizations can leverage technology across the enterprise to generate a competitive advantage that they cannot create on their own. 

The strategic benefit of the Socrates approach is that technology is exploited in a timely, coherent and flexible manner, fully in line with America's founding principles.  Technology exploitation dictates the characteristics of how other key resources are utilized.  This means that the full bandwidth of resources throughout the United States: funds, manpower, natural resources, etc., are also leveraged in a rational and malleable way, in accordance with U.S. values. 

The ability to identify, structure and establish very precise and high-performing symbiotic relationships across the tech, military, and economic boundaries enables individuals and organizations to optimally construct teams for competition that are very diverse and powerful at every echelon.  Symbiotic teams evolve in an organic fashion as Technology Space and the nature of the economic and military threats continue to morph. 

Some symbiotic teams will be large, complex and very well structured; while others will be small and loosely structured.   Other teams will come together quickly for a particular challenge and then disband; while others stay together for years.  Some teams in the Socrates framework evolve on an almost continuous basis; while others will be very slow to change their functions and form.  In all cases, the member organizations will generate a level of competitive advantage that they could not generate by acting alone. The key to success is that all member organizations will be in full control of their respective resources and fates. The enterprise-wide symbiotic teams exist and are structured as the members deem appropriate, which is the foundation of their respective “Antifragile” prowess.

President Reagan was a strong supporter of the Socrates Project.  The initial Socrates analysis provided to Reagan and his advisors convinced them of three key proofs.  The first point was that the Soviet Union’s use of Technology Based Strategies enabled them to match, and in some cases exceed, U.S. military capability from an economic base that was considerably smaller than that of the United States.  Second, Reagan observed, with great concern, the Technology Based Strategies that China was using to begin the process of rapid transformation into a future superpower.  The third strategic point was that, the Soviet's developed and deployed their Technology Based Strategies at a national level, as Russia and China also do today.  These prodigious competitors integrate all national organizations and assets to address both economic competition and military conflict in a unified fashion.  This “Whole of Nation” policy and strategy is the key to their growing success today.  Exponential tech gains are being made across their enterprise-wide boundaries, which have produced a national increase in capability which is a growing security issue for the United States.

President Reagan saw that the Socrates Project could effectively address the current threat of the USSR and neutralize China before it became a superpower and a threat.  Reagan understood that the speed, efficiency and agility that Socrates exhibited would enable the U.S. to maneuver and exploit the world's technology in a manner which Russia and China were incapable of accomplishing.  Reagan saw that the enterprise-wide symbiotic relationships made possible by the Socrates Project, would enable the U.S. to fully counter China's and the USSR's unified economic and military approach to competition, while staying true to America's founding democratic principles.

The U.S. tech industry, our economy and the military can no longer be addressed separately in terms of fighting and winning the nation’s wars.  Technology exploitation is the foundation of both systems with an eye towards dominance in both Virtual and Physical Battle Space.  The technologies that dictate the competitiveness of each structure are intertwined in a complex, ever changing mosaic that makes it highly ineffective to attempt to address them as two separate functions.  To effectively maneuver in Technology Space and exploit opportunities, the U.S. must address all present and future technology development as a worldwide, unified economic and military “Whole of Nation” approach.  The future U.S. National Technology Based “Whole of Nation” strategy will enable global maneuver in a very fluid and dynamic fashion. 

Competitive advantage is not achieved by trying to guess the next "key winning list” of technologies to target.  Competitive advantage is generated and maintained by consistently out maneuvering competitors and adversaries, both offensively and defensively, at every turn in the exploitation of a wide range of evolving technologies. This is Technology Space.  The technology that provides the U.S. with the required competitive advantage today can be the weakness that an adversary fully exploits for its competitive advantage tomorrow and vice versa.  Every technology sector in the U.S. competitive ecosystem plays a critical role in enabling the U.S. to maintain the required global military and economic competitive advantage. 

The Rise of the American 21st Century Warrior

The U.S. government and its uniformed military personnel are incapable of winning 21st Century wars.  After sixteen years of attrition warfare this seems to be an obvious statement.  Doing the same thing for another sixteen years across the globe, predominantly in Physical Battle Space, appears to be an acceptable course of action to a body of practitioners who believe they have an endless budget and pool of manpower.  Neither is the case.

That reality notwithstanding, the true warriors, who can influence the most important aspects of modern warfare for our country, reside in the private sector of our nation.  The decisive 21st Century Warriors for the United States of America is its non-uniformed citizens.  American citizens are engaged in “warfare” in Technology Space every hour of a given day.  The U.S. technology and economic ecosystems exponentially outgun the U.S. government and military, in the exploitation of Virtual Battle Space Maneuver (VBSM), which is the decisive operation today in war. 

The reality is that every American is a potential combatant in the exploitation of technology whether they want to be or not.  Anyone who connects to the Internet is now tethered to a Virtual Battle Space Weapon System and their location, identity, finances, and intellectual property are under attack the moment they connect to the Internet.  Faceless global assailants of nation-states, terrorist groups or other technically empowered individuals patrol the Internet looking for someone to devour.  Each of these entities is attempting to disrupt, steal, and shape the information we receive in the context of advancing social control every minute that we are awake for adversarial gain.

The ability of select U.S. citizens to consistently out maneuver competitors through the exploitation of emerging technologies is foundational to preserving our way of life.  Relationships are the basis of Virtual Battle Space “Combat Power.”  For the U.S. to remain a superpower, we need operational entities which are comprised of civilian organizations that function in a highly symbiotic fashion.  These antifragile bodies maneuver within the NTBS which acts as a non-controlling, but guiding framework for all the teams of the U.S. economic and military competitive ecosystem. 

The National Technology Based Strategy is not a government-centric endeavor, where the government is trying to "pick the winners and the losers" for the U.S., similar to the classic Soviet Union style industrial policy.  Rather it is a grand technology strategy developed by representatives from all sectors of the U.S. competitive ecosystem. 

Leaders from across the United States, from a multitude of disciplines, design the entire Technology Space strategy with its evolving opportunities and constraints.  The strategy also addresses the adversaries' technology strategies, and the United States perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses.  The NTBS addresses U.S. technology exploitation in broad strokes.  The chief function of the strategy is to provide select individuals, and their organizations, with a holistic view of Technology Space.  As Michael Sekora, the founding Director of the Socrates Project noted during several interviews:  “This is the way the Socrates Project designed it; this is the way President Reagan envisioned it; and this is the way the Reagan Executive Order mandated it.”  

The Way Ahead

The U.S. government, corporate America, academia and the U.S. Joint Armed Forces must design a policy, strategy and doctrine for a “Whole of Nation” approach for the conduct of warfare that is enabled by a National Technology Based Strategy.  If this schema is not taken, the U.S. will spiral deeper into entropy and will cease to be a Super Power.

About the Author(s)

Colonel (Retired) Banach, is a Distinguished Member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and served in that organization for nine years, culminating with command of the 3rd Ranger Battalion from 2001-2003. He led U.S. Army Rangers during a historic night combat parachute assault into Afghanistan on October 19, 2001, as the “spearhead” for the Global War on Terror for the United States of America. Steve subsequently led U.S. Army Rangers in a second combat parachute assault into Al Anbar Province in western Iraq in 2003. He also served as a Stryker Brigade Commander from 2005 to 2007 and created the Company Intelligence Support Team (COIST) concept for the U.S. Army. He demonstrated impeccable leadership during his 27 years in the U.S. Army – a period of service that included deployments to six combat zones. He earned a Bronze Star Medal for valor in combat and a Bronze Star Medal for service to the nation. He also earned two Bronze Combat Jumps Stars.

Steve Banach has over 30 years of leadership and strategy development experience. He served with distinction in the United States Army from 1983 to 2010. Since then, he has provided executive consulting services to a diverse range of clients at a number of prestigious institutions. In his consulting services, Steve designs strategies for clients and counsels decision-makers on executive leadership development and change management. His recent speaking engagements include programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the JFK School of Government at Harvard University, the Fletcher School and Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University, Wheaton College, the University of Iowa, the McCormick Foundation, the Greenleaf Global Servant Leadership Convention, the West Point Military Academy Systems Engineering Department, the United States Special Operations Command – Joint Special Operations University (JSOU); and the Canadian Forces College. He was also an invited guest speaker at the 2016 Virginia State Legislative Leader’s Summit.