Friday, October 10, 2008

In A Storm, Always Keep Your Eyes On The Horizon

This last week the gigantic economic storm that has hovered on the horizon crashed with a fury on the fleet of sovereign states that make up the global community. This post is a reminder that even with our current collective minds on what was wrought by spending what can be best described as our communal seed corn. Our course is clear, we must turn our ships of state into the storm and batter our way to calm waters. The next two posts help us to think about the future and hopefully the opportunities that await Americans if they are willing to take risks and look for opportunities amid the developing world. The payoff will be a stronger economy and a better world.

Steve DeAngelis of Enterra Solutions Has two important posts that remind us that to keep from slipping into a world of a few generations ago Portent, we must keep ourselves focused on staying engaged with the rest of the World.

Quick on the heels of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' talk about the need to rebalance the military (see my post Shocked and Awed), the Department of Defense has released a new field manual on Stability Operations ["Standard Warfare May Be Eclipsed By Nation-Building," by Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, 5 October 2008]. The new manual takes its place beside the field manual on Counterinsurgency Operations. The change in doctrine has been a long time coming. Eleven years ago Bradd Hayes, Enterra Solutions' Senior Director of Communications and Research -- who was then working as a professor at the U.S. Naval War College -- and his colleague Jeffrey Sands, wrote a book titled Doing Windows: Non-Traditional Military Responses to Complex Emergencies, in which they encouraged the military to pay more attention to nation-building missions.

Seven years later, Tom Barnett, Enterra Solutions' Senior Managing Director, who was then also working at the Naval War College, wrote his New York Times' best seller The Pentagon's New Map in which he recommended creation of a System Administrator (SysAdmin) force to conduct nation-building and help secure the peace.

The follow-on to securing the peace is Fixing Fragile States.

Globalization has both its proponents and opponents. Its proponents point to the fact that globalization has helped billions of people climb up the economic pyramid and out of poverty's grasp. Opponents note that it doesn't seem to be helping the remaining 1.4 billion people still locked in poverty's grip. Most of these so-called "bottom billion" are trapped inside nation states that have little going for them except a recognized international border. These states have variously been labeled, failed, failing, weak, and fragile. Seth Kaplan, a business consultant and entrepreneur who has run multinational firms and founded successful local corporations in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, believes there is a difference between failed, weak, and fragile states. Kaplan also believes that past efforts to support such states have not recognized the differences nor the idiosyncratic circumstances each such nation faces. In a new book, Fixing Fragile States, Kaplan provides his prescription for addressing the challenges that keep such states from progressing.

Steve lists the ten parts of Kaplan's plan.

1. Adopt Local Models

2. Closely Integrate State and Society

3. Design Institutions around Identity Groups.

4. Construct States Bottom-Up

5. Exploit the Advantages of Regionalism

6. Unify Disparate Peoples

7. Supplement State Capacity

8. Reinforce and Complement Local Processes

9. Foster Private Investment and Competition

10. Creatively and Gradually Increase Accountability

DeAngelis ends by summarizing Kaplan's plan.

I can certainly support that conclusion. I also believe he gets the priorities right -- security, stability and then prosperity. For anyone interested in development, Kaplan's book is a welcomed addition to the growing library of literature dealing with the subject. The competition of ideas is important for discovering what works and what doesn't. Kaplan's stress on using idiosyncratic approaches that match local conditions is important. On the other hand, the approaches utilized can't be so unique that they isolate a developing country from the larger international community. In my post Explaining Development-in-a-Box™, I noted that connecting to the global economy requires an emerging market country to garner the trust of others and the fastest way to do that is to adopt internationally accepted standards and best practices. I wrote that "it makes no sense for each emerging market country to reinvent these standards and practices. They can be imported as 'in the box' solutions and, when necessary, be adapted to local conditions. Because they don't have to be reinvented or rediscovered in each new situation, valuable time is saved and precious resources aren't squandered." The development community needs as many tools in its kit as it can find. Kaplan's book provides a few more of those tools.

I know that is seems premature to consider the other side of the coin, when that may be the only coin in our pocket, but we must learn from history and stay focused on the future. The people of the United States have been handed a challenge by discovering a Black Swan that instantly changed the playbook and made Americans vulnerable in a way unknown in over half a century.

During that previous time, we did many things, like build the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam and laid the ground work for the industrial capacity to supply the rest of the Allies with the tools of war and 12 million soldiers to defeat the Axis. Our destiny is ours to chose if we are willing as a people to take responsibility for our own future.

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