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Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2008 Symposium U.S. National Security in New Times STEVEN D. NIXON Formerly of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Washington, D.C. Our national security stands at a critical crossroads. For a generation we confronted the Soviet Union in a Cold War that ended with the collapse of that empire in 1991. Now, 17 years later, religious and ethnic tensions, independence movements, and terrorism have emerged as major security challenges, but our national security establishment has failed to evolve significantly to confront these new challenges. Unlike any other time in history, these challenges are “supercharged” by globalization, the rapid advance and spread of technology around the world, which is empowering small groups and individuals and leading to a new and very dangerous potential for the proliferation of weapons. A looming example is rapid advances in biotechnology and the potential for the relatively easy creation of new and devastating biology-inspired weapons. To meet the challenges of this age of globalization, we must significantly adapt our national security posture. We cannot win by maintaining our traditional focus on bigger satellites, faster fighter aircraft, or quieter submarines, all of which take decades to deploy at ever-increasing cost. The bottom line is that we must significantly increase our agility, innovation, and collaboration. However, because these qualities run counter to the usual behavior of large government bureaucracies, we should seriously consider the option of creating a variety of small, agile government agencies and outsourcing new activities to small, agile companies. WE WON THE COLD WAR, BUT … The end of the Cold War left the United States as sole remaining superpower—at least for the time being. Our economy is the largest in the world, and we enjoy
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Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2008 Symposium tremendous competitive advantages in technology and many other areas critical to sustaining a leading position in global affairs. But without the Soviet Union to confront, our national security apparatus thrashed around throughout the 1990s looking for a new raison d’être. Even though we significantly increased our focus on terrorism after the September 11, 2001, attacks, our security establishment still has essentially the same processes, culture, values, technical capabilities, and organization that were developed to confront the Soviets. And so we are in the classic position of a successful enterprise that is ironically handicapped by its own prior success, a situation that was aptly described in a National Academies (2007) report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: There can be no more dangerous place to be than in first place: the one holding that exalted position becomes everyone else’s target, and perhaps worse, is the recognized beneficiary of the status quo—and therefore reluctant to promote, or even accept, change. In this situation, we are extremely vulnerable to disruptive changes in the global security environment. Great companies facing this problem either successfully adapt or go out of business. As Clayton Christianson, famous for his study of disruptive technologies, has described it (Christianson and Raynor, 2003): They [industry leaders] pour resources into their core business. They listen to their best customers. And in doing so, industry leaders get blindsided by disruptive innovations—new products, services, or business models that initially target small, seemingly unprofitable customer segments, but eventually evolve to take over the marketplace. This is the innovator’s dilemma—and no company or industry is immune. Even though the current and future security environments demand greater agility from our national security establishment, we have moved in the opposite direction. For example, the first Corona optical spy satellite took slightly more than two years from start to first successful launch. Today, it is not at all unusual for a new government satellite program to take more than a decade to achieve first launch. And while we measure our innovation-cycle times in decades, our adversaries, like the insurgents in Iraq, measure theirs in weeks. The Washington Post reported on this problem last year (Atkinson, 2007): The Improvised Explosive Device struggle has become a test of national agility for a lumbering military-industrial complex fashioned during the Cold War to confront an even more lumbering Soviet system….“If we ever want to kneecap al-Qaeda, just get them to adopt our procurement system. It will bring them to their knees within a week,” a former Pentagon official said.
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Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2008 Symposium FROM THE COLD WAR TO GLOBALIZATION: AN INFLECTION POINT FOR NATIONAL SECURITY Andy Groves, the former CEO of Intel, describes strategic inflection points as points at which a business transitions from the old state of affairs to a new one. These states are often a company’s response to what he calls “10x changes” in one or more of the key forces that impact its business. The world has faced many 10x changes since the end of the Cold War. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of technology in which observed trends in accelerating advances are now described as “laws.” The most famous of these is undoubtedly Moore’s law, which states that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles every two years. Moore’s law has inspired a cottage industry of sorts in producing new technology “laws”: disk-storage density doubles every 12 months (Kryder’s law) bandwidth to high-end home users doubles every 21 months (Nielsen’s law) the amount of data coming out of an optical fiber doubles every nine months (Butter’s law) the amount of available DNA-sequence data doubles every 18 months (observed, but awaiting someone to attach a name) (Bio Economic Research Associates, 2007) The United States no longer has a corner on the market in technology. In fact, we are now a net importer of technology products, and these advances are available globally (NSF, 2008). These trends inspired Thomas Friedman (2005) to write the bestseller, The World Is Flat, in which he asserts that the diffusion of accelerating technical advances around the globe is creating the ultimate level playing field. Our friends and adversaries around the world now have access to the same powerful technical capabilities we do. Armed with these new capabilities, small groups and individuals now have the wherewithal to threaten even the mightiest of nations. Consider the impact of the 19 men on September 11 who used modern aviation technology against us. They not only killed thousands of Americans, but also drove our country to spend nearly $1 trillion in response. The amount we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars already exceeds the amount we spent on Viet Nam, even when adjusting for inflation (Stiglitz and Bilmes, 2008). Although our national security operations are running at an exceedingly high tempo, I believe the government transformation we need to succeed in the “flat world” is near paralysis. In some sense, this is understandable. Andy Groves (1999) describes this same condition in companies facing strategic inflection points:
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Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2008 Symposium Ideas about the right direction will split people on the same team. After a while, everyone will understand that the stakes are enormously high. There will be a growing ferocity, determination and seriousness surrounding the views the various participants hold. People will dig in. These divergent views will be held equally strongly, almost like religious tenets. In a workplace that used to function collegially and constructively, holy wars will erupt, pitting coworkers against coworkers, long-term friends against long-term friends. Everything senior management is supposed to do—define direction, set strategies, encourage team work, motivate employees—all these things become harder, almost impossible. Everything middle management is supposed to do—implement policy, deal with customers, train employees—also becomes more difficult. TRENDS IN BIOTECHNOLOGY: SOON ALMOST ANYONE CAN HAVE A WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION A good example of the potential threat from globalization is the proliferation of biotechnology that could enable almost anyone with minimal technical savvy to build some pretty scary bio-capabilities. DNA sequencing capabilities are proceeding faster than Moore’s law (Bio Economic Research Associates, 2007), and nasty viruses, such as polio and Spanish flu, have not only been sequenced, but have also been artificially reconstructed directly from these sequences (Cello et al., 2002; Taubenberger et al., 2005). The European Molecular Biology Organization reported: … considering the rapid development of molecular biology, it is only a question of time before the artificial synthesis of agents or new combinations of agents becomes possible. This danger was highlighted last year by a worrying article in Science: a research team at the State University of New York in Stony Brook chemically synthesized an artificial polio virus from scratch (Cello et al., 2002). They started with the genetic sequence of the agent, which is available online, ordered small, tailor-made DNA sequences and combined them to reconstruct the complete viral genome. In a final step, the synthesized DNA was brought to life by adding a chemical cocktail that initiated the production of a living, pathogenic virus (Van Aken and Hammond, 2003). Today, websites such as www.mrgene.com offer online DNA synthesis—just submit your sequence to the website, and they will quickly ship your gene. Incidentally, they happen to be running a special in June and July 2008—your gene sequence for just $0.49 per base pair! A headline in Wired recently declared, “Scientists Build First Man-Made Genome; Synthetic Life Comes Next” (Madrigal, 2008). If the prospect of bioterrorism sounds far fetched, consider that there is in fact a long sad history of such attacks. Bioterrorism dates back as far as ancient Rome where dead and rotting animals were thrown into wells to poison water supplies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioterrorism). The anthrax
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Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2008 Symposium attacks immediately following September 11 are a recent example in the United States; prior to that the Rajneeshee bioterror attack of 1984 sickened 750 individuals in Oregon with salmonella food poisoning (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_Rajneeshee_bioterror_attack). Given current advances in technology, it is not difficult to imagine a world a few years from now in which a teenager can create a biological virus almost as easily as today’s teenager can create a computer virus. This is indeed a scary future. CONCLUSION How will the national security establishment respond to this threat and others (cyber attack comes to mind) that derive from current technology trends? The advantage now goes to organizations that can operate faster, more innovatively, and more collaboratively than their competitors. In my last job as director of science and technology for the director of national intelligence, we called this “Speed, Surprise, and Synergy.” Similarly, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (2007), in a recent speech, said, “But these new threats also require our government to operate as a whole differently—to act with unity, agility, and creativity.” We must recognize that we no longer live in the industrial age and that traditional industrial-scale solutions simply cannot, in themselves, address many of our current problems. The information age is evolving into a new networking age in which everyone and everything is connected. Our national security establishment must learn to operate across interlinked social networks, financial networks, communication networks, and computer networks. We must make decisions, produce capabilities, and operate at network speed, not industrial speed. Our national security establishment’s love affair with hard science, particularly physics, chemistry, and engineering, must expand to include biology, anthropology, psychology, and other so-called soft sciences. The U.S. government must learn to work more effectively with nongovernment providers and allies. In addition, we should create small, agile, innovative agencies and also outsource more activities to small, agile, innovative companies that do not have to overcome crippling bureaucratic barriers. In short, we must let go of the Cold War way of doing things and move boldly into the 21st century. REFERENCES Atkinson, R. 2007. The Single Most Effective Weapon Against Our Deployed Troops. The Washington Post, September 30, 2007, p. A1. Bio Economic Research Associates. 2007. Genome Synthesis and Design Futures: Implications for the U.S. Economy. Available online at <http://www.bio-era.net/research/GenomePurchaseForm.html>. Cello, J., A.V. Paul, and D E. Wimmer. 2002. Chemical synthesis of poliovirus cDNA: generation of infectious virus in the absence of natural template. Science 297(5583): 1016–1018.
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Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2008 Symposium Christianson, C., and M. Raynor. 2003. Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press. Friedman, T. 2005. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Gates, R. 2007. Landon Lecture (Kansas State University). Remarks delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Manhattan, Kansas, November 26, 2007. Groves, A. 1999. Only the Paranoid Survive. New York: Doubleday. Madrigal, A. 2008. Scientists build first man-made genome; synthetic life comes next. Wired, January 24, 2008. The National Academies. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. NSF (National Science Foundation). 2008. U.S. Trade Balance in High-Technology Goods: 2000–2006. Available online at <http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind08/slides.htm>. Stiglitz, J., and L. Bilmes. 2008. The Three Trillion Dollar War. The New York Times, February 23, 2008. Available online at <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article3419840.ece>. Taubenberger, J.K., A.H. Reid, R.M. Laurens, R. Wang, G. Jin, and T.G. Fanning. 2005. Characterization of the 1918 influenza virus polymerase genes. Nature 437(7060): 889–893. Van Akin, J., and E. Hammond. 2003. Genetic engineering and biological weapons. EMBO Reports 4 (Supp1): S57–S60. Available online at <http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1326447>.