Not all professors of history and international relations who wander are lost.  But some are.

At least that’s an explanation for an op-ed in the L.A. Times from Andrew J. Bacevich. Bacevich’s hypothesis is that “A new world order is rapidly emerging,” of which America may remain important (if we do the right things) but far from preeminent.  What should be done in order to remain relevant instead of slipping further into international decline?

…spending hundreds of billions vainly attempting to pacify Afghanistan is unlikely to help much. Far more useful (if hardly less challenging) might be the following:

Negotiating "boundaries" — constraints, for example, on the use of force — that will limit great power prerogatives (including our own) in the 21st century.

Establishing norms governing the competition for increasingly scarce natural resources.

Reducing armaments and curbing the international arms trade, thereby restricting the availability of the hardware that sustains wars once they begin.

Focusing increased diplomatic attention on trouble spots that threaten to put great powers on a collision course, among them Taiwan, Kashmir, Korea’s 38th parallel and, of course, the Palestinian territories.

The assumption being made is that wandering processes (negotiating constraints, establishing norms, reducing armaments, and focusing attention) will result in desirable national security progress.  While such outcomes are possible, they are far more likely if we can first agree on the security outcomes and endstates we’re looking to achieve.  It’s all Steven Covey 101; begin with the end in mind. 

Process, while important, should be based on goals.  Otherwise we end up confusing with activity with outcomes.  Such activity and process often fails in its aims (consider the myriad UN resolutions against North Korea and Iran).


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