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Chapter 3 A New Mindset Emerges; Imagining Other Communities

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Chapter 3

A New Mindset Emerges; Imagining Other Communities

. …growth in the global economy encourages the development of stateless elites whose allegiance is to global economic success and their own prosperity rather than the interests of the nation where they are headquartered.37
—Lawrence Summers, 2008
If one looks at the advances in information technology, international communications, and corporate globalization through the lens of Benedict Anderson’s concepts of the origins of national consciousness, it becomes easy to imagine—so to speak—the emergence of a new form of community which is similar to the nation in that it would be “horizontal, secular, and transverse time,” but quite different in how its members identify themselves within this community and how these new communities interact and incompletely overlap with traditional political, social, and cultural communities. The rituals, routines, and shared experiences of daily life that formerly reinscribed and reinforced regional or nation-state geographical boundaries have begun to splinter and scatter within the less confined and undefined boundaries of the World Wide Web and global communications. Multiple forms of media and the diverse ways in which people are able to access news, entertainment, and information further erode the bonds of shared experience formerly formed by newspapers, three TV channels, and the limited reach of affordable communications. Citizen 1 shared information and experience within the same community that physically surrounded his/her home, whether in the face-to-face local community of the neighborhood or in the concentric circles expanding to the city limits and state and national borders. The coincidence of these communities (simultaneously political, social, economic, and geographical) of shared experience and the physical boundaries in which their members resided was no doubt most closely synonymous in those nations that formed or evolved within clear natural borders—the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, and Australia, for example. This may partially explain the strong nationalistic consciousness and patriotism in such nations. The reverse explains the weak or non-existent national identities in nations where tribal or ethnic differences balkanized populations that were artificially bounded by the territories claimed by former colonizers or mapped for independence by empirical cartographers38. In these areas, tribal or ethno-linguistic identities may have forestalled the formation of a strong national consciousness within the artificially determined borders.

It would be easy to take the example of Citizen 2 and formulate a prediction that the days of traditional nationalistic consciousness are numbered, kept alive only by tradition and inertia. Citizen 2 has the opportunity and technology tools to form close bonds within a community that has the capability to supersede national consciousness, or at least erode its strength. In fact, as a telecommuter working for a global corporation, Citizen 2 may identify more closely with a coworker in Paris or Beijing or Bangalore than he or she does with a next-door neighbor. The Corporation itself works diligently to create such a corporate community and has the mechanisms, motivation, and business case to enable such consciousness in overt and compelling ways. From the perspective of the corporate employee in a developing region, the pull of this identity could become even more powerful. Information Technology groups in global corporations maintain networks and equip employees with communications devices that make real-time or near real-time interaction within this community ubiquitous and nearly transparent. These communication tools—e-mail, on-line chat functions, real-time presence information, one-click conferencing, calling and video calling, all on highly mobile, take-along devices—make fellow employees more accessible than any two neighbors would want to be. This level of accessibility very nearly approximates a face-to-face community on a global scale. From there it takes only a bit of imagination to conjure a group consciousness that rivals the strength of citizenship bonds.

Add to this the fact that corporations directly provide for the financial well being of this newly formed community and you have a very powerful—and personal—common cause around which to rally. These facts are only the beginning. Consider the young information worker in a country such as India, whose standard of living, work conditions, and access to a more affluent world contrast sharply with their surroundings just outside the corporate campus, in the crush of the overcrowded urban poverty that remains common throughout a high percentage of the regions in which they physically reside. The flatness of the world of which Thomas Freidman writes overlays perfectly with Benedict Anderson’s description of the “deep, horizontal comradeships” that bond members into their imagined communities39.

Most corporations are now beginning to trumpet formal and well-resourced green programs, which are not only popular with many of their environmentally conscious employees, but can be operated such that they are both marketable and financially advantageous. These programs strike a chord across the growing international community of those concerned with climate change and allow corporate employees to feel that globalization includes a strong element of global responsibility. Citizen 2 can drive a BMW or a fast-lane hybrid and still feel good about working for a huge, profitable, multi-national corporation, because it is contributing to fashionable environmental practices and slowing climate change by saving energy and helping developing regions grow their economies in a socially responsible way. Not only that, but corporate philanthropy programs are directly helping educate our children, feed the hungry, and house the poor40.

Given such facts, no one has a hard time understanding why Citizen 2 might begin to feel a growing allegiance to a corporation or international circle of “friends,” while simultaneously feeling less attached to his or her national identity,...and because corporations are global, some having offices and production facilities in dozens of countries and in every region of the world, it becomes a short stretch of the imagination for information-age workers to start apprehending a fully global community or communities. These communities need not be the sort of all-inclusive utopias dreamed of by those who trumpet global government or idealize a one-planet, one-people society. Networked communities of like-minded and similarly concerned people could imagine themselves part of a global community that is nonetheless limited in some manner by the boundaries of a common ideology or area of interest. We certainly recognize one form of this type of community: terrorist networks who are connected only by means of the network, may be widely geographically dispersed, have vastly different local cultures, but imagine themselves bound together in a community of true believers. Another such example would be radical environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace, or even benevolent Non-Governmental Organizations such as the International Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. While information age technologies and transportation efficiencies are blurring national borders, these other types of communities are leveraging the same technologies to cement group consciousness and thereby weaken political boundaries and traditional national sovereignties.

Though these claims for the emergence of new communities of the type “horizontal, secular, transverse time,” seem quite plausible, this study does not imagine these new forms of community consciousness will supersede nationality in the near future. Other facts balance this argument; traditional national identities will remain paramount, and some traditional non-national communities will remain largely unaffected by corporate globalization and technological advancement simply because they are beyond the reach of such influences.

Why will traditional national identities continue to hold sway over almost all other forms of community consciousness? Inertia is the first answer; by the stories and mythologies that members of a nation tell themselves, the national identity tends to be reinscribed in each nation’s atavistic narrative. As mentioned early, citizens imagine their nations as much older than the historical or political actuality of their existence. As well, most adults will continue to identify with nations simply because their self-consciousness was formed before current technology and demographic shifts began to occur. Not surprisingly, this will likely remain true for several generations because of the passing down of familial identities which are nested into the larger communities which surround them—unless change is propelled by traumatic forces similar to the revolutions of the late 18th Century, when the nationalisms of democracy and levee en masse first became prominent.

One of the odd truths about national consciousness is that citizens usually imagine their nation as much older than historical records indicate, because of what Anderson calls “atavistic memory.” You will recall from Chapter 1 the first paradox of nationalism: “the objective modernity of nations to the historian’s eye vs. their objective antiquity in the eyes of nationalists.”41 This is a peculiar fact that may be explained by the power of pre-national stories/myths of the people of those regions in which nations formed. These stories enable the atavistic memories of citizens such that they not only imagine the nation as more ancient than it is, but imagine their own communion with that nation as extending back to time immemorial. Simply stated, deep cultural or ethno-linguistic roots are easily translated into a sense of deep national roots, regardless of the actual time coincidence of founding myths and national origins. A restating of the first example might better demonstrate this phenomena. Plymouth colony was founded in the early 17th Century and the first Thanksgiving was celebrated not long after. The United States was established as a nation in the late 18th Century. Yet, if you ask an American of almost any age, they will tell you without irony that the story of the Mayflower and the celebration of Thanksgiving are part of our nation’s founding. In fact, Thanksgiving is a national holiday, unique to the United States. Endless examples of the same anachronistic attachments can be identified in the history of almost all nations—the more ancient the narratives, the greater the pull of atavistic memory.

Also contributing to the probable long-term survival of strong national consciousness is the fact that information technology can be used in contrasting ways to reinforce or even foment nationalistic sentiment or bias. Just as optimists were beginning to hail the opening of China to the internet age as the precursor to self-generating democracy and the easing of national rivalries, other indicators seemed to indicate the opposite. The practice by the Chinese government of selectively filtering internet content is well-known and openly acknowledged, but most see this simply as a means to shelter citizens from the democratic influences of the West. The information age brings tools to the keyboards of all communicators, though, and in 2005, YaleGlobal Online reported that “Highly connected and internet-savvy Chinese youth today have emerged as virulent nationalists, hampering the government's attempt at better relations with Japan. Meanwhile, rising Japanese nationalism is adding fuel to the fire.”42 In this way, the information age provides means by which ardent nationalists can reinforce their sense of community and further delineate the “otherness” of those outside their nation.

Further, despite the incredible expansion of networks and communications infrastructure, the non-corporate influence of information technology, enhanced global communications, and social networking will be limited by other factors, including the finite reach of technology, age-old language barriers, and the relative power of national imaginings which have successfully absorbed ancient cultural narratives. The internet penetration and literacy statistics in Chapter 2 make it clear that even if the raw numbers of users and readers is growing at unprecedented rates, the unwired, non-readers still outnumber the users by huge margins. Considering that those statistics only addressed the vast populations in nations the U.S. sees as emerging peer rivals, and weighing the lesser influence of smaller, more stagnant countries, it becomes clear that huge barriers still exist. Language barriers are not soon to be overcome by user-friendly translation tools, especially when isolated monoglot cultures are often the least technologically advanced. Even allowing the proliferation of the English language, it should be obvious that a truly global culture is not soon to develop.

Similarly, the power of corporate political influence and the pull of corporate citizenship can be weakened by government controls, corruption, economic stagnation, or even international conflict that interferes with corporate expansion. Already, corporations are limited by federal laws prohibiting the off-shoring of certain types of work or the exporting of sensitive technologies. Quotas limit the number of visas immigrant workers can obtain. Corruption and black market activities in developing countries inhibit corporate investment in those areas. Emerging economies, as they develop independent capabilities in research, development, engineering, and manufacturing, will no doubt begin to reduce the tax incentives for their corporate guests. As global environmental concerns give rise to international agreements on climate change, the restrictions now common in the U.S. (EPA rules, for example) and Europe will become more common in developing regions where less-restrictive rules have previously allowed unhampered growth conditions and inexpensive infrastructure. Add to this the predictions about the transience of tomorrow’s workforce and the self-regulating nature of too-rapid growth and we start to glimpse a counterbalancing argument. A more balanced view begins to emerge; one in which corporate and non-national identities become more prevalent, and in which these communities gain a voice in the geo-political arena, but which do not come close to eclipsing national consciousness.

Nonetheless, there are reasons to pay attention to these new non-national communities, including corporations and common-interest communities. Their impact on security strategy and strategic communications lies in the fact that they include powerful advocacy elements and are constituted by a stratus of people who have historically had a prominent voice in the forming of public consciousness. That is to say, leaders and highly educated citizens in modern cultures are most likely connected to these new global communities and are also most likely to determine the trajectory of nationalistic consciousness, so this small elite cannot be ignored nor its influence underestimated.

Chapter 4


IT and transportation defy borders, [so state sponsorship is NOT all important].43

—Brigadier General Michelle Johnson

From the perspective of the military officer, the simplified rendering of these facts has an ironic ring: in order to be most secure in the age of interdependent markets and the proliferation of information technology, we must accept our dependence on foreign sources of intellectual capital and attempt to balance our concerns for open-eyed defense with open-minded acceptance of demographic and economic truths. This final chapter briefly discusses the elements of this balancing act. Simply put, you can be on the train or under it, or you can be left behind, but there’s only one train. In such a scenario, the aphorism becomes, “What’s good for the world is good for America” and not the other way around, but extreme caution is warranted in the areas where much of our concern is focused: the threat/reality of cyber attack and an aggressive buildup of military capability in an emerging peer rival who also represents a huge economic opportunity for American corporations: China, among others. Constantly reminding the economic optimists of the rising threat must be the work of military leaders, but a completely negative, suspicious rhetoric does little to aid the employment of other elements of national power in the face of important shifts that are happening around the globe. Military strategists must consider multiple outcomes and develop their strategy on a vision of the future global landscape and not simply in reaction to the incremental moves of a small number of perceived competitors. Meanwhile, as they develop this vision and strategy, they must learn to tell their stories in ways that acknowledge and appeal to the multiple allegiances of important members of their audience. Within our ranks, we can lead the charge for patriotism and nationalism, but if we fail to pay attention to other imagined communities overlapping with our own, we may well leave behind a homefront which is not, in fact, behind us.

This is not news in the corporate world and it is not the philosophy of a few eccentric executives who grew up in the 1960s. The mindset is neither political or philosophical; it is simply the business case for success. This is the reality of an interconnected, interdependent global society that often sees borders as porous, transparent, or irrelevant. Its members instinctively imagine themselves as part of multiple communities—not supra-national perhaps, but extra-national. In a presentation and discussion with the Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellows, John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco Systems, a $43B network and information company headquartered in Silicon Valley, offered his ideas on the development of strategy and answered questions about investment in China and dealing with direct competitors.44 First, he made clear that his vision and corporate strategy are never developed in response to or in anticipation of what he thinks the competition might do or what he sees the competition doing. Instead, his leadership team bases their strategy on a carefully developed vision of the global economic landscape and likely market transitions. Then they apply that strategy on a case-by-case basis, with no hard rules against partnering with competitors or competing with partners. When necessary to protect intellectual property rights, they will hold a hard line on business ethics in developing countries where corruption, corporate espionage, and the theft of intellectual property rights are real threats. In other situations, they will enter partnerships with peer rivals in order to capitalize on market opportunities they are unable to exploit independently.

Part of mitigating risks in the corporate environment includes maintaining employee, investor, and analyst confidence with an aggressiveness internal and external communications plan and operation. This communication effort goes far beyond advocacy for business products, corporate practices, and branding campaigns. It might include environmental messages, news of philanthropic projects, corporate citizenship “lessons,” and daily information about what it means to be a member of Corporation X. As such, it leverages the multiple allegiances of corporate members toward the creation of a more inclusive corporate identity, appropriating their power to define common interest and expand common experience. In essence, allowing corporate members to imagine themselves part of a “deep, horizontal comradeship” of the successful, responsible, profitable, and environmentally friendly corporation…and in the process creating a productive and loyal workforce that echoes these messages abroad.

Are there ways to apply these ideas to the development of national security strategy and is the United States balancing opportunities and risks in the manner of successful global corporations? In fact, the 2006 National Security Strategy (NSS) lays out many of the same general approaches as most global corporations. The President’s introduction calls for “leadership over isolationism and the pursuit of free and fair trade and open markets over protectionism.” It describes the fostering of “stable and cooperative relations with ALL the major powers of the world (emphasis added).”45 The National Security Strategy, at least in general terms, aligns with the activities and approaches offered by many corporate leaders: engagement and cooperation instead of protectionism and isolation. Both also demand leadership within a multi-faceted and global economic system.

Within the NSS 2006 itself more specific provisions shed light on how our national leaders view globalization and how they intend to engage peers and competitors around the world. It presents a balanced view of globalization in a section aptly titled “Engage the Opportunities and Confront the Challenges of Globalization.” It acknowledges how “new flows of trade, investment, information, and technology are transforming national security.”46 It challenges the United States to “lead” by “forging new partnerships between governmental and nongovernmental actors, with transnational and international organizations” and concludes by reminding us that “America cannot know peace, security, and prosperity by retreating from the world.”47 This is high-level language with intentionally vague references to the current global environment, but reading between the lines is not difficult and we can all recognize these references and think of specific examples. The guidance itself again aligns with the corporate mandate to cooperate, forge partnerships, engage, collaborate, and extend influence. Not once does it recommend pulling back or sheltering or going it alone. As such, the National Security Strategic provides a consistent and reasonable framework from which to refine our vision and build strategies for the 21st Century. What is required of military leaders in answering its challenges?

The answer might include a few of the following: to embrace or at least acknowledge the likelihood of operating from a position of economic parity or even subordinance; to be willing to cooperate and collaborate with groups (nations, NGOs, virtual advocacy groups, corporations) who present an opportunity, even if they pose a threat in other ways; to develop strategic communications which appeal to audiences which have begun to develop multiple allegiances and leverage their allegiance to these emerging non-national communities. Finally, to challenge the false dichotomy of peer rivals being defined as either a “threat” or an “opportunity.” In the current global community, many nations represent both.

Even in the best case of a more stable and prosperous geo-political environment, the United States is likely to become less and less a hegemonic giant and be required to cooperate and collaborate with nations it formerly considered less developed. If we allow Xenophobic tendencies to prevent this type of cooperation, the result might well be even more negative for the United States. Does this mindset constitute “giving up” or “giving in?” Certainly, most proud Americans would like to cling to the belief that their country will always be able to meet the challenges of emerging peer rivals and remain the world leader in economics, innovation, and technology. If there is any chance this is not the outcome, there is no dishonor in hedging our bets and leaving the door open for cooperation with whomever does emerge as a peer—not to say rival. In such case, “peer” need not necessarily translate to “rival” and national security need not necessarily be compromised simply because we are no longer the big kid on the block. Previously, we have equated security with dominance in multiple realms, while other former world powers have come to understand that security can be maintained even when dominance is not an option. Defaulting to and reinscribing a Cold War structure on a 21st Century world may indeed be shortsighted and self-limiting.

The best lessons may in fact come to us from the narratives of other cultures in other times. Part of the successful rhetoric of future collaboration and strategic communications must include the long past of other cultures and nations with whom we are now charged to cooperate and collaborate in order to compete for a place within a stable global environment. So we return to stories like Ondaatje’s English Patient, which ends when the Sikh sapper, now a middle-aged man, remembers the past in which he shared a common story with the West and found a place to live which accommodated both native tradition and the image of a broader community. On the train, under it, or simply left at the platform. To be on the train may require that we share in and leverage the stories of our rivals, to create a common purpose if or when they become our peers.

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