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Ratner, E (2010) The Emerging Security Threats Reshaping China’s Rise, The Washington Quarterly, 34:1, pp29-44.

Underlying this piece is a useful argument about the dangers incurred in adopting a comfortable and familiar cognitive framework for assessing threats, in this case, that posed by China. That China’s behaviour is an emergent outcome of the interplay of many heterogenous actors reflects the complex adaptive nature of China’s decision-making systems. The implications of such system structure is that of itself it makes likely outcomes more unpredictable, but also, potentially, overall behaviour more stable, in that a high degree of interconnectedness is more likely to modify rash behaviour. (That’s not a judgement about whether such stable or such rash–or innovative–behaviour is good or bad.) Breaking down the problem from a single search for a monolithic grand strategic intent into a series of individual problem sets, as the article implies–and only then looking not for a single intent, but an emergent outcome–may provide better insight into China’s behaviour.


Narratives convey momentum, and since momentum is what everyone needs to see, events in the field begin to be treated as “effects.” Operations can then all too easily start to look as though they have been executed more (or less) according to plan, regardless of whether anything is actually gelling on the ground. And, since the military runs on reporting: the more operations, the more reports, the more progress.

From Anna Simons, 21st Century Cultures of War (pdf)

Much of recent debate and news articles on cyber security reflect the effort by governments to make cyber more malleable and manageable by the nation-state.

This strategy to tame unmanageable problems that may detract from the nation-state, its power and legitimacy is typical. Consider the taming of tribesman by Rome–conquest or co-option–and the drawing of lines on the maps of the Middle East and Africa by the British and French in the early twentieth century for the same purpose. Despite that, tribes and nomads remain resilient forms of human organisation.

The internet poses some very different challenges to the nation-state. Not only is it a competing form of organisation, but it enables other non-nation-state organisation to gain some of the attributes of nation-states. The internet may prove susceptible to nation-state dominance. But I doubt it. Moreover, its influence in generating competition, including through reinvigorated tribes, may prove a greater challenge to the efforts to strengthen weak or failed nation-states.

April 2013
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