Small Wars Journal

Rethinking Revolution: Paddy Ashdown: The Global Power Shift

Paddy Ashdown: The global power shift

Paddy Ashdown claims that we are living in a moment in history where power is changing in ways it never has before. In a spellbinding talk at TEDxBrussels he outlines the three major global shifts that he sees coming.

Analysis (unattributed). The future is less likely to be what "we" want and more of what others demand. Neither of these solutions, which appear to be two ends of a continuum of US intervention policies, appear to be workable from my perspective. Policy is likely to be grounded in context and the worldwide context is very different. The US will most likely be pulling out of certain regions, developing coalitions in others, and pursuing some unilateral interventions (broadly defined to include MOOTW) in others. We also are in Age where grassroots movements worldwide are toppling oligarchy. What will replace them is uncertain, but it will be a very different world and very difficult to make unilateral policy. The US no longer has the ability to "control" what is going on although we will continue to try to shape things.

Analysis (David Betz).  My question is whether this is still insurgency or has it evolved into something else sufficiently different as to be actually something else?

Analysis (Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, USMC (Ret.)) . Warfare is Warfare

Clausewitz allowed for this with two observations:

(1) "War is more than a chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case."
(2) "We can thus only say that the aims a belligerent adopts, and the resources he employs . . . will also conform to the spirit of the age and to its general character."

Our current enemies have adopted wars of insurgency as the form they use to challenge us.

Analysis (Mike Few).  I wonder how the U.S. military and government should be organized to adapt to this environment? 

For the past four years, I wanted to find reoccurring patterns throughout history that reflect today. Initially, I narrowed it down to 1866-1910, but I am now convinced that we are literally in a period that reflects the beginning of the twentieth century-small protracted wars of limited ends, contested global hegemony, economic shifts with the rise of the middle class and the Industrial Revolution, and the Rise of the West with an nascent American Empire blossoming. Theodore Roosevelt rose to the challenges of the day by building the Panama Canal and sailing the Great White Fleet.

Personally, I  feel that the military lessons of Iraq, A'stan, and even Vietnam are not so much on the tactical level, but on the operational bureaucratic level- organization, planning, personnel, leadership, training, processes, etc.

Rethinking Revolution: Lawfare

Rethinking Revolution: Introduction




Mon, 01/09/2012 - 7:05am

I agree with Slap - there is very little new here. If paddy's forecast for American power had not been made, would SWJ find it useful? I think not.

Has international history or the international system (see how hard it is avoid using nation) in the last century really been about 'shared values'. On very few occasions has there been global, let alone international agreement on 'shared values'. When there is agreement, it is after a period of industrialised warfare or genocide. Even then large parts of the world have carried on regardless, whether colonised or not.

Are we more inter-dependent? Certainly not in the context; yes in scale and speed. For speed I do not mean media reporting. Much of Paddy's argument is undermined - in the European context - in the history and practice of trade in raw materials, e.g. grain, the movement of capital and people for several centuries.

What he did miss on inter-dependence was that reliability has changed, partly as more people, groups and institutions are involved in trading relationships. It only takes one 'cog' to falter and reliability is affected.

As for Paddy's remarks on 'ungoverned spaces' and 'where power goes governance follows' what complete tosh. 'Ungoverned spaces' have always existed,indeed many of them are within developed nations, not without. Leaving aside urban sprawling spaces, where are these 'spaces'? Invariably they are in inhospitable places for large-scale human use (for settlement, development and trade). They are cold, hot, waterless, isolated and more.

'Where power goes governance follows' and Paddy refers to treaties, but only cites nation to nation agreement. There are two glaring examples of power without governance: drugs and 'dirty' money. In both we know legal and illegal entities work together to mutual advantage, maybe not continuously.

It is the 'end of four hundred years of Western power'. That has been predicted for the last century, first after 1918 and then even more so after 1945.

I would have been more impressed if Paddy had admitted that the nation state (primarily government) and the international system were not really that effective for their citizens - certainly not by the standard of Amazon to supply consumer goods. Economic crises aside there has been a steady reduction in public confidence and an increase in non-state, non-public supply of goods and services. How that is governed he missed 100%.


Mon, 01/09/2012 - 2:22am

I say Paddy is a bit of a slow learner. All his talking points are 30 years old or older.

I am just a tad surprised that finance is not getting more prominence in this discussion. There are limits, Bacevich is correct, to American power. There are limits to what we can spend.

Bill C.

Sun, 01/08/2012 - 1:57pm

In reply to by Lorraine

Thus, Thomas P.M. Barnett's Dual Military:

a. The Leviathan Force (Dept of War): The military force (Air-Sea Battle?) that will be used to address near-peer challenges and

b. The System Administrator Force (Dept of Peace): The multi-lateral/multi-departmental partnering force (U.S. Marines, et. al; WOG) that will be used -- in concert with others contributing similar and/or complementary forces/capabilities -- to deal with the "shared global destiny" issues/problems/requirements (nation-building, peace-keeping, peace-making, HA/DR, etc.)?


Sun, 01/08/2012 - 12:52pm

Ashdown’s vision is held among many scholars such as Fukuyama, Nye, and Zachariah (as well as many contemporary military minds) who likewise argue that the US is entering a prolonged period of “shared global destiny”, vice shared national interest (though Ashdown is the first to coin the specific term).

Such a global change-condition, it follows, obliges a core investment in multi-lateral partnering – exercises, the HA/DR, training, coalitions, etc. – that will increasingly influence the US response to future conflicts, both big and small. Partnerships or multi-lateral action reaps the most benefits in terms of legitimacy, distributed cost burdens, and accountability. However, this same partnering reduces efficiency for determining objectives, decision-making, and quick action. Yet, the latter is becoming a luxury of a simpler past. Partnering, however cumbersome, is about to become a mainstay for the US military, even more extensively than at any time previously.

Because partnering, especially the multi-lateral type, is inherently cumbersome (with its legalities, cultural nuances, and competitiveness) the most important asset for its success will be expressly human. No amount of innovation or technology can replace the collaborative and cognitive skills a living, breathing, thinking soul provides to the design, care and feeding of partnered military action.

A US military force then best adapted for Ashdown’s proposed future of “shared global destiny” will mirror in many ways the emerging diplomatic and economic approach – more collaborative, less unilateral -- and that should not be a surprise to anyone. Whether or not we can prepare ourselves adequately for this mission depends largely on our ability to confirm the obvious and then organize properly for it in an era when heated contests for the shrinking DoD budget distort strategic defense priorities.

gian gentile

Sun, 01/08/2012 - 8:30am

Except Mike, that period you mention had major wars fought as well: the Franco Prussian War; the Second British Boer War; and most prominently the Russo-Japanese war.

I only mention these cases because as we look to answer your question as to how the military and government should be organized we must be careful into turning the days and years ahead into one big stew of insurgency, terrorism, and light hybrid wars of protracted nature. Such a world is certainly out there but there are other ones too that might very well require fighting a very sophisticated state-or state like adversary over resources or other vital interests.

Robert C. Jones

Sun, 01/08/2012 - 6:30am

Mike, this is a great find. In many ways this parallels the work I am doing at USSOCOM. I strongly encourage members of the SWC and those who come to SWJ for insights to take the 18 minutes necessary to listen to this presentation on the changes taking place in our global environment.

Many of us are in the security business in one form or another, so tend to see problematic indicators of change as the problems themselves, which we must disrupt, defeat, contain or control in some way. Looked at more holistically these are more aptly indicators of larger dynamics at work which are not within the primary realm of security forces at all.

Changing how we think is the first critical step in changing how we act. Agree or disagree with Mr. Ashdown's message, it is a perspective which we all should consider.


(Mike's link didn't work for me, so here is another:)…