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.

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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%.


Have you ever stopped to think,

1. This stuff is new for a whole bunch of people?

2. This isn't just about the U.S.? Rather, this is an on-going discussion about how people will interact with each other in the future?

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.


The military reform discussed below, if applied correctly, could save at least $1T over the next ten years. Also, see Peter Munson's more detailed descriptions at his blog, Boats Against the Current.

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.

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.)?


Tomorrow, we'll publish a journal article that proposes how the BCT can address these concerns.

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.



When TR toured Europe in celebrity fashion 100 years ago following his grand Safari down the Nile and on the heels of his celebrated tenure as the President of an emergent United States of America, few or none of the heads of state he hobnobbed with could imagine a return of major war. This was a thing of past ages, rendered obsolete by modernity...

As Paddy points out, tranistions in power are messy. There are winners and losers; teams change; centers of influene shift; new things are viewed through old lenses, and new lenses tend to be too rosey for effective clarity on what newly matters most.

Paddy predicts 10-15 years of American dominion. If we cling to current think, that is likely true. If instead we can adjust to new priorities and new approaches to address those priorities there is no reason 100-150 years is not more accurate. This is not a perspective that will be formed by debating "insurgency vs. war"; it will be about debating influence vs control and adopting a flexibility which allows us to form and shift alliances as necessitated by the issue at hand. It will also be by not making every problem a nail and then arguing about what type of hammer is best to smash it with.

“This is not a perspective that will be formed by debating "insurgency vs. war"; it will be about debating influence vs control and adopting a flexibility which allows us to form and shift alliances as necessitated by the issue at hand.”

Excellent comments!

As opposed to popular opinion here, the United States’ role in the interconnected world doesn’t center on the military. I thought this presentation, as well as the Economic lens article, were spot on when articulating the current and future security challenges. Yet we organize and commit resources in hopes of having to kick China out of Taiwan. The nation needs to rethink our relationship with China and we shouldn’t allow it to devolve into Cold War 2.0 – if we don’t change, that exactly where we are headed – and that path is excellent in the short term for the DIC but not best for the nation.


Enjoyed your comments and after listening to Mr Ashdown's presentation I wouldn't immediately jump to how we reform our military, but assuming there is general agreement with his predictions, first determine how what our national strategy should be, and then determine our national security security, and only then determine what our military reforms should be. We have a lot of elements of national influence other than military, so lets determine what role we want to play in the world, what we would like the world to look like (within reason) and then develop a long term strategy to drift in that direction.

I really liked his comments about governance in the unregulated global spaces instead of government. The difference is significant, and we're talking about globalism we will alone will not determine what that governance will be. I also think his point about an era of shifting and changing alliances is a reality that we'll have to adapt to after the freeze frame alliance formed during the Cold War. It won't be taking NATO global, but more about bi-lateral and mult-lateral agreements over specific issues, while agreeing to disagree on others.

Bill – completely agree with your comments.

Regardless of how we define our role in the globalized world, we will not be able to compete successfully from a position of weakness. Yes, our military is fantastic but our national investment strategy is pushing us to become a one trick pony. The military solution – actual use or intimidation – to global problems will be less relevant in the future. Given our interconnected economies, consider the effect to the US economy if we actually got into a scrum with China – it would be devastating and would probably outweigh any military benefits. Play out the Taiwan scenario and watch the long term effects on the US and global markets.

As a CEO noted at Brookings, the best way to prevent war with China is to encourage China to invest and do business in North America. We have no choice but to allow China to evolve and grow but we need to do so in a manner that will result in our two nations emerging as partners or , at worst, competitors but not enemies – and having the US military continually poking them in the eye is not a great way to bring this about. Since 9-11 we’ve heard the “it’s not a matter of if, but when” saying particularly in regards to WMD use but this time it is for sure – China’s economy will overtake the US in the near future.

I would consider energy independence, national debt/economic recovery, developing an effective immigration policy (I am very pro immigration by the way – if it weren’t for immigration our demographic problems would be on par with Russia – but we need to get it right) and overhauling the US education system as far greater national priorities than military reform. But shifting national priorities will cause many special interest groups to become very uncomfortable.



True, so how do we best organize the force?

Here's some suggestions

1. Create OSS like capability.
2. Outsource cyber issues to Apple or Norton Antivirus.
3. Maintain strong regular Army and put Ken White in charge of reforms.
4. Include small wars into our study of warfare.
5. SF gets out of business of direct action.

Not a bad list to put on the table. 1-4 get my vote, but DA remains a tool in the SF toolbag.

The strategy announced last week essentially declared a new Cold War with China. That is old-think at its finest. It also assumes Cyber defense as a military mission. Crazy. For DoD I see two critical cyber tasks:

1. Be able to maximize cyber tools to implement military missions.

2. Be equally able to execute military missions when cyber tools are denied.

We have failed grossly on #2 and now find ourselves like the good Captain Fetterman: Having chased a good idea, we are now sitting astride blown horses far from the security of our post and surrounded by those who would take advantage of this opportunity.

This is "Fetterman's" fault, not Crazy Horse's. Similarly, this is the fault of 20 years of DoD chasing cyber capabilities with little regard to consequences.

Robert C. Jones:

"Not a bad list to put on the table. 1-4 get my vote, but DA remains a tool in the SF toolbag."

Agree it's a good list, disagree on the DA role for SF. While it is indeed a tool that SF must be able to use, they do not need to be the ones doing the DA as a routine mission.

The primary SF role of UW requires a different mental outlook and different skillsets than do DA (or Strategic Recon). By trying to be competent in all three missions, some expertise in each mission is forfeited. Better SF do UW, period; Use CAG or the Rangers for DA -- forming more units if needed -- and use older, more mature veterans of SF but usually not CAG or Rangers in to be formed special purpose Strategic recon units.

As I've written before, using the trained SF person for DA is putting your Cadillac in a demolition derby, makes no sense. Get an F-250 for the Derby and outclass the competition using Toyotas, put that Cadillac to work doing what it's designed for, hauling the powerful...

Strategic recon requires maturity, significant experience and great patience; the SF prone guy can do that, most the DA oriented Type A folks will not adapt well.

Can SF do all three missions? Sure. They have been for years but that's not the question; the question is what is best.


That's pretty close to how I see it as well. The fastest way to take the "special" out of any force is to give them too many diverse things to train to standard on.

What you discuss is more in line of setting clearer priorities among our various SOF organizations. SEALs do FID and UW, but not the force of choice for either. Rangers can do focused capture/kill raids with small teams, but better to refocus them back to Company and Battalion-level elite infantry for hard hitting, short duration operations that require that "elite" aspect. Similarly drag the 160th SOAR back out of JSOC and remission them to support the entire SOF structure as they were origianlly stood up to do. Neck JSOC as a whole back down to what we actually need once we realize that mission-set, while critical, is much narrower than we've made it of late. Etc.

A sophisticated SOF tool kit of units and capabilities looks a great deal like a bag of hammers today. We need to get back in our respective lanes, and then also reassess how those lanes have evolved while we were away...


Again Excellent comments.

I have spoken with cyber experts at NSA and DARPA and all have agreed that CYBERCOM is a debacle. It is an attempt by the military to force a new adversary into a box DoD is comfortable with.

For the money spent on CYBERCOM, the US could have invested in an IT infrastructure to create a relatively secure internet – just as it did to create the Eisenhower interstate system.


Roger, change my number 5 to

5. SF retakes lead in special warfare.

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:)