“We are not in safe hands,” says Jeffrey Sachs. We are in a world where our leaders are behaving as if they can control escalation. Policymakers also believed they could control inflation. The problem is the belief that they have control. The problem is that they seem to have forgotten about history and failed to really think through how the next war will actually be fought, whether it’s a war on inflation or a war on an opponent. The two may be linked given that the low-interest rate policy in conjunction with quantitative easing created a massive jump in defense spending. Can you build all these new weapons and not use them? It’s time to ask the question now that China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang just said, “If the United States does not hit the brake, but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing and there surely will be conflict and confrontation.” He continued, “Such competition is a reckless gamble, with the stakes being the fundamental interests of the two peoples and even the future of humanity.” Xi Jinping himself is now making it clear that he believes that America’s containment, encirclement and suppression of China risks provoking a military confrontation.
Today President Biden is set to announce that the AUKUS deal with the UK and Australia will result in many new nuclear submarines in the Pacific that will specifically serve to challenge China. Meanwhile, Russia has stepped away from mutual nuclear inspections and started to strategize about nuclear first-use options. Both Russia and the US are commencing tests of their most sophisticated weapons, including hypersonic weapons. The rumblings of war are intensifying. Now is the time to think about your part in it if you want peace and not war.
“Me!” you say? Yes. But I’m just a civilian! Are you? That is my question. We’ve been riding on a Post-Soviet Union peace dividend that has now disappeared. Under the protection of that peace dividend, we were all free to pursue our personal interests. To make and create, to reconfigure the future. Scientists went about pursuing obscure but fascinating research topics. Physicists spent their time trying to break every known barrier in the hot pursuit of a Nobel or at least more money. Engineers built ever more complex things. Bankers did ever bigger deals, that provided these innovators with even more capital and support. The problem of war is not for me, you say. That’s somebody else’s job. I am to busy doing what I’m doing. I just want to know when the war in Ukraine will end.
It is very human to want a clean-cut answer to this kind of problem. War or peace. It’s then simply a question of timing. But, there are other distinct possibilities now, including: “War and peace” as well as “War then Peace.” Both may not be contained to Ukraine. These are much trickier but also increasingly more likely unless the superpowers – and their civilians - modify their positions.
One possibility is that we’ll see Biden and Xi ultimately cutting a deal to save the world from Russia’s nuclear threats only to find that they’ll be at war in ways that are not easily visible or meaningful to a regular person. We may breathe a sigh of relief only to find ourselves at the start of a severe conflict but invisible conflict. This is why President Putin is telling his own spy agencies to up their game. The public are not fussed about spies. This is why hardly anyone blinks when the news comes that the Canadian Mountie at the heart of the Five-Eyes security network inside Canada’s intelligence agency is ferreted out as a very high-level spy working on behalf of China. Sweden is considering eliminating dual nationals from its spy agencies after two Iranian brothers managed to rise to the top of their intelligence system while they fed secrets to Russia’s GRU intelligence agency. Ireland says they have a serious problem with foreign spies. Finland is building a 10-foot tall border fence equipped with “night vision cameras, lights and loudspeakers” across 832 miles of its border with Russia. It’s aimed at keeping Russian saboteurs and spies out, rather than tanks.
We kick back and expect this to be a Bond film. Pass the popcorn. We are failing to understand the implicit message in all this. The line between civilian and military is blurring. China and Russia are both making it clear that they see everything and everyone is “dual use”. Militaries have long argued that technology could be used for either civilian or military purposes. But, these days, the most valuable technologies have become dual use. Just as a car can kill you or drive you home safely, so it is with modern technology. The most sophisticated computer chips ARE the weapon. IP theft and patent trolling has been a battlefield with China for years for a reason.
It’s also true of people. You may say “I am not military! I just work on (fill in the blank) software, AI, driverless cars, biomedical research, neuroscience, materials science, investment banking deals etc.” In a world where tech is the key to winning, the most highly skilled civilians ARE the military threat. Here are some examples….