The CIA-After-Next: Who’s Gonna Run This World

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Thanks for all the honesty, Bob

Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates has done a lot of good things over his tenure:  he carved out a bureaucratic space for the small-wars crowd (Army, Marines, SOF) and he engineered the Navy-Air Force Full Employment Act (otherwise known as the AirSea Battle Concept) to keep the rest of the Building happy; he was tough enough on the budget but likewise hard enough to make sure he got more for the frontline troops.  All in all, I can’t fault him on anything major. He was just what we needed after Rumsfeld.

Now he does us the final favor of speaking the truth about our European allies and a relationship that has clearly run its historic course.  I have been writing about needing to shift from West to East for almost a decade (“Forget Europe:  How About These Allies?” 11 April 2004, WAPO; “The Chinese Are Our Friends,” November 2005, Esquire), and for years my suggestion that our future strategic partnerships will be with India and China instead of the UK and the rest of NATO were greeted with wide-eyed shock by briefing audiences.  But the global financial crisis opened a lot of eyes.

Yes, it’s easier to imagine, from today’s perspective, that we’ll ally with India against China, because the latter clearly has a lot of internal “growing up” to do as a state and political system that can effectively process the growing demands of its citizenry.  Frankly, single-party states cannot be effective superpowers in today’s globalization:  the latter is just too complex and dynamic and the former are just too brittle and addicted to incrementalism because they can’t risk taking one on the chin.  Then there’s all the muscle-flexing behavior we’ll need to process as China discovers exactly what it means to become – in terms of sheer scale – the most resource-vulnerable major economy in the world.

But have no doubt, it’s coming: a world run by China, India and America, or what I might dub as the new CIA.  They have the population numbers, the million-man armies, the big-time budgets, the expanding network and economic connections that need protecting, and – most importantly – the willingness to use force to protect their key interests.  Yes, I realize that, for now, only America shows that willingness to any great extent, but trust me, events and trends and history will conspire to push India and China down the same paths.

This won’t happen overnight.  I think of the CIA trio coming together in a G-3 more in the 2030 timespace – or after China has gone through its democratization period (right on schedule, mind you, meaning about five decades post opening-up to the world – like those “unique” Asian powers that rose before it (see Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, and soon Malaysia and Singapore)).  And yes, it will take a generational shift in strategic thinking in the US to process this inevitably reality (meaning an entire generation of Cold War-trained types will need to pass from the scene), but this will be our collective global future – count on it.

And serious strategic thinkers will be couching all their long-term visions to account for the emergence of this CIA-After-Next, understanding that these things take a good couple of decades to shape into being (meaning the crucial personal relationships are actually being formed now).