Thursday, November 01, 2001

Back in 1998, the foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman attacked Techno-Libertarians for their lack of a sufficiently bellicose foreign policy.

April 18, 1998, Saturday Section: Editorial Desk



I don't think I like Silicon Valley.

That's all right, Silicon Valley doesn't like you either.

Here's why: I'm as impressed as anyone with the technologies that Silicon Valley is producing and the way they are changing how we must think about economic power and how nations interact. But what is so striking about Silicon Valley is that it has become so enamored of its innovative and profit-making prowess that it has completely lost sight of the overall context within which this is taking place.

It has not "lost sight of the ... context" so much as it sees the context all too well and has rejected it utterly.

There is a disturbing complacency here toward Washington, government and even the nation. There is no geography in Silicon Valley, or geopolitics. There are only stock options and electrons.

I wouldn't call it "complacency" so much as "rejection." Techno-libertarians (the true targets of this piece) are quite aggressive in rejecting Washington.

When I asked an all-too-typical tech-exec here when was the last time he talked about Iraq or Russia or foreign wars, he answered: "Not more than once a year. We don't even care about Washington. Money is extracted from Silicon Valley and then wasted by Washington. I want to talk about people who create wealth and jobs. I don't want to talk about unhealthy and unproductive people. If I don't care enough about the wealth-destroyers in my own country, why would I care about the wealth- destroyers in another country?"

Sounds like a perfectly straight-forward political position to me. Libertarians have always been anti-war and anti "entangling alliances.", even back during WWII. Leftists used to be anti-war as well but some of them have strayed from that position. Someone has to keep it up.

What's wrong with this picture is that all the technologies Silicon Valley is designing to carry digital voices, videos and data farther and faster around the world, all the trade and financial integration it is promoting through its innovations, and all the wealth it is generating, is happening in a world stabilized by a benign superpower called the United States of America, with its capital in Washington D.C.

Armed neutrality is a perfectly acceptable foreign policy. Super power and nation state politics have murdered 170 million human beings in this century alone ( Until an alternative racked up that quantity of dead, we'd be well ahead of the game. Some people just don't like super powers -- however benign.

The hidden hand of the global market would never work without the hidden fist. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps (with the help, incidentally, of global institutions like the U.N. and the International Monetary Fund). And those fighting forces and institutions are paid for by all the tax dollars that Washington is "wasting" every year.

The *UN* and the *IMF* give me a break. There is little evidence that if those two disappeared anyone would notice save those who would miss a paycheck.

As for the U.S. armed forces, there is no doubt that it is very convenient to have well-trained and equipped troops available from time to time but that says nothing about the organizational form that produces such forces. The U.S. military is impressive but it is also inefficient and expensive. A few years ago, the Economist (in one of its "Survey's of Defence" proposed an international regiment to suppress insurgency. Such an institution could be public or corporate. A mercenary regiment independent of national bureaucracies could produce a very effective force that could suppress "commerce raiding" without the high costs and risks involved government armed forces. A private "82nd Airborne", equipped with off-the-shelf technology, which would focus on the bottom line both in terms of money and men, could give everyone the protection they need without the high cost and high death rate associated with government armed forces. An armed civilian population in any country that would trust its subjects with arms would make any attack even more costly.

Because of the intense competition here among companies, and the continuous flood of new products, there is a saying in Silicon Valley that "loyalty is just one mouse-click away." But you can take that too far. Execs here say things like: "We are not an American company. We are I.B.M. U.S., I.B.M. Canada, I.B.M. Australia, I.B.M. China." Oh yeah? Well, the next time you get in trouble in China, then call Li Peng for help. And the next time Congress closes another military base in Asia -- and you don't care because you don't care about Washington -- call Microsoft's navy to secure the sea lanes of Asia. And the next time the freshmen Republicans want to close more U.S. embassies, call America Online when you lose your passport.

The techno-libertarians of Silicon Valley don't believe in passports. They are working to eliminate such inefficiencies. If government or private piracy picks up again on the "sea lanes to Asia", a simple restoration of licensed privateers could end that problem. Maybe Russia's Northern Fleet could find something more useful to do as privateers than they are now sitting around drinking, contemplating suicide, and juggling Russia's largest cache of nukes. Note that US Naval vessels can't sail these days without civilian electronics techs (contractors) to maintain and operate the intelligence and weapons systems. Privatizing the rest of the system is not as big a step as most people think.

Mercenaries and privateers have a long history and can be easily put back to work. Note too that in spite of their reputation, mercenaries and privateers have (by any measure) killed fewer civilians and overthrown fewer governments than have military forces consisting of government employees.

Harry Saal, a successful Silicon Valley engineer, venture capitalist and community activist -- an exception to the norm -- remarked to me: "If you ask people here what their affiliation is, they will name their company. Many live and work on a company campus. The leaders of these companies don't have any real understanding of how a society operates and how education and social services get provided for. People here are not involved in Washington policy because they think the future will be set by technology and market forces alone and eventually there will be a new world order based on electrons and information."

The denizens of the Valley are well aware of how "education and social services" *fail* to "get provided for". They have to try and hire the illiterate output. Arguing the domestic policy success of government is even rougher than arguing its foreign policy success.

They're exactly half right. I've had a running debate with a neo-Reaganite foreign-policy writer, Robert Kagan, from the Carnegie Endowment, about the impact of economic integration and technology on geopolitics. He says I overestimate its stabilizing effects; I say he underestimates it. We finally agreed that unless you look at both geotechnology and geopolitics you can't explain (or sustain) this relatively stable moment in world history. But Silicon Valley's tech-heads have become so obsessed with bandwidth they've forgotten balance of power. They've forgotten that without America on duty there will be no America Online. "The people in Silicon Valley think it's a virtue not to think about history because everything for them is about the future," argued Mr. Kagan. "But their ignorance of history leads them to ignore that this explosion of commerce and trade rests on a secure international system, which rests on those who have the power and the desire to see that system preserved."

This is a fascinating historical debate but it can't have much to say about future security policy. We know that periods dominated by markets (the mid-19th century for example) have fewer wars while periods dominated by governments (most of the 20th century) have more wars. The record of nation states in managing conflict is not one designed to make us confident of future peace. Alternative methods of social organization have at least as great a chance at keeping the murder rate in the 21st Century a bit lower than the murder rate during this past Century of Blood.


"God fights on the side with the heaviest artillery. These days, adhocracies have the heaviest artillery."
Ron Paul has introduced the "September 11 Marque and Reprisal Act of 2001" which would authorize the President to issues Letters of Marque and Reprisal to legalize private attacks on Bin Laden and others.

A series of thrillers by fighter jock turned lawyer cover these issues in a fictional context.

Balance of Power
by James W. Huston

The Price of Power
by James W. Huston

In the first two novels, a heroic Speaker of the House fights a weak pacifist President by issuing Letters of Marque and Reprisal under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution to the carrier "Constitution" to fight pirates in the sea lanes of SE Asia.

Flash Point
by James W. Huston

In the third novel, a JAG officer on a carrier off Israel asks Congress to declare war on an Islamic fundamentalist who has revived the Cult of the Assassins to attack Israel and the US. Thomas Aquinas and Just War Theory play a big role together with other parts of Article 1, Section 8.

by James W. Huston

In his fourth novel, a private Top Gun flying school is targeted by terrorists who hope to learn combat flying to pull off "the worst terrorist attack in US history". Published June 2001.

I also wrote a bit on such topics in my response to Thomas Friedman's attacks on Silicon Valley for not having a defense and foreign policy. I'll send this piece in a separate e-mail.


"Western Civilization didn't invent tyranny, slavery, racism, or the
oppression of women. What it did do is eliminate those evils (to the
extent they have been eliminated). The rest of the world should be damn
grateful and if they're not we should return them to the ancient tyrannies
from which we so recently rescued them. Would serve them right."