2003 July 09 Wednesday
Rand Think Tank On 10 Big Underappreciated Issues

The Atlantic Monthly Magazine has an article written by Rand Corporation think tank analysts on 10 developments in political and military affairs that do not have the attention they deserve. A page from Rand's site also lists the 10 items with brief summaries and the titles of each of the Rand researchers. Here are the items with my own brief comments.

  • The West Bank Wall. The wall being constructed to separate Israel from the West Bank Palestinians is a great idea and should have been done years ago. Two peoples so deeply divided can not share sovereignty over the West Bank. The wall will be a de facto border which will at the very least indicate that anything on the Palestinian side will not be taken from the Palestinians to give to settlers. Though some Palestinians are losing access to their land as a result of the wall being built it will be a net plus overall. A physical barrier will make terrorist atacks much harder to do.
  • A Shrinking Russia. This is a problem. But a much bigger problem is The Shrinking West. The most industrialized countries are not reproducing. Also, the most skilled, educated, and responsible people have, on average, fewer children (if you don't believe me see, for instance, the Australian twins study of a couple of years back that found a negative correlation between educational attainment and child-bearing).
  • The Hindu-Muslim Divide. Rand analyst Rollie Lal says (emphasis added) "This may force Indian Muslims—traditionally moderate and supportive of the secular state, even on the sensitive matter of Kashmir—to shift their allegiance from the state to some sort of larger international Islamic movement, as many Muslims have done in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore." Yes, well how about the radicalization of Muslims in Indonesia? That seems equally a problem to what is going on in India because Musliims are the overwhelming majority in Indonesia.
  • AIDS and African Armies. Kevin A. O'Brien makes the argument that AIDS will so weaken African armies that they will be less able to keep the peace. While he says that weakening African militaries will be a net harm to stability it is not clear that this is the case. Will rebel militias not be weakened as much because they have younger members? Will the death of older officers put less peaceful younger officers in charge? He could have fleshed out this argument better.
  • The Tehran-New Delhi Axis. The fear here is that India could sell Iran weapons and weapons technology that would make Iran more of a problem for the United States. Seems like a justified fear.
  • Anti-Satellite Attack. Karl P. Mueller & Elwyn D. Harris say "Within the next five years not only Russia and China but also Pakistan, North Korea, and even Iran may acquire the ability to carry out a nuclear attack against satellites." GPS satellites are fortunately too high up to be affected. This is not an attack that has much short-term military value since most of the damage would occur over weeks and months of a resulting enhanced exposure to radiation. But it would be economically disruptive. From a communications standpoint the danger of this kind of attack will probably diminish as an increasing percentage of communications goes by fiber optic cables. But weather and other remote sensing applications are best done from space.
  • Defense Industry Goliaths. Is this really a big concern? We'd have more defense contractors if we spent more on weapons acquisitions. The big consolidation from the late 1980s onward was driven by shrinking defense budgets. As for there being few contractors who can design a fighter airplane: well, the Pentagon insists on very expensive designs and therefore it can't afford to pay for many competing designs. The consolidation in the defense industry is more a symptom of problems with the DOD and that is where analysts should focus their efforts.
  • The Aircraft Carrier Shortage. Yes, 12 carriers are not enough. But then 10 US Army divisions are not enough and yet many liberals who oppose increased defense spending are promoting US intervention in Liberia. If the US is going to be global policeman we are going to have to spend more on defense. The $6 billion the Rand folks quote as the cost to build a carrier is even less than what I've read the new ones will cost: $9-10 billion each. That is a lot of money. For that money we could instead spend to develop nanotechnology for solar photovoltaics, fuel cells, and assorted other technologies that could end our reliance on oil. That'd do far more for our security. The Rand folks need to do more out-of-the-box thinking.
  • The Indo-Pakistani Indus Water Fight. Never heard of this dispute before. Not surprising though. As the population of the world increases the price of water will rise and the political conflicts over water will intensify. Note that eventually nanotech advances will allow far cheaper filtration of water. Such advances would reduce the size of the problem but not eliminate it.
  • Urban Warfare. Rand folks want money spent on developing technologies for fighting in urban environments. Good idea. We should rush thru technologies that would be useful for reducing casualties of occupation forces in Iraq. Soldiers should have devices for looking over walls and around corners. Remote-controlled mini-cars with cameras could be developed fairly rapidly. Lots of other sensor systems could be built quickly and tried out with the occupation forces in Iraq. The Iraq occupation ought to be treated as a real-life lab test environment and many new designs ought to be developed and tried out quickly there.

How about items that should have been on Rand's list? Here are some of mine (not a complete list - I welcome other suggestions):

  • The World's Growing Dependence On Oil. As I just argued we ought to be making a huge effort to develop replacements for fossil fuels. This is a technical problem that can be solved. We ought to solve it sooner rather than later. The benefits (economic, environmental, security) of developing replacements for oil would be enormous.
  • Elite Unwillingness To Label Islam As An Ideology. You can't effectively fight an opponent if you refuse to acknowledge the nature of the opponent. It was acceptable in the Cold War to villify communism as a dangerous ideology. We lack similar clarity in dealing with Islam. If our leaders had more guts and wisdom they'd stop letting Muslims immigrate to the West and stop having them come here to school to learn advanced physics and other knowledge useful for WMD design. Our leaders also ought to work harder to cut off the financial flows that sustain the spread of Wahhabism.
  • The Death Of The West. Too few babies, especially among those most educated. Demography matters. The financial consequences of large numbers of retirees with high health care and other costs will hit the West hard. That the most free, democratic, and prosperous societies are going to fade for demographic reasons does not bode well for the future.
  • The Enormous Size Of The US Trade Deficit. It is over 5% of GDP. This can not be sustained. The low national savings rate is a real problem as well. China's fix of its currency against the US dollar is making this worse. We face a potentially dangerous period ahead if, as a result of this trend, we eventually see a large scale abandonment of the US dollar as the main trade currency. The amount of dollars held outside of the US is enormous and if they all started coming home the US would experience severe inflation.
  • The Greater Ease Of Making Weapons Of Mass Destruction. Technological advances will make it increasingly easy for smaller nations and non-governmental groups to build nuclear bombs and bioweapons.

We need to tackle the big problems that we are not trying very hard to tackle now. We especially ought to put more effort into tackling solvable problems whose solutions would provide large benefits. I don't know how to get smart women to put child-bearing ahead of the next promotion at work (any ideas?). Also, what to do about the Indo-Pakistani conflict is beyond me. But problems that would yield to technological solutions which would deliver enormous benefits are problems which we ought to try hard to solve. Our dependence on oil strikes me as the biggest problem that A) can be solved and B) whose solutions would provide huge benefits.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 July 09 01:21 PM  Politics Grand Strategy

Bob said at July 9, 2003 5:48 PM:

I don't know how to get smart women to put child-bearing ahead of the next promotion at work (any ideas?).

A smart goodlooking fellow like yourself could contribute by getting out and seducing a few more of them.

Patrick said at July 13, 2003 5:28 PM:

Oil Shales and Coal liquification strike me as far more immediate solutions to the oil problem. The big sources would be Canada, Australia and the USA. Not a politically suspect nation among them. Naturally Greenpeace is opposing both of these technologies.

Randall Parker said at July 13, 2003 5:47 PM:


In order to drastically reduce the amount of revenue that flows to the Middle East we have to develop energy sources that the whole world will switch to. The US uses only a quarter of the world's oil and the demand for oil in the rest of the world is rising. Shales and tars cost too much to do that. We are not going to see Canadian oil tar sands displacing Saudi and Iranian crude on the world marketplace.

See these previous posts here and here for more on my views of energy policy.

Brenda said at December 24, 2003 10:00 AM:

The Death Of The West.

What's your solution for the too few babies--too many costly retirees? The population is already too large. As I see it, that leaves Death as the solution. Old people could be made to work until they die or they could be given incentives to call Doctor Kavorkian.
The Rand think tank could give Rush Limbaugh talking points encouraging old people to make the sacrifice: "Are you getting too old to be a useful citizen? If so, it's your patriotic duty to die."

Randall Parker said at December 24, 2003 10:20 AM:

Brenda, On the Death Of The West, I have a number of ideas.

See my previous post Accelerate Education To Increase Tax Revenue, Reduce Costs. I argue that we are taking way too long to educate the brightest among us and that the bright kids could be finishing college or professional school (e.g. med school or law school) 4 or 5 years sooner than is currently the case. This would produce high income and hence high tax taxpayers sooner and therefore increase total revenues. It would also reduce the costs of raising children by getting them off the parents support sooner. Plus, it would lead the brighter people to have children sooner and hence to have more high income-generating children.

I would also raise the retirement age to increase the supply of labor.

I would also spend more research dollars on rejuvenation therapies aimed at keeping people productive for more years of their lives.

I would also change tax incentives to made per child deductions be a percentage of income rather than a fixed dollar amount. This would would the deductions bigger for higher income couples and hence be an incentive for higher income couples to reproduce. We want the people who can make the most money to have the most kids since their kids will, on average, earn higher incomes, be more productive, and pay more taxes than the populace at large.

I would change immigration law to keep out the low skilled low income earners who cost more to taxpayers than they pay in taxes. See my post Brains Drains, Brain Gains, And Immigration for ideas about that. More generally on immigration see my category archive Immigration, Border Control.

US immigration, reproduction, and education policies should all aimed to reduce the number of low intelligence, low skilled, low income, and low taxpaying people and to increase the number or are "high" on all those attributes.

Thor said at March 1, 2004 4:51 AM:

Several problems mentioned are related to the influence of the Islam in relation to the declining Christian (white) population.
Seven of the 10 issues, direct or indirect, are related to the above mentioned.

Its a danger which has two ways of solving, based on the assumption that the islam is an bancrupt ideology.
The first way is to take away the rights of women in the West and through this increase the number of children (based on the assumption that with less rights the number of children will increase), this is just the copiing of the Islam methode to influence democracy.
The second way is the war against the Islam, which has already begun by the Americans, was it not the first remark of Bush that it is an religious war.
I see now possibilities of a third road, all other solutions will by artificial.

By the way the first solution will also end in a war for space and natural resources, like water, oil gas etc

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