Saturday, May 5, 2018

Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #8: Getting back on track through noopolitik

Here's the working draft for the concluding Section VII of our prospective new paper on "The Continuing Promise of the Noösphere and Noöpolitik — Twenty Years After."

VII. Getting back on track through noopolitik

At this strategic moment, when it is advisable for U.S. strategy and diplomacy to lead the way in the direction of noopolitik, conditions are once again not ripe for doing so. It may be a while before propitious conditions re-emerge. For, as America’s soft power rises and falls, so do the prospects for noopolitik. And right now, America’s soft-power capabilities are unusually questionable.

America has long stood for vital ideals — freedom, equality, opportunity. America has also stood for ethical ways of doing things: competing openly and fairly, working in concert with partners, seeking the common good, respecting others’ rights, and resorting to war only after exhausting non-military options. By doing so, America built its legitimacy and credibility as a global power in the 20th century. But lately, due to assorted sorry matters, leaders and publics around the world have become increasingly doubtful that America is deeply dedicated to the ideals and practices it professes. U.S. public diplomacy is on the defensive more than ever before. Oddly, China is sometimes said to be more effective at soft-power appeals and techniques.

What would reinvigorate the prospects for noopolitik? Renewal of a clear intent to favor non-military strategies, operate in partnerships, and abide by stringent ethical standards would surely help. Yet, whatever other answers should be added, the key may well be a revitalization of a deep sense that ideas matter, along with a better grasp of how ideas move people to think and act in strategic ways — more along the lines of the complex efforts made during the Cold War than the simplifications seen in recent decades. Strings of overseas conflicts and other events, including domestic troubles, have undermined the preferred American story about fostering a peaceful, prosperous, civilized, democratic world in which all nations are bound together by shared values.

Look around: U.S. hard-power approaches to one conflict after another continue to incur high costs and new risks, in return for scarcely discernible benefits. Hard-power efforts have largely failed to unsettle Bashar al Assad’s rule in Syria, resulted in Iranian influence over Iraq, and perpetuated a quagmire in Afghanistan. Little has been done to impress (much less impose) the U.S. will on China and Russia. Realpolitik by itself, in either its military or economic applications, holds no real promise of solving these and other conflicts and challenges.

It is high time to invigorate the application of noopolitik. Whereas realpolitik is typically about whose military or economy wins, noöpolitik is ultimately about whose story wins. Thus it’s about affecting cognitions of all kinds — about inspiring, attracting, persuading, convincing, listening, sharing, and, alternately, about disapproving, dissuading, cajoling, maybe even shunning at times, too. It means communicating and collaborating with partners and allies, seeking them out, state and non-state, rather than going it alone or insisting on singular primacy. It requires the careful design and deployment of strategic narratives and messages: for finding common ground around a common good; imparting cautionary ideas about where a society’s evolution is headed; shaping people’s social space-time-agency perceptions; framing preferred values and sharing best practices; or letting someone know “there’s a better way.” The list goes on.

And it’s a list of ends, ways, and means that, above all, requires diplomacy, often especially public diplomacy. Noopolitik is far more a diplomatic than a military or intelligence enterprise. And like realpolitik, its effectiveness depends on the presence of skilled strategists, strong agencies, and other apparatuses and capabilities. But much of what used to exist along these lines, much of it designed to win the Cold War, has been dismantled and devalued since we started formulating noopolitik twenty years ago. Indeed, the current administration, with its penchant for relying on hard power and “deal power,” seems intent on disregarding the need to rebuild the institutional and other preconditions for using noopolitik effectively. While this is an implication of our work, its urgency is more fully revealed in others’ writings, notably in Ronan Farrow’s new book, War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence (W. W. Norton, 2018).

The way ahead as we previously saw it

We have expected, as noted in our 1999 and 2007 writings, that strategists and diplomats would be challenged to focus on how best to develop the noosphere and conduct noöpolitik. Much as the rise of realpolitik depended on the development and exploitation of the geosphere (whose natural resources enhance state power), so will the rise of noöpolitik depend on the development of the noosphere. The two go hand in hand. To pursue this, measures will have to be identified that, in addition to fostering the rise of a noosphere, are geared to facilitating the effectiveness of soft power, the deepening of global interconnections, the strengthening of transnational civil–society actors, and the creation of conditions for governments to be better able to act conjointly, seeking cooperative advantages with both state and non–state actors.

In our first writing on this topic (1999), we noted some measures for U.S. policy and strategy that could assist with the development of the noosphere and noöpolitik. All were taken from discussions back then about issues raised by the advance of the information revolution, and we thought that strategists and diplomats would be well advised to take an interest in them. These measures included the following:
• Supporting the expansion of cyberspace connectivity around the world, including where this runs counter to the preferences of authoritarian regimes;

• Promoting freedom of information and communications as a worldwide right;
• Developing multi-tiered information–sharing systems, not only to ensure cyberspace safety and security, but also to create shared infospheres for openly addressing other issues;

• Creating “special media forces” that could be dispatched into conflict zones to help settle disputes through the discovery and dissemination of accurate information; and
• Opening diplomacy to greater coordination between state and non–state actors, especially NGOs. (Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 1999; Ronfeldt & Arquilla, 2007)
These remain pertinent ideas. Ultimately, developing the noosphere and noöpolitik will involve more than just asserting, sharing, and instituting the particular values, norms, ethics, laws, and other ingredients of soft power that an actor wants to uphold. Specific policies, strategies, and mechanisms will have to be elaborated that make noöpolitik significantly different from and more effective than realpolitik in dealing with issues that may range from promoting democracy to pressuring regimes like those in Iran and North Korea, as well as resolving global environmental and human rights issues. Skillful diplomats and strategists are bound to face choices as to when it is better to emphasize realpolitik or noöpolitik, or alternate between them, or apply hybrid courses of action, especially when dealing with a recalcitrant adversary who has been able to resist realpolitik types of pressures.

As an urgent reason to revive the prospects for noöpolitik, we noted back then that several worldwide wars of ideas were underway. The most evident had spiritual, religious, ideological, philosophical, and cultural aspects, and were largely taking place on the Internet. In such wars of ideas, we further remarked, one’s information posture matters as much as one’s military posture. And at that time, America’s information posture did not appear to be well designed.

That’s part of what we concluded about noöpolitik and its prospects back in 1999 and 2007. And all our points look as true now, in 2018, as back then. Thus, noopolitik still seems to be an idea for the future. Traditional power politics — realpolitik — has provided the main basis for American foreign policy and strategy in the decades since 9/11. Today, various new wars of ideas are underway, but the U.S. government still is not participating in them in ways reflective of the noöpolitik paradigm. Instead, Washington’s continued threats of military force and coercive diplomacy imply the persistent primacy of older — and ever less effective — forms of statecraft.

Even so, we remain optimistic about the long–term promise of noöpolitik.

New measures for the way ahead

Compared to our 1999 and 2007 writings, this 2018 update offers significant improvements — notably: an expanded discussion of Teilhard’s, Vernadsky’s, and Le Roy’s foundational ideas about the noosphere (Section I); a broadened report about the spread of the noosphere idea in recent decades, including in Russia (Section II); a new assessment of the noosphere’s likely strategic implications for noopolitik (Section III); a warning that Beijing, Moscow, and other actors are using dark forms of noopolitik against America and its allies and friends, while Washington devalues “soft power” and tries out “deal power” (Section V); and a first-time analysis showing that the “global commons” may be a pivotal issue area for the noosphere and noopolitik (Section VI).

All this leads us to add two new recommendations to the old still-pertinent ones we reiterated above:
• The United States should take up the cause of the “global commons” as a vital issue area. As we found in Section VI, this has become a pivotal issue area for civilian activists and military strategists, though it has yet to receive widespread public recognition. We have previously listed democracy promotion, human rights, the environment, and conflict resolution as some issue areas that would benefit from skillful applications of noopolitik. We did so partly because addressing them depends so much on soft power and on government-NGO communication and collaboration, key traits of noopolitik. But they were also easy to list because they are so much in the public eye. The global commons rarely is. But now we see, as a major new finding from this update of our prior writings, that preserving, protecting, and promoting the global-commons concept — the pursuit of a secure, sustainable global commons — may be a crucial addition to our list. In brief, the prospects for noopolitik depend on the prospects for the noosphere, and the future of the noosphere depends on the future of the global commons — perhaps it’s as simple as that, a progression in which the one cannot evolve properly without the other.
• In addition, the U.S. government should institute a formal requirement for periodic reviews of our nation’s “information posture.” We mentioned this concept in our 2007 update, and reiterated it above, but only in passing. It deserves far more elaboration and attention — and emulation by other nations. The U.S. military posture receives regular assessments. So do aspects of America’s economic posture (even though it’s not called that). Information is now of such strategic importance that methodologies and measures should be deliberately designed for assessing one’s information posture globally. The creation of a new inter-agency office may be advisable to accomplish this, and to draw out the full range of implications for policy and strategy, say in the form of a periodic National Information Strategy document. This could be of great benefit for conducting noopolitik, as well as for understanding the status of the noosphere, and of the stocks and flows of information that comprise it. Again, the United States has a particularly pressing need for such an undertaking; but the fundamental concept of developing an “information posture” should have broad international application.
These new proposals, along with our older ones, point to the urgency to revitalize diplomacy, especially public diplomacy. It is in such decline and disarray that we feel a need to close by emphasizing this point explicitly, for turning to noopolitik depends on having strong diplomatic capabilities, especially for wielding soft power. Without them, our leaders in Washington will keep being tempted to rely on realpolitik and its amoral penchant for hard power. However, they’d be well advised to heed the wisdom of Hans Morgenthau (1948), the father of modern realpolitik. He warned that “there is the misconception … that international politics is so thoroughly evil that it is no use looking for ethical limitations of the aspirations for power” (p. 175). Which was why he heralded “the increasing awareness on the part of most statesmen of certain ethical limitations restricting the use of war as an instrument of international politics” (p. 180).

In other words, by invoking ethics and ethical limitations, this iconic arch-realist showed an early hopeful inclination toward noopolitik. But it seems to have gone missing from the sensibilities of too many of today’s leaders, perhaps because they still do understand the complex implications of the information age, preferring instead to cling to the mental models from simpler eras. Our hope is that the pull of the past, in particular of power politics, will lessen as the promise of a future is glimpsed through the lens of the noosphere and noopolitik.

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