Thursday, December 17, 2020

Toward a new sectorism — #5: Charting how to view a future “commons sector”

Maybe a couple of charts can help strengthen a speculation I keep trying to test out and explain better: 

Health, education, welfare, and environmental matters have so many affinities and become so intertwined as major policy matters that it will make increasing sense for policymakers to view them as belonging together as a set, a bundle — indeed as bedrock components for an semi-independent new sector, a commons sector. 

Since this has turned into another long-winded post, just skip to view the two charts — they depict the crux of my argument — if you’d rather not wend your way through my prose. The charts are what I’m testing out here. Do they work? 


As I’ve said before, our policymakers have has long treated health, education, welfare, and the environment as matters that fall to our public and private sectors, or that civil-society sectors should attend to. That has been the case for decades. Yet by now, as a result of growing size and complexity, none of these matters fits comfortably in either the public or private sector, and they are way too big and burdensome to leave up to civil-society. 

Furthermore, health, education, welfare, and environmental matters are not primarily about maximizing power and/or profit, which is what the government’s public sector and the economy’s private sector are primarily about. Good health, education, welfare, and environmental conditions may be essential for furthering national power and economic productivity, but they are primarily about something else. And the more enormous and complex they become as policy problems, the more important it is to discern and heed that something else. 

Here’s my speculative deduction: If we view health, education, welfare, and the environment together, as a set, we can see that they are mainly about maximizing care, broadly defined: people care, life care, planet care, in a sense the care of body, mind, and soul. Viewed as such — as an enormously complex interrelated set of matters that our existing sectors are no longer suited to handling — they look like the most potent candidates for a prospective “fourth sector” — probably a “commons sector” — for our society, as well as for other advanced societies on the verge of evolving from triform into quadriform systems. 


A couple weeks ago, wondering about the above, I happened across a Wall Street Journal article by Bobby Jindal, plus an editorial and a bunch of follow-up letters, about how Republicans view healthcare policy — a tidy set of articles that highlight concerns found among Democrats as well. It occurred to me that these handy articles could serve as a foil for advancing my argument more quickly and easily than by going through the huge folders and hundreds of articles I’ve been saving for such a task. 

These GOP-friendly articles raise a broad range of issues, more than I’m truly interested in right now: The lack of competition in our healthcare system. Its domination by a few large powerful companies. The limited choices and high costs facing consumers. The regulatory impediments to competition. The need for litigation and tax-code reforms. The power of unions intent on preserving employer plans. Et cetera. With much of all this framed in terms of individual vs. collective responsibility, and public- vs. private-sector roles. And with some ideas raised about expanding the roles of collectives, hybrid organizations, and network designs more generally. Plus laments that gridlock and stalemate now characterize our healthcare system. Not to mention more specialized points that arose in these write-ups. 

Quite an array of concerns. Quite a muddle too. (And I left a lot out, too.) 

What mainly catches my eye, however, is a set of policy principles that were raised, centered around the following: Whether healthcare should be recognized as a right. Whether to accept pre-existing conditions. Whether and how to support primary care, as well as offer preventive services and protect against severe risks that could become terribly costly. Whether and how to allow individuals to chose their plans and services, select tailored options, and at times make changes to them. How to keep all this affordable. Plus how to improve network designs across the system The Republican voices represented by this small set of writings were generally in favor of these policy principles, to varying degrees. Assuming most Democrats and Independents may agree, here’s what these principles look like in a chart — see Figure 1 below: 













Now, take another look at that column of policy principles in Figure 1. Doesn’t it also reflect principles we often see raised about education policy? As well as about welfare policy? Plus, with language tweaks, about policy principles for assuring the quality of the environment we live in?


I’d say the principles in column one do apply not only to healthcare, but also to the policy analyses and dialogues occurring around education, welfare, and environmental matters. And I’m sure I can locate plenty of documents in my computer holdings to substantiate that. Indeed, comparable dialogues and narratives appear to exist in all four areas (health, etc.). Yet, so far, to my knowledge, no analyses exist that have looked across all four areas, assessing whether there are underlying similarities and interlinkages that could help guide policymaking. Isn’t it time to start doing so? 

If so, then Figure 1 can be expanded to look like Figure 2 below. All the policy principles in the far left column reach across all four policy domains. Notice, however, that for this post I have presumptuously changed the title. Figure 1 is about a time, the past hundred years of so, today in particular, when policy dialogue is centered around public versus private options (or alternatives). Figure 2 jumps ahead to a future when “commons options” presumably take hold as well, especially for these four matters. 









My questions for you as readers are mainly about the two charts: Do they help advance my argument? What else might/should be added to expand the rows, even the column headings? Have you come across depictions or proposals elsewhere that advise viewing, and treating, such matters conjointly? 

So far, people have not cottoned to these ideas about putting health, education, welfare, and environmental matters in a distinct sector. Yet people have no problem nowadays thinking that agriculture and industry, not to mention agribusiness, belong together in the economy’s private sector — it’s standard, customary, to do so. Yet, I’d guess — and someday I should try to verify — that there was a time, centuries ago, when agriculture and industry were not viewed as belonging together in the same sector, say because of function, class, or other reasons. But cognitive frames about such matters can change immensely over time. 

More to the point, it was only decades ago that health, education, and welfare were indeed bundled under a single U.S. government entity — first with the creation of the Federal Security Agency (FSA) in 1939 by President Roosevelt; then with the FSA’s successor, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), established in 1953 by President Eisenhower. Someday I hope to research the rationales for putting them together like that, since the underlying rationales (“service” being one of them) may apply to justifying the future creation of a new sector as argued here. 

Today, partly because HEW became so enormous as a bureaucracy and budget item, a reorganization in 1979 under President Carter led to its components being distributed among new departments: the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), and the Department of Education ED). Then the Social Security Administration (SSA) was separated out as an independent agency in 1994 under President Clinton. 

Today, no one says that health, education, and welfare, not to mention environmental matters, should be recombined under a single government department. That would make no sense. But if my analysis is correct, it will make increasing sense to see them all move into a next/new/fourth sector — hopefully, a pro-commons sector. Today’s MediCare might thus be superseded by, say, a “MediCommons”. Government and business (i.e., the public and private sectors, not to mention civil-society actors) would still have important roles to play; but they would no longer be in charge of overall sector governance after these matters are separated out. 


Seen thusly, the emergence of a distinct new sector for health, education, welfare, and the environment would spell an advance in complexity — evolution from a triform to a quadriform society — that would simultaneously bring an improvement in systemic simplicity. Getting their will require combined efforts from myriad civil-society, state, and market actors, undoubtedly across many decades, perhaps driven along by the rise of pro-commons movements. The struggle to construct a quadriformist future has barely begun. 

Meanwhile, what do you think of those two charts? Do they help? Enough to make them worth further development? 


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Toward a new sectorism — #4: same old insufficient calls for a three-sector approach

Back in April, when I meant to post this, I was telling myself that I must get back to forecasting the rise of a fourth sector, and explaining how and why it can improve America’s functioning and well-being.


American, as a society and a system, has long had three major sectors: civil society’s community- and home-based sector(s), government’s public sector, and business’s private sector. Having these three has enabled America to be successful for over two centuries, more so than other three-sector societies, and far beyond what anyone could accomplish with far-older one- and two-sector systems.


But these three no longer suffice if we are to continue advancing. We need a fourth (commons?) sector. We should start enabling its emergence as the next step in long-term social evolution (à la TIMN). Doing so will improve our society’s complexity as well as simplify its functioning — a reorganization that will make everybody happier and healthier.


As I was musing about this back then, along came new papers by renowned theorists and activists reiterating the three-sector framework and urging ways to make better use of it. Today six months later, they are not so fresh, but they can still serve as foils for my continuing campaign. So let’s take a look:


  Samuel Bowles and Wendy Carlin’s “The coming battle for the COVID-19 narrative,” in a specialized journal (see URL below), dated April 10, 2020. The authors are renowned complexity scientists affiliated with the Santa Fe Institute (SFI).



• Otto Scharmer’s “A New Superpower in the Making: Awareness-Based Collective Action,” at a blog he heads, dated April 8, 2020. As a futurist based at MIT, Scharmer writes mostly about organizational and economic trends and prospects.



• Henry Mintzberg, Dror Etzioni, and Saku Mantere’s “Worldly Strategy for the Global Climate,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2018, pp. 42-47. Mintzberg, a famed organization theorist, is based along with his co-authors at McGill University in Canada. He writes mainly about the roles of the “plural sector” — his term about what are mostly community-based civil-society actors.



The first two articles are motivated by institutional failures in responding to the Covid-19 health crisis, the third by wide-spread failures to come up with a world-wide strategy to deal with global climate change.


All three make similar points: Modern societies have civil-society (“people”), government (public), and market (private) sectors — i.e., they have three-sector systems. Policymakers keep over-emphasizing the public and private sectors as sources for policy options. But today’s health, environmental, and other crises require including civil-society actors as well. Better ways must be found to enable all three sectors to work together, as complements rather than substitutes.


It's good to see the three-sector argument being revived in these articles. But, from a TIMN perspective, it’s a very old argument. It would help our society if policymaking conformed to it in the near term, but it offers little new and effective for the long-term.


Bowles & Carlin’s three-sector framework: Their article makes good sense regarding what framework to use for addressing and resolving complex policy issues. Their paper illuminates that concern with solid reasoning as well as two elegant charts (best I’ve seen lately) about how government, market, and civil-society actors and their sectors may work together. In their words:


“COVID-19, for better or worse, brings into focus a third pole in the debate: call it community or civil society. In the absence of this third pole, the conventional language of economics and public policy misses the contribution of social norms and of institutions that are neither governments nor markets — like families, relationships within firms, and community organisations.”


“No combination of government fiat and market incentives, however cleverly designed, will produce solutions to problems like the pandemic. What we call civil society (or the community) provides essential elements of a strategy to kill COVID-19 without killing the economy.”


“These examples underline an important truth about institutional and policy design: the poles of the institution space — at least ideally — are complements not substitutes. Well-designed government policies enhance the workings of markets and enhance the salience of cooperative and other socially valuable preferences. Well-designed markets both empower governments and make them more accountable without crowding out ethical and other pro-social preferences.”



And their title is quite right: “a narrative battle is coming” — indeed it is already going on. Who wins it will matter for whether we end up with a two-, three-, or prospective four-sector framework. But far more illumination is needed than they have provided so far.

Scharmer’s more-or-less three-sector vision: In observing how people — people, not government or business — are responding to the pandemic, Scharmer is heartened to see “the further awakening of a movement taking shape across the planet … the activation of a deep and widely held longing for profound societal and civilizational renewal.” As a futurist, he heralds the continued emergence of “the new superpower in the making — the rise of a new pattern of collective action that operates from an awareness of the whole: Awareness-Based Collective action (ABC)” on a planetary scale.

After blaming Big Government, Big Business, and Big Tech for a “massive institutional failure connected to these issues,” he asks: “Should health and healthcare — or core parts of it — be organized by a different type of enterprise, one that is driven by a social mission instead of profit?” In reply, he calls for “rethinking the framework of public health in terms of the planet: putting planetary health and well-being first in our framing of what a good healthcare system is trying to do.” In his view, this means creating “new types of societal innovation infrastructures” — new learning infrastructures, democratic governance infrastructure, and economic infrastructures.


His proposal is not clear about the details, and it’s not explicitly a three-sector view. But it is in keeping with his long-standing quest to transform capitalism and society — specifically, to “upgrade our operating systems” by evolving toward “Capitalism 4.0” or “Operating System 4.0.” For our society has become so complex “you cannot solve ‘4.0 challenges’ with response mechanisms that are rooted in operating systems 2.0 and 3.0.”

Personally, I don’t cotton to his terms and categories, but his framework is quite TIMN-ish in nature. As I wrote years ago (2016), “his view maps imperfectly but surprisingly well onto TIMN — particularly in his ideas about progressions, about sectors adding together, about the old persisting with the new, and about heading toward a revival of the commons.”



Unfortunately, this recent article says nothing about that last point, which might have made it into more of a four- than a three-sector vision about the health crisis.


Mintzberg, Etzioni, and Mantere’s three-sector framework: They summarize their triform argument very concisely right up front:


“Progress in dealing with the problem of climate change will require that the institutions of government, business, and community work, not in isolation from each other, let alone at cross purposes, but by reinforcing each other’s efforts through consolidation.”


They then categorize various climate-strategy initiatives “by sector … because the public, plural, and private sectors seem to favor different processes.” Of these processes, “orchestrated planning” is favored in the public sector, “autonomous venturing” in the private sector, and “grounded engagement” in the “plural sector.”


In their definition, “The plural sector includes those formal and informal associations that are neither publicly owned by government nor privately owned by investors. Some are owned by members, such as cooperatives, while others are owned by no one, such as the Sierra Club and the Girl Scouts.” It’s a sector whose associations are often led by “social entrepreneurs.” In other words, it is mostly a civil-society sector.

In addition to showing that different climate-change initiatives may involve different sectors, and different combinations of sectors, Mintzberg and his colleagues urge that these sectors and their actors work together, not alone and especially not at cross  purposes. Indeed, what they urge is entirely in accord with TIMN dynamics:


“By contrast, when the three sectors work together, to constructively reinforce each other’s efforts, they can together generate an ascending spiral of consolidation. …


“Each activity can thus spawn more activities in the other sectors as well as in its own, so that, together, they can feed this ascending spiral of consolidation. Perhaps more significantly, there can also be constructive networks of consolidation, as the organizations of the three sectors interact with each other in many different ways—alliances, partnerships, joint ventures, and so on. …  


“In any event, addressing the problem of climate change will likely require that each of the sectors attends to what it does best, in conjunction with the other two. In general, communities engage, governments legitimize, and businesses invest. We believe that this is how healthy societies progress.”


Preferring the term “worldly” to “global,” they note that new narratives and mindsets are needed: “A worldly mindset can prepare actors to appreciate their differences, and thereby work together towards consolidated ascension, from group to globe.”


[The remainder of this drafted-in-April post feels as though it may be mostly copy-pasted from earlier posts. Oh well, the points still fit here. I’m too tired to be entirely new and nonredundant right now.]


Limits of the three-sector framework: As these papers show, today’s policymakers, politicians, and media pundits, not to mention social theorists, mostly behave as though our society, our system, has only two sectors that matter: the public sector and the private sector. Our leaders have long relied on a two-sector framework to propose fixes for America’s mounting health, education, welfare, environmental, and other domestic problems. Some proposals call for more government programs, others for more privatization, a few for better public-private collaboration.


By now, this two-sector framework is deeply entrenched and tribalized. It is also just plain wrong-headed. It wasn’t true in the past. It will be even less true in the future. For it neglects two other sectors that belong in the framework: one very old, and still occasionally recognized, as these papers set out; the other so new its prospective emergence is barely discernible today.


Our society used to regularly recognize three major sectors — besides the public and private sectors, Americans also recognized that their society’s functioning depended on the vitality of civil society’s home- and community-based sector(s) and their arrays of voluntary groups, social clubs, charitable associations, and activist NGOs. When not acting alone, they would often assist public- and private-sector actors with all sorts of local issues. Indeed, this sector used to have a well-regarded, albeit lesser place in policymaking circles. And for decades, lots of theorists and activists have called for better recognition of civil society and its sector(s), often by new names — e.g., “social sector” (Drucker), “third sector” (e.g., Salamon; Rifkin), “people sector” (Mintzberg).


But lately, especially nowadays, this sector’s significance is acknowledged mostly as an afterthought. If its policymaking value could be recognized anew in Washington — if a three-sector framework were truly put back in play, as these papers urge — that would help. But this is no small goal, given the power, profit, and privilege, as well as inertia and tribalism, that are overwhelmingly concentrated in the dominant two-sector framework.


It usually takes a crisis to illuminate civil-society’s importance — the papers at hand are correct to emphasize this, and to call for correctives that would revitalize the three-sector framework. But many other efforts have urged likewise in the past, and so far not little if anything has changed. The Covid-19 crisis has presented a new opportunity — but political trends and rhetoric in Washington just continue to harden around the two-sector framework.


It will take more than this singular health crisis to prompt deep reform. Other motivating crises, including disruptive climate change, will have to come to the fore as well, and all these crises will have to be rethought, not in isolation but as interrelated and interactive. By then, people may begin to see that what’s needed is not a revitalized three-sector framework, but steps toward constructing a four-sector framework.


Need for a four-sector framework: Hence my key point: The three-sector framework these paper’s tout will inevitably prove insufficient — it would be better to start moving toward a four-sector (quadriform) design.


For long-term evolutionary reasons (i.e., TIMN), our society has grown so advanced, so complex, that adjusting the two-, three-sector framework will not work well for resolving what have become our most critical, crisis-riven social problems: health, education, welfare, the environment, and related insurance matters. They are now too immense, complicated, burdensome, and interrelated to fit any longer into a two- or three-sector framework.


For reasons I will keep explaining and exploring in future posts, including with points I’ve held back, our society’s complexity is moving into a phase where it will have to add a next / new / fourth sector in order to progress further. Developing such a new sector is not an idle add-on suggestion; it is a looming evolutionary imperative, drawn from the arcs and archives of history (i.e., TIMN).  


Best I can deduce, a particular set of matters — namely, health, education, welfare, the environment, and related insurance matters — form the bundle that will make sense to aggregate and migrate into a new sector. None are being addressed well by either government or business actors, and they are too big and complex now for civil-society actors to handle. What may explain why they can, and should, be viewed as a bundle is that they all concern collective and individual care, broadly defined to include social, economic, cultural, and environmental care — people care, life care. The cross-cutting purpose is to assure that people can do their best for themselves, for their families, neighborhoods, and communities, and for the common good of society. That’s a purpose that would suit a new “commons sector.”


Consolidation of such next/new/fourth sector may take decades to unfold, and may seem too far-out for immediate tasking. But it is not too early to begin considering its creation, identifying the advantages it can bring, and figuring out how to move relevant actors and activities (e.g., hospitals, schools) into it.


As has occurred with the long historical evolution of the prior three sectors (including the particular forms of organization, property, and information that each requires), this fourth sector will, in time, become as distinct and independent as the civil-society, government (public), and market (private) sectors are from each other. As noted above, my current sense (though I keep looking for alternative prospects) is that it will be a care-oriented “commons sector,” constructed around yet-to-be-identified information-age network designs that enable massive sharing, consisting of yet-to-be-identified organizational entities designed for collective cooperation (not like independent corporations designed for stand-alone competition), probably entirely non-profit, with properties commonly held in enormous trusts. It will not exist entirely apart from civil society, but rather in conjunction with that realm. It will not be part of the government or market realms, though it will co-exist with them. It will mean that societies have advanced from triform to quadriform systems.


I could go on (and will in future posts). But hopefully this is enough for now to indicate that a more radical narrative is needed than these three papers offer. They may appear to be saying something new. But from a TIMN perspective, they aren’t; they’re just reiterating and shuffling around old three-sector ideas.


What’s increasingly needed are quadriform ideas and arguments that can appeal to policymakers, so they at least start to wonder about the growing necessity and potential benefits of moving toward a four-sector framework.


Friday, October 16, 2020

Fourth Reason to Wonder and Worry About Trump’s Psyche: Psychological “Projectioneering,” Weaponized

 Early on, in January 2017, I posted three reasons to wonder and worry about Trump’s psyche while he was in office as President:


1. It looks like he has a “hubris-nemesis complex” — a rare mentality whereby a leader not only has hubris (the pretension to be god-like) but also wants to play Nemesis (the goddess of divine vengeance) against another actor who is accused of greater hubris.


2. He is very adept at deploying “the scoundrel’s script” — a rhetorical strategy for first denying, then diminishing, and if that doesn't work, ultimately displacing blame for alleged misdeeds that have come to light.


3. He is prone to behave like a tribalist intent on tribalizing others — look at his rallies where he rails like a tribal chieftain or warlord — in a time when America is already turning evermore tribal to its detriment. 



These may all be aspects of extreme narcissism. Indeed, every writing I’ve seen by clinical psychologists and psychiatrists about Trump’s psyche emphasizes his extreme narcissism and its malignancy. But I’m not trained in psychology or psychiatry, so I’d rather stick with simply identifying specific patterns of behavior, like the three above.


Now I see reason to add a fourth:


4. He is a master at “projectioneering” — the deliberately engineered use of psychological projection as a tactic.


As analysts have pointed out, Trump often engages in psychological projection. But in professional usage, “psychological projection” is “a defense mechanism in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others” (from Wikipedia page).


Trump’s behavior goes far beyond that. In his case, projection does not appear to be unconscious (not even subconscious); it seems thoroughly conscious — quite deliberate, even plotted out in advance. Moreover, it is not just a defense mechanism; sure, it serves to defend him, but his usage seems entirely offensive (in more ways than one).


He has weaponized psychological projection to such an extent, and so skillfully, that the standard term/concept “projection” is inadequate, too easily lost in the noise. Which is why I say he is engaging in “projectioneering” — rather à la the concepts of “reverse engineering” and “reverse psychology.” Trump looks like a deliberate, demonic, even diabolical practitioner of reverse projectioneering, especially when he is working to bully and cast blame on someone else, not only for alleged incompetence or irresponsibility, but for virtually any dark motive or behavior that Trump figures he himself might be accusable of and vulnerable to.


In late-July friends-only Facebook post where I first proposed “projectioneering” as a facet of Trump’s psyche, I noted several dire scenarios where it might come into play (e.g., blaming urban violence on Democrats, when he and cohorts fueled much of it). Today, since his bout with Covid seems to have thrown him somewhat off track, those dire scenarios look less likely. But the next few months, until at least February, still look quite unstable and fraught.


Whatever happens, his skill at projectioneering will play a role the entire way, as it has for the past five years, along with the first three patterns noted above. His “base” of supporters seem to idolize him all the more for his exuberant, vainglorious, demonic capacity to (1) radiate his hubris-nemesis traits, (2) deploy the scoundrel’s script left and right, (3) roar as a divisive tribalist skilled at tribalizing people, and (4) bully and baffle opponents through his weaponized use of psychological projectioneering — all the while making himself look virtuous, on the side of the angels, and totally forgivable to his base and other supporters.


A decade or so ago, as I recall, some Evangelical conservatives voiced suspicions that Barack Obama might be the “Antichrist” predicted by End-Times theology. Rubbish nonsense, I’d say — but even though this narrative never gained traction, it did circulate for a while. Today, I detect nary a concern among Evangelicals that Trump might be an “agent of the Antichrist.” But for an exception or two in out of the way places, such a narrative is evidently unthinkable in today’s conservative Evangelical circles. Trump’s skill at offensive (and defensive) projectioneering may help explain that, even more than may the other three patterns. What a terrible spectacle it could be, however, were such a narrative battle to emerge at some point. 


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Housekeeping Update

 Once again, I have neglected this blog while focusing intently on reading and writing about the rise of noosphere, noopolitik, and information-age statecraft since early 2018. Now that our full report has been published — Whose Story Wins (RAND, 2020) — and a spin-off article is out for review and possible placement (see prior two posts), I mean to go back, with a sigh of relief, to focusing on TIMN theory (quadriformism) and prospects for the emergence of a fourth (commons) sector to bring next-stage progress to our society.


Taking a fresh look at this blog, I spot some earlier drafts of our noopolitik study. So I am deleting them here (as well as at and If somehow you visit here looking for them, go look at the final booklet and recent article version instead. They are much better than the earlier drafts.


I also find some sketchy old drafts of posts I’d meant to finish months ago: one about Trump’s psyche; another about recent papers (Bowles & Carlin, 2020; Scharmer, 2020; Mintzberg et. al., 2018) that call for three-sector approaches to resolving America’s problems; and another draft or two about proposals for pursuing a four-sector approach along TIMN lines (Harold Jarche, 2019; Tim Morgan, 2020). I truly welcome the interest and insight coming from Jarche and Morgan, and recommend following their work.


I am finding it difficult to shift from thinking and writing so much about the noosphere and noopolitik, to getting back up to speed at thinking and writing mostly about the TIMN framework and its implications. But, the shift is underway.


Somewhere along the way the STAC framework about people’s space-time-agency cognitions begs for renewed attention too. Yet it, as well as TIMN, did receive a bit in the writings about the noosphere and noopolitik. See, everything I am trying to do is interrelated.


Thursday, October 1, 2020


[Short draft we have prepared for eventual publication as a book chapter and/or journal article. The first sections summarize key points from our recent report on Whose Story Wins: Rise of the Noosphere, Noopolitik, and Information-Age Statecraft (RAND, 2020). The final sections are new — they offer our follow-on ideas new courses and curricula for teaching grand strategy and statecraft in the future. Original publication date here on blog: October 1, 2020.]




David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla


Around the world, national-security and foreign-policy strategists are having difficulty adapting to the digital age. A rethinking is needed. For decades, countless writings have pointed this out — ours among them — and marginal improvements are being made. But it is time to urge a deeper rethinking in light of new threats and other challenges to so many societies, institutions, and cultures. The experts are not meeting these threats and challenges well enough. Nor are strategists looking ahead the best ways possible.


It is not simply a technological matter — advanced information, communications, and sensing technologies are increasingly available. Instead, the challenge is mainly cognitive. Adversaries everywhere — from nations to nonstate networks — are using dark new modes of political, social, cultural, and psychological warfare against their opponents: wars of ideas, battles of stories, weaponized narratives, memetic viruses, and epistemic attacks. New kinds of cognitive warfare are being deliberately designed to confound analytic and social strengths and exploit weaknesses in individuals, institutions, and societies as a whole.


Strategists of all stripes — theorists and practitioners — remain unsettled and often baffled about how best to analyze, organize, and act amid this stormy flux. Trends and indications around the world suggest that matters may grow worse before they become better — if they do become better — in the coming years.


The most advisable way ahead for information-age strategists, especially in the world’s capitals, is to reposition statecraft and grand strategy by merging two streams of thought: the first involves the well-known distinction between hard power and soft power; the second engages a lesser-known distinction about the geosphere, biosphere, and noosphere (the last term means “realm of the mind,” as we clarify below). At first glance, the two streams may seem unrelated; but they are starting to come together in ways that should be recognized — the sooner the better. Doing so reveals a new kind of information-age statecraft we call “noopolitik” as a successor to traditional “realpolitik.”




Strategists have traditionally thought and planned primarily in terms of tangible, material, “hard” forms of power — military forces, economic capabilities, and natural resources. They refined “realpolitik” in the 19th and 20th centuries to express their hard-power dispositions as a mode of statecraft that emphasizes seeking relative advantages through displays, threats, and uses of force. A realization that immaterial, ideational, “soft” forms of power — ideas, values, norms, and battles for hearts and minds — may matter as profoundly as “hard” forms of power started to take hold in the early 1990s, when the end of the Cold War and the relatively peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union helped demonstrate the potential effectiveness of ideational approaches to statecraft. Hard power played a central role in deterrence and containment strategies from the 1940s to the 1980s; but it was the West’s soft power (for example, the advocacy of democracy and free flows of information) that brought the decades of high-stakes confrontations to a successful, peaceful conclusion. Moreover, by then, the Internet and other digital information technologies were on the rise, and strategists, most of all in the United States, were beginning to view information itself as a new form of power, one that favored the “soft side” of the spectrum.


However, the American idea of soft power contained flaws. The original definition tended to treat soft power as good and hard power as bad, or at least as mean-spirited — i.e., soft power was said to be fundamentally about persuasive attraction, hard power about coercion (Nye, 1990, 2004). But in actuality, soft power is not just about beckoning in attractive, upbeat, moralistic ways that make the United States and its allies, friends, and other like-minded societies look good. It can also be wielded in tough, dark, heavy ways too, as in psychological efforts to warn, embarrass, denounce, disinform, deceive, shun, or repel a targeted actor. Moreover, soft power does not inherently favor the good guys; malevolent leaders — say a Hitler, a Bin Laden, or various of today’s authoritarians — often prove eager and adept at using soft-power measures in their efforts to dominate at home and abroad.


Thus, while strategists and other leaders in the more democratic societies were misconceiving the concept of soft power, even inflating it into “smart power” by combining hard and soft power (Nye 2009), they neglected to come up with a doctrinal derivative that could rival hard power’s realpolitik; indeed, many simply persisted with realpolitik, trying to modify it to suit the information age. Spread over several decades, this conceptual inertia, even complacency, has left the United States, and quite often its allies and friends, at a strategic disadvantage. The American conceptual arsenal, not to mention those of its allies, is still sorely lacking for understanding about how to apply soft power. Strategists who believe primarily in hard power have developed quite set of concepts around it, particularly over the past two centuries—e.g., realism, geopolitics, balance of power, and realpolitik itself. A comparable conceptual arsenal has yet to be developed around soft power.


Meanwhile, various adversaries and competitors of the West and other liberal societies — from nation-state actors in Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, to nonstate networks like Al Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS), and Wikileaks —quickly learned to develop dark approaches to soft power, especially online, in order to undermine American and other democracies and challenge their positions in the world. Thus, Moscow fielded new narratives to extol Eurasianism and deride democracy, while releasing a torrent of deception, disinformation, reflexive conditioning and de-truthing operations. And Beijing began concentrating on developing and deploying what it called “discourse power” as its way of influencing how people think about China and its growing reach around the world.


In short, democracy’s adversaries began deploying aggressive soft-power strategies and tactics — lately called “sharp power” (Walker and Ludwig, 2017a, 2017b) — far more adroitly than ever expected, catching Washington and other liberal capitals quite unawares and unprepared during the early years of the 21st century. Nonetheless, rather than rethink matters, leaders in Washington and elsewhere have continued to neglect America’s soft-power capabilities; instead, they have reverted to re-emphasizing hard power and realpolitik (on this point, see Bacevich, 2010).


This state of affairs should be viewed with alarm — it should prompt an awareness of the urgent need to rethink statecraft for the information age. In our view, this means shifting away from realpolitik toward noopolitik, a concept inspired by a second stream of thought.




Over the past hundred years, various scientists in Europe, America, and Russia have worked on developing a stream of thinking about the geosphere, biosphere, and noosphere. Whether appearing singly or jointly, these three dimensions work as a set for understanding Earth’s eons of evolution as a planet. Accordingly, first to evolve was a geosphere, consisting of the earth’s geological mantle. Next, to evolve was a similarly widespread biological layer, or biosphere, consisting of plant and animal life, eventually including people. Third to grow and develop will be an all-encompassing realm of the mind, a “thinking layer” termed the noosphere. These concepts were all in use by the 1920s, and continue to be today.


The last term emerged when French theologian-paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, his friend French mathematician Edouard Le Roy, and visiting Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky met in Paris in 1922 to speculate about whether, because of humanity’s growth, our planet would ultimately evolve a third layer: an all-enveloping noosphere, a term they coined from the Greek word “noos” meaning “the mind.” Teilhard defined it as a “realm of the mind,” a “thinking circuit” — in the later words of his colleague, Julian Huxley, a “web of living thought” and “a common pool of thought” that would lead to an “inter-thinking humanity.” For Teilhard, it was a spiritual as well as scientific concept; for Vernadsky, it was strictly a scientific concept — though both regarded it as having democratic political implications as well. (Samson and Pitt, 1999)


At first, the concept of the noosphere spread slowly and selectively among environmental scientists and social activists in the West. Some early believers are credited with helping to inspire the creation of the United Nations (UN), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and other “noospheric institutions” after World War II. In addition, the postwar period led to UN-backed covenants that reflected noospheric hopes, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, both in 1948. Not long after, the noosphere concept attracted wide attention in Europe and America in the 1950s and 1960s following the posthumous publication of Teilhard’s books on The Phenomenon of Man and The Future of Man, as both became bestsellers. Even so, the concept still spread mostly among a narrow range of intellectuals — until the 1990s.


Since then, the rise of the Internet has excited a sense among myriad theorists and prophets of the information age that cyberspace is providing a technical foundation for the emergence of the noosphere. While the concept has still not gone mainstream, it is proliferating far and wide, now at the level of online platforms and not just individuals — Wired magazine, the Edge website, Evolution Institute, and various magazines and websites associated with pro-commons social theory and social activism on the Left often feature articles supporting the concept’s potential. Indeed, from a political standpoint, people and platforms on the Left have shown the greatest interest in the noosphere and its future prospects. Interest on the Right is relatively rare. Theorists and activists on the Right are deeply interested in information-related concepts, systems, technologies, and their effects; but they prefer traditional constructs such as culture, ideology, and the media, maybe even atmosphere or zeitgeist, over noosphere or other futuristic notions.


Lately, various technologists and other scientists have preferred concepts that are not focused exactly on the noosphere: e.g., collective consciousness, the global brain. But they all still descend partly from the idea of the noosphere. Moreover, future successes with alternate concepts are bound to help further the noosphere too. It is here to stay; it will continue growing in significance and popular usage.  




In sum, the noosphere concept provides logical grounding for thinking broadly about policy and strategy in the information age. Furthermore, our derivative concept — noopolitik — matches up with soft power, the way realpolitik matches up with hard power. No alternative concept does this as well — by comparison, cyberspace and the infosphere are smaller, more technological domains. The noosphere is the best all-encompassing concept for thinking about information-based realms and their dynamics.


We first proposed noopolitik as an alternative to realpolitik back in 1999 (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1999; also see Ronfeldt and Arquilla, 2007, 2020). But little happened then to further its development. Ever since, other strategists have proposed kindred concepts — notably, cyberpolitik, netpolitik, infopolitik, information engagement, information statecraft, information geopolitics — yet they too have failed to gain traction. Individually, these kindred concepts vary somewhat definitionally; but what is more important is that, collectively, they all represent innovative but so-far-unsuccessful efforts to improve the conceptual arsenals of strategists for dealing with information-age threats, challenges, and opportunities, in particular by urging strategists to emphasize networks more than hierarchies and nonstate actors as much as, sometimes more than state actors.


All of which leads to two points. First, noopolitik remains a suitable proposal for reorienting statecraft in the information age. Next, even if this particular concept does not take hold, strategists had better come up with something very similar, fast, before the world’s dark adversaries do irreversible harm to the United States and other open societies by continuing to apply their own vexing mutations of noopolitik. At stake is the essence of effective strategy and statecraft in the information age: whose story wins.


Taken seriously, the noosphere concept has particular implications for developing noopolitik as an approach to statecraft. The noosphere began as a scientific and spiritual concept, but it has also acquired a forward-looking political cast. Its expansion implies the ascendance of ideational and other soft-power matters. It favors upholding ethical and ecumenical values that seek harmony and goodwill, freedom and justice, pluralism and democracy, and a collective spirit harmonized with individuality.  South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have served as exemplars to the world of this kind of value-driven statecraft.  


Noopolitik is also an anti-war and pro-environment concept. Strategically, it implies thinking and acting in global / planetary ways while minding long-range ends, and the creation of new modes of agency to shape matters at all levels. It implies humanity coming together through all sorts of cognitive, cultural, and other close encounters. It is about the co-evolution of the planet and humanity — thus it implies understanding the nature of social and cultural evolution far better than theorists have so far. And it means engaging nonstate as well as state actors in a quest to create a new (post-Westphalian) model of world order less tethered to the nation-state as the sole organizing principle and focus of loyalty. Furthermore, it favors the widespread positioning of sensory technologies and the creation of sensory organizations for planetary and humanitarian monitoring and response purposes.


Yet, positive and peaceful as all this may seem, growth of the noosphere also implies having to deal with persistent ideational clashes and conflicts. Indeed, Teilhard, Le Roy, and Vernadsky said to expect ruthless struggles, shocks and tremors, even an apocalypse, as different parts of the noosphere begin to mingle and fuse around the world. These are not implications the founders simply tacked on; rather, they stem from discerning principles and dynamics that attended the prior development of the geosphere and biosphere as global envelopes.


Proponents and practitioners of noopolitik should heed these distinctive implications, and not view noopolitik as a self-aggrandizing public relations or propaganda game. When the switch to noopolitik deepens in the decades ahead, strategists will gradually figure out how different it is from realpolitik. For noopolitik requires a fresh way of looking at the world — a new kind of mindset, situational awareness, knowledge base, and assessment methodology, along with a generally more philosophical and theoretical outlook. How to look at hard power, thus realpolitik, is quite standardized by now. But how best to understand and use soft power is far from settled. Noopolitik depends on knowing — and finding new ways of knowing — about ideational, cognitive, and cultural matters that have not figured strongly in traditional statecraft. As the information age deepens in the decades ahead, it will eventually be seen that noopolitik is not only an information-age alternative to realpolitik, but also a prospective evolutionary successor to it. (See Table 1, which compares aspects of realpolitik and noopolitik.)


Table 1. Contrast Between Realpolitik and Noöpolitik




States as key unit of analysis

States, nonstate actors, networks as key units

Primacy of national self-interests, sovereignty

Primacy of shared interests, mutuality

Primacy of hard power

Primacy of soft power

System as anarchic, conflictual

Harmony of interests, cooperation

Power politics as zero-sum game

Win-win as preferred game

Politics as unending quest for advantage

Politics as pursuing a telos (end purpose)

Alliances conditional (oriented to threat)

Alliance networks vital to security

Ethos is amoral, if not immoral

Ethics are crucially important

Behavior driven by interests, threats

Behavior driven by common values, goals

Balance of power as the “steady state”

Balance of responsibilities

Power embedded in nation-states

Power also embedded in “global fabric”

Guarded, manipulative about information

Seeks information-sharing, inter-thinking


In essence, noopolitik is ultimately about whose story wins — the power of narrative — not whose military seems stronger. This means that the conduct of noopolitik will depend on carefully crafting strategic narratives to suit varied contexts. The fact that narratives are crucial for maneuvering in today’s world is widely accepted — as one expert has noted, “Kinetics may win battles; narratives win wars” (Maan, 2018). But designing strategic narratives remains more an art than a science, and there is still plenty of room for new ideas about how to build expertise and wield influence.


For example, U.S. efforts to promote democracy abroad — often through the use of force — have proceeded unsuccessfully, even defectively, for many years. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, still a favorite philosopher of many conservative (as well as some liberal) strategists, cautioned back in the 1950s that “the greater danger [for U.S. strategy] is that we will rely too much on military strength” (1958, p. 35) — a warning that has come all too true.  Given the sorry record of militarism, the matter of how best to promote democracy may well become a key opportunity for noopolitik; and the answer(s) and strategies that noopolitik may develop will likely prove quite different from what has been assumed and pursued under past grand strategies.


Here are some of the steps we have recommended to enable and energize a shift to noopolitik:


  • Rethink “soft power,” especially its dark sides: We should not have to list this; it should be cleared up by now — but it is not.


  • Create international “special media forces” that could be dispatched into crisis and conflict zones to help settle disputes through the discovery and swift dissemination of accurate narratives, and for purposes of rumor control.


  • Uphold “guarded openness” as a strategic principle: This means remaining open (particularly among allies) in accordance with democratic values, while also creating mechanisms for guardedness (e.g., mutual defense treaties, robust cybersecurity norms, disease detection and control early warning systems) to mitigate the risks inherent in being open.


  • Take up the cause of protecting and managing the “global commons” — those air, sea, land, space, and other parts of our planet that belong to no single state or jurisdiction — as a pivotal issue area for the future of the noopolitik. Though valued by many civilian activists and military strategists, the global-commons concept has yet to gain public recognition, and it is presently under challenge from arch-traditionalists who prefer a return to nationalist/neo-mercantilist policies in the name of state sovereignty.


  • Institute a governmental requirement for periodic reviews of the nation’s “information posture”: One’s information posture toward allies and adversaries is now as crucial as one’s military posture. The latter receives regular review; it is time to figure out how best to assess and enhance the national information posture as well. (If a national information posture assessment were conducted at this time by, for example, the United States, it would surely clarify that Washington is in strategically worse shape — on matters ranging from cybersecurity to America’s standing in world opinion — than its regular military and economic posture assessments seem to indicate.)


Such measures can open up transformational possibilities and opportunities for shifting from realpolitik to noopolitik as the basis of a new mode of statecraft attuned to the information age. They could help burnish the image of the United States and its allies and friends in the world once again, lessen the bitterness and violence of conflicts, revitalize diplomacy, especially public diplomacy, and set the world on course toward sustainable peace and prosperity. Whereas realpolitik treats international relations as intractably conflictual, the starting point for noopolitik is faith in upholding our common humanity, and a belief that, in statecraft, ideas can matter more than armaments.


Even now, many shifts, risks, and conflicts that are commonly categorized as geopolitical in nature are, on closer examination, primarily noopolitical. For example, during the past decade the Arab Spring — affecting countries from the Maghreb to the Levant — the rise of the Far Right in Europe, Hindi-Muslim clashes in South Asia, and protest movements in Venezuela, Sudan, Lebanon, Hong Kong and Belarus all have geopolitical implications; but they may be better understood as having an essentially noopolitical nature. Around the world, many cognitive wars — ideological, political, religious, and cultural wars — are underway, aimed at shaping people’s minds and asserting control over this or that part of the emerging noosphere. At the same time, people are also searching for new ways to get along together and cooperate in addressing such global challenges as climate change and refugee settlement. Here, too, policies and strategies guided by noopolitik rather than realpolitik will likely fare better for the common good.




Colleges and universities have long offered courses, programs, and degrees in international relations and other topics that concern statecraft.  However, those that focus specifically on grand strategy are quite recent. The first appeared only ten years ago, at Yale University, with the creation of its Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy. Today not only Yale but also Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), The Institute of World Politics (IWP), and a few other schools offer their own courses, programs, and degrees on grand strategy and statecraft.


For the most part, these courses revolve around classic readings in strategic thought and practice, from ancient Greece through modern times. They educate students about political, military, economic, social, and cultural forces that have affected international relations, often through assigned readings in military and diplomatic history. The focus is mostly on state-led strategies and policies across the centuries; but modern nonstate, citizen-activist, social-change movements may receive bits of attention too, as may the ways such movements benefit from the rise of new networked forms of organization enabled by the digital information revolution. Accordingly, class syllabi may range across writings by Thucydides, Niccolò Machiavelli, Carl von Clausewitz, H.J. Mackinder, Hans Morgenthau, Henry Kissinger, et al.  The list can be made very long when it extends to including writings by the latest crop of theorists and practitioners.


A very broad range of both hard- and soft-power factors may thus be covered. But, for the most part, the hard-soft distinction is not a major theme, except when including what is deemed the single essential reading on this topic: Joseph Nye’s seminal book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (2004). Even so, these courses on grand strategy and statecraft generally cover the important roles that values, ideas, narratives, communications, culture, and other “soft” ideational factors may play in international relations, in peacetime as well as in war (see Kennedy, 1991). But much greater attention is usually devoted to educating students about strategic concepts that have grown around the “hard” material forms of power: e.g., geopolitics, realpolitik, realism, the use of economic coercion and military force, the balance of power, great-power competition, etc. Ever since Nye fielded the concept of “soft power” in the late 1990s, strategists have increasingly attended to the significance of soft-power factors, but not in systematic ways — no particular set of strategic concepts has yet arisen around it.


Suppose our forecast is correct about the noosphere and noopolitik. Then imagine how this may reshape curricula for graduate coursework on grand strategy. Current-day curricula seem quite staid, looking far more to the past than to what looms ahead. In recent decades, “realists” have run into theoretical and practical challenges that their conventional approaches to strategy have proved insufficient for characterizing or meeting, much less mastering. Classes and readings for educating about noopolitik will have to be very different from those used for realpolitik. Realpolitik requires knowing primarily about tangible military, economic, technological, and other geopolitical forces, and much less about intangible ideological, social, and cultural forces. In contrast, noopolitik requires knowing primarily about ideational, cultural, social, and other noopolitical forces — and finding new ways of knowing about them.


In the United States, strategic thinkers have long known, and urged, that grand strategy should attend to socio-cultural as well as political, military, technological, and other “hard” contextual factors. But, in practice, strategists have repeatedly neglected analyzing operational environments so comprehensively during the past few decades — they have neglected cultural and cognitive conditions to strategy’s detriment, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan (see Hoffman, 2020; Lynch, 2020). Calls are finally emerging for rethinking grand strategy so that it attends equally, and properly, to “the social dimension,” including its domestic import for grand strategy (see Arquilla and Roberts, 2020). A future turn toward noopolitik will require this.


A comprehensive guide for how to become a knowledgeable practitioner of noopolitik is unavailable at this time — the concept remains too new, the writings too few. Nonetheless, we can list some topics that will surely require elevated if not entirely new kinds of attention as the noosphere and noopolitik take hold. We discuss them briefly below, in order to suggest their prospective future importance for teaching and learning in forward-looking courses and curricula about grand strategy. However, we expect that the topics we list here will eventually require far more pages of argument and elaboration before strategists steeped in traditional approaches become convinced that such a reorientation is needed.


Recognizing the significance of social evolution for grand strategy: We have never seen a writing that explicitly pairs social evolution and grand strategy for analysis. Yet, grand strategies often rest on judgments about social evolution — who is gaining strength, progressing the best, becoming a model for others to follow, etc. Modern examples include containment theory in the 1950s, modernization theory in the 1960s, and democratic enlargement in the 1990s. During the 2000s, three ideas advanced during the previous decade that touched on social evolution theory — the “end of history,” “the clash of civilizations,” and “export of democracy” concepts — influenced strategists engaged in the “global war on terrorism,” which became notable for its presumptuous naiveté about imposing a democratic political evolution on tribalized, strife-torn societies in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Attempts to reroute the currents of history and culture in these sad lands have foundered, at terrible human and material cost.


What a grand strategist thinks (or dismisses) about social evolution can make a decisive difference. Indeed, a case can be made that grand strategy would benefit immensely if it were grounded in better theory about social evolution. This may seem a passing matter for realpolitik, but it may be a requisite concern for noopolitik — better ideas about social evolution will be needed in the coming age of the noosphere. Grand-strategic thinking that ignores social-evolutionary dynamics will not be worth much for long (especially for such purposes as fighting terrorism and promoting democracy). The fact that there is no agreed-upon theory of social evolution does not obviate this concern.


Exactly what a noopolitik-oriented curriculum should include is not clear today; but the aim would be to educate students to think more deliberately about social evolution and its implications for grand strategy, without opting necessarily for a particular framework or theory. To this end, readings by Peter Turchin (e.g., 2016) and David Sloan Wilson (e.g., 2018) may be advisable, along with selected writings by David Ronfeldt (e.g., 1996, 2009). Readings on specific topics — e.g., the evolution of government institutions, market systems, political democracy, and civil-society networks — may also deserve inclusion.


Realizing the significance of social cognition for grand strategy: According to realpolitik, strategy is the art of relating ends, ways, and means — usually as defined in hard-power terms (see Marcella and Fought, 2009). Strategy from a noopolitik perspective will be more about identifying, assessing, and affecting peoples’ cognitions, a soft-power concept. Assuming that peoples’ key cognitions are about space, time, and agency, then strategy may then be seen as an art of positioning for spatial, temporal, and agency-oriented advantages. For noopolitik, this may mean thinking and acting in global/planetary ways (spatially), while minding long-range future end-states (temporally), and creating new modes of action to shape matters at all scales of deliberate (i.e., agency-driven) activity.


Why focus on people’s space, time, and agency (or action, or efficacy) cognitions? Because numerous psychological, sociological, anthropological, and other studies have shown that people’s key cognitions are about space, time, and action (or agency). These cardinal cognitions — space, time, action — take form in people’s minds during childhood, and play key roles in shaping their beliefs and behaviors from then on. They are essential building blocks behind the development of consciousness and culture. No mind, culture, or society can function without its particular set of space, time, and action cognitions. Moreover, changes in people’s space-time-action cognitions — their worldviews and mindsets — can lead to changes not only in an individual’s beliefs and behaviors, but also in how a mass public thinks and acts collectively throughout an entire culture and society.


Thus, the better strategists can find ways to analyze people’s space-time-action perceptions, the better they can ascertain why people think and behave as they do, how societies and cultures evolve, and what makes one historical era or phase different from another. Through such learning, strategists will be better positioned to assess the effects that different strategic options may have.


Today, it would not be easy to design courses and curricula to educate students about the significance of multidimensional cognitive analysis for grand strategy. Most experts have specialized in just one of the three key cognitions, in isolation from the others (even though the others always creep into their analyses). For the time being, courses and curricula would have to rely mainly on single-focus studies — say, Philip Zimbardo’s writings about time orientations (e.g., Zimbardo and Boyd, 2008), or Albert Bandura’s about efficacy orientations (e.g., Bandura, 2006). But they should still head steadfastly in the direction of multidimensional cognitive analysis until new readings emerge (as argued and forecast in writings by David Ronfeldt (e.g., 2018)).


Finding ways to assess and improve national information postures: The United States has, over the past 75 years, provided an illuminating example of the governmental encounter with information strategy and policy, though it has yet to call for regularly assessing its “information posture” the way it has its military posture. Nevertheless, the American government does have a history of treating the nation’s de facto information posture seriously — just not under that name. A modern landmark arose in 1946 with George Kennan’s seminal “containment” concept, which was meant to be applied more in the ideational than the military realm. Later, in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower created the United States Information Agency (USIA), and always included its director in cabinet-level meetings. As another landmark event, President Ronald Reagan (“the Great Communicator”) called on his administration in March 1984, with his National Security Decision Directive 130, to develop a formal information strategy and posture review process. He then used it to help guide his summitry with Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and end the Cold War. Quite a set of accomplishments!


But after the Cold War ended, President George H.W. Bush did not see fit to extend Reagan’s initiative, preferring instead to proclaim an American-led “new world order” based on preponderant military and economic strength. And in 1999 President Bill Clinton dis-established the USIA as an independent entity (it was folded into the State Department, where it remains today, much weakened). Thus, the U.S. government began turning its back on developing a formal information posture at the very time when the digital information revolution was getting underway. “Information” was already being reconceptualized as a new form of power, but mostly by state and nonstate competitors who were intensifying their usage of new information operations against the United States, its allies and friends — without American or other friendly policymakers and strategists adequately realizing much of any of this.


Today, new voices are calling on the U.S. government to revitalize the USIA and rekindle the process that Reagan so wisely developed in 1984. These are good ideas. But far more than a limited institutional renaissance in one country — the United States is still too enamored of trying to impress other societies with its hard-power capabilities — will be needed in order to assure that policymakers begin to require national information-posture assessments as a regular matter.


Posture assessments are normally about a nation’s capabilities to apply all manner of power on behalf of its national interests — the case with U.S. national military, economic, and cybersecurity assessments. They are supposed to identify a nation’s strengths and weaknesses, its priorities and possibilities, as well as vulnerabilities and risks, the better to enable a nation’s leaders to craft strategies for meeting the ideational, organizational, operational, and other challenges that lie ahead.


To our knowledge, no one has ever tried to do a formal national information posture assessment. It could prove daunting as well controversial to undertake. To begin, “information power” and “information posture” (not to mention “information space”) are far from settled concepts. But if they could be broadly defined, spanning ideational as well as material aspects of “information” (as we think they should be), then a posture assessment might be well advised to cover the following:


— key aspects of a nation’s image (the “face” it presents to the world, its “brand identity”), in particular the national values, goals, character, and the reputation it means to uphold and project, at home and abroad;

— the wealth (or lack) of information resources a nation has at its disposal and is developing (or failing to retain and develop) in schools, universities, research centers, libraries, and elsewhere in the “infosphere,” including in the nation’s civil, public, and private sectors;

— the information policies and practices a nation favors, for example “freedom of information” and “guarded openness” in the American case;

— the status of infrastructures pertaining to stocks and flows of information, including the ways access is distributed or concentrated, management is centralized or decentralized, ownership and intellectual property are proprietary or shareable, and whether the designs are suited to meeting national needs in case of emergency.

— the information-monitoring and -sharing networks that exist for coordination and cooperation across all levels of government, domestic and foreign, as well as with IGOs and NGOs around the world on all manner of issues, and with business and civil-society actors at home;

— the range of media that are used for information gathering and broadcasting, as well as for uses that may range from message projection to early warning.


Such an assessment should identify strengths and weaknesses in a nation’s information posture, its points of resilience and vulnerability in case of an attack or other disaster. It should consider how well the posture serves to attract and work with friends and allies, as well as to deter adversaries. It should set priorities and specify options for future improvements.


Today, the idea of formally assessing and improving a nation’s information posture is so new, and so lacking in background materials, that it would be difficult to design educational courses and curricula. Yet it is too significant a topic to set aside. So, for now, it may be best to approach the topic via exploratory workshops, rather than instructional classes. It may also be advisable for such workshops to try to design ways for all governments to eventually produce information-posture assessments, not just one’s own government (or other entity).


Additional topics for education in noopolitik: The preceding three topics are easy to suggest, for they derive from our recent work. Yet they are just a beginning; other topics could easily be added to this list. For instance, the significance of strategic narratives — in light of the centrality of “whose story wins” to noopolitik, future strategists should receive training in the construction and application of forward-looking strategic narratives. Another topic might be the growing significance of having (and building far more) networks of sensory technologies and sensory organizations around the world to monitor, share, and act on information about global health, education, environmental, and other critical matters that cross jurisdictional boundaries. At first, this may sound like a mostly technical matter. But no, for this topic will prove to be mostly about designing and building vast organizational networks that involve all sorts of state and nonstate actors, large and small, near and far. Thus, as the noosphere and noopolitik grow in tandem, organizational races to build networks may well prove more important than the technological races to build ever newer products and weapons, catalyzed by the digital information revolution.




New courses and curricula for such matters would make for a very different, far more future-oriented approach to educating students about statecraft and grand strategy attuned to the decades ahead. To our knowledge, such matters are not being addressed much, neither singularly nor collectively, if at all, in today’s institutions of higher learning. Moreover, the ideas and observations we have offered here are preliminary — for example, further discussion should surely lead to more refined ways to do a national information posture assessment. Yet, if our forecasts about the rise of the noosphere and noopolitik are correct, then it is already past time we all begin exploring and adapting to these new frontiers.





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Hoffman, Frank, “Distilling The Essence Of Strategy,” War on the Rocks, blog, August 4, 2020. Available at:


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David Ronfeldt, now retired, worked for more than 35 years at the RAND Corporation as a political scientist. His work resulted in new ideas about information-age modes of conflict (cyberwar, netwar, swarming), future security strategy (guarded openness, noopolitik), and social theory (nascent frameworks for analyzing social evolution and social cognition). He has a Ph.D. in political science.


John Arquilla is distinguished professor of defense analysis at the Naval Post-Graduate School. Beyond his work with David Ronfeldt, his books include The Reagan Imprint (2006), Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits (2011), and Why the Axis Lost (2020). He has a Ph.D. in political science.


While at RAND, Ronfeldt and Arquilla coauthored many reports, including In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age (1997), The Zapatista “Social Netwar” in Mexico (1998), The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward an American Information Strategy (1999), Swarming and the Future of Conflict (2000), and Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy (2001).



RETHINKING STRATEGY AND STATECRAFT FOR THE INFORMATION AGE by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla is licensed under CC BY 4.0 CC iconby icon