The Role of Alternative/Competitive Analysis in Intelligence Analysis

In general, I’m in favor of using competitive/alternative analysis (AA) as a supplement to traditional methods; yet-sparingly. First of all, there should be a clear understanding what constitutes “traditional” analysis. If, as we have witnessed through various readings in this course, there is no consensus within the intelligence community (IC) whether intelligence analysis is produced based on intuition or structured methodology, and the tendency within the community is still to rely on intuition as a preferred “method”, any argument about potential harm of AA is meaningless and, frankly, quite absurd. What can be more alternative than intuition?! As intuition defies arranged structure, it could be argued that it is AA per se. Once again, I think people in the IC engaged in the debate of the pros and cons of AA are stuck in the tyranny of definitions. It is noteworthy that such debates tend to come to surface as a result of some intelligence or policy failure, or both, and are aimed at finding quick fixes by falling prey to either extremes: tradition vs. avant-gardism. I find neither position palatable: too much tradition and you risk falling into group think trap; too much avant-gardism, and you risk missing the “bare essentials” while on some far-fetched optimistic or pessimistic fancy.

From the views of the different senators on the NIEs A-B Team exercise on Soviet strategic capabilities and objectives in 1976-8, that of Senator Daniel Moynihan rang closes to my own take on the topic. Namely, Moynihan states several times that the point of doing AA is to sharpen the analysis by occasionally – “from time to time” (p.10) – challenging the analysts’ thinking. Institutionalizing AA as a regular component of analysis would mean to deprive it of its “alternativeness”, to go back to semantics once more.

Another point on which I particularly agree with Moynihan is his conclusion that AA need not be taken for all its worth but only for those elements that are lucid, relevant and sharpen the focus rather than take a different snapshot altogether. “No one should have expected that the intelligence community would accept the entire Team B position…”

This reminds me of Grove’s earlier discussion on the rising importance of complementors to an enterprise that chooses a flat as opposed to a vertical hierarchy. While these complementors are in a way competitors since they function as entities outside a given enterprise, they can be highly beneficial, often indispensable to the success of the enterprise. Similarly, AA should not be so much feared in the IC as a force exposing the inadequacies and outright failures in intelligence analysis produced by tradecraft-seasoned analysts, but as a complementor offering potential new opportunities.

Stack’s negative view of AA and his reasons for believing that: “Competitive analysis would fail again for four major reasons.” was rather unconvincing. Time, the first obstacle he exposes to conducting AA, and AA’s consequent irrelevance to current and warning intelligence, is: a) everyone’s number one favorite excuse for not doing something; b) time and its semantic cognate ‘speed’ can, and are, perceived differently by different people at different times. (Recommendation to Stack: examine Xeno’s tortoise paradox). What in one country’s estimate might seem as a current or tactical intelligence, from another country’s perception can well fall under long-term, strategic intelligence. Add to this the use of deception and coercion, and time assumes yet an altogether different dimension. Russia’s take/behavior in the Kosovo issue is one of the more obvious examples.

Stack’s second point can be dismissed outright because it reiterates the first, i.e. his editor didn’t check for tautologies.

His third point – OSINT provides a sufficiently alternative alternative to alternative analysis is self-defeating. Says Stacks: “…OSINT…exposes analysts to more diverse viewpoints on the same topic, without having to call in outsiders…”. First of all, OSINT comes from outside, not inside the IC. Second, you still need people within the IC to analyze and sort through the tsunami of open source (often foreign language) information flooding the IC’s collection capabilities. Third, OSINT has been considered AA until fairly recently by people like Mr Stack himself, and is still struggling with the IC’s mainstream secrets obsession to be recognized as an integral part of analysis.

Stack’s fourth point, echoing Senator Gary Hart’s opinion is that the various intelligence agencies “each with differing opinions and bureaucratic alliances, already perform separate analyses in the current intelligence community structure.” Separate – yes. Competitive – no. Going back to the report on the Team A-B exercise, it is interesting to note that the level of constructive inter-team contribution was higher regarding technical questions, while the discussion on Soviet objectives and intentions “was more controversial and less conclusive.” (p.3) There are several conclusions we can draw from this finding. First, AA does not, as Stack seems to think, constitute in compiling an assessment from different intelligence agencies (and disciplines, by extension). AA may involve interdisciplinary knowledge and methodology, but its purpose is to provide an alternative within a given intelligence discipline. If we’re talking about Soviet intentions, a look at the technical capabilities of a particular weapons program is a different question altogether.

Second, while it might be easier to achieve “constructive contribution” from a Team A – Team B exercise on a technical issues because the basis of the analysis is more factual than psychological-ideological, it is the latter – objectives and intentions – which would benefit more from AA because it is here, where our cognitive and cultural biases, as well as a tendency to politicize information, is the most strongly ingrained.

Finally, Stack’s continuous references to pleasing the policy body over producing good analysis, got on my nerves. Is anyone within the policy community taking half as much time to improve relations with the IC?

With reference to the analysis I’m currently writing on Russian foreign policy toward the Balkans, I would choose the Red Cell method as a good complementor in trying to see behind the façade the Russian administration is parading in the face of Washington and Brussels. Because this is a technique which aims to manipulate cultural and political biases, I think it is particularly well-suited to explore how one actor (Russia) is playing a role of a defender of cultural heritage and made-up religious “brotherhood”, with the bravado of being a strict supporter of international law and sovereignty while at the same time stalking the fire of ethnonationalism in the Western Balkans to further destabilize the region, so it may achieve its own political agenda (anything but culture and/or a Slavic, Orthodox common identity).

For a humorous alternative analysis of Russian culture and political world view, I would recommend a close analysis of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel Master and Margarita, which opens with a brilliantly dark humor passage about the futility of the term “foreseeable future” by having an atheist intellectual, upon concluding a conversation with the devil-in-disguise, on a Moscow park bench, slip on the tram rails and have his head cut off. As I’ve mentioned in earlier assignments, dramaturgy, and now I add humor, can be quite revealing about a political Weltanschauung of a nation, its leadership and its subjects: poetry as politics – from the Greek verb poeio, meaning ‘I make’, and the poesis, ‘that which is made’.

 

Possible Sources of Future Intelligence Failure

Russ Travers’ article written in the eve of 9/11 does sound sinister in retrospect in that he points to shortcomings in the intelligence community, which did, sure enough, manifest themselves in a major calamity. This, at least, was my impression after reading his article the first time. However, on a second read, I began to question his Cassandric powers because for every shortcoming he identified, I could think not only of a historical precedent, but also of a current analogy. This makes me question to what extent we are truly fooling ourselves that an event such as 9/11 can ever be predicted and/or avoided. Further, to what extent were measures to carry out an intelligence reform a knee jerk reaction to the dramatic tragedy of 9/11? Are we, 7 years later, talking about major intelligence reforms as a response to the 9/11 “failure”, or is the question more intrinsic in nature? What if 9/11 hadn’t occurred? Would the same intelligence reforms be important to implement? Are the reforms we are talking about reactive or proactive in nature?

The shortcomings Travers discusses in his 2001 article seem to me to have changed very little. So little, in fact, that today we’re having the same debates and still trying to convince – the community? the executive branch? the legislative branch? ourselves as individuals? – that more radical change is needed. We seem to be stuck in limbo land, in the Death valley described by Grove, in a deadlock argument that falsifies the past and obscures the future. I will enumerate here a few examples from Travis that seem to be particularly pertinent, and I would like to refer to them as

Unfinished Business

“Data was there,” he says, “but we failed to recognize fully their significance and put them into context.”

This is hardly an original excuse. Examples of this kind abound from myth, to history, to literature, to our own personal relationships. Essentially, this is a cognitive problem and solutions to it might be physically limited. Seen from an anthropological perspective, in primitive cultures, it is the role of god(s) to encode a message. The message is then recognized (best case scenario, but not a given) by mortals as a portent of something (usually ominous), and interpreted or decoded by an oracle (often in such a way that the interpretation is equally ambiguous), whereupon the mortal, fearful of the divine message but emboldened by the oracle interpretation, makes a decision and acts on it. Sometimes it is the right decision; other times it is not.

I apologize for the following diversion, but I include it here because I think it illustrates the difference in cognitive processes between encoding, decoding and interpreting a message.

In his essay “Sema and Noesis: Some Illustrations”, G. Nagy [NAGY, G., “Sema and Noesis: Some Illustrations“, Arethusa 16, 1983, pp. 35-55.] examines the etymology and use of cognition vocabulary in Homer. He establishes the word sema ‘sign’ as a cognate to the Indic dhyama ‘thought’. Sema is found in the roots of our modern English words ‘semiotic’ and ‘semantic’, pointing to a relation with the mental process of thinking. In Greek, this connection appears in the words noos ‘mind, sense, intelligence’ and its derivative verb noeo ‘perceive, take note, think’, along with the derivative noun noesis. The etymology of noos has been traced back to the Indo-European root *nes- meaning something like ‘return to light and life’. Nagy points out that sema is “the key to a specific aspect of cognition, namely recognition.” (p.36) Most frequently sema is used in Homeric epic in the context of the recognition of Odysseus by his philoi ‘those near and dear’. The activity which denotes the recognition of the sema is the verb anagignosko. What is more important is that the recognition of the sema is an act of interpretation. On several occasions when Zeus sends a lightning (sema), its interpretation is different according to who the interpreter is (Il. 2.353, 9.236, 13.244, 21.413, etc.) or in the words of Nagy: “a code bearing distinct messages that are to be interpreted in context by both the witness and the narrative itself.” (p.36)

The place where recognition occurs is the noos. Thus Alki-noos ‘notices’ that twice the disguised Odysseus weeps whenever the bard sings about the Trojan War (Od. 8.94, 8.533), which enables him to recognize the true identity of his guest. By contrast, the leader of the suitors is named Anti-noos, as both he and his comrades fail to recognize the many signs (semata) signaling their doom. (Od. 22.8-30)

A sema can be properly interpreted only in the context of knowing its relation to other semata in any given situation. The example Nagy provides is that the recognition of the Dog Star as a sema (Il. 22.30) depends on the knowledge of the position of the other stellar semata.

Two further examples:

In book 6 of the Iliad, Proetus sends Bellerophon to Lycia carrying a tablet, inscribed with “murderous signs”. Bellerophon cannot read what spells his death, but the king, for whom the message is intended, does, and upon reading the instructions, sends Bellerophon to death:

He quickly sent him off to Lycia, gave him tokens,
Murderous signs, scratched in a folded tablet,
And many of them too, enough to kill a man.
(Il. 6. 198-200)

When the king receives the “fatal message” (210), he identifies it as a sema (217) and kills Bellerophon.

In book 7 of the Iliad, Ajax and other Greek heroes decide to draw lots among themselves to see who will meet Hector in a single combat. The horseman gives the command for the lots to be shaken “and each soldier scratched his mark on a stone and threw it into Atrides Agamemnon’s helmet” (202-3). After the lot is drawn and the herald takes it through the ranks, none of the heroes recognize the mark except for Ajax, to whom it belongs. This is important also because it establishes a connection between the two passages in that the manner in which the “inscription” communicates the message independently of whatever graphs it may contain. Regardless of the way it is spelled, the message can be encoded only by the one who knows the relation between this particular sema and its context. To everyone else, it is meaningless.

The problem of noise vs.signal in the context of intelligence analysis is, I believe, rather similar to the examples above. These days, we might not rely on oracles to interpret the divine significance for us, but our faith in science and technology to do that are not that different. I have no formal training in cognitive science, but through amateur interest in the subject, I remember reading that the thought process is a lot more demanding on the brain than the process(?) of belief. Our cognitive biases are precisely that: beliefs that are easier to hold onto than the energy required to make a couple of neurons rub and produce a spark.

The word “context”, so often featured in intelligence debates, has always struck me as rather strange. What does it mean to put something into context? It means to see where a particular piece fits in the whole. It is to have, yet another cliché, a “big picture” view of the problem. A noble enterprise. Have we become that self-delusional that we think we are capable of playing God? Or is it that we aspire to create an intelligence community that is nothing short of a conglomerate of Olympians? Viewed through the prism of 9/11 or any other dramatic historical event, perhaps a better way of reform would be to recognize that there are limitations to our cognitive capabilities, and that there will be times when we will not be able to predict the future, short or long-term. In fact, in front of events of such magnitude as 9/11, phrases such as “the near future”, “the foreseeable future”, etc. are utterly irrelevant. Chances are, on 9/10 the analysts preparing the PDB for the following day, as well as anybody else, would have most likely seen no threat in the “foreseeable future”.

Another shortcoming of the intelligence community Travers talks about is the lack of adequate response to increased complexity of military, social and cultural factors. He says that not only was there no agency “postured” to conduct integrated analysis that would reflect this increasing complexity and interconnectivity, but that a deliberate “division of labour”, i.e. commissioning separate military, economic and political analyses, will lead to failure because such divisions do not reflect the external environment. True enough, such artificial divisions present a Platonified view of reality, and as Travers maintains, they result in Balkanization of competencies, leaving little room for competitive analysis while making the exposure to risk and failure ever greater. I do not know to what extent reforms toward fusion analysis have been implemented in the intelligence community since the writing of this article. From the on-going debates one reads about in declassified sources, it would seem, progress has been slow. On the other hand, it seems that the need to give up the silo structure and replace it with more holistic methods, has been clearly understood and supported by academic institutions geared toward preparing a new crop of analysts. Taking courses at the Mercyhurst Institute for Intelligence Studies has made this evident to me for the past year.

The lack of fusion as a result of division of labor has even more important consequences still. It results, as Travis says, in the view that the whole is less than the sum of its parts, which I think brings my argument full circle to the notion of “the big picture”: no big picture, no context.

Finally, Travers speaks of a lack of a systematic national security policy. He claims that security policy is conducted on an ad hoc basis, in response to whatever happens to trigger a given administration’s knee jerk reaction. This is another intrinsic problem which, although not stemming from the intelligence community, it greatly affects it. How? We can call Grove to our help here. Clarity and determination are qualities that Groves associates with a successful transition period of a company. In my opinion, the intelligence community still lacks both the clarity and the determination to transform itself. On one hand, lack of systematic security policy (clarity) results in unclear prioritization. On the other hand, lack of strong leadership to show the way forward through personal example undermines the ability to carry out significant reforms. Moreover, all these factors – lack of vision and clarity, and weak determination, contribute to demoralizing the work force. Grove points out that “Demoralized organizations are unlikely to be able to deal with multiple objectives in their actions. It will be hard enough to lead them out with a single one.” (p.151)

I saved the point of leadership till the last because I believe it is the one of most significant importance in the circumstances we are facing in 2008. Thinking of potential dooms day scenarios to answer this week’s contextual assignment question, I thought of various Armageddon options, but none rings as devastating as what Roger Kimball describes as “cultural suicide” in an essay entitled “What We Are Fighting for: The Example of Pericles”. In this essay, Kimball compares the 5th century B.C. Athens of Pericles with the U.S. today, using Pericles’ Funeral Oration to illustrate the similarities of fighting for freedom and democracy – intrinsic characteristics of both Athenian society in antiquity and American society today. Among the attributes he praises are the vigilance and sense of responsibility of the citizens who under a democratic government enjoy certain common privileges, but also share common responsibilities, as well as the impulse to achieve, to excel, and to surpass. Kimball laments that the concept of democracy today has been abused by people “fighting for their rights”, but giving little back to society. He calls democracy a substitute for mediocrity, a “shorthand for…lowering standards and pursuing them as instruments of racial or sexual redress or some other form of social re-engineering.” (p.73) In that sense, Pericles’ oration is a refreshing departure from mediocrity in that it calls the people of Athens to mobilize their spirit and act in defense of excellence and a “healthy competitive spirit”. The speech, of course, is set up against the backdrop of the enemy – Sparta, whose way of life and political system is in contrast to that of Athens. For Kimball, and I concur with his analogy completely, “The spectacle of radical Islamists dancing joyfully in the street when news broke of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington should remind us of that fact.” More than a surprise attack or intelligence failure, more than an attack on capitalist symbolism or American citizens, 9/11 was an attack on Western value systems as described by Pericles two and a half thousand years ago.
Kimball goes on to identify some shattered illusions in the West as a result of 9/11, more notably shattered fantasies of academic multiculturalists, the illusion that the world is a benevolent, peace-loving place, and that the use of power by the powerful is by definition evil. I think he is being optimistic about the shattering of these illusions. I think they are still here today, more persistent in some sectors than others, but widely ubiquitous in academia (especially the social sciences) and the media. The intelligence community, and the whole security sector, needs the type of Periclean leadership that will drive it forward toward achieving excellence and taking responsibility for its actions while weeding out the elements of mediocrity, complacence and resignation. Starting with a clear definition of what intelligence can and cannot do, this new leadership will have to define realistic parameters for transformation.

 

Fantastic OSINT Wiki on Non-State Actors in Sub-Saharan Africa

I’m doing some OSINT collection on Sub-Saharan Africa for work and came across a wiki project on Kris Wheaton’s blog on sources and methods in intelligence.

It’s an OSINT wiki project developed by Mercyhurst students on Sub-Saharan Africa. I take my hat off not only to the students but to everyone behind the Mercyhurst intelligence studies program! Talk about revolution in intelligence analysis! Seeing examples of this kind fills me with optimism for the future generation of intel analysts and at the same time overwhelms me with a feeling of lament how far Europe is lagging behind.

Of further interest to wiki enthusiasts will be a paper Kris Wheaton presented at this year’s ISA convention. In it, he discusses lessons learned from using a web-based collaborative tool, commonly referred to as a wiki, to create custom intelligence products for decisionmakers in national security, law enforcement and business. He argues that analysts are massively and consistently more productive using a wiki and observes that the reduction in time spent accomplishing administrative duties, while modest in individual terms, quickly add up giving the teams more time to spend analyzing the data and less time sorting it our or sending it around to other team members. This result is better, more nuanced, analysis no matter how difficult the problem or how successful the team ultimately is in examining the topic under discussion.

 

9/11 – An Intelligence or a National Failure

It seems to me that stress on intelligence failure has been so inflated in recent years, to the point of becoming practically an idée fix within the community and its critics from the political and media spectrums. The amount of time spent bickering about whose fault 9/11 was or whether it could have been prevented and engaging in sophist word battles gives credit neither to the intelligence community Rovner and Long defend so passionately nor Ms Zagart’s ivory tower of political science with a dash of organizational management theory.

So, while I ultimately agree with Rovner and Long that 9/11 was not an intelligence but a national failure, I also think both “sides” are striving toward the same goal, i.e. improved intelligence capabilities, and in light of this they both have valuable contributions to make to the debate how this can be achieved, without turning the issue into a polemic.

I think the inflated stress on intelligence failure is a U.S. phenomenon. I’m not aware of any other country which spends half as much time on public debates with regard to intelligence capabilities and intelligence failure. As a patron of democracy, human rights and civil liberties, perhaps it is inevitable that such debates should be made public in the U.S., but perhaps it is not inevitable that they should be let to linger on indefinitely. My personal opinion, which I know will rub many people the wrong way, is that civil rights activists’ debates add oil to the fire rather than help extinguish it. Scapegoatism is rampant in the political sphere. It is an unsavory characteristic not exclusive to policy-makers but also to journalists, intelligence professionals, law enforcement…the whole gamut of professionals dedicated to serving the public. And since most people who get into this “business” do so out of their best intentions to fulfill their duty to society, when something goes wrong, no one will voluntarily accept the blame. What is so unfortunate about this all too human characteristic is that it is a complete waste of time and it results in no constructive solutions. In this sense, I completely agree with Grove’s observation that clarification can only come through broad and intensive debate, but a debate, I would like to add, where instead of finger-pointing, the ideas, recommendations, and concerns of all stakeholders are aggregated in the quest to find a way out of the rut.  Having scrutinized both Zegart’s and Rovner/Long’s arguments, it would seem that such an aggregation of ideas and recommendations is entirely possible, when we take aside the issue of blame.

What I liked about Zegart’s arguments was that they were relativistic rather than either-or propositions. Her distinction between change and adaptation is relativistic in that she places maximum importance on the impact of an occurrence rather than the occurrence itself. Time and again she argues that the question is not whether changes are needed in the structure and processes of the intelligence community, but how big the impact of these changes is going to be.

Similarly, when Grove describes his meeting with a CEO in dire straits, who faced with a strategic inflection point implemented some minor cosmetic changes on the periphery, rather than taking the radical approach needed under the circumstances, I became more and more convinced of the importance of the “how” over the “what”.

Increasingly, the “how fast” also seems to be gaining ground over the “what”. Zagart laments why it took so long for the intelligence community to put Khalid al-Mihdhar on the State Department’s watch list. Rovner agonizes over the alleged inactiveness of decision-makers to take action upon the strategic and tactical warning he believes the community provided prior to 9/11. And in the corporate world, Grove speaks of the too-little-too late syndrome that acts as a “force paralizer” (my emphasis) to business survival. All these examples made me think of our perception of speed, and whether it really is cognitively possible for us to react as swiftly as we wish as the speed of unfolding events increases. For example, while sitting in a fast moving car, we hardly realize or feel the “real” speed until a moment of collision. Until that point, we are passive observers of the speed. But once a collision occurs or the car spins out of control, we are suddenly in the middle of the action. Usually, at moments like this, characterized by extreme speed, instinct and gut feeling kick in, and more often than not, it is precisely the lack of inspection/retrospection that saves us.

Zagart bases her arguments on four findings based on her qualitative analysis of the intelligence community’s failure to adapt to new threats: lack of “corporateness”, insufficient HUMINT, personnel skills in non-Romance foreign languages, and weakness in setting priorities.

Let’s look at “corporateness” first. Her proposal that the community should become more centralized has some merit. A more centralized IC, will I believe not alleviate all problems of data sharing because that’s ultimately a culture problem, but it could at least pave the road, so to speak. Uniform personnel policies and centralized priorities setting body could help build a stronger community identity as well as give more focus and clarity. This is similar to what Grove proposes for the later stages of a strategic inflection point. If chaos is what rules the community as a result of its decentralization, then “clarity of direction which includes describing what we are going after as well as describing what we will not be going after is exceedingly important at the late stage of a strategic transformation.”

Rovner and Long, on the other hand, see the matter quite differently. They suggest that the structure of the community should be reflective of the structure of the external environment, namely that in the face of transnational threats and a multipolar system of power in the international arena, the community will not benefit by adopting a centralized approach because the latter is better suited to bipolar balance of power.  They suggest instead that a decentralized structure will help connect people who would normally not connect under a hierarchical centralize structure, very much in the way that social networking software has enabled people to form clusters of interest via various web 2.0 technologies.

I’m not sure what the right approach is as I can see benefits to both. In mirroring the external environment, the community would resemble an animal that changes its skin and color to blend in thereby avoiding danger, but at the same time giving it a better opportunity to take the enemy by surprise. This is certainly a practical idea, if not entirely ethical. Zagart’s proposition that a combination of centralization and decentralization is possible through deciding “what, how, and how much to centralize” is, I think, a viable option.

Further, Zagart makes an interesting, if gloomy, connection to population ecologists’ theory that innovation happens as a result of old organizations being replaced by new ones. This points to an inherent weakness in government agencies, namely that the lack of competition at the public sector level breeds stagnation and mediocrity. Her subsequent recommendations for community-wide training and rotational assignments as way to build trust between the different agencies and create a new culture through a collective mind-set transformation is not only well formulated, but it is something with which even her critics Rovner and Long might agree. Measures of this kind are not a question of “reorganization”, which Rovner and Long remain unconvinced will result in improved capabilities. A change of mind-set is a conceptual measure with long-reaching strategic impacts. It is the type of radical change that Grove describes as opposed to the minor changes on the periphery.

Rovner’s advocacy for reforms focusing on improving analytic techniques, increasing the quality of new hires, and retaining long-term professionals” are precisely the type of steps necessary for changing a mind-set.  It seems, Ms Zagart and Mr Rovner should get together for a brainstorming session instead of stoking petty arguments about blame. Ultimately, the blame discussion is a theosophical one. If you believe that God has foreknowledge of everything, then you’re likely to find solace in the fact that your own actions are never to blame. If you believe in free will, accepting responsibility might come more “naturally”. I would recommend the policy-makers, intelligence analysts, management gurus and journalists with the former tendency to (re)read Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.

Finally, I decided to follow Grove’s guiding questions in identifying whether a change signals a strategic inflection point and apply them in the context of national security intelligence:

Question 1: Is your key competitor about to change? Identify your key competitor with the “silver bullet” test: if you had just one bullet who would you save it for?

Now, up till 1991, that answer would undeniably have been Russia. In 2008, can we with any certainty say who we’re saving the bullet for? I think not. I think it is impossible to answer this question at the present moment of time. This, then clearly indicates that we are facing a strategic inflection point. Like the fairy many-headed dragon, we are facing a multipolar spectrum of threats, which because of their interconnectedness, it is impossible to determine which one will affect us more severely than others.

Question 2: Is your key complementor about to change? Does the company that in past years mattered the most to you and your business seem less important today?

Yes and yes. I take here the key complementor to be Europe, at least traditionally. Europe’s spheres of influence on the international arena are waning in pretty much every field: economic, demographic, military, and so on. Trans-Atlantic relations are suffering from the same type of internal bickering about blame that was discussed above. NATO is suffering from a similar identity crisis it suffered at the time of writing the Harmel report in the late 1960s. Regional organizations, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation are strong competitors to the trans-Atlantic alliance in the struggle for power and influence. China and India are both excellent potential new complementors and competitors simultaneously. An emerging new energy powerful but disgruntled Russia should definitely remain on the radar. After all, it is precisely that which Mr Putin wants – respect.

Question 3: Do people seem to be “losing it” around you?

Well, I’m not sure if they’re “losing it” more now than in the past, but a sense of pending gloom and doom is certainly in the air: lapses in relation to long-standing conflicts, emergence of new conflicts, increase in nationalistic rhetoric, melting glacials…

In short, yes, all the signs are here that we are in a strategic inflection period, head on. So, when thinking about re-organization and reform, we should not forget the “strategic” part of this transformation. Marginal changes won’t do. A radical change is needed not on an operational but a conceptual level, and maybe also on a more spiritual level, namely, recognizing that, free will comes with the price tag of taking responsibility for one’s actions.

Crisis Alert for Zimbabwe, Tibet and Kosovo; Conflict Resolution Opportunities for Comoros Islands, Cyprus, Pakistan, Taiwan Strait

Eight actual or potential conflict situations around the world deteriorated in March 2008, and four improved, according to the new issue of CrisisWatch. Controversial early results of Zimbabwe’s 29 March presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections have put President Mugabe under pressure to resign. Protests in Tibet turned violent on 14 March and unrest spread to Tibetan-populated areas of neighbouring provinces, prompting the deployment of thousands of police. In Kosovo, violence in Mitrovica and Belgrade’s push for partition underscored the fragility of the post-independence situation.

The situation improved in Comoros Islands, Cyprus, Pakistan, Taiwan Strait, pointing to conflict resolution opportunities for these countries.

For April 2008, Crisis Watch predicts Zimbabwe and Nepal as both Conflict Risk Alerts and Conflict Resolution Opportunities. It also identifies Cyprus and Uganda as Conflict Resolution Opportunities.