The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New Global Order Constantly Surprises Us and What to Do About It

by Joshua Ramo

In a revolutionary era of surprise and Age of the Unthinkableinnovation, we need to learn and think like a revolutionary. In order to achieve “deep security”, dynamic times require us to develop a global immune system that identifies dangers, adapts to deal with them, and can control and contain the risk they present.

The old models of realism and great power politics don’t apply to today’s rapidly changing, interconnected system. National interests can change in an instant – think 9/11 — and individual actors produce major changes in this complex, interdependent system. As an example, Ramo attributes the collapse of the U.S.S.R not to popular pressure for a democratic system, but rather to individual elites – the nomenklatura – selling out the communist system and allowing it to fracture knowing they could still maintain wealth and influence. Our reliance on technology (particularly in the intelligence field) leads us to falsely believe we know more than we do, but we still don’t truly understand the internal relationships within a country or a network that drive behavior.

In today’s dynamic, adaptive, technology-driven environment, we cannot accurately predict and parry every emerging threat. In just the counterterrorism realm, our current tactics are forcing the enemy to innovate, to evolve, and to become more dangerous. A deep-security strategy is our best bet.

There are four key elements to developing deep security: looking holistically, focusing on resiliency, taking an indirect approach, and enabling global empowerment.

  1. Our Western minds tend to focus on what is directly in front of us or what is constant. We should be focusing deeper (like the Chinese), on the environment, the background, and the elements that move and change – looking in unexpected places for signs of change and turbulence. Our current focus on ISIS is detracting from the background issue of Israel-Palestine – a slowly simmering problem that has the greatest impact on security in the Middle East.
  2. Our current threat-based strategy (4+1) will likely fail because the odds are against us in predicting future threats. We need to be prepared for the widest range of contingencies, similar to an investment portfolio that is constantly rebalanced to reflect the demands of the market. We need to ensure our society is resilient and able to recover from attacks.
  3. Choosing an indirect approach, rather than directly attacking a problem, is more effective at achieving permanent results, but it requires us to master the environment and assess how the entire system will adapt to our actions. It is better to strangle a tumor than to ineffectively chop at it. The Chinese find the 1oz key to open the 10 ton door; Americans build a bigger battering ram.
  4. Handing power over to people results in an explosion of curiosity, innovation and effort.

The world is a complex and interconnected system – what we do to others, we do to ourselves. By strengthening our own immune system to deal with the unexpected, and posturing ourselves to identify change, we create a more resilient and secure global system.

Food for thought:

  1. What are we doing that helps ISIS evolve?
  2. Who is helping ISIS evolve?
  3. What are we missing in the rest of the environment while we focus on terrorism, and ISIS in particular?
  4. What are we missing while we focus on preventing a Shia landbridge across Iraq?
  5. What is Iran’s environment? What are the key relationships and interdependencies? What can we influence in that mesh of an environment?
  6. How do we empower the Iraqi and Syrian people?



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