I first encountered (not literally mind you) Joshua Cooper Ramo in his description and analysis of what Ramo called the ‘Beijing Consensus’.  Difficult to unearth the consensus part of the story, but that’s for another post, still I was intrigued by his effort to describe a developmental approach that emerged from the ‘new’ China.  I was also interested in the fact that he lived - at least part time - in China (hat’s off to any ‘louwai’ (foreigner) for doing this) and that he was the Managing Director of Kissinger Associates though he’d previously been a journalist including a stint as foreign editor and assistant managing editor at Time Magazine.

So, with the recent publication of, The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprise Us and What Can We do about It, I was drawn to it - not least because the book was focused on the failure of current relations and those who conduct it. His analysis focuses on the far greater complexity and disorder that drives current global relations and undermines those (principally from the US) seek to manage global affairs. The second part of the book entitled, “Deep Security” examines how to respond successfully to this greater complexity and disorder.

The polish and verve of the former journalist is ever-present in the volume.  I remain completely taken by the portraits and discussion of those who have come to understand, and even master, the greater complexity of the world.  Maybe tellingly most of these individuals have little to do with international relations - with the exceptions of the Hezbollah leadership and the former head of Israeli military intelligence Aharon Farkash.  But the individuals he did focus on were all fascinating - and each in their own way either unearthed the greater complexity and disorder of our contemporary world (Per Bak and Glen Held on the dynamics of sandpiles or Shigeru Miyamoto the brilliant Nintendo inventor) or mastered some aspect of this complexity such as Mike Moritz of venture firm, Sequoia Capital, who made the bet on Google that made the firm ‘piles of money.’

At the risk of being simplistic, Ramo’s insight is that in this growing world of complexity and disorder successful leadership pays far greater attention to context and builds ‘resilience’  into strategy and policy. As Ramo says early in the book, “To see the world this way, as a ceaselessly complex and adaptive system, requires a revolution.  It involves changing the role we imagine for ourselves, from architects of a system we can control and manage to gardeners in a living, shifting ecosystem.”

For those who direct American foreign policy - whether Realists or Liberals - there is the continuing effort to make the world fit the vision they hold.  Instead recognizing the contemporary complexity that infuses global relations,  these new leaders exercise ‘deep security,’ which is, … a way of seeing, thinking and acting that takes the best ideas from the playbook of revolutionary forces and combines them with the demands and responsibilities that our established power places on us.  …  What we need now, both for our world and in each of our lives, is a way of living that resembles nothing so much as a global immune system: always ready, capable of dealing with the unexpected, as dynamic as the world itself.”

How then do we implement deep security?  Well that’s not all that clear.  And if you are looking for a roadmap to implement international relations, you’ll be disappointed. Neither the tyrants nor the terrorists nor pragmatists nor ideolgues can use this as a guide to complex politics.  While he describes in some detail the adaptiveness of Hezbollah and the contextualization of China’s fourth generation, this book will fail you if you treat this as a cookbook of global governance.  But the insights on the scientists, academics, venture capitalists, investors and inventors - is too ‘juicy’ to pass up.

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