New Middle Ages Going Into Dark Ages Potential Solutions – 07/18/11


Security and stability in the 21st century have little

to do with traditional power politics, military conflict

between states, and issues of grand strategy. Instead,

they revolve around governance, public safety,

inequality, urbanization, violent nonstate actors, and

the disruptive consequences of globalization. This

monograph seeks to explore the implications of these

issues for the future U.S. role in the world, as well as

for its military posture and strategy.

Underlying the change from traditional geopolitics

to security as a governance issue is the long-term decline

of the state. Despite state resilience, this trend could

prove unstoppable. If so, it will be essential to replace

dominant state-centric perceptions and assessments

(what the author terms “stateocentrism”) with alternative

judgments acknowledging the reduced role

and diminished effectiveness of states. This alternative

assessment has been articulated most effectively in the

notion of the New Middle Ages in which the state is

only one of many actors, and the forces of disorder

loom large. The concept of the New Middle Ages is

discussed in Section II, which suggests that global

politics are now characterized by fragmented political

authority, overlapping jurisdictions, no-go zones,

identity politics, and contested property rights.

Failure to manage the forces of global disorder,

however, could lead to something even more forbidding—

a New Dark Age. Accordingly, Section III

identifies and elucidates key developments that are not

only feeding into the long-term decline of the state but

seem likely to create a major crisis of governance that

could tip into the chaos of a New Dark Age. Particular

attention is given to the inability of states to meet the


needs of their citizens, the persistence of alternative

loyalties, the rise of transnational actors, urbanization

and the emergence of alternatively governed spaces,

and porous borders. These factors are likely to interact

in ways that could lead to an abrupt, nonlinear shift

from the New Middle Ages to the New Dark Age. This

will be characterized by the spread of disorder from the

zone of weak states and feral cities in the developing

world to the countries of the developed world. When

one adds the strains coming from global warming and

environmental degradation, the diminution of cheaply

available natural resources, and the proliferation of

weapons of mass destruction, the challenges will be

formidable and perhaps overwhelming.

These challenges will also have profound implications

for U.S. security policy and military strategy. Reflecting

this, Section IV considers the extent to which

these trends and challenges have been incorporated

into official thinking about U.S. national security

policy, military posture, and strategy. Although there

is considerable sensitivity to the need to adapt to a more

complex, dynamic, and unpredictable environment,

the continued focus on defeating enemies rather than

managing conditions of complexity and even chaos is

overly narrow. At best, the official assessments remain

linear in terms of projections about states—and even

when the focus is on state weakness, the emphasis

remains on adversaries rather than the environment


Consequently, Section V considers how—in the

event the prognosis of state decline and emerging

chaos is correct—the United States might seek to

adapt its policies and strategies. Several different

options are explored. These range from the adoption of

vigorous preventive measures at one extreme to global


disengagement at the other. The first option seeks

to quarantine and contain disorder and chaos as far

from the United States as possible. The second option

seeks to quarantine the United States itself, thereby

protecting it from the most serious consequences of

an inexorable trend. A third option, lying somewhere

between these extremes, offers a more selective and

differentiated strategy. For both the first and the third

options, the United States would need a far more

holistic approach to the exercise of power and a far

more coherent organizational structure than currently

exist. In responding to security challenges, the United

States develops several strands of distinct and often

independent activities rather than a sustained strategic

approach that integrates multiple activities and directs

them towards a common purpose.

In a world where the United States seeks to

combat extensive disorder and restore stability,

military, economic, and diplomatic power have to

be targeted in ways that create synergies rather than

seams, that reinforce rather than undercut, and that

provide maximum efficiency and effectiveness. U.S.

interventions would have to be smarter, not harder.

The problem is that effective strategies of intervention

and reconstruction require more than the coordination

of disparate elements. Strategy cannot be patched

together. At the very least, it requires going beyond

interagency collaboration to develop what might be

termed transagency organizational structures. Based

on but extending the task force concept, a transagency

structure would be a central core of U.S. interventionist

capabilities. It would include military forces, diplomats,

reconstruction specialists, and legal experts

integrated into one organization designed to assist a

target state in reestablishing its authority, legitimacy,



PHIL WILLIAMS is currently Visiting Research

Professor, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War

College, and Professor of International Security in the

Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at

the University of Pittsburgh. From 1992 to 2001, Dr.

Williams was the Director of the University’s Matthew

B. Ridgeway Center for International Security Studies.

His research has focused primarily on transnational

organized crime, and he was founding editor of the

journal, Transnational Organized Crime (now Global

Crime). He has published on alliances among criminal

organizations, global and national efforts to combat

money laundering, and trends in cyber crime. Dr.

Williams has been a consultant to both the United

Nations and various U.S. Government agencies.

He has edited or co-authored books on the Carter,

Reagan, and Bush Presidencies, Russian Organized

Crime, Illegal Immigration and Commercial Sex: The New

Slave Trade, and Combating Transnational Crime. He

recently published book chapters on the financing of

terrorism, the relationship between organized crime

and terrorism, trafficking in women, complexity theory

and intelligence analysis, and intelligence and nuclear

proliferation. He has also conducted research on how

to attack terrorist networks. At the Strategic Studies

Institute, Dr. Williams is working on monographs on

organized crime in Iraq and the Madrid bombings. Dr

Williams is a National Intelligence Council Associate

and works closely with the Office for Warning.


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