The blog begins from the belief that many critical developments, changes and decisions that will shape the medium- to long-term future of global politics and U.S. national security turn out to be clustered into one year–2012. Not exactly a Mayan prophesy, but a geopolitical coincidence.
A number of key elections will occur–in the United States, South Korea, Russia, France, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. In fact Fareed Zakaria has called 2012 the “year of elections” (http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/30/zakaria-2012-the-year-of-elections/) and pointed out that 59 of the world’s countries have major ballot events this year. The political direction of dozens of key countries could shift dramatically.
Countries in North Africa and the Middle East, having weathered their “Arab Spring,” must now consolidate democratic change and move forward–a much more perilous transition. The United States must find ways to live with their more Islamist, probably less pliant leadership.
One of the world’s most upredictable states–and a hub of great power interaction–North Korea, has just entered a succession of power, with the youthful and largely unknown Kim Jong-un coming to power on the brink of a long-planned year when the North has promised to demonstrate its status as a “great and prosperous nation.”
It is entirely conceivable that Iran’s nuclear aspirations will hit some magical tipping point in 2012 that demands an Israeli-plus-or-minus-or-anti-American military response, with all that such an event portends.
For as long as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been writhing in its death throes, it would be foolish to nominate any 12-month period as a “make or break” time; but if 2012 passes without any forward progress, with accelerated settlement construction, the hardening of the more militant leadership on the Palestinian side, and less solution-oriented Arab leadership whispering into the PA’s ears, 2012 could be seen in retrospect as a watershed year.
The world’s key emerging power, China, faces critical tests in 2012, ranging from a substantial leadership change to likely slowing global and domestic growth to a continuation of the negative shift in demographic trends to a persistent rise in local, low-level demonstrations. A destabilized China would likely not be a friendly China.
Meanwhile the United States, in an era of budget crises, faces critical choices in defense policy and foreign affairs that could affect its global posture for years to come and affect foreign perceptions of U.S. power in critical ways.
And all of this is happening as crucial U.S. partners in Europe and Japan are confronting periods of extended economic and geopolitical distraction and perhaps weakness, which will deprive us of potential partners with which to manage these various problems.
If there was ever a time to raise our heads up from our desks–from the detail of the latest F-35 argument or the day-to-day arguments about specifics of an arms sale to Todayistan–and do some legitimate BigThink, 2012 is it.
So this blog is targeted to some of the smartest people I know, and designed to raise some pointed, strategic-level questions–and provide a forum for debate on them–in the spirit of what appears to be a moment that calls for grand strategy (whatever the hell that is; and don’t ask me, because I don’t know). It will focus in particular on out-of-the-box provocations on U.S. foreign policy and national security issues, because–well, all too often in the National Security Establishment, we feather our Boxes and grow warm and broody, roosting on our conventional wisdoms, clucking at those who would dare to challenge our beloved Accepted Ways of Thinking.
It is also based on the idea that writing about national security can be engaging and even funny, without descending into the nasty. Because a guiding assumption here is that those making the foreign and security policies of our country are dedicated, hard-working, scarily smart people who are doing their level best under huge pressure, tight time-deadlines, and multiple constraints–informational, political, bureaucratic, issue tradeoffs. But those very constraints mean that a loyal set of outside voices suggesting alternative ways of seeing problems is absolutely essential.
The initial idea is that the blog is to be of limited duration: A forum to debate issues during this allegedly crucial year … and so it will expire, with 2012, either (if the Mayans were right) on 21 December, when b’ak’tun 13 arrives and we are all swept away; or (I suspect more likely) on 31 December, at the end of a slightly more placid, but still very likely exciting, geopolitical year.
It should be clear that all views offered on this blog represent the opinions only of the authors, and no other institutions.