Cyber defense and Snowden

One of the casualties of the Snowden revelations will certainly be a planned cyberdefense from the NSA. In the short term this is a set-back for US defense, as cyber threats continue to emerge.  It might take a dramatic episode, at least causing the lights to go out in half the US or something, for the public to accept the need for a robust cyber defense that would include wholesale sifting of metadata in realtime.

In the longer-term, the Snowden drama may be good news for the US defense efforts. Just as the Snowden revelations are causing some needed public scrutiny of the NSA, they may force the US to take a more constitutional-friendly approach to US cyber-defense. Eventually, policymakers may possibly embrace the Schneier model, which is more about robust defense, less about the ability to strike out. The problem, Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, is that the US public just doesn’t trust you – and with good reason. Sure, the US needs you in war-time, but the US should not be put in a permanent wartime footing.

Another underlying factor in the cyberwar between the US and China is that neither country can afford to destabilize the other. Neither the US nor China want to grind each others’ economies to a halt through aggressive action for the impact it would have back on their own economy. (That’s not to say China won’t try to siphon off as much IP as they can get). But given the tug-of-war behind the scenes, and recent revelations against constitutionalism by China’s leadership should be a lesson for free trade utopianists in the US. You can be assured that once either the US or China wrest themselves free of the other’s economic dependence, trouble may increase.

In this way, the need for cyber defense is there. And the need for a coordinated approach is there too. It just must find a way to sit well with US law and the culture of law (this blog has argued this before).

But the Snowden revelations, while sparking the debate with in the US, are simply damaging the US abroad.

Just look at the US-Brazil relationship – and look at the impact that could have on Silicon Valley.

His single-mindedness in the pursuit of his goal, to me, shows the fault of the oh-so-simple ideology of libertarianism, which is built around the individual while disregarding the importance of society. And Ed Snowden, if he ever gets back to the US, can have a nice drive over some crumbling US bridges and have a nice informed conversation with some of the product of the US’s failing public school to see the benefit of a philosophy that treats its own government with contempt.

You might argue that the relative attractiveness of an overly-simple philosophy rises as the general level of education
falls. People aren’t capable of embracing contradictions – the need to protect the individual while supporting the group,
say. Instead, it’s an overly simple ideal. And that’s some impact for a political philosophy which didn’t even rate a
mention in the 1982 World Book Encyclopedia.

The US and China’s inverse economic dilemmas

Ian Bremmer of Eurasia group makes a great point about how business has taken democracy captive in the US, whereas in China the state controls too much industry – the opposite problem.

This is the heart of it. Chinese leaders, to their credit, understand the problem. The question is whether they can, through reforms, uproot the system that has put them in power.

In the US, I’d argue that it’s part of a cyclical pattern of reform, followed by decades of drift. The US’s exit from that period of drift was accelerated by the subprime meltdown and the collapse of Lehman’s. That’s not to say that the reform will be easy or quick.

You could see a similar pattern switching from the 1960s-70s (a focus on economic and social reforms) to the 1980s-90, and back further from the 1920s to the 1930s and 40s.

If I had to say, I’d suggest the trajectory of reform in the US will last about two more decades.

But what is heartening is that in both countries, there is an increased emphasis on bolstering the workers and the middle-classes – theoretically at the expense of the elites. How successful China and the US are remains to be seen the general rhetorical trend towards prosperity shared more widely will inform more domestic rhetoric in both countries.

Bremmer: we’re left with a world in which the two strongest countries offer mirrored visions of what it takes to get to the top. In the U.S., the biggest danger of the capitalist system is that the private sector captures the state. In China, the biggest problem with state capitalism is that the state has already captured the private sector.