Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Central Challenges of U.S. Foreign Policy: Five Questions with Graham Allison
Ali Wyne interviews Graham Allison, the author of Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, a book that swiftly and significantly altered our understanding of how policy decisions are executed.
A year before becoming a full professor at Harvard University, 31-year-old Graham Allison published Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: Little, Brown, 1971), a book that swiftly and significantly altered our understanding of how policy decisions are executed. Today, he’s widely known for sounding the alarm about the threat of nuclear terrorism: after the Soviet Union’s implosion, in fact, he earned the nickname “Mr. Loose Nukes” for warning that the vast stockpiles of nuclear weapons and materials on Russian soil could end up in terrorist hands.
I spoke with him yesterday about the nuclear-terrorist nexus and other central challenges of U.S. foreign policy.
POWER GAMES: If a nuclear terrorist attack were to occur, which country or group would be the likeliest perpetrator? The likeliest supplier of the fissile material that went into the exploded bomb?
GRAHAM ALLISON: The most likely sources of a bomb or the material from which a bomb is made would include, first, Pakistan; second, Russia—not because Russia is not making a significant effort to contain and secure weapons and materials, but because there is so much; and third, North Korea. If I ask who brought the bomb to an American city or some other great city, I would suspect it could be an Al Qaeda remnant—with enthusiastic support of the current head of Al Qaeda, Mr. Zawahiri, and conceivably with the support of Saif al-Adel. But if the bomb were to go off in, say, Mumbai, I would suspect it would be one of the militant groups in Pakistan. But the bottom-line truth is that it could be virtually any small group, including some group whose name we do not know.
PG: Which poses a greater threat to U.S. security: the roughly hierarchical Al Qaeda that existed prior to 9/11, or the highly decentralized one that exists now, with myriad branches?
GA: The fact that there are now many entities that may have some loose affiliation with a former core Al Qaeda—or who have decided to fashion themselves as an affiliate or follower in the Al Qaeda jihadist tradition—as well as groups that are just inspired by the concept that they could also be the perpetrators of mass killing, means that there is a spectrum of threats. Given that the Al Qaeda core has been significantly destroyed or disabled, and that the leadership seems to be essentially on the run or in hiding, it would lead me to think that probably it is one of the less centralized groups that might be the greatest danger.
PG: In a January 1970 essay with Ernest May and Adam Yarmolinsky, you articulated three guidelines for U.S. military intervention: (1) “intervene on behalf of an ally which is a victim of overt aggression”; (2) “[i]n cases where no other major power is involved, there should be a presumption against U.S. intervention”; and (3) do not intervene “in cases of internal disorder and/or subversion, even when there is outside encouragement and aid.”
In light of the ongoing tumult in the Middle East and North Africa, how, if at all, would you revise those guidelines?
GA: I think that the guidelines actually hold up pretty well, and they are reflected in the guidelines that were eventually published in the report of the Commission on America’s National Interests—which I was a part of—that tries to remember that we have a hierarchy of national interests, and that while every case is unique and needs to be examined on its own terms, there are natural presumptions about the activities that the U.S. should be inclined to take associated with different levels in the hierarchy of national interests. For interests that are vital to the U.S.—that is, essential for our survival and wellbeing—the U.S. should be prepared to use military force—including unilaterally, if necessary. For interests that are only extremely important, but not vital, the U.S. should be prepared to use military force in conjunction with other parties, but not unilaterally. For issues or challenges that are lesser interests, the U.S. might be supportive of other nations’ initiatives, including their use of military force, and might provide some intelligence and even some communications or some support, but not American troops and not, in general, American military force.
If we look at the events in the Arab awakening, now revolt, these guidelines are similar to those that seem to be reflected in the Obama administration’s calculations. In the case of Libya, as Bob Gates said, and I strongly agree, the U.S. had no vital national interests; therefore, only when the British and French were prepared to take the lead and do most of the work, and when there had been an Arab League call for the ouster of Qaddafi, and when there had been UN Security Council authorization to provide cover, was the Obama administration prepared to provide support in that instance—and that seemed to me about right. In the case of Syria, there is a debate going on now, but again, I cannot identify—other than the security of the chemical weapons—any vital American national interests in these developments, however horrific. Therefore, I do not think it is appropriate for the U.S. to unilaterally intervene militarily, and there are not any other actors prepared to intervene militarily, so the tragedy continues.
Generally, these guidelines would remind us why a large ground war in Iraq was a mistake; these guidelines would have counseled against it, and indeed, even a large ground war in Afghanistan would be contrary to this set of guidelines. It was very interesting that after four years—two of Bush and two of Obama—when Gates stepped down and went around giving his last will and testament to the military academies, he said at West Point that “any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined’.” He was pretty much recovering the good sense reflected in these presumptions.
PG: After describing how “Thucydides’s trap” could lead the U.S. and China to war, you concluded a recent op-ed by noting that they “must begin making substantial adjustments to accommodate the irreducible requirements of the other.”
What adjustments do you have in mind?
GA: This is mainly a general recommendation and a directional pointer more than a specific agenda of items, but the concept of Thucydides’s trap as a framework for thinking about the challenges that leaders in the U.S. and China will face this year and next year and in the next decade helps us see that this is going to be extremely dangerous, and that the expectations and standard operating procedures and established practices of the ruling power will be and will feel and will appear threatened by the rising power, and simultaneously, that the expectations and aspirations of a rising power will bump up against the current pattern of activity on the part of the ruling power. Therefore, if each of the parties just basically manages business as usual, then historically, you would bet that this ends up badly, in conflict—including a conflict that, in retrospect, would be judged a mistake by people in both societies, but which nonetheless could occur. World War I is a wonderful analogue for trying to think about that.
Watching the drama or soap opera in the South China Sea, we see not only the U.S. as a ruling power and the state that has been the predominant military force in the region, and provided a security framework that has been beneficial to all the states, including China, but also a rising and more assertive China, which quite naturally feels like it has some special claims in a region that is so close to its own border. One has not only these two parties, but also very active third parties—whether the Japanese in their claims for the Senkakus, or the Vietnamese, or the South Koreans, or others. What we should hope is that when we have a newly organized government here in Washington early in the new year, and as you are getting a new government in China, you would hope that there would be some very candid, lengthy, non-talking point conversations between the leadership of both governments about what each regards as its core interests and how each can make accommodations that are not humiliating and do not violate anything that is essential from each party’s perspective.
PG: In July 2000, the Commission on America’s National Interests argued that “in the wake of the Cold War, the U.S. has lost focus. After four decades of unprecedented single-mindedness in containing Soviet Communist expansion, the United States has seen a decade of ad hoc fits and starts…. Absent a compelling cause and understandable coordinates, America remains a superpower adrift.”
How would you assess America’s strategic focus today?
GA: More or less, I agree with the proposition from 2000. Someone once commented that there are two great tragedies in life: one is to fail to achieve one’s grandest ambitions, and the other one is to succeed. When we succeeded in winning the Cold War, escaping a nuclear Armageddon that could have killed us all, the U.S. inevitably had a serious problem about an encore: what now for our place in the world? The attempt to integrate a very hardcore, real national interest that we had in survival and security with our aspirations for promotion of human rights, democracy, and support for development and globalization, inescapably means that it is hard to get a picture of either what is happening in international affairs or what role the U.S. should play in that big a picture. Then came 9/11; that at least focused the mind for a bit on terrorism, megaterrorism, and Al Qaeda, but then we went off on a detour to Iraq, and similarly, in the case of Afghanistan, a counterterrorist-focused campaign morphed into some version of nation-building—all this, without remembering vividly, that the foundation for any powerful American role in the world is a successful American economy at home. We let the debt for these wars mount, and the financial system fray, which then gave us, by the time we got to 2007, 2008, and 2009, a financial collapse and great recession that threatened a second Great Depression—which altogether undermined our ability to manage a successful economy at home and therefore have the foundation for a positive and powerful role internationally.
The absence of a focal enemy, which is what the Cold War had provided; the complexity of the developments that are occurring that mean that the world is just extremely complicated—lots of different and competing stories and strands; the continuing reality of megaterrorism; and the dysfunctionality of our politics that has neglected the foundations of the U.S. role in the world; have altogether left us somewhat confused. For the second term of an Obama administration or the first term of a Romney administration, trying to have a clear conception of the three or four key things—not more—that our national-security policy should focus on, beginning with tending to the economic foundations of our strength at home as well as abroad, will be a very big challenge.
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to life recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
How imagining the worst case scenario can help calm anxiety.
- Stoicism is the philosophy that nothing about the world is good or bad in itself, and that we have control over both our judgments and our reactions to things.
- It is hardest to control our reactions to the things that come unexpectedly.
- By meditating every day on the "worst case scenario," we can take the sting out of the worst that life can throw our way.
Are you a worrier? Do you imagine nightmare scenarios and then get worked up and anxious about them? Does your mind get caught in a horrible spiral of catastrophizing over even the smallest of things? Worrying, particularly imagining the worst case scenario, seems to be a natural part of being human and comes easily to a lot of us. It's awful, perhaps even dangerous, when we do it.
But, there might just be an ancient wisdom that can help. It involves reframing this attitude for the better, and it comes from Stoicism. It's called "premeditation," and it could be the most useful trick we can learn.
Broadly speaking, Stoicism is the philosophy of choosing your judgments. Stoics believe that there is nothing about the universe that can be called good or bad, valuable or valueless, in itself. It's we who add these values to things. As Shakespeare's Hamlet says, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Our minds color the things we encounter as being "good" or "bad," and given that we control our minds, we therefore have control over all of our negative feelings.
Put another way, Stoicism maintains that there's a gap between our experience of an event and our judgment of it. For instance, if someone calls you a smelly goat, you have an opportunity, however small and hard it might be, to pause and ask yourself, "How will I judge this?" What's more, you can even ask, "How will I respond?" We have power over which thoughts we entertain and the final say on our actions. Today, Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
Helping you practice StoicismCredit: Robyn Beck via Getty Images
One of the principal fathers of ancient Stoicism was the Roman statesmen, Seneca, who argued that the unexpected and unforeseen blows of life are the hardest to take control over. The shock of a misfortune can strip away the power we have to choose our reaction. For instance, being burglarized feels so horrible because we had felt so safe at home. A stomach ache, out of the blue, is harder than a stitch thirty minutes into a run. A sudden bang makes us jump, but a firework makes us smile. Fell swoops hurt more than known hardships.
What could possibly go wrong?
So, how can we resolve this? Seneca suggests a Stoic technique called "premeditatio malorum" or "premeditation." At the start of every day, we ought to take time to indulge our anxious and catastrophizing mind. We should "rehearse in the mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck." We should meditate on the worst things that could happen: your partner will leave you, your boss will fire you, your house will burn down. Maybe, even, you'll die.
This might sound depressing, but the important thing is that we do not stop there.
Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
The Stoic also rehearses how they will react to these things as they come up. For instance, another Stoic (and Roman Emperor) Marcus Aurelius asks us to imagine all the mean, rude, selfish, and boorish people we'll come across today. Then, in our heads, we script how we'll respond when we meet them. We can shrug off their meanness, smile at their rudeness, and refuse to be "implicated in what is degrading." Thus prepared, we take control again of our reactions and behavior.
The Stoics cast themselves into the darkest and most desperate of conditions but then realize that they can and will endure. With premeditation, the Stoic is prepared and has the mental vigor necessary to take the blow on the chin and say, "Yep, l can deal with this."
Catastrophizing as a method of mental inoculation
Seneca wrote: "In times of peace, the soldier carries out maneuvers." This is also true of premeditation, which acts as the war room or training ground. The agonizing cut of the unexpected is blunted by preparedness. We can prepare the mind for whatever trials may come, in just the same way we can prepare the body for some endurance activity. The world can throw nothing as bad as that which our minds have already imagined.
Stoicism teaches us to embrace our worrying mind but to embrace it as a kind of inoculation. With a frown over breakfast, try to spend five minutes of your day deliberately catastrophizing. Get your anti-anxiety battle plan ready and then face the world.
A study on charity finds that reminding people how nice it feels to give yields better results than appealing to altruism.
- A study finds asking for donations by appealing to the donor's self-interest may result in more money than appealing to their better nature.
- Those who received an appeal to self-interest were both more likely to give and gave more than those in the control group.
- The effect was most pronounced for those who hadn't given before.
Even the best charities with the longest records of doing great fundraising work have to spend some time making sure that the next donation checks will keep coming in. One way to do this is by showing potential donors all the good things the charity did over the previous year. But there may be a better way.
A new study by researchers in the United States and Australia suggests that appealing to the benefits people will receive themselves after a donation nudges them to donate more money than appealing to the greater good.
How to get people to give away free money
The postcards that were sent to different study subjects. The one on the left highlighted benefits to the self, while the one on the right highlighted benefits to others.List et al. / Nature Human Behaviour
The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, utilized the Pick.Click.Give program in Alaska. This program allows Alaska residents who qualify for dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a yearly payment ranging from $800 to $2000 in recent years, to donate a portion of it to various in-state non-profit organizations.
The researchers randomly assigned households to either a control group or to receive a postcard in the mail encouraging them to donate a portion of their dividend to charity. That postcard could come in one of two forms, either highlighting the benefits to others or the benefits to themselves.
Those who got the postcard touting self-benefits were 6.6 percent more likely to give than those in the control group and gave 23 percent more on average. Those getting the benefits-to-others postcard were slightly more likely to give than those receiving no postcard, but their donations were no larger.
Additionally, the researchers were able to break the subject list down into a "warm list" of those who had given at least once before in the last two years and a "cold list" of those who had not. Those on the warm list, who were already giving, saw only minor increases in their likelihood to donate after getting a postcard in the mail compared to those on the cold list.
Additionally, the researchers found that warm-list subjects who received the self-interest postcard gave 11 percent more than warm-list subjects in the control group. Amazingly, among cold-list subjects, those who received a self-interest postcard gave 39 percent more.
These are substantial improvements. At the end of the study, the authors point out, "If we had sent the benefits to self message to all households in the state, aggregate contributions would have increased by nearly US$600,000."
To put this into perspective, in 2017 the total donations to the program were roughly $2,700,000.
Is altruism dead?
Are all actions inherently self-interested? Thankfully, no. The study focuses entirely on effective ways to increase charitable donations above levels that currently exist. It doesn't deny that some people are giving out of pure altruism, but rather that an appeal based on self-interest is effective. Plenty of people were giving before this study took place who didn't need a postcard as encouragement. It is also possible that some people donated part of their dividend check to a charity that does not work with Pick.Click.Give and were uncounted here.
It is also important to note that Pick.Click.Give does not provide services but instead gives money to a wide variety of organizations that do. Those organizations operate in fields from animal rescue to job training to public broadcasting. The authors note that it is possible that a more specific appeal to the benefits others will receive from a donation might prove more effective than the generic and all-inclusive "Make Alaska Better For Everyone" appeal that they used.
In an ideal world, charity is its own reward. In ours, it might help to remind somebody how warm and fuzzy they'll feel after donating to your cause.
The 'Monkeydactyl' was a flying reptile that evolved highly specialized adaptations in the Mesozoic Era.