As I type these words from a conference in Montreal, I am impressed by the rapid changes going on in Japan and Libya. We are all trying to understand the implications of the earthquake disaster, tsunami and now the potential for nuclear disaster. Japan had certainly made efforts to protect its nuclear facilities, but they are proving insufficient. Is the same potential disaster possible in other locations? Are we in Geneva safe from a spread of nuclear material?
The United Nations has voted to allow measures to be taken against Libyan forces killing civilians in the civil war. Although Russia, China, Germany and Brazil abstained, legitimate authority has been given to establish a no-fly zone at minimum to protect civilians. Who will carry out these military operations and what they will do remains unclear at this point.
Changes are taking place rapidly in both locations. There is an acceleration of time. While the United States State Department has presented a quadrennial report on foreign policy for the next four years, these two situations point to however thoughtful planning may be, situations occur which are obviously outside predictions or preparations.
This does not mean we should not plan. What it does mean is that imagining potential scenarios will require greater levels of creativity. We are all influenced by the past. "Generals always plan for the last war," is a banality that holds some truth.
Given that unforeseen scenarios are unfolding, the need to react is nonetheless present. There is no blueprint for what is to be done. Whether or not intervention in Libya is too late will be debated for years to come. On the other hand, the implications and consequences of intervention will have immediate as well as long term effects.
Given the immediacy of the situations in Japan and Libya and the lack of clear blueprints of what to do, those in power do not have the luxury of measuring cost/benefit analyses of what is to be done. Today is the moment, a clear case of the acceleration of time and the importance of seizing the moment.
The study of geopolitics dates from the beginning of the 20th century. It is based primarily on territory. What it does not consider is time. Although Einstein showed the relation of space to time, those who deal with policy are now stretched in a situation of accelerated time. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, problems of deficit and local politics fade to the back of the radar screen. This is our modern situation and part of the consequences of our technological advancements. We know what is going on around the world and we are called upon to react now.
And by the time I write these words and they are sent out, the situations will have already changed.
March 18, 2011