Wednesday, September 12, 2012


How do you work out what's happening and what is going to happen next?

These are some random ideas and jottings:

Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox:

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." This fragment of verse by the Greek poet Archilochus describes the central thesis of Isaiah Berlin's masterly essay on Tolstoy, in which he underlines a fundamental distinction between those people (foxes) who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those (hedgehogs) who relate everything to a central, all embracing system. Tolstoy longed for a unitary vision, Sir Isaiah observes, but his marvelous perception of people, things, and the moments of history was so acute that he could not stop himself from writing as he saw, felt, and understood. He was by nature a fox who wanted to be a hedgehog. Since its first publication in 1953 Sir Isaiah's long essay has acquired the status of a small masterpiece. In its distillation of his profound knowledge of Russian thought and more general political philosophy, The Hedgehog and the Fox is a triumph of erudition and a superb entryway into an understanding of Tolstoy's work. "This little book is so entertaining, as well as acute, that the reader hardly notices that it is learned too."
—review by Arnold Toynbee.

An e-mail to Lowy:

Dear Sam,

I can recognise a trick question when I see one - 'So what's the best way to deal with strategic uncertainty?' - but I still can't help but take the bait. 

There's an obvious analytical answer. Work out the potential threats and how serious an existential threat they pose; analyse the required responses; and then allocate money and resources appropriately. 

In the past these issues have effectively been resolved by the major institutions that deal with guaranteeing our security. Organisations like the ADF, police, aid agencies and DFAT have all been involved in attempting to justify their share of what might be described as the 'security budget allocation'. Similar internal bureaucratic political imperatives operate even within the larger government departments: thus the army fights for it's share of limited resources from the other services, and within the army, artillery fight for a mechanised howitzer while the infantry fight for 120 mm mortars. Thus far the system's worked relatively well.

Over the past decade, however, two significant challenges have emerged to business as usual. This is the critical factor that your question brings into focus.

The first issue is the nature of the threat. This is morphing from conventional military operations and taking on radically new forms. The second is financial. Previously the Australian economy was (comparatively) so much greater. This meant that the 'hard decisions'  never needed to be made because there was always enough money to go around. Now that's not the case. 

Our current organisational methods of resolving strategic uncertainty would be capable of dealing with either of these shifts - individually. Taken together they require a sophisticated policy response. The formation of the National Security Committee of Cabinet was an attempt to deal with the evolving nature of the strategic threat. Unfortunately, the NSC advisors position will always remain emasculated until they receive some form of budgetary oversight, together with the ability to influence the allocation of resources. 



  1. Try Nostradamus - just as 'reliable' a source as any other in Strategic Intelligence.