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China’s nuclear policy: changing or not?

By Hui Zhang Senior Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School The new defense white paper released by China on April 16 has sparked a debate over whether China is … Continue reading >

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Nuclear Security Summit: One year on, and looking ahead

We asked nuclear policy experts in Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs to summarize in one paragraph the achievements in the year since President Obama convened a summit on nuclear security on April 12-13, 2010. And … Continue reading >

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Cyber Security at the Munich Security Conference

Last weekend, I chaired a panel at the Munich Security Conference on cyber security. This is the first time the venerable gathering has addressed the issue. German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed it, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague devoted nearly his whole speech to Britain’s new cyber strategy. Until recently, the issue of cyber security has largely been the domain of computer geeks and specialists. When the internet was created forty years ago, this small community was like a virtual village of people who knew each other, and they designed a system with little attention to security. Even the commercial Web is only two decades old. Security experts wrestling with cyber issues are at about the same stage in understanding the implications of this new technology as nuclear experts were in the early years after the first nuclear explosions.

In my new book, The Future of Power, I describe diffusion of power away from governments as one of the great power shifts in this century. Cyberspace is a perfect example of a broader trend. The largest powers are unlikely to be able to dominate this domain as much as they have others like sea, air or space. While they have greater resources, they also have greater vulnerabilities, and at this stage in the development of the technology, offense dominates defense in cyberspace. The United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China have greater capacity than other state and non-state actors, but it makes little sense to speak of dominance in cyber space. If anything, dependence on complex cyber systems for support of military and economic activities creates new vulnerabilities in large states that can be exploited by non-state actors.
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Disagreeing with Joe Nye

As a colleague who has been learning from Joe Nye for many years, I join the chorus applauding his latest in a string of pearls of wisdom about power in international affairs.  The Future of Power is a must-read.  Imaginatively, judiciously, Joe tours the horizon of current debates and offers thoughtful, policy-relevant advice.

From questions about the rise of China and decline of the U.S., to cyberspace and changing metrics of power in 21st century international affairs, he advances the debate.

With so much to agree with, what’s to disagree?  While my major difference is more one of emphasis than fundamentals, let me overstate it for the sake of clarity.  Consider the core question: what is the single biggest threat to American power and security today?

Interestingly, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has answered this question unambiguously.  As Mullen has stated on several occasions, his considered judgment is that “the single biggest threat to American national security is our debt.”  By debt he means not only the current mountain of nearly $14 trillion of gross federal debt that has accumulated mostly over the past decade, but also the current trajectory that will add an additional $1.5 trillion this year, and even worse, embedded trendlines in spending and taxing that are undermining America’s balance sheet.

In the words of our colleague Larry Summers, who just returned from Washington: “Is there not something odd about the world’s greatest power being the world’s greatest debtor?”

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