Hudson’s Kenneth Weinstein outlines points of ‘geostrategic competition’

President and CEO of Hudson Institute, Kenneth Weinstein, speaks to the chautauquan congregation on the importance of shifting power balances and defense mechanisms, as well as how to cope with watching the world’s power economics change throughout the years during his morning lecture presentation on Tuesday, Aug 13, 2019 in the Amphitheater. ALEXANDER WADLEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In a moment of unprecedented innovation, Kenneth Weinstein believes nations are racing toward the finish line of a geostrategic competition.

For that race, Weinstein has developed eight points necessary to understand the present and future of geopolitics around the world, as well as what it will take for the United States to prevail in the end.

Weinstein, president and CEO of Hudson Institute, a think tank and research center dedicated to nonpartisan analysis of U.S. and international economic, security and political issues, gave his lecture, “National Security and Next Generation Technology” at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater, continuing Week Eight, “Shifting Global Power.”

First point: Technology and innovation are critical to geostrategic competition, and people need to think creatively about the challenges they pose.

In his career, Weinstein has been influenced by 20th-century strategist Herman Kahn, an “extraordinary thinker and legendary futurist.”

“(Kahn) had this ability to sense the direction the future was going and the ability to ask very hard questions about the threats the United States face and how we might beat them,” Weinstein said.

Kahn founded Hudson Institute in 1961, the year Weinstein was born. Kahn also served as a model for Dr. Strangelove in the 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove,” but Weinstein would argue the two were nothing alike.

“(Kahn’s) views were that you had to think through the worst possible outcomes to avoid them, you had to figure out how to mitigate them,” he said. “(Kahn) always tried to point the way to a brighter future.”

Kahn, like Weinstein, understood that technology and innovation were key to transforming lives; collectively, they have raised standards of living, provided access to resources and created a sense of leisure previous generations “could have never dreamed possible.”

Technology has also transformed the world of geostrategy and the future of nations, Weinstein said. Kahn, who came of age in the era of nuclear weapons, understood that when technology is in the wrong hands, it is detrimental to humankind.

“In this period, (Kahn) tried to think through the unthinkable, imagine the very worst, prevent things from happening and talk through the public sector of all sorts of scenarios,” Weinstein said.

Second point: Strategy is needed because, unfortunately, all of the world isn’t Chautauqua.

“I think one of the key things strategists tend to make mistakes about is we tend to mirror our image, we tend to assume that other countries and other peoples have the same aims that we do,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein said there are countless examples proving that assumption to be false: When the Soviet Union collapsed, people assumed democracy would “triumph there”; after the Iraq war and Arab Spring, people assumed a secular democracy would arise and take root in the Middle East. Additionally, there was once hope that the whole world would move toward a “market-driven democratic state,” a false hope Weinstein said was fueled by technology.

“We came to believe that as citizens around the world got increasing access to information, that they would be able to stand up against authoritarianism, they would be able to stand up against tyranny, and that the proliferation of information systems in technological breakthroughs would break the authoritarian grip on populations,” Weinstein said.

Autocracies have been successfully overthrown in places like Ukraine, but in other locations, freedom movements, especially those connected to social media, haven’t seen the outcomes they hoped for. For example, in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime was overthrown in 2011, only to be replaced by subsequent governments that are “arguably less free” than his autocracy.

Third point: Strategists are often wrong; not in identifying phenomena, but in figuring out the critical importance of those phenomena.

“Strategy is a hard line of work to be in at the end of the day; you are asked, in a sense, to predict the future,” Weinstein said. “It’s not a science. History doesn’t work in a straight line, people make mistakes — big mistakes.”

Weinstein said information systems and social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, had the potential to put “pressure on authoritarian regimes from below.” Hope for that potential, according to Weinstein, drove many Americans to believe opening China’s economy to the global economy would increase China’s internal freedoms.

“Opening China to global trade was hoped to lead to liberalization, which would lead to an openness (in) society,” he said. “In particular, if you looked in the lives of the internet, people sat down and said, ‘China absolutely needs the internet to stay competitive in a global economy to learn about what’s going on in the world, and China can either deny its citizens access to the internet, but if it does this, it will be stuck in poverty.’ ”

China’s other choice was to face political pressure and allow full internet access, which is the only way to stay competitive, according to Weinstein. If China wanted to buckle down on internet use, it would have taken hundreds of thousands of specialists to monitor it. Weinstein thought that was impossible to do — until China proved him wrong.

“China decided, as did other authoritarian regimes, like Russia and North Korea, that they couldn’t afford this to remain in power — the Communist Party couldn’t have the internet and keep the party in power,” Weinstein said.

Fourth point: Information is also central in military affairs, and those affairs are “high-tech, data-driven strategy warfare.”

With the introduction of barbed wire and machine guns, warfare evolved after World War I. By World War II, offensive strategy involved mechanized warfare, which included battle tanks and more sophisticated air cover. Turning to the Cold War, nuclear weapons gave defensive strategy the edge.

“In the end, as we look back, neither side wanted to fight a war because we feared what the devastating consequences were,” Weinstein said. “Other developments make fighting below the nuclear threshold less costly, including missile defense, precision weaponry and so forth.”

A key milestone in defense transformation was the 1990-91 Gulf War, “the first war of its kind” — high tech and data-driven.

“It became an audacious laboratory for a new kind of warfare,” Weinstein said. “The U.S. deployed long-range precision strikes, for the first time, a new kind of advanced weaponry that proved to be highly successful.”

Fifth point: Strategic adversaries came to benefit from other technological advances and battlefield transformations.

Just as the Chinese kept a close eye on the internet, the country’s military planners kept a close eye on what the United States was doing in the Persian Gulf War.

“They saw our unprecedented 42-day victory in 1991, and realized a strategic rethink was necessary for the People’s Republic of China to remain a competitive, growing military power,” Weinstein said.

Sixth point: In regards to technological innovation in China, the use of new information systems can impede civil liberties, especially among ethnic minorities.

In 2015, the Chinese government issued a state geostrategy, the Made in China 2025 plan, which is designed to achieve rapid advancement in areas of high technology, including civilian technologies that are critical to domestic security, yet encroach on civilian privacy.

“This pull of government geostrategy seems to control the next generation of technologies — from facial recognition software, to artificial intelligence, robotics, mnemonic sciences, the next generation of mobile 5G systems — and place China geometrically ahead of the competition,” Weinstein said.

Through facial recognition data and cell phone tracking, Weinstein said China has created a “social credit” system that represses individual freedoms.

“In China, it has everything to do with monitoring citizens’ loyalty to the Communist Party,” Weinstein said. “It’s a social credit that goes with them wherever they go; whether they apply to colleges or universities, when they try to buy a railroad ticket, when they try to buy an airplane ticket and when they try to apply for a job.”

According to Weinstein, the key to China’s system is having access to personal data about a variety of individuals.

“Eventually, in a high-tech future, using artificial intelligence technologies and other technologies, this data will be able to be mined for all sorts of purposes,” he said.

Seventh point: The quest for information and information dominance makes the battle over the future of 5G mobile phones critical.

The Chinese government has offered billions in subsidies to Huawei, a Chinese multinational technology company, to become the leader in 5G technology globally.

“Huawei has unprecedented ties to the People’s Liberation Army and Chinese military apparatus,” he said. “On the surface, it looks like a normal company like Samsung or Nokia, but imagine if the Soviet Union had the wherewithal to develop this kind of high tech that stole the most complex technological secrets to produce the most highly powered information and communication system of its time.”

Weinstein said the introduction of 5G technologies proves that the world has entered an “infosphere.”

“(This is a) moment in which China will be able to create a global infosphere: information it has from around the world, a massive data collection system that is going to be ripe for artificial intelligence harvesting for all sorts of strategic and nonstrategic purposes,” he said.

By 2025, Weinstein said three-fourths of the world will be “interacting with 5G capability,” which brought him to his eighth and final point: How can the United States stay ahead?

For that question, Weinstein doesn’t have a happy ending, or even a solid answer.

“It is a tough question,” he said. “You don’t need a complex artificial intelligence system to know I have painted a very gloomy picture strategically.”

Weinstein said he owes the hope he does have to the Trump Administration.

“I give the Trump Administration credit for breaking conventional wisdom over the China threat,” he said. “Over the past 30 years or so, there has been a belief that China’s rise as an economic power would eventually transform China internally. I give the administration credit for empowering the kind of analysts who recognize the China challenge.”

The best news, Weinstein said, is that though the United States has only entered the early stages of the “geostrategic competition,” there is a chance the country may prosper as much as, if not more than, China.

“Our system is much stronger, much freer and much more innovative than the Chinese system,” Weinstein said. “At the end of the day, we in the United States, we in the West and our allies around the world, prove strong enough, creative enough and dedicated enough to meet this challenge and point the way to a brighter future for mankind.”

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The author Jamie Landers

Jamie Landers is entering her third season as a reporter for The Chautauquan Daily, covering all things music-related within the online platform. Previously, she recapped the Chautauqua Lecture Series in 2019 and the Interfaith Lecture Series in 2018. In addition, she is a rising senior at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in Phoenix, Arizona, where she most recently served as a breaking news reporter for The Arizona Republic, as well as a documentary producer for Arizona PBS.