Chain-Writing 2023

It is 2053. The United States is no longer a superpower.




Lance Menthe

The crisis began when a small, white mouse in Dresden failed to die. It took some time for anyone to notice: The median lifespan of a lab mouse is about 20 months, but 30 months is not unheard of, and not dying is not a singular event. It was only when a newly hired graduate student at the Max Planck Institute conducted an inventory of the mice retired from previous experiments that she realized something extraordinary had occurred.

Word spread that researchers investigating a treatment for late-stage Alzheimer’s had mistakenly injected several mice with an improperly formulated drug cocktail. The error had been caught before the paper was submitted and the trial had been rerun with disappointing results. Four years later, however, one of the subjects from the original experiment was still living contentedly in her cage, free of degenerative diseases and any symptoms of advanced age.

Subsequent studies soon confirmed the safety and efficacy of similar drug cocktails as a longevity treatment for humans. Pharmaceutical giants raced to file patents in the Global North; bootleg manufactories began fabricating the drugs on an industrial scale in the Global South. Almost overnight, the gray wave of aging populations that had been lurking on the horizon became an onrushing tsunami.

In Western Europe, decades of declining birthrates had left the social democracies vulnerable to the demographic shift yet had also given them time to prepare. The brief surge in defense spending that followed the Russian invasion of Ukraine was quietly reversed to reallocate resources for medical care. Retirement ages were lifted while the workweek was reduced, spreading the labor supply across extended lifespans. Pundits warned, however, of the coming Verknöcherung, the ossification of the body politic as older generations failed to pass the torch to the next.

In China, this freezing of the power structure took a more immediate form as President Xi was elected to unprecedented fourth and fifth terms by the National Congress in 2027 and 2032. To maintain their increasingly aggressive military stance and keep their economy booming, the Chinese Communist Party fully embraced a series of pro-natalist policies.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the social welfare structure teetered on its foundations. A hard-fought hike in the payroll tax had recently bolstered the Medicare and Social Security trust funds, but now they were once again slated to be insolvent within the decade. As generational warfare loomed, political gridlock and rising interest rates conspired to hollow out the federal budget, with the axe falling hardest on national defense, foreign aid, and research investment programs.

No one knows just how far these new longevity treatments will extend human life. Some say they could add 20 years. Some say they could double human lifespans—or even more. As 2033 draws to a close, a forest of cameras now attend an unassuming cage in a Dresden laboratory, broadcasting for all the world to see. Inside, one small, white mouse is still very much alive.


Patrick Hutson

They called it meth.

It was short for what scientists called the “Methuselah Treatment,” but those who coined the term claimed that, for societies, it was just as addictive and destructive as the original meth.

Like any addict, wealthy societies were spending all their money on the source of their addiction. Budgets for defense, aid, and research were halved and halved again as wealthy states in North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific were forced to spend billions to support healthcare for their aging populations. And as populations aged, political support for meth—and all its healthcare costs—grew rapidly. After all, no one wanted to be the politician that makes their elderly voters live for centuries but asks that their children drop dead at 77.

Meth’s universal approval turned these wealthy states into gerontocracies: ruled by the old, and for the old. The average age of a U.S. senator grew from 65 in 2023 to 82 in 2043. Vladimir Putin entered his fourth decade as president while a silver haired Xi Jinping—whose pro-natalist policies never took off—continued to serve three more terms. In Germany, Angela Merkel was elected chancellor again in a stunning political comeback while the British joked that Prince William would have to wait longer than King Charles III did to become king.

It may have been called meth, but another metaphor for the treatment’s effects came from a writer at The Economist in a retrospective twenty years after the treatment’s creation. “Meth turned a small mouse immortal and wealthy societies into rhinos,” they wrote. “Grey, wrinkly, blind, top heavy, and nearly extinct.”

But as wealthy states in the Global North aged and declined, the poorer states in the Global South kept growing. Despite the manufacturing of bootleg meth across the Global South, few in the poorer states of Africa, Asia, and Latin America could actually afford the drugs. By avoiding the “rhinoization” of their societies, these still-young societies were able to attract investment while increasing their spending on defense, aid, and research. After decades of colonialism, neo-colonialism, and neo-neo-colonialism, the Global South was realizing that the balance of power was finally changing in their favor.

In 2041 the Global North was shocked when a coalition led by Ghana and India moved to rewrite the UN charter and oust the five permanent members of the Security Council. Despite the vetoes of all five permanent members, the southern coalition successfully argued that any vetoes could be ignored and overruled by a large enough majority. “International law must flexible—unlike their joints!” laughed a Nigerian diplomat.

But a greater crisis was brewing in the Philippines. Incumbent president Paolo Duterte was looking to prove the power of his young and growing homeland constantly living in the shadow of geezers like China and the United States. “These two has-beens have bickered over island chains for decades,” he proclaimed to the newly reformed UN. “Now we are going to decide who controls the South China Sea once and for all….”


Thomas J. Shattuck

Excerpt from “Reflections 100 Years after the Collapse of American Primacy,” Luna Times, July 4, 2153, Henry Kissinger, Minister for Earth Affairs, Lunar Mega-Colony 1.

“…which brings me to why I left my adopted home of the United States in 2053 for the safety of the first lunar colony. The United States that I had known was collapsing before my eyes. I no longer recognized my home. It became less and less the America I loved all because that damn mouse wouldn’t die!

U.S. officials were caught flat-footed by the shocking and unprecedented reforms in the United Nations in 2041, and while the other ousted P5 members begrudgingly adopted their new reduced role, Washington left the organization and kicked the UN out of New York by 2045. As UN Secretary-General Modi closed the doors of the headquarters for the final time, he quipped, “America just locked itself out of relevance for the final time.”

America grew old and ornery as new superpowers emerged. A true telltale sign of this cultural and geopolitical shift was the opening of new Disney World parks in Lagos, São Paulo, and Mumbai and the shuttering of the Orlando and Anaheim parks. Another mouse, not named Mickey, kept Americans’ attention.

The events that truly ended American primacy began in 2051 when Vietnam and the Philippines moved to right the historic wrongs done by the then-People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea. The global security architecture created by Washington in the aftermath of World War II—underpinned by alliances and strategic partnerships—shattered seemingly in an instant.

The two Southeast Asian states secretly agreed to push Chinese military forces out and share the reclaimed resources. They finally had the strength, and Beijing was as irrelevant as Washington at this point.

How did a small Asian conflict that lasted 13 days, with no U.S. casualties, seal the end of America’s role in the world?

It’s quite simple: We did not show up. When Manila invoked the Mutual Defense Treaty almost exactly 100 years after the treaty was signed, Washington did nothing but shrug. The Philippine invocation, I believe, was intentionally done to expose American weakness and to demonstrate the true rise of the new global order.

The U.S. Navy was a rusted flotilla that could perhaps have mustered a few destroyers if we had the sailors. The carrier fleet was decimated in defense cuts. Our once shining fleet could not leave port.

Our oldest ally toppled American dominance to reclaim a few islands in the South China Sea. For years, I raised the alarm to get American leaders to change course, but our fate as a rhino was sealed. Our military extinct. Our leaders blinded by hubris and cataracts.

We were replaced by younger and more dynamic countries who bided their time and knew exactly how to show the world that America was no longer relevant. America was not conquered or destroyed; it simply became a bystander.

The mouse lives on, but it killed America.”

The Ethics and Security Challenge of Gene Editing

June 26, 2023

Georgetown Journal of International Affairs

“The weaponization of the scientific and technological breakthroughs stemming from human genome research presents a serious global security challenge. Gene-editing pioneer and Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna often tells a story of a nightmare she once had. A colleague asked her to teach someone how her technology works. She went to meet the student and ‘was shocked to see Adolf Hitler, in the flesh.’

Doudna is not alone in being haunted by the power of science. Famously, having just returned home from Los Alamos in early 1945, John von Neumann awakened in panic. ‘What we are creating now is a monster whose influence is going to change history, provided there is any history left,’ he stammered while straining to speak to his wife. He surmised, however, that ‘it would be impossible not to see it through, not only for military reasons, but it would also be unethical from the point of view of the scientists not to do what they knew is feasible, no matter what terrible consequences it may have.'”

Trajectories of COVID-19: A Longitudinal Analysis of Many Nations and Subnational Regions

June 23, 2023


“The COVID-19 pandemic is the first to be rapidly and sequentially measured by nation-wide PCR community testing for the presence of the viral RNA at a global scale. We take advantage of the novel “natural experiment” where diverse nations and major subnational regions implemented various policies including social distancing and vaccination at different times with different levels of stringency and adherence. Initially, case numbers expand exponentially with doubling times of ~1–2 weeks. In the nations where interventions were not implemented or perhaps lees effectual, case numbers increased exponentially but then stabilized around 102-to-103 new infections (per km2 built-up area per day).

Dynamics under effective interventions were perturbed and infections decayed to low levels. They rebounded concomitantly with the lifting of social distancing policies or pharmaceutical efficacy decline, converging on a stable equilibrium setpoint. Here we deploy a mathematical model which captures this V-shape behavior, incorporating a direct measure of intervention efficacy. Importantly, it allows the derivation of a maximal estimate for the basic reproductive number Ro (mean 1.6–1.8). We were able to test this approach by comparing the approximated “herd immunity” to the vaccination coverage observed that corresponded to rapid declines in community infections during 2021. The estimates reported here agree with the observed phenomena. Moreover, the decay (0.4–0.5) and rebound rates (0.2–0.3) were similar throughout the pandemic and among all the nations and regions studied. Finally, a longitudinal analysis comparing multiple national and regional results provides insights on the underlying epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 and intervention efficacy, as well as evidence for the existence of an endemic steady state of COVID-19.”

Jewish population trajectories between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea

May 9, 2023

Israel Affairs

“This article re-examines Jewish population in what is now Israel using historical estimates from Ottoman, Mandatory British and United Nations sources and recent data from the Israeli census bureau. A logistic model generates backward extrapolations and forward projections. The model quantifies three waves of Jewish immigration totalling about 3.5 million. Subtracting immigrant data from total population numbers gives the main empirical trajectory for non- immigrant native-born population. A multi-logistic model combining migrant and native populations projects a Jewish population of about 10 million in 2050, a level low in the range of estimates made by others.”

Review: Andrew Marshall’s Reflections on Net Assessment

January 16, 2023

Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC)

“Known throughout parts of the American national security establishment as “Yoda,” referred to by The Atlantic as the “Brain of the Pentagon,” and respected worldwide for his decades of strategic work at RAND, the National Security Council, and finally in founding and running the Office of Net Assessment, Andrew Marshall was a critical figure in the Cold War and post-Cold War history of American security and strategy. He was also an intellectual figure who left a limited imprint on the literature of American national security, having written the vast majority of his work for classified audiences and publishing very little in the open.”

The AI “Revolution in Military Affairs”: What Would it Really Look Like?

December 21, 2022


“To some defense professionals and officials, the phrase “revolutions in military affairs” may seemingly belong in the 1990s, along with talk about how reconnaissance-strike and other high-tech capabilities would “lift the fog of war.” This understanding, however, reflects a misinterpretation of a concept that still holds significant analytical power for assessing defense applications of emerging technologies. The revolutions in military affairs (RMA) framework—a mental model evaluating technology’s effect on warfare—can be extremely helpful in addressing this distorted understanding, particularly for thinking through the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on national security. For example, and as I have described in a longer paper, the RMA framework can help policymakers consider AI’s influence on defense amid the U.S.-China technological and strategic competition by illustrating the current limitations of AI’s military impact and highlighting areas where technological and intellectual progress could one day spark revolutionary changes. It also highlights that AI’s military impact could be limited in the near term without critical and careful thinking about how the technology is applied.”

Cyber Power is a Key Element of Sea Power

December 2022

Proceedings, U.S. Naval Institute, Vol. 148/12/1,438

“China has embarked on a program to replace the liberal world order with a techno-authoritarian model dominated from Beijing. Central to this program is a desire to control the maritime commons. China is now a (in some measures perhaps the) leading sea power. It boasts the world’s largest navy, coast guard, and maritime paramilitary forces; a top-five merchant fleet; significant shipbuilding capacity; and growing control over a global network of maritime ports.”


Assessing “Reflections on Net Assessment”

December 19, 2022

Book Review

“U.S. national security is recovering from over twenty years of Instant Gratification Warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The threat posed by the People’s Republic of China requires the U.S. to think in decades instead of in deployment cycles, and develop strategies and plans in an integrated manner.  “Reflection on Net Assessment” is the perfect book for someone who needs to shake off organizationally-incentivized impatience and focus on long-term threats.”

Reward Research for Being Useful — Not Just Flashy

October 4, 2022


“Too many countries have built a research pipeline that venerates prizes and papers above all else. People and their problems get left out as scientists chase novelty and the prestige it brings. For many years, I was complicit. I oversaw basic research programmes across the US Department of Defense, determined to make sure that the United States led in science. Eventually, I realized it was equally important that research programmes lead towards tangible benefits: better national security, regional floodplain management, or a product or practice that results in better, safer lives.

Too often, in my experience, the more applied a proposal is, the less likely it is to be funded. Once a researcher finishes a project and publishes the paper, they simply go on to the next proposal — the next big, new idea, constantly chasing novelty, the bleeding edge of science. What a waste.”

Immaterial Competition: Rethinking the Roles of Economics and Technology in the US-China Rivalry

May 19, 2022

The Hudson Institute

Executive Summary

The US-China rivalry is likely to be the fulcrum around which international affairs are structured in the twenty-first century, akin to the Cold War from 1947 to 1991. This rivalry, like its predecessor, emerges from divergent geopolitical interests and imperatives. While the Chinese Communist Party’s aims are many, various, and subject to change, they include its continued control of the Chinese State; economic and technological modernization and leadership; internal order; complete union with Taiwan on Beijing’s terms; certain territorial concessions from its neighbors; and the disestablishment of security arrangements across the Indo-Pacific that it views as threatening and trammeling. The latter three are in direct conflict with US interests and imperatives in the Indo-Pacific: prohibiting China’s unilateral modification of the status quo vis-à-vis Taiwan; preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its allies and partners; and maintaining its military partnerships and presence in the region. These antithetical interests animate a larger struggle for hegemony in the Indo-Pacific and serve as the terms on which this contest will be decided.

Explanations of the rivalry as an ideological contest or a competition born from competing economic interests are less compelling by comparison. The United States and China are motivated to an extent by ideological imperatives, but these do not appear to propel or serve as the central stakes for the rivalry as much as they affect each’s disposition toward the other. Long-standing trade, investment, and commercial disputes and competition, meanwhile, are not so substantial that they motivate the rivalry. While these issues are impactful to niche communities and conspicuous to national policymakers, they are not particularly consequential for national prosperity. The logic of competition, trade, and globalization, in fact, suggests that the US-China commercial relationship is mutually beneficial, notwithstanding each’s concerns with the other’s economic statecraft and market-leading firms.

In their geopolitical rivalry, there are a few key forces or contests of interest: path dependence, regime continuity, prudent strategy, third-party alignments, and the balance of military forces in the Indo-Pacific. Each affects the United States’ and China’s ability to achieve their ends and shapes their rivalry. Economic and technological statecraft, by contrast, is largely peripheral to these ends as it does not effectively advance political objectives relevant to territory, borders, security architectures, and national defense. That is not to suggest that economic and technological factors are irrelevant, however; they shape, constrain, and advantage the United States and China across their rivalry’s key forces and contests of interests.

Particularly noteworthy are economic and technological factors’ impact on the military balance. Tradition and intuition hold that nations with bigger and more advanced economies are better postured to resource, procure, and manufacture military equipment and can therefore generate greater military power. In the case of the US-China military competition, however, total military power is less relevant than the specific military balance in the Indo-Pacific, in which the distribution and strength of forces in the theater, the capability and reliability of key materiel inputs of outsized importance, and the operational concepts and tactics with which each’s military fights are more important. Total military power—and in particular greater military equipment—matters on the margin, of course, if only because the party with the greater mass and quality of materiel will be able to retain more forces in the Indo-Pacific, maintain more of these key materiel inputs, and develop novel operational concepts and tactics tailored to their superior materiel.

Neither the United States’ nor China’s total economic production, public balance sheet, high-technology commercial firms, and scientific production are likely to provide a decisive or lasting advantage on this count. Each country’s economy can support substantially greater military spending, limiting the extent to which one can derive an advantage from the other’s more binding constraints. The capacity and maturity of each country’s defense industrial base is of greater relevance, but these are flexible quotients that investment can improve. This elasticity of defense production suggests that microeconomic endowments may be binding in the short run but variable in the longer run, meaning that policy choices—rather than existing economic endowments—constrain military production. Technological endowments, informing each country’s capacity for broad innovation, are of similarly bounded importance because military technology is somewhat narrow and other factors, such as military procurement processes and inflexibility in concepts of operation, limit the extent to which superior technology translates into military advantage.

The fundamental result of this argument is that the concerns that propel the emerging US-China economic and technological competition are ultimately not all that relevant to the matters at the core to their rivalry and to the instruments of national power most relevant to these issues. The United States should therefore be wary of policies ostensibly demanded by economic and technological competition and may find its interests better served by limiting its rivalry with China to military competition driven by its core geopolitical interests.”

Science Policy from the Ground Up

Fall 2021

Issues in Science and Technology

“It’s time to modernize the federal role in the nation’s increasingly decentralized R&D ecosystem and unleash innovation at the local level.”