U.S. Collapse: A Chain-Writing Experiment

March 2024

It is 2053. The United States is no longer a superpower. What happened?

This is the question the Andrew W. Marshall Foundation posed to the public during the summer and fall of 2023. What might occur between 2024 and 2053 for the United States to experience a “rapid, severe, and significant loss” of power? We characterized this shift as a “collapse” – but left the particulars of its definition up to the public. 

The experiment was divided into three phases, each representing a 10-year increment leading to the future state of 2053, when the United States was no longer a superpower. We called for submissions exploring each 10-year increment, starting with 2024–2033. The winning submission of the first phase became the first link in the chain, the starting prompt for the second phase, 2034–2043. This continued to a third phase, thus creating a three-link chain. 

This paper presents the top submission from each period in “The Chain: U.S. Collapse, 2024–2053.” It then presents the runners-up in “Alternative Links in the Chain.” We encourage you to read this paper front to back—and then read it again as a “choose your own adventure.” What other links, and ultimately, chains, are possible? What would you have explored? 

The Incalculable Element: Ancient Innovations for Modern Security Problems

 

 

Narrated by Patrick Kirchner

Many unanticipated dangers—military, political, technological, foreign, and domestic—shadow the U.S. national security landscape, creating a need for adaptive and inventive leadership. But what exactly does this leadership look like? This paper explores insights from what might seem an unusual source: Thucydides’ discussion of how the Sicilians, inspired by the unconventional guidance of the general Hermocrates, facilitate Sparta’s defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War. As Thucydides shows, Hermocrates spurs his listeners to reflect on their limitations and biases at a time when imminent peril would seem to call for nothing but confidence. Yet this reflection, by allowing the Sicilians to reconsider their moral and cultural norms, reform their military structures, and join with unlikely allies to resist Athens’s imperialist threat, fosters an innovative outlook that makes that resistance succeed. This ancient case study remains salient for modern audiences because it exemplifies a nontraditional leadership suited to today’s unforeseen security problems.

Decoding Intentions: Artificial Intelligence and Costly Signals

October 2023

Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET)

How can policymakers credibly reveal and assess intentions in the field of artificial intelligence? Policymakers can send credible signals of their intent by making pledges or committing to undertaking certain actions for which they will pay a price—political, reputational, or monetary—if they back down or fail to make good on their initial promise or threat. Talk is cheap, but inadvertent escalation is costly to all sides.

America’s Reactive Foreign Policy: How U.S. Organizational Culture and Behavior Advantages China

 

Narrated by Patrick Kirchner

This paper critiques the U.S. foreign policy community’s approach to strategic competition with China and raises a crucial question: Is the U.S. government basing strategic competition with China on U.S. interests, or is it reacting in ways that advance the strategic goals of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)?

This paper argues that, because of its organizational culture, the U.S. foreign policy community approaches strategic competition in ways that disadvantage the United States. Through an analysis of the political, military, economic, and psychological condition of U.S. foreign policy, this paper posits that the United States has formed a reactive strategy toward China that leaves it vulnerable to China’s own competitive strategies. Through exploring historical examples and contemporary issues such as Taiwan and integrated deterrence, an underlying pattern emerges. Because it has ill-defined objectives and definitions of success, brought about largely by organizational factors, the United States is developing a reactionary foreign policy that is susceptible to CCP strategies, interests, and advantages. While this paper does not provide a definitive answer, it diagnoses American susceptibility to Chinese strategic manipulation and highlights the need for the United States to develop a more proactive and well-defined strategy to counter China’s competitive strategies effectively.

America’s Reactive Foreign Policy: How U.S. Organizational Culture and Behavior Advantages China

July 2023

The Andrew W. Marshall Foundation

This paper critiques the U.S. foreign policy community’s approach to strategic competition with China and raises a crucial question: Is the U.S. government basing strategic competition with China on U.S. interests, or is it reacting in ways that advance the strategic goals of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)?

This paper argues that, because of its organizational culture, the U.S. foreign policy community approaches strategic competition in ways that disadvantage the United States. Through an analysis of the political, military, economic, and psychological condition of U.S. foreign policy, this paper posits that the United States has formed a reactive strategy toward China that leaves it vulnerable to China’s own competitive strategies. Through exploring historical examples and contemporary issues such as Taiwan and integrated deterrence, an underlying pattern emerges. Because it has ill-defined objectives and definitions of success, brought about largely by organizational factors, the United States is developing a reactionary foreign policy that is susceptible to CCP strategies, interests, and advantages. While this paper does not provide a definitive answer, it diagnoses American susceptibility to Chinese strategic manipulation and highlights the need for the United States to develop a more proactive and well-defined strategy to counter China’s competitive strategies effectively.

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.'”

CCP Weapons of Mass Persuasion

 

Narrated by Patrick Kirchner

This paper is part of the Andrew W. Marshall Foundation’s set of publications on Examining History to Explore the Future: France, the United States, and China. This project was made possible by a generous grant from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) approach to the United States today reflects the party’s formative competitive experiences a century ago. Starting in the 1920s, the CCP vied with the Nationalist Party (KMT) for control over China, but the CCP was also nominally allied with the KMT in the First United Front, 1924–27. In that context, the Communists waged political warfare against the KMT at the elite and the grassroots level. Initially, the CCP’s aim was to coopt the KMT. When cooption failed, the Communists turned to subversion before attacking the Nationalists kinetically. In recent decades, the CCP has used this united-front template against the United States, thanks partly to a foundation of U.S.-CCP cooperation laid during the Sino-Japanese War and reinforced in the late Cold War. This report accordingly traces the CCP’s repertoire for strategic competition to the Chinese Civil War (Part 1). It then analyzes the application of this toolkit to the United States across a series of interactions beginning in the late 1930s and continuing through the present (Part 2). The report concludes with two alternative visions of how the coming decades could unfold, hinging upon Washington’s ability to counter Beijing’s ongoing subversion campaign (Part 3).

 

SMA Speaker Series: Ethical and National Security Implications of Genetic Weapons

May 24, 2023

Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) General Speaker Session

“At times, biotechnology appears to blend science fiction and reality. The potential warfighting applications of biotechnology and the size of the bioeconomy has made biotechnology a focus point of the US-China rivalry. Dr. Biberman described the different steps and viewpoints of both nations relating to biotechnology and bioengineered weaponry. Since 2006, Chinese military officials have commented on the potential benefits of integrating biotechnology into the armed forces. A current perception is that China is one step ahead of the US. China focused on military-civil fusion during the 1990s and developed a five-year bioeconomic plan for 2021-2025. However, Dr. Biberman clarified that the US retains some dominance. The Biden Administration has acted to ensure the US remains ahead of China, including signing an executive order to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing innovation. The order is designed to grow the US bioeconomy while also ensuring that this growth is achieved sustainably, safely, and ethically.”

“The Incalculable Element”: Ancient Innovations for Modern Security Problems

May 2023

The Andrew W. Marshall Foundation

Many unanticipated dangers—military, political, technological, foreign, and domestic—shadow the U.S. national security landscape, creating a need for adaptive and inventive leadership. But what exactly does this leadership look like? This paper explores insights from what might seem an unusual source: Thucydides’ discussion of how the Sicilians, inspired by the unconventional guidance of the general Hermocrates, facilitate Sparta’s defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War. As Thucydides shows, Hermocrates spurs his listeners to reflect on their limitations and biases at a time when imminent peril would seem to call for nothing but confidence. Yet this reflection, by allowing the Sicilians to reconsider their moral and cultural norms, reform their military structures, and join with unlikely allies to resist Athens’s imperialist threat, fosters an innovative outlook that makes that resistance succeed. This ancient case study remains salient for modern audiences because it exemplifies a nontraditional leadership suited to today’s unforeseen security problems.

 

Praise for “The Incalculable Element”

“In a word, this is wonderful. It is an apt, appropriate use of applied history. In a tumultuous time when journalists seem to be the only voices trying to make sense of our situation, nearly all historians have been unable to give us guideposts or a compass to orient us to solutions. As W. Churchill put it, the more one can look into the past, the further one can look into the future….This paper rates study and application to our own thinking about what we face. Vice dismissing the reasons for the internal disarray, Hermocrates sought to understand them and then to show them why they must mature their thinking. Where in America is such informed leadership today?

This is an award-winning paper in the truest sense of the word. This demonstrates why we need historians who can apply history to our current situation. As SecDef I often got my best new ideas from old books/history.

This paper is nothing short of exciting in what it unlocks….I’m inspired and humbled by [Emily’s] application of history. Hermocrates ranks with Aurelian guiding Rome out of the crisis of the third century AD or Choiseul’s thoughtful leadership under the Sun King.”

James N. Mattis, 26th United States Secretary of Defense

SMA Speaker Series: CCP Weapons of Mass Persuasion

May 2, 2023

Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) General Speaker Session

“The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) origin is chronically understudied despite its strategic importance. The competitive strategy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) today relies on information operations and techniques of cooption and subversion that the CCP learned during its first decade, the 1920s, coupled with approaches to conventional warfare honed soon thereafter. Dr. Deal and Ms. Harvey identified three recurring models or phases of CCP strategy: 1) internal takeover – coopting an adversary by appearing to cooperate or form a partnership with it, finding sympathizers in the nominal partner’s camp, and shaping joint activities in directions favorable to the CCP; 2) preparing for a break – exacerbating divisions within the partner’s camp and inflating the CCP’s capabilities to demoralize the partner in advance of a split; and 3) scripted military confrontation – launching a surprise attack designed to enable the CCP to exploit its superior preparation and positioning relative to the partner.”

The “AI RMA”: The Revolution Has Not Arrived (Yet)

 

Narrated by Patrick Kirchner

Winner of the Inaugural Andrew W. Marshall Paper Prize on New Revolutions in Military Affairs

This paper examines the prospects for artificial intelligence (AI) applications initiating a new revolution in military affairs (RMA). It analyzes this issue by applying the lens of four RMA elements—technological change, military systems evolution, operational innovation, and organizational adaptation—to U.S. and Chinese military AI development. It finds that, in the near term, AI applications may be more likely to help fully realize the reconnaissance-strike RMA than to produce a new AI RMA altogether. However, understanding why AI has not yet sparked a new RMA can shape analysis of the potential trajectory of technological-military competition between the United States and China. The paper uses historical lessons from U.S.–Japanese interwar competition, which produced the carrier aviation RMA, to draw relevant insights for present day U.S.-China AI competition. It concludes by discussing potential frameworks for understanding a future AI RMA and areas for further study.

Examining History to Explore the Future

March 2023

Antoine Bondaz, Paul Charon, Jacqueline Deal, Pierre Grosser, Eleanor Harvey, Stéphane Malsagne, Nadège Rolland

Understanding a nation’s history allows us to identify factors and trends that may shape future relations. As Asia becomes the economic center of gravity of the world and China becomes a more powerful actor in the global order, it is important to understand the roles nations will play or wish to play over the next twenty to thirty years so we can shape the future now rather than react later.

In its 2021-2023 experiment, Examining History to Explore the Future, the Andrew W. Marshall Foundation supported work on France and the United States, and their respective relations with China. Neither France nor the United States can afford to be shortsighted in its thinking about the strategic competition with China and the role of the transatlantic alliance. The papers presented in this set are products of a French team’s exploration of the history of and actors upon Franco-Chinese relations, a U.S. team’s deep dive into the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s political warfare against the United States and lessons both learned and disregarded, and a capstone paper that provides insights into and a comparison between the two perspectives.

Unconventional but critical components of the French and U.S. teams’ papers are the authors’ speculations around a China dream and a China nightmare. What might Beijing’s success in executing its strategy over the coming decades look like? How might the CCP fail to achieve the China Dream? These forays into the plausible – not the guaranteed – are intended to spark debate, new thinking, and, above all, more questions.

This project was made possible by a generous grant from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation. The Andrew W. Marshall Foundation would also like to thank Project Co-Chair Jacques Battistella, Capstone Facilitator Gabe Scheinmann, and the following contributors: Jason Aquino, Jack Clark, Jeremy Furchtgott, Lewis Libby, Peter Mattis, Andrew May, David Pappalardo, Fiona Quimbre, Iskander Rehman, and Eleanor Runde.