Archive for the ‘Geopolitics’ Category

Brazil, the blackouts, and Russian nukes

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

It takes an event like the Brazilian blackouts to bring home the banality of Twitter, where the event barely registered amidst the maelstrom of posts on New Moon and Captain Zeep. But the incidents can be seen as good evidence of just how rickety a lot of the developing world’s infrastructure is getting under the pressure of growth.  With its regional power status—and hosting of both the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016—Brazil will be more in the limelight than most, at least until the developed world starts sharing a similar problem.  At which point we’ll be too deep in our own energy/infrastructure mess to worry about those of others, especially since it turns out that peak oil is coming even faster than we thought, with reports that world oil estimates have been drastically inflated.  In the meantime, we’re grabbing all the kilowattage we can lay our hands on. . . .for example, did you realize that 10% of the U.S. power supply right now comes from dismantled Russian nukes?  The spoils of empire indeed.

UPDATE:  killer blackout pix.

Happy Veterans Day

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009
You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires, an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.
    For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
    But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the guns begin to shoot;
    An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
    An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool -- you bet that Tommy sees!
--Rudyard Kipling

Presentation on Future of War at Library of Congress, Thursday 10.29

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

I’ll be speaking at the Library of Congress tomorrow morning. From the press release:

Author David J. Williams ( will speak on the future of war and U.S. national security at the Library of Congress this Thursday, October 29th, at 11:30 a.m.  His presentation follows the talk he gave at the National Academy of Sciences in August, and will provide a comprehensive framework within which to chart out the next generation of weaponry and strategy.

Williams‘ presentation will be at the Madison Building, LM 139, located on Independence Ave SE, between 1st and 2nd Streets.  Mr. Williams will give a 30-minute presentation, followed by a book signing

Forecasting disruptive technologies/slides of yesterday’s NRC presentation

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

“Predicting anything’s hard, especially when it involves the future.” —Yogi Berra

Vernor Vinge and I tag-teamed “science fiction hour” at the National Research Council in D.C. yesterday; he was calling in from his home in California while I foolishly biked ten blocks through the humidity over to the National Academies of Science. Under the chairmanship of Gilman Louie, the NRC is doing some really interesting stuff, drawing on more than just the usual Inside the Beltway perspectives in taking stock of what’s to come. My contribution can be found here:  a series of slides that start by outlining the current realities of 4G warfare, and then sketch out a vision of what future 5G space/net-centric warfare might look like.

And for another vision of what such warfare might look like, check out BURNING SKIES!

At the summit

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Unlike the one in BURNING SKIES, the summit between the U.S. and Russia was not crashed by elite Autumn Rain hit-squads. Nor did any of the participants wear powered armor. They did, however, dance around a couple of the key issues that arise in the Autumn Rain trilogy, to wit:

Missile defense:  Russia would like nothing better than for the U.S. to dismantle its plans for missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe.  This is unlikely to happen, but the key variables are (a) the administration’s overall posture toward missile defense (which is still being defined), and (b) whether Russia will ultimately insist on a formal linkage between that and overall arms control talks (in particular the still-unresolved questions around bombers/launchers). While the defense facilities themselves would appear to be directed at Iran rather than Russia, a heavy NATO presence in Eastern Europe is something that makes the Bear nervous.  To say nothing of the possibility that the current “Son of Stars Wars” will ultimately be a stalking horse for a more robust space-based systems.  The conversation so far has both sides biding their time, agreeing to study cooperation options, i.e., defer the key decisions to a later point.

Cyberwarfare:   I’d be surprised if serious discussion occurred on this between the principals, but it’s definitely something getting discussed at the lower levels.  Particularly given that the U.S. created CyberCommand a few weeks back (handing the whole thing over to the NSA—uh-oh).  But while everyone agrees that cyberwar is a problem (if it’s aimed at them), no one agrees on what to do about it.  Indeed, Russia has already launched successful attacks on both Estonia and Georgia.  And China has been attacking the U.S. in cyberspace for some time now.  Ongoing “warfare” of this nature may just be a fact of life in the 21st century, at least until/unless the major regional power blocs establish their own separate nets like they do in my books.  (Of course, such “cyber-autarkies” would have to be accompanied by a comprehensive failure of globalization, but that could be the least of our problems in the decades to come.)

And of course there’s no better way to prepare for those problems than to read BURNING SKIES.

Let’s see some ID, pal

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Here’s a very cool website/organization: Papers, Please: The Identity Project, dedicated to monitoring and publizing the clamp-down of governments on freedom of movement.

Demands on citizens to ‘show their ID’ have spread from airports to all major forms of long distance domestic public transport. Some of these ID security programs check people against secret government lists. Some of these programs are simply tests of the traveler’s obedience. Dissent through public protest is in danger of being chilled by the fear of ending up on government lists.  We are witnessing the advent of a national ID card, passed by Congress as the Real ID Act. . .

As someone whose name is on the U.S. government’s terrorist watchlist, these are developments I follow with no little interest.  (Turns out there’s a very bad David J. Williams out there.  One of the penalties of having a somewhat generic name.  Or maybe it’s me.  It’s not like they’d tell me.  It’s not like the name’s ever coming off that list anyway.)  Back in my days of management consulting, when I was flying all the time, I always found it weird to be getting the third-degree everytime I crossed the U.S. border, when I’d usually spent the better part of every flight working on a book about a society where identity is the primary mechanism of government control—and the manipulation of identity is a standard tool in every razor’s arsenal. . .

Secret assassination squads?

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Looks like legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh may have (inadvertently?) let the cat out of the bag, alleging that former VP Cheney was using the Joint Special Operations Command to terminate people on the presidential hit-list: “under president Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.” In theory, of course, the JSOC is under congressional oversight; Hersh’s allegation, though, is that Cheney was running select parts of it out of his own office.

There are a lot of things I could say about this; I’ll go where you might not be expecting me to, though, and say that the irony here is that targeted wet-ops campaigns are a damn sight more rational than most of the War on Terror strategies we’ve fooled around with. Hit-teams make a LOT more sense than invading and occupying real-estate.  Iran, for example—taking out the scientists working on the nukes would be a far better option than bombing the place (which is probably why those scientists never leave the thirtieth floor of the underground bunker they’re in). As to Al-Qaeda in general, by all means go after them Mossad-style, but don’t fall into the trap of occupying failed states to get at their operatives/operations.

From a tactical perspective, the real problem is keeping this kind of thing deniable.  This is an issue that I deal with a lot in MIRRORED HEAVENS, because as a problem in dirty politics, it fascinates me:  run them all through cut-outs and there’s that many more layers that might get interrogated by some pesky congressional oversight committee, but run them through you, and it’s really hard to maintain deniability.  Guess we’ve got yet another reason why Cheney was so adamant in destroying his files when he left office.  We’ll see what Hersh can dig up/prove.

Jump, you fuckers

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Those immortal words, flung in abuse by a protestor on Wall Street last fall, also constitute the title of Dan Hind’s essay on the economic crisis. Hind, the author of a book on our use/abuse of the Enlightenment, seeks to get to the root causes of the accelerating economic downturn, and finds them in the dismantling of the Bretton Woods agreement, which allowed the U.S. to run up massive debts even as the rich became disproportionately richer—and the overall system became ever more unstable amidst the orgy of profit-taking green-lighted at the very highest levels of the political/economic elite, all at the expense of the Average Worker.  This is the kind of explanation you’re unlikely to see much of among the elite’s Tame Intellectuals (as Hind so aptly calls them), who are charged with continuing to proclaim their Faith in the Free Markets, as well as “let’s not blame the system for a few bad apples”, but it’s one of the more compelling arguments I’ve read thus far on what we’re facing.

It also gets at one of the things I thought about a lot while writing MIRRORED HEAVENS:  the notion that our civilization is heading rapidly toward some kind of mega-discontinuity/overhaul out of which something new will emerge, for good or ill.  Again, our Tame Intellectuals don’t help us here—they’ve encouraged us to believe in our current Way of Life as the culmination of everything that went down before (see, Fukuyama, Francis). But imho science fiction is all about this discontinuity, whether it comes in a month, in a decade, or in a century. It’s about somehow unshackling our minds from the tyranny of the now—that mindset that literally can’t envision anything else. We’ve got a long way to go here; preoccupied with its own petty infighting, SF is largely absent from serious debate on the causes or ramifications of our current crisis. One hopes this will change as the situation worsens (as it assuredly will); now, more than ever, we need to take the long view.

More thoughts on Iran’s sat

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Iran’s satellite launch has got folks concerned about whether they’re about to perfect ballistic missile technology as well. This is something that’s good to be concerned about, but it’s worth remembering that if you can get something into orbit you’ve already got a global missile. It may not be as sexy as an ICBM capable of hitting any street you like in New York City from the moment it’s launched, but as long as you can de-orbit your payload with precision you won’t be worried about sexiness.

Nikita Khrushchev certainly wasn’t.  Right about when he was ranting on about how “we-is-gonna-bury-you” was when he was signing off on development of the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System:  strap a massive warhead to a satellite, and then de-orbit it over the U.S. city of your choice.  Technically, FOBS (as it’s affectionately known) wasn’t even in violation of the soon-to-be-signed Outer Space Treaty of 1967, since the orbits were obstensibly partial ones.

But before everybody starts to panic, let’s get back to Iran.  To attain a FOBS capability, they’d need three things.

1. Increased payload.  The Safir-2 payload isn’t enough for anything but the most tactical of nukes.

2. Precision de-orbiting capability.  Getting something into space is tough, but it’s a helluva lot easier than re-entry/landing.

3. A nuclear warhead.  Always top of any self-respecting nation’s shopping list.  And it turns out that today is the day that discussions resume in Frankfurt about just what the West should/could be doing to prevent Iran from getting one.  Hmmm.  If I were a fly, I know where I’d like to be. . .

And I should note that you don’t even need #2 if you want to have some fun with EMP effects.  But more on that later.

For an in-depth look at the weaponization of space a hundred years from now, my novel Mirrored Heavens is available at your local bookstore and at Amazon.

Space and cyberspace

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Two interesting headlines today:

-Kyrgyzstan under cyberattack:  Details are sketchy, but Russian hackers appear to have knocked Kyrgyzstan entirely off the Internet, engaging in the same DDoS attacks that they deployed in Estonia and Georgia. As of last night, the American air base in Kyrgyzstan was no longer receiving emails, which is presumably the point, given that the U.S. and Russia are jockeying for position/negotiating in Central Asia as the U.S. tries to secure supply lines into Afghanistan that don’t involve Pakistan.  Regardless of the extent of the attack, geography dictates that Russia has the upper hand here, and this is their way of reminding the U.S. of that fact.

-Iran launches satellite:  As Danger Room is quick to point out, the details need to be taken with a grain of salt, as Iran scores high on the Bullshit Meter vis-a-vis anything involving missile capabilities.  Nonetheless, the satellite is being tracked even as I write this, meaning that Iran’s weapons are on the verge of global reach. The targeting problem will be a lot trickier, but in the meantime:  score one for the Persians.  Xerxes would be proud.