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22 May 2007

Inside the Hungarian sausage making process

We have been privileged to be witness to some of the great events of history, and to stand in the shadows behind the great men which define our age’s statecraft. We are continually struck that the national security establishment in the US is “two people deep”, one of the most exclusive of all small worlds networks. (Though in fact, the ever expanding pool of participants in that network has been one of the great sources of disturbance in the oldest of the intelligence community’s institutions – but that is something for another day. Suffice it to say that even despite radical growth in the number of participants, it remains very much a closed club.)

Overseas, there has never been any illusion that national security policy is anything but the product of a small circle of decision-makers. In most countries and governments, their numbers are so few, and their discussions so opaque, as to constitute a serious intelligence challenge to divine even the most benign intentions.

Thus it is with great interest we observe the discussions taking place over at the My State Failure Blog, where a Hungarian defense intellectual is recounting the process by which their nation’s intellectual capital is brought to bear in the formulation of national policy -in an internet age, no less - both for their own internal discussions as well as their public presentations.

It is a unique window in the strategic thinking of a smaller but critical European power at the dawn of the 21st century. In a manner, this mirrors the evolution of strategic thinking and policy within the United States, where increasingly it is the think tanks and outside subject matter experts which drive new priorities and direction based on well formulated and concise ideas – the “reproducible strategic concepts” that Tom Barnett cites (himself perhaps the exemplar case study of the manner in which these ideas are developed and promulgated. In fact, the greatest strength of his original work for the purposes of Kent’s Imperative lies not in it substantive contribution – as formative as it may be – but rather in the narrative of how it came to be throughout the long years of Pentagon infighting over transformative visions.)

There are no doubt a number of similar discussions occurring world-wide, within the governments and defense establishments of other small and medium powers – some of them our allies, some perhaps otherwise, and increasingly these discussions will be more transparent and more accessible. It is these windows, however, that support our contention that the intelligence which will matter most in the future will be far less about stealing secrets than in making sense of the complexity, speed, and linkages of new events, ideas, and players on the international stage. There will always be a need for clandestine collection capabilities – but these will be an ever-shrinking specialization in a community evolving to meet new challenges that involve that which is hidden in plain sight.

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