Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reading :: Emergence of Noopolitik

The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward an American Information Strategy
By John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt

This RAND report is an earlier, longer version of Arquilla and Ronfeldt's FirstMonday article "The Promise of Noopolitik." Like that later article, this report argues that strategists need to shift the US' grand strategy away from realpolitik and toward noopolitik: "the form of statecraft that we argue will come to be associated with the noosphere, the broadest informational realm of the mind" (p.x). "Noopolitik is foreign-policy behavior for the information age that emphasizes the primacy of ideas, values, norms, laws, and ethics - it would work through 'soft power' rather than 'hard power.' Noopolitik is guided more by a conviction that right makes might than the obverse" (p.x). And noopolitik involves more than state actors: "While realpolitik tends to empower states, noopolitik will likely empower networks of state and nonstate actors. Realpolitik pits one state against another, but noopolitik encourages states to cooperate in coalitions and other mutual frameworks" (p.x).

Arquilla and Ronfeldt go on to carefully discuss these ideas, acknowledging that realpolitik and noopolitik will coexist for decades (p.5), but also pointing out that "realpolitik, which stresses the hard, material dimensions of power and treats states as the determinants of world order," makes less sense in a world in which states are not dominant (p.29). The US is actually well positioned to lead in the noosphere, they argue, since "the new organizational ecology is richest in the United States" (p.7). That's important, since the growth of the noosphere depends not only on increased flows of ideas and ideals, but also growth in the stocks of ideas and ideals to which people subscribe" (p.23), and therefore open systems are essential for a global noosphere (p.23). And as systems increasingly become more open, and as these flows and stocks increase, states decline in relationship to nongovernmental agencies, complex transactional interconnections, and global issues (pp.30-31).

In fact, realpolitik is at odds with five trends: global interconnection, growing strength of global civil society, the rise of soft power, the importance of cooperative advantages, and the formation of a global noosphere (pp.35-44). The authors review these in detail, then summarize: "Realpolitik is typically about whose military or economy wins. Noopolitik may ultimately be about whose story wins" (p.53). Noopolitik, that is, is thoroughly rhetorical.

This text, as usual, is full of insights that won't be a surprise to Arquilla and Ronfeldt readers (or Castells readers, for that matter). But the authors carefully develop these ideas, yielding intriguing insights and predictions. I highly recommend it.


David Ronfeldt said...

wow, but also uh-oh: two separate posts on my/our work in one day. i’m delighted; i’m also embarrassed. (or maybe you’re just testing to see whether i still follow your blog. . .)

as for this booklet, it’s available for free download at www.rand.org. as for the paper, yes, it contains a 2007 postscript updating some points.

you summarized our ideas very well. i’m glad you spotted one of my favorite points, that noopolitik is largely about whose story wins. rhetoric matters.

soft power is clearly involved. but what remains unclear to me is why the prevailing definition of soft power is only about value-laden attraction -- about being attractive -- as a kind of third way of exercising power (the other two ways being hard power: carrots and sticks). soft power can also go in the reverse direction, that of being sensibly critical and even shunning and repelling.

fyi, an interesting site where such matters sometimes get discussed, under rubrics about public diplomacy, strategic communiications, perception management, etc. -- which relate to rhetoric -- is http://mountainrunner.us/

again, many thanks. onward.

Clay Spinuzzi said...

Thanks as always for the contextual insights - and the links! I need to spend some time at rand.org. And I'll definitely check out the site you mention. CS