Cliff May

For their May/June issue, the editors of Foreign Policy magazine asked 21 “leading thinkers” to propose ideas to “save the world” -- or, failing that, to come up with “one solution that would make the world a better place.”

Almost all the thinkers assigned to this task do their thinking at think tanks, universities and activist organizations. Is there nowhere else that sages can be found? I mean that as a question, not a criticism.

Foreign Policy’s thinkers tackle a diverse list of dilemmas – from poverty to gender inequality to climate change to terrorism. I think their solutions range from the innovative to the far-fetched. See what you think:

Amy Myers Jaffe, a fellow in energy studies at the Baker Institute in Texas, notes that oil is no longer owned primarily by private companies. Instead, government-controlled oil companies “now command close to 80 percent of the world’s remaining reserves.” As long as we are dependent on these oil baron states – e.g. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Russia -- they will have power over us.

Her solution: “shift the automobile fleet to plug-in, hybrid electric vehicles.” The technology already exists, she says. We just need to get the cars on the road sooner, rather than later. I’d add: Abolish taxes on liquid fuels that can serve as alternatives to gasoline.

John Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, argues that “nearly six years into the first great armed conflict between nations and networks” – global terrorist organizations – “the nations are still fighting the last war.”

Past conflicts featured “mutually massed forces clashing on a darkling plain. Now, if you can’t find, you can’t fight.” His solution: fielding a “nimble, networked force of your own.”

He adds: “Ironically, the U.S. military actually started the war on terror in a networked way when just 11 Special Forces ‘A teams’ – fewer than 200 troops overall – toppled the Taliban and put al Qaeda on the run. Each team was interconnected to the other, and to attack aircraft above them. They proved unstoppable.

“But since late in 2001, senior U.S. generals have reasserted their traditional preference for big, balky units, first in Afghanistan, later in Iraq. And so today we have two quagmires, in large part because of an unwillingness to fight networks with networks.” I would argue that in Iraq, at least, Gen. David Petraeus is shifting from congregating forces in remote bases to networked warfare on the streets of Baghdad. All that he’s saying is give netwar a chance.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.