Disruptors are mentioned often in the corporate world. They are not necessarily seen as bad, but as potential business opportunities. They are often the boon of technological innovations or new prospects based on law or policy decisions. In the broader, more strategic sense, disruption can be devastating.
It is this carnage caused by disruption that's the basis for The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD by Harlan Ullman.
During the cold war, MAD stood for Mutually Assured Destruction. Ullman has minted a new definition, Massive Attacks of Disruption. He identifies and categorizes seven powerful disruptors that can upturn our very existence. Failed and failing government, cyber, climate change, social media, terrorism, exploding debt, and drones. Individually, any one of these could be devastating. Combined, they are, indeed the Fifth Horseman of the apocalypse, he argues.
World leaders and influencers listen to Harlan Ullman, which means he comes at this with a high degree of credibility. He obtained his PhD on Soviet decision-making since 1922. Ullman ran a Pentagon Study Group on the USSR. From 2004-2015 he served on NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe's Senior Advisory Board where Russia was a key issue. He has been a frequent visitor to Moscow and a lecturer to decision-makers in several presidential administrations on the Russia-Europe-US dialogue. This newly released book has already been nominated for the Best National Security Book of 2021 for the prestigious Samuel Huntington Prize.
Ullman cites numerous examples of how our divisions make us vulnerable and susceptible to MAD. He points to the feeble government response to COVID-19 as an indication of weak government. His narrative shows how these new Massive Attacks of Disruption have played out, from the cyber-attack that crippled the Colonial Pipeline to the explosive events of the Capitol riot on January 6th. With Elon Musk purchasing Twitter, the disruption caused by social media and its regulation have once more shifted to the forefront of our national discussion. All of these and other chilling examples point to our fragility and global vulnerability.
When you read the Fifth Horseman, you come to a central underlying theme that Ullman weaves into his text – that MAD disruptions used to unite us as a people. We are not living in that world now. We are, as he refers to us as what we are, “fractured and disunited.” This lack of social cohesion elevates our vulnerability.
This book does more than outline the problems – it provides a fascinating view of the history that has created these Massive Attacks of Disruption. The Fifth Horseman is an intriguing and intoxicating mix of history, politics, and foresight. Much of the book makes the reader adopt a feeling of impending doom. It’s like taking a kayak into the waters above Niagara Falls – both exciting and filled with imminent peril.
Ullman calls out the links between Xi and Putin – before the events in Ukraine had fully unfolded and the world saw their discomforting and budding relationship. Some of his predictions are unfolding right now, which makes this book incredibly relevant. In terms of China, for example, he states: “For good or ill, America and China are on a collision course. The image of the unsinkable giant ocean liner Titanic and the massive iceberg comes to mind, with two exceptions. The first is that America or China could represent either the Titanic or the iceberg. The second is that if this collision occurs, both the giant ship and the iceberg could figuratively sink, the ultimate disruption.”
The author’s long time in government highlights risks there as well: “Money is a large cause of this constitutional crisis. Members of both chambers of Congress are consumed by fundraising both for themselves and for their party. In too many cases, fundraising prowess is a quid pro quo for plum committee and subcommittee assignments, producing a vicious circle. Members want seats on committees to serve constituent needs. That in turn leads to constituents understandably sending money to representatives both for reelection and committee assignments.”
The book is not just a tome outlining the risks facing us. It also outlines the strategies, structure, mindset, and nature of the kinds of solutions that need to be put in place to face MADs.
I particularly found that his chapters on national security and defense strategies offered a solid strategic approach as to how to deal with the dangers he has highlighted.
The challenge of the solutions is the staggering cost. While inflation does not rear its ugly head in the manuscript, the cost to address things such as climate change would only serve to fuel our already teetering economy. In this respect, Ullman is right about the fragility of our economy, as rampant inflation has demonstrated.
The arguments he makes as to where defense dollars could and should be spent are nothing short of brilliant, especially around the future defense of Taiwan.
The Fifth Horseman is a book that cannot be ignored in these difficult and nerve-wracking times and is a must-read for those interested in the emerging policies we need to consider in today’s chaotic world.
Blaine L. Pardoe, is author of Blue Dawn: The most chilling "what-if" in history...the progressive overthrow of the United States.Pardoe is an award winning New York Times bestselling author who lives in Virginia. He is the author of numerous science fiction, military history, true crime, horror, and business leadership books.