Asia Institute Insight: “Does national security exist in slow motion?”

Emanuel Pastreich

December 22, 2012

The Asia Institute


“Does national  security exist in slow motion?”



The military tends to think about security in fast motion: how can you secure an airport in a few hours, or bomb something in a split second. That trend is exacerbated by the increasing speed of computers overall. We need to be able to respond to computer viruses or missile launches instantaneously. And that speed element has the aura of effectiveness. But that psychological need for a fast response has little do to with real security.

What if the primary security problem that we face has to be measured in hundreds of years? There does not seem to be any system in place in the security/intelligence/military community for grappling with such essential problems. Dave Montgomery, author of the remarkable book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, noted at a recent Asia Institute seminar (forthcoming) the loss of topsoil is something like 1% a year. That rate is pretty much invisible on everyone’s radar screens in Washington D.C.


The eyes will glaze over of anyone rushing around to meetings in helicopters or limousines if you mention this sort of a problem. But that trend will be catastrophic in less than a century as it takes hundreds of years to create topsoil. The loss of arable land combined with the rapid increase in population overall and the large increase in the middle class (people around the world who can now be consumers) is without doubt one of the greatest security threats we face. But “inter-generational security” or “long term security” is the great blind spot in the machine. And it is most certainly a fatal blind spot.