tremendous competitive advantages in technology and many other areas critical to sustaining a leading position in global affairs.
But without the Soviet Union to confront, our national security apparatus thrashed around throughout the 1990s looking for a new raison d’être. Even though we significantly increased our focus on terrorism after the September 11, 2001, attacks, our security establishment still has essentially the same processes, culture, values, technical capabilities, and organization that were developed to confront the Soviets. And so we are in the classic position of a successful enterprise that is ironically handicapped by its own prior success, a situation that was aptly described in a National Academies (2007) report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm:
There can be no more dangerous place to be than in first place: the one holding that exalted position becomes everyone else’s target, and perhaps worse, is the recognized beneficiary of the status quo—and therefore reluctant to promote, or even accept, change.
In this situation, we are extremely vulnerable to disruptive changes in the global security environment. Great companies facing this problem either successfully adapt or go out of business. As Clayton Christianson, famous for his study of disruptive technologies, has described it (Christianson and Raynor, 2003):
They [industry leaders] pour resources into their core business. They listen to their best customers. And in doing so, industry leaders get blindsided by disruptive innovations—new products, services, or business models that initially target small, seemingly unprofitable customer segments, but eventually evolve to take over the marketplace. This is the innovator’s dilemma—and no company or industry is immune.
Even though the current and future security environments demand greater agility from our national security establishment, we have moved in the opposite direction. For example, the first Corona optical spy satellite took slightly more than two years from start to first successful launch. Today, it is not at all unusual for a new government satellite program to take more than a decade to achieve first launch. And while we measure our innovation-cycle times in decades, our adversaries, like the insurgents in Iraq, measure theirs in weeks. The Washington Post reported on this problem last year (Atkinson, 2007):
The Improvised Explosive Device struggle has become a test of national agility for a lumbering military-industrial complex fashioned during the Cold War to confront an even more lumbering Soviet system….“If we ever want to kneecap al-Qaeda, just get them to adopt our procurement system. It will bring them to their knees within a week,” a former Pentagon official said.