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strategy and business
 / Spring 2004 / Issue 34(originally published by Booz & Company)


Philip Bobbitt: The Thought Leader Interview

S+B: So how did you decide to bring them together?

BOBBITT: I was in the State Department at the time of the Gulf War. And I needed to give some money to the Library of Congress to support the National Prize for Poetry, which is named for my mother. But I couldn’t go out and earn money by consulting, because that would violate ethics rules. However, I could give a public lecture and have the proceeds donated to the Library of Congress. And I was invited to give a series of four lectures at St. Mary’s Law School by the dean. Suddenly, I noticed that these two hitherto sort of separate channels, almost against my will, had begun to converge. The powers of war invoked by the first President Bush involved both a constitutional and a strategic element. In the Reagan era, there had been a treaty between the U.S. and Soviet Union, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces [INF] treaty, which provided for a reciprocal reduction in theater-range nuclear weapons. The Reagan administration had earlier tried to redefine some crucial provisions of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty when they implemented it, and this led to a constitutional controversy over the future interpretation of the INF treaty. This was a very interesting intersection between constitutional law, international law, and strategic policy. I began to realize how artificial it was to separate these disciplines.

Because I had to give four 90-minute talks, I had a lot of writing to do. I let my mind have free play, and these ideas took on a life of their own. I think it may have been Dylan Thomas who said that a blank page was his opportunity to find out what he thought.

S+B: And that’s where you first developed the idea of the market-state, the state that creates opportunity, departing from the political norms of the past century?

BOBBITT: There are several simultaneous and related events already on the horizon that indicate the severe stresses to the nation-state in fulfilling its promises to steadily improve the material well-being of the nation.

First, nation-states are trying to protect their national cultures against the Internet, against international communications media, and against electronic links that can’t really be barricaded out.

Second, they are trying to protect their national currencies and fiscal policies against a global financial system that more or less operates outside their control and determines the value of national currency and debt instruments.

Third, they are facing transnational threats — not just terrorism and the availability of weapons of mass destruction, but medical threats like AIDS and SARS, and global environmental changes like global warming.

Fourth, a new system of global human rights supercedes national laws and forces nations to obey rules they did not create.

And fifth, of course, the commodification of weapons of mass destruction presents threats that no state can assure protection against by deterrence or defense. No state can handle these threats by itself, but no state can opt out of facing them either.

S+B: What kinds of indicators would show that a market-state is drawing closer?

BOBBITT: I think you’ll see more use of incentives rather than regulation to achieve political goals. The framework agreement with North Korea is a market-state technique. I’m not sure it will ultimately prevail; it’s too soon to say. But it’s a very different technique than simply condemning them or trying to punish them for cheating, even though they were clearly guilty.

You will also see increasing emphasis on public–private partnerships, and the outsourcing of what were formerly thought to be core governmental activities. Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and George W. Bush all promoted this. In that sense, they’re all more like market-state leaders than their predecessors were. George W. Bush’s call for an “ownership society” is part of this trend.

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