Eight years ago, deep in the heart of the Pentagon, a plan was being developed for the future of America. It was not a military strategy but, instead, a comprehensive narrative for how our nation would achieve prosperity, security and sustainability in the 21st century.
Col. Mark Mykleby and Capt. Wayne Porter were given this assignment by Adm. Michael Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nominated by President George W. Bush and continuing his service under President Barack Obama, Mullen believed America’s current policy paradigm was outdated as our nation struggled with growing debt, an increasingly complex global context and rising environmental stress.
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Mullen challenged Mykleby and Porter to think beyond the bounds of the military to create a compelling and coherent “national design to carry us through the complexities we face today in order to lead us toward a better future.”
In their ensuing “National Strategic Narrative,” Mykleby and Porter cited sustainability as our top strategic imperative for the 21st century, defining it broadly as an ecosystem that remains diverse and productive over time. Rather than taking a reactive stance and over-investing in a national defense force, they argue, we need a set of proactive investment strategies that anticipate economic and climate changes and foster a resilient economy and an environment that is capable of adapting to new global factors and influences.
In their recent book “The New Grand Strategy,” Mykleby, with authors Patrick Doherty and Joel Makower, builds on this narrative and lays out a potential road map for this sustainable future. As we strive to create a stronger North Carolina and nation, it is well worth reading.
The book examines three internal weaknesses we face as a country:
▪ Economic instability fueled by flattening wages, increasing unemployment, decreasing demand for goods and growing poverty.
▪ International instability led by the growth of non-nation states, cyberterrorism and the threat multiplier of climate change.
▪ A disengaged citizenry that is disenchanted with government and is more “resident than citizen” – in turn, undermining our democracy.
Were we to address these threats, what could success look like? It might include: increased economic productivity that boosts livable wage jobs and everyone’s quality of life; an engaged and healthy citizenry that is prepared to lead and compete in a global economy; communities connected to each other through high-quality infrastructure (broadband, roads, rail, airports, etc.); increased renewable-energy production with reduced dependence on imported fossil fuels; and enhanced agricultural output by farms that are not only more profitable but replenish rather than deplete the soil.
With these outcomes in mind, we can then develop an aligned set of strategies. To increase earning opportunities and quality of life while reducing our cost of living, certain things need to happen. We need, for example, to help our cities and rural communities build walkable downtowns that foster local entrepreneurial ecosystems and small-business growth, which in turn increase access to high-quality products and services that make our lives easier and ultimately less expensive.
To drive long-term economic growth in our communities, we need a workforce prepared to compete in a global economy. To do that, we must prioritize investment in our schools, community colleges and universities, and we need to ensure high-quality education not only reaches the most vulnerable but is relevant to the demands of a rapidly changing world and growing industries.
One such arena is renewable energy, projected to be a multi-billion dollar industry over the next decade. Investment in solar, wind and geothermal energies can generate thousands of jobs, help make our communities net energy producers, slow climate change and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. With North Carolina already being a national leader in solar energy, we have a great opportunity here.
Regenerative agriculture also holds real promise – particularly for an agricultural powerhouse like North Carolina. Instead of water, chemical and land-intensive industrial agriculture, we have an option to invest in smarter farming techniques that reduce soil depletion, increase yield and make local farms more economically viable.
Other high-return investment strategies outlined in the book include developing critical infrastructure such as broadly distributed fiber, good roads, rail and airports that connect our metropolitan hubs with our micropolitan and rural spokes; making affordable housing a reality through smart housing policy; and ensuring access to high-quality health care for all of our citizens through high-tech, high-touch health clinics.
It will take time, will and investment to make this grand strategy a reality. But what’s the viable alternative?
Christopher Gergen is CEO of Forward Impact, a founding partner of HQ Community and author of “Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives.” Stephen Martin is deputy chief of staff at the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter through @cgergen.