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The perspective of this book

This book could have been written from the perspective of existing economic theories, or from the perspective of political science, but since my criticism of both disciplines is radical it was natural for me to set out from the issue of scientific method and the notion of the competitive advantage of nations: that is, very much from the foundations of the discipline of economics or political economy. We could say that the issue of competitive advantage is one of how to handle need-to-know information or intelligence. Information has always been at the heart of this issue. It is like the approach of Marco Polo more than seven hundred years ago. At that time, getting ahead was very much a question of gathering and acting on good intelligence, with observation and experience given priority over theories. When Marco Polo, his father, and his uncle entered a new city, they approached the question of competitive advantage in a systematic fashion which might surprise us today. Through a question-and-answer process and with the use of basic abilities of syllogism, they would rapidly identify what value was being produced in each village and city on their journeys. This is a tradition and an approach to the study of social life or behaviour which appeals to Asians today, as we jointly undertake the quest for a new common foundation for the study of Man. Any social-science paradigm for the 21st century which hopes to be accepted globally cannot ignore the Asian perspective. That implies that it will be necessary to reintroduce some of that social complexity back into the study of Man, to study the subject from a broader and more practical perspective.

Unlike in economics, most papers and books in the intelligence-studies field present findings of research on how to conduct analysis from a practical and instrumental perspective: a methodological project which could be said to have started with men like R.V. Jones in Britain in 1939,10 Sherman Kent in the USA, and Stevan Dedijer in Sweden. This field deals with intelligence from an ideal point of view, assuming that valid and reliable information is available. As in standard academic research projects, it is largely a question of doing the necessary empirical work, finding the appropriate methods and analyses, and then using them to describe and explain. But (as the authors cited knew) the reality of intelligence-studies methodology is more complex than that. For instance, certain dimensions are systematically avoided. The most obvious example is neglect of the geopolitics tradition, but another is neglect of the value of speculation as a way of forming hypotheses, as has been practiced in the study of futurology. There are methodological problems with the instrumental approach, as when it typically assumes that one can draw a clear distinction between what is intelligence and what is not. In reality, particularly when it comes to an organization's macro environment, this distinction is often far from clear. Instead, analysts have to do a lot of guessing, which leads to a strange process of illusions and counter-illusions, where one is often no longer sure what is true and what false. Not only can we not discard what may be false, but we may end up having to use it, not knowing whether it is valid, for lack of anything better. That gives us an answer which we know might be false, but which will probably be less false than any alternative guesses. This is the domain of normative intelligence analysis. Such problems may seem very distant from those studied in economics, but that is not in fact so. The methodology is common to all the social sciences.

These issues have traditionally been relevant chiefly for State intelligence organizations, but they are increasingly becoming a problem also for multinational enterprises, as their respective ways of gathering information about the world around them are becoming more alike. Multinational enterprises are also finding that their influence and impact on the affairs of the world continues to increase. This means that they, like nation states, have become increasingly concerned about macro factors of the environment. Above all, they have become more concerned about the correlation that exists between information gathering and competitive advantage.

Multinational enterprises do not necessarily imply private ownership, only a market logic for running the organization. In many parts of the world, such as China, multinational enterprises are often run by the State, either overtly, or de facto via a hidden structure of ownership. That the State can be an effective owner of businesses is a puzzling idea to many Westerners who are used to the dichotomy of the Cold War, where "State-run" is the same as "ineffective" and "Communist". It is worth remembering, too, that China has not always been a good model for economic development. During the first ten years under Mao the country did reasonably well, but after 1958 it practically collapsed. History shows that people will not work for nothing for very long if they are given a say in the matter. Socialist ideals have not often survived into the next generation. Political ideals are seldom inherited. That was the fate of Eastern Europe and Russia, but also of China. The "Great Leap Forward" and the Cultural Revolution did nothing to change this. Only with the reforms of Deng Xiaoping did the emphasis slowly shift again away from political ideology towards economic output.

A book is not complete without plenty of examples. The examples offered in this book, in the form of political and economic maxims, are gathered and selected from notes on my reading over the past two decades, some of which originally derived from lectures in geopolitics that I followed in France in the early 1990s. Fortunately they have retained much of their relevance. Each year I update some figures, data, and statistics where necessary. A major reason why there have been few changes overall is that we live in the same post-Cold War era. Thus the major issues, or enjeux as the French like to say, are much the same now as they were then.

Better-known authors of maxims like Kautilya, Sun Zi, Han Fei Zi, and Machiavelli all wrote with a particular prince in mind. The views presented here are not intended for any particular "prince" or Head of State, but apply to anyone occupied with the question of how to seek competitive advantage. As we shall see, building a competitive society is less about choosing a political ideology than about building virtues, about preserving a certain competitive Geist or spirit within a culture. The perspective taken here will necessarily be a Northern European or at least Western one, since I do not believe it is possible to step out of one's own shoes. That view is also consistent with the methodology underlying the ideas expressed. Thus the examples do not claim to be objective, only useful. They are the ideas of an "us" rooted in cultural relativism. This is also the realization that geoeconomics and geopolitics focus on being truly relevant. To teach only the methodology of the discipline without giving examples would have made for less interesting reading. Consequently much of the book consists of a collection of geoeconomic maxims.

This then is a book within geoeconomics, through the examples it uses, but it is first of all a book about geoeconomics, as a discipline. The focus is methodological, but it also describes the transition from geopolitics to geoeconomics. This means that it is both a descriptive book about normative methods of intelligence and a normative book, presenting a selection of normative examples.

The study of geopolitics is very much alive in all walks of life, whether private or public (business, State, police/military, even regional and local government), and it is a popular topic among managers in larger corporations, under headings such as "strategic intelligence". At the same time, what amounts to geopolitics can appear in different guises, since decision makers are highly individualistic and prefer diverse forms of intelligence even from a methodological point of view. Some are more inclined to geopolitical and geoeconomic thinking than others, and many are skeptical about both, preferring the more instrumental approach of competitive intelligence, or simply the study of history or biographies. The methodological problem is too often presented as an either/or question, as a question of choosing sides or adhering to a specific school. What has been missing is an attempt to show how these two approaches to the social sciences are distinct, how they can co-exist, and how they can be integrated theoretically with the larger area of intelligence studies.

Can the study of economics dispense with the logic of geoeconomics? In this book I argue that it cannot. Without geoeconomics, economics as a study becomes less relevant at the macro level. This book is written for the author's colleagues, students, and intelligence professionals in the private and public sectors. If it should find readers among a broader circle of professions, the author would feel most honored.

 
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