The Great Equation

I’ve been reading Ike’s Bluff, by Evan Thomas. Dwight D. Eisenhower is famous for more than a few things (e.g., Supreme Allied Commander during WWII, D-Day, President of the United States, etc.).

President Eisenhower often talked about “The Great Equation”, which in his terms was the struggle between freedom and security within the western democracies. Today we call this the struggle between security and privacy, but more correctly, we should call it the struggle between liberty and control.

If you read Eisenhower’s words, you see that he actually viewed the struggle as one between liberty and control as well. He writes in his memoirs, and in many contemporaneous statements to colleagues, that he was fearful that the drive to security would turn the US into a “garrison state” — a state dominated by fear and controlled by the military and the police.

At that time, the “security” was being safe from Communist aggression. Eisenhower uttered his famous phrase, “the military industrial complex” to describe the relationship between the defense industry, the military and the political leadership. Another term used to describe this was (is?) the Iron Triangle.

The bomber and missile gaps are excellent examples of the two terms above. The military needed to justify ever increasing budgets and to do so it pushed a story that the Soviet Union had far more bombers, and later missiles, than the United States. It leaked the bad intelligence supporting this erroneous and self-serving conclusion to the media and the defense industry. The defense industry used its clout in Congress and with the media to push the same agenda because the contracts would bring in substantial money.

Eisenhower fought back with information. Specifically, he focused on determining what the threat to the nation was. Eisenhower used the information from the U2 spy plane flights over Soviet territory to show that there was no bomber or missile gap. Eisenhower was able to prevent spending money on security measures that protected the US against nonexistent threats.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt are spread by both the well intentioned and the not-so-well intentioned (often, but not always, those with a financial stake in your purchasing of certain goods or services). You must understand what the real threat is. Eisenhower was deeply concerned about the financial health of the country and did not want to spend billions of dollars on unneeded weapons programs. It doesn’t help you to protect yourself against a threat that is not real. You will continue to leave yourself open to the unidentified threat and no longer have the resources to combat (and probably clean up the mess from the successful attack you failed to protect yourself against). Accurate threat identification is a critical component to risk-based threat responses. Resources are scarce. You must use them wisely.

After identifying the threat you must carefully weigh the options. Which options will successfully mitigate the threat to within your risk appetite and within your budget? Is the trade-off between control and liberty worth it? So often I see solutions that do not successfully mitigate the threat. That money is wasted and the organization is still vulnerable.

The Soviets took an early lead in the development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. A frantic military and press corps was screaming for an immediate response. Eisenhower was presented with the option of immediately putting into production a liquid-state fuel based ICBM. Ike recognized that the liquid-state ICBM would be obsolete within a year. He decided he could wait a year because he new the Soviets were not preparing for war. He had a correct understanding of the threat because of the information from the U2 spy plane. Even if the Soviets were able to produce and ICBM first, they could not produce it in sufficient numbers to harm the US. The Strategic Air Command would continue to provide an effective control against Soviet nuclear attack. He instead decided to wait a year and ordered the more advanced and long-term solution- solid-state fuel ICBMs.

Eisenhower understood the threat, mitigated his risks through effective controls, and allowed the country to continue to grow through proper resource use.

I like Ike.

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