Since the turn of the century, the world has changed and not in a kum by ah, Coke commercial kind of way. It’s gotten weird and gets consistently weirder.
The recurring undertone is beastly growth in the hunger for commodities (yes…I know that will never change) primarily energy and basic materials.
We need the first to go places and to help make stuff with the second. Nations fighting over commodities is hardly new. It goes back almost as far as human history can. It’s how the next one will be fought that will be different.
The underlying motivation for the Axis forces was to secure the necessary supply of commodities that their huge industrial machines needed. The Japanese, needing just about everything, wanted the Pacific rim for mineral rich Australia and oil rich Indonesia. The Nazis needed the coal and minerals of the Alsace-Lorraine and the Sudetenland as well as the natural gas, oil and minerals of Russia. They were good at making stuff but their blinding, exceedingly nasty ideologies were both their downfall and the rallying cause for the Allies.
The brewing conflict is no different. China, for example, has very limited resources but is awesome at making stuff and they need the energy and materials. Most of the world has had the come to Jesus moment and realises that there’s not a whole lot of oil left in the ground. The real struggle will be either to seize what’s left, an expensive and messy undertaking, or to create an alternative out of thin air. But the war will be fought with science, wits and technology rather than rockets and guns.
Both developed nations and emerging nations with the ability to do so are working feverishly and secretly on alternative energy solutions and other high tech developments that will give the victor the edge in today’s exponential, global, growth economy. And just like in during World War II, government works hand in hand with the private sector to make it happen. General Motors and General Electric played as big a part in the Allies winning the war as General Eisenhower and General MacArthur. Today? It’s Google (GOOG) and Twitter or Apple (AAPL). Yes, Apple.
Content and copyright control will be king. While the Hippies of Cupertino have created some shiny, neat little gadgets, it’s how the content is actually accessed that is the pure genius. iTunes, more or less, put a stake through the heart of a century old industry. No one ever talks about iTunes contribution to Apple’s earnings (mainly because they don’t disclose it). But I’m sure it’s bigger than we think. And iTunes is just the front organisation. The huge, secret warehouses in North Carolina’s research triangle are the bigger, heavy water type of secret weapon. No one knows for sure, but the chatter is that it has something to do with content copyright and licensing management. Apple may be on the verge of being the gatekeeper on how the world’s media is distributed and how the owners of the content are paid for the use. Will this put the kibosh on Chinese media piracy? It will probably never be wiped out completely, but if the rightful owners are compensated more correctly than they are now, one side will have to pay for something that they currently aren’t paying for and the other side will make more money. Business is war. War is business.
In November of last year, Iran admitted to a cyber attack that targeted the computers of the uranium enrichment centrifuges used in their controversial nuclear program. Minutes later, a car bomb exploded killing their top nuclear scientist and wounding another. Today’s international espionage headlines usually revolve around some sort of cyber technology theft or compromise. WikiLeaks “mastermind” Julian Assange is a sort of creepy, sad, less cool James Bond. The microfilm in the hollow heel of a show has been replaced with iPhones and Blackberries. The out of the way Parisian café is no longer the sight for the drop. Just find a Starbucks with a hot spot.
All kidding aside, the coming “fight” is quite serious. Some countries will create breakthroughs the old fashioned way: inspiration and perspiration. Some countries (Cough!!! China! Cough!!!) will skip both parts and try to steal them. President Obama’s pulpit pounding emphasis on ramping up education, especially maths and science, isn’t just so your fifth grader can understand why rubbing a balloon on your head makes his younger brother’s hair stand up. Uncle Sam needs front line brains that will come up with solution that will help create cars that run on garbage like in Back To The Future. You know, if Rosie the Riveter was around today, it’s a safe bet she’d have a Facebook page.
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