The Age Of Asymmetry

It's here and we just have to get used to it:

Many plots have been foiled since 9/11, and many disasters averted. But that only dramatizes the point: in this war the enemy needs to succeed once in a few years, but the West has to succeed every time, every day, against overwhelming odds. You can see why a terrified official such as Dick Cheney coined the 1% solution: arguing that maximum force should be used to prevent a terror strike even if the odds of it occurring were less than 1%. And yet with Cheney unleashed, the rule of law suspended, countless Jack Bauers sent to do their worst, and the Geneva conventions junked, the war was largely lost in Afghanistan, bungled hopelessly in Iraq, and still out of reach of the CIA within America.

Last November, a suicidal jihadist struck at Fort Hood, a military base in Texas, shooting dead 13 people. Last week, a suicide bomber was able to penetrate a CIA base in Afghanistan, walk into the gym, and kill seven CIA officers, wounding many more.

This is a new and flat and dangerous earth. There is no safety in it. With extremists more globally connected than before and destructive technology constantly evolving to stay a few steps ahead of the technology trying to detect it, the world now knows the security of the past is over. As long as there is an ideology powerful enough to inspire individuals to kill themselves to kill others, civilisation will be vulnerable.

If this truth resonated across our concept of national security, asymmetry, fuelled again by technology, was just as destructive elsewhere. Remember the music industry?

It’s all but disappeared in a decade, as downloading tracks and concerts have replaced the concept of selling CDs.

Remember newspapers? You’re probably still holding one in your hands but not for much longer. The model in which an organisation employs reporters, editors and writers, and packages them all together with advertisements printed on forests of dead trees, is coming to an end. In America, the devastation is mind-blowing, as papers shut left and right. The flow of free information, pioneered by random bloggers, is too vast to be reined in by pay-walls any more. The talent required to get readers to pay up has already embarked on new adventures. The new moguls will own nothing, but be at the centre of everything.

Celebrity, the last rampart that separated the glamorous few from the chavtastic many, also slipped past the cracks of institutional control. The line separating Susan Boyle and Paris Hilton from Michael Jackson and Sarah Palin blurred into a new zone of celeb-reality.

In politics, the central control of the moneyed interests and the partisan Pooh-Bahs slipped away on the internet as well, as Barack Obama showed that a spontaneous, web-based fundraising organisation could outsmart the most established party machine and win. In Iran, an entire generation of young people, immune to the stultifying lies and threats of their moribund leaders, seized control of the phoney elections. Armed only with mobile phones and tweets, they turned a revolution upside down. And they have advanced the inevitable death of the Islamic republic by decades.