77 North Washington Street

Taking up the central portion of this issue of The Atlantic Monthly is a special section called "State of the World," and it offers snapshots of a variety of developments that should get more attention than they actually do.

  • Wracked by social malaise and deteriorating public health, Russia is rapidly being depopulated. Its population could well fall from about 145 million today to below 100 million in 2050—an unprecedented decline for a modern country.
  • The well-known ravages of HIV/AIDS in Africa are most acute in a pivotal sector of the population—the military. The infection rate among soldiers in Zimbabwe is 50 percent, in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as much as 60 percent. In some South African units the rate is as high as 90 percent.
  • Without much fanfare, two countries that seemingly have little in common—predominantly Hindu India and predominantly Muslim Iran—are fashioning an increasingly intimate relationship. The relationship is not just economic; in this volatile part of the world the first stirrings of military cooperation are becoming apparent.
  • In the United States military planners must now deal with the consequences of a long-term decline in the number of companies capable of manufacturing sophisticated military hardware, especially aircraft. In the 1950s the Pentagon could rely on almost a dozen aircraft manufacturers; today the number is down to three.
  • These and other findings come from a diverse group of analysts at the RAND Corporation, whom we asked to identify specific global issues that as yet remain largely off the public's radar screen—but will soon be on it. RAND has for more than half a century been one of the country's most prominent research institutions; it addresses a full range of foreign and domestic issues, from military operations to antipoverty campaigns, from biotechnology and airport security to health-care reform and educational practices. Formally incorporated in 1948, and still based in Santa Monica, RAND was a direct result of the partnerships forged during World War II among scientists, social scientists, business leaders, and the military. RAND has some 1,700 staff members today, and its analysts conduct independent and nonpartisan research for a wide array of private and government clients. National security remains a major focus, and RAND's vast catalogue of publications includes thousands of documents, their titles ranging from Confronting Iraq and The Advent of Netwar to China's Arms Sales and Super Bowl Surveillance: Facing Up to Biometrics. One of this magazine's regular contributors, Bruce Hoffman, the author of last month's cover story, "The Logic of Suicide Terrorism," is a longtime RAND analyst and the head of the corporation's Washington office. We're pleased to have the work of Hoffman and fourteen of his colleagues represented in this issue. Their assessments begin on page 84, under the rubric "Headlines Over the Horizon."

    From Atlantic Unbound:

    Interviews: "The Hard Edge of American Values" (June 18, 2003)
    Robert D. Kaplan on how the United States projects power around the world—and why it must,

    The decades ahead will almost certainly be unstable and unpredictable ones—a time of extraordinary challenge for American leaders as they tend to our interests abroad. That is the subject of Robert D. Kaplan's lead essay, "Supremacy by Stealth," which provides a kind of user's manual for managing an unruly world. The recent Iraq war, in Kaplan's view, should not become the model for future behavior; such an enterprise is too huge, too blunt, too expensive, and too risky. America needs a far more delicate touch.

    Kaplan's article in this issue grew out of an ambitious, multi-year undertaking: to travel the far reaches of the planet with the U.S. military and describe how American power makes itself felt around the world. Americans are generally unaware of the full scale of U.S. military activity; as Kaplan points out, even before 9/11 U.S. Special Forces were conducting thousands of operations a year in close to 170 countries. "This will be a ground-level portrait from the remotest and most exotic regions," Kaplan says about his project, "not a broad overview from the imperial capital." Some of this reporting has already appeared in The Atlantic (for instance, the article on Yemen and Eritrea in the April issue), and more of it will be published on a regular basis over the next two or three years. Our aim is to document a period in which the responsibility for global order falls primarily on the United States—and to explain the perils and the opportunities that the nation confronts as a result. "To be an American in the first decade of the twenty-first century," Kaplan says, "is to be present at a grand and fleeting moment: a moment that, even if it lasts for several more decades, may be but a flicker in the long march of empires that have calmed broad swaths of the globe."

    The Editors