Excerpts from the classic 1998 article Spotting the Losers: Seven Signs of Non-Competitive States
by Ralph Peters:
As change has internationalized and accelerated, however, new predictive tools have emerged. They are as simple as they are fundamental, and they are rooted in culture. The greater the degree to which a state–or an entire civilization–succumbs to these “seven deadly sins” of collective behavior, the more likely that entity is to fail to progress or even to maintain its position in the struggle for a share of the world’s wealth and power. Whether analyzing military capabilities, cultural viability, or economic potential, these seven factors offer a quick study of the likely performance of a state, region, or population group in the coming century.
The key “failure factors” are:
Restrictions on the free flow of information.
The subjugation of women.
Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure.
The extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization.
Domination by a restrictive religion.
A low valuation of education.
Low prestige assigned to work.
Some countries would devour investments as surely as they would soldiers. Others just demand savvy and caution on our part. Yet another might require a local ally or partner to whom we can make ourselves indispensable. Whether engaging militarily or doing business in another country, it gives us a tremendous advantage if we can identify four things: their image of us, their actual situation, their needs, and the needs they perceive themselves as having (the four never connect seamlessly).
There are parallel dangers for military men and businessmen in taking too narrow a view of the challenges posed by foreign states. An exclusive focus on either raw military power or potential markets tells us little about how people behave, believe, learn, work, fight, or buy. In fact, the parallels between military and business interventions grow ever greater, especially since these form two of the legs of our new national strategic triad, along with the export of our culture (diplomacy is a minor and shrinking factor, its contours defined ever more rigorously by economics).
The seven factors discussed above offer a pattern for an initial assessment of the future potential of states that interest us. Obviously, the more factors present in a given country, the worse off it will be–and these factors rarely appear in isolation. Normally, a society that oppresses women will do it under the aegis of a restrictive dominant religion that will also insist on the censorship of information. Societies lacking a strong work ethic rarely value education.
In the Middle East, it is possible to identify states where all seven negatives apply; in Africa, many countries score between four and seven. Countries that formerly suffered communist dictatorships vary enormously, from Poland and the Czech Republic, with only a few rough edges, to Turkmenistan, which scores six out of seven. Latin America has always been more various than Norteamericanos realized, from feudal Mexico to dynamic, disciplined Chile.
Ultimately, our businesses have it easier than our military in one crucial respect: business losses are counted in dollars, not lives. But the same cultural factors that will shape future state failure and spawn violent conflicts make it difficult to do business successfully and legally. We even suffer under similar “rules of engagement,” whether those placed on the military to dictate when a soldier may shoot or the legal restraints under which US businesses must operate, imposing a significant disadvantage vis-à-vis foreign competitors.
As a final note, the biggest pitfall in international interactions is usually mutual misunderstanding. We do not understand them, but they do not understand us either–although, thanks to the Americanization of world media, they imagine they do. From mega-deals that collapsed because of Russian rapacity to Saddam’s conviction that the United States would not fight, foreign counterparts, rivals, and opponents have whoppingly skewed perceptions of American behaviors. In the end, military operations and business partnerships are like dating–the advantage goes to the player who sees with the most clarity.