Google Engineers Refused to Build Security Tool to Win Military Contract

It’s ironic on so many levels. The first level is, of course, the irony of refusing to do military work at a company that only exists because of defense contractors working on a military project (ARPANET).

More generally, the irony is that the U.S. military has made a far greater positive contribution to the world than Google. Under the Pax Americana, we have seen the greatest number of people rise out of abject poverty in human history. The stable, liberal world order that has been beneficial to so many people has been bankrolled by the U.S. and backed by the U.S. military.

This world where people in India and Pakistan are using Gchat Facebook to talk to each other instead of waging nuclear war against each other is not the result of Google or Facebook. It’s not the result of humans evolving beyond their tendencies towards warfare. It’s because the U.S. military has made entire classes of armed conflicts untenable.

.. This country only exists because of Puritan persecution in England, but you don’t see me thanking the Anglican church for America. Bad means result in good ends all the time; that doesn’t mean we should celebrate bad means.I agree that the US military has made positive contributions to the world, but I don’t think it’s the main source of the Pax Americana — strong international bodies (NATO, UN, &c), the tendency for democratic nations (the dominant sort in the 20th century) to avoid wars with each other, and advancements in crop science are all individually more responsible for the relative global stability of the last 30 years.

I don’t deny that the military had a role (usually financial) in any or all of the above, but I wouldn’t call it a causal role: virtually all academic research funding hits the defense world eventually (“food security”, “ecological security”, &c), especially during the Cold War. That’s the result of political contrivances, not any sort of deep connection between the U.S. military and scientific progress.

Finally, I wonder about drawing comparisons between the past U.S. military and current ventures. The Google engineers in question probably wouldn’t be designing waterproof radios for fastboats; they’d be training models that “recognize” “terrorists” from afar and systems that pass that information to drones for remote killing. Put another way: the shift away from conventional warfare changes the moral dimensions of working for the military.

.. It’s not that NATO and the UN are powerful or effective as bodies independent of the US, it’s that their greatest achievements have occurred without direct US military intervention.NATO and the UN both benefit (and suffer) from the power and presence of the US military, but their proudest moments (the German economic miracle, smallpox eradication, historic decreases in child mortality and malnutrition) all stem from smart policy and liberal principles, not from the looming threat of American tanks.

.. The fact that people are spurred into action by violence doesn’t mean that we ought to be violent, or that violence is even the most effective way to get people to act in the way you want.

.. At the risk of sort of invoking Godwin, I’m curious if you’d apply the same logic to Stalin and the fall of Nazi Germany. What does the victory in the Battle of Berlin say about whether Stalin was good or bad?

..  an academic institution is a public institution focused on advancing science and teaching it to the public. A corporation or contractor is in it for the profit. Notably, the academics involved were able to publish their work as the TCP/IP standard (and others), and anyone was able to use it.If it had actually been military contractors we would not have the internet as it is today.

.. Cerf (Stanford) and Kahn (DARPA) designed TCP. But BBN (now a subsidiary of Raytheon) built ARPANET.
.. The best the military does is keep stability. Google changed everything. One is static; the other, change. I don’t see them as comparable at all.Anyway I’ve heard it said that the container ship has done more to lift the world standard up, than all the political action of the last 1000 years. By distributing goods to all the corners of the world at a cheap price.

..

Who ensures a Ship with South Korean flag which does not a solid Navy reaches its destination ?I understand the analogy of Container being an innovative idea. With out calm seas under-written by US Navy, its not so great.

Without US Navy and its 10 carriers, we will be back to 19th century mercantilism and how much fun colonialism which is its off-shoot has been.

.. > Under the Pax Americana, we have seen the greatest number of people rise out of abject poverty in human history. The stable, liberal world order that has been beneficial to so many people has been bankrolled by the U.S. and backed by the U.S. military.It’s perfectly coherent to support the overall ends (relative world peace) and oppose the means (extrajudicial drone strikes, invasion of Iraq, etc.)

The Obama-Trump Grand Strategy

One of the paradoxes of Donald Trump’s election was that it seemed like a dramatic repudiation of Barack Obama — after the first black president, a birther; after a cool liberal academic, a roaring populist; after a multicultural “world man,” an American nationalist — and yet it happened at a time when Obama was quite popular.

Ben Rhodes, the bright young salesman for Obama’s foreign policy, offered this explanation for the paradox in his recent book: “When you distilled it, stripped out the racism and misogyny, we’d run against Hillary eight years ago with the same message Trump had used: She’s part of a corrupt establishment that can’t be trusted to bring change.”

.. Trump is trying to make a deal with North Korea, a last Cold War holdout, much as Obama did with Cuba. Trump is angering a traditional set of allies (the Europeans and now Canada) while pining for a détente with an authoritarian rival (Russia); Obama had a similar approach to realignment in the Middle East, angering the Israelis and Saudis while seeking an accommodation with Iran.

.. clear overlap in the two presidents’ approach to the global war on terrorism they inherited from George W. Bush: Both are willing to be aggressive with drones and bombs and special forces, both claim expansive executive authority to determine battlefields and targets, but both are wary of wider wars and ready to feud with their own advisers about anything that involves ground troops.

.. In all things Trump is cruder than Obama, more willing to make subtext into text, less (or not even remotely) detail-oriented, more careless of diplomatic norms and dismissive of humanitarian concerns. But if the two men use different rhetoric and often favor different alliances, they have both pursued the same kind of bigger-picture strategy — seeking to extricate the United States from some of its multiplying commitments, to shift our post-Cold War position away from a Pax Americana model of peace-through-hegemony and toward an “offshore balancing” approach that makes deals with erstwhile enemies and makes more demands of longtime friends. “America First” and “leading from behind” may sound very different, but they can reflect similar impulses and produce similar results.

..  the fact that the pursuit of offshore balancing has been sustained across two quite different administrations suggests that in some form it’s here to stay, and that the expert class should recognize its merits.

.. That recognition doesn’t mean shrugging off the Pax Americana. But it means acknowledging that neither the “pay any price, bear any burden” Cold War model of American leadership nor the “unipolar moment” model from the late 1990s and 2000s fits current realities very well.

.. hawkish politicians of the center-left and center-right — a Hillary Clinton, a Jeb Bush, a Marco Rubio — tend to foster an unrealistic view of what the United States can accomplish through idealistic pronouncements and military might.

.. Obama and Trump triumphed politically in part because they seemed more sensible than Clinton and her Republican counterparts about the need to make strategic choices, to cut losses and to cut deals.

.. often when the hegemon pulls back the new equilibrium turns ugly enough to pull us right back in.
.. the wooing of Kim represents a gamble that the North Koreans really want to change their posture, to reap the possible benefits of normalization, even to enter America’s orbit instead of Beijing’s. (If Kim’s regime became merely authoritarian rather than totalitarian, imitating the House of Saud instead of Stalin, the last scenario isn’t entirely fanciful.).. We also don’t know how the Chinese (and their potential allies of convenience in Moscow) would react to North Korea swinging into our orbit; there are ways in which peninsular stabilization could lead to regional destabilization. 

.. given that Trump is a longtime huckster who’s feeling his way entirely by instinct, there should be a lot of skepticism about how well this is likely to turn out.