Mark Mykleby: Mr. Y on strategic ecology

“I’m not worried about being right; I’m worried about learning,” says former marine colonel Mark Mykleby in this interview for The Conversation podcast.

Mykleby is co-author with Wayne Porter of “A National Strategic Narrative” (pdf), written in 2011 for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and currently works with the New America Foundation’s Smart Strategy Initiative.

In reference to George Kennan’s famous Mr. X article, Porter and Mykleby wrote under the pseudonym Mr. Y.


All our strategies … are focused on how we’re going to keep something away. They’re all focused on how you’re going to control things. And we said we weren’t going to do that.

We wanted to write a strategy based on opportunity — on where we’re going to go, and what we’re going to create, and who are we going to be, and what are we going to look like as a nation in the future. …

We really have to approach the world as an open system. And in an open system you have to start thinking in ecological terms. That’s why Wayne and I started calling it a strategic ecology. …

You have to have credibility — credibility about who you are and what you are. That means the strength of your nation. … That credibility is going to give you influence.

There’s a great line in Beowulf that says, “Behavior that’s admired is the path to power among people everywhere.” That’s just human dynamics 101. …

What made Kennan one of our greatest strategists is he focused more on potentials and tendencies than analytics. He synthesized things. …

Because we were thinking about strategic ecology, and we were reading those types of things, the concept of sustainability kept coming up. We’re not friggin’ tree-huggers, and I’m no poster child for sustainability. I’m trying to figure it out.

But sustainabiltiy seemed to fit and here’s why. We looked at the ecological definition of sustainability: an organism’s ability to remain diverse and productive over time. Suspend your [dis]belief for a second and consider that the United States may be an organism in the greater ecology — the strategic ecology.

So if our enduring interests are prosperity and security, look how that maps to the definition, given our current context. Diverse means depth, means redundancy, means resilience. That part of it is your ability to take a gut punch and come back swinging. That’s security — 21st century style.

There’s no amount of bubble wrap we can wrap around every American’s head to keep the bat shit away.

In the preface to the strategic narrative, Anne-Marie Slaughter describes it as advocating five shifts:

  1. From control in a closed system to credible influence in an open system;
  2. From containment to sustainment;
  3. From deterrence and defense to civilian engagement and competition;
  4. From zero sum to positive sum global politics/economics; and
  5. From national security to national prosperity and security.

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