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What’s metastrategics?

March 22, 2013

What’s metastrategics? Let me tell you a tale.

i turned in my badge at Sandia National Laboratories in February, 2011, having ended nearly three decades as the guy who regularly traveled with Sandia spokespersons to Washington and New York, carrying the torch and science writing for the two facilities sited in Albuquerque and Livermore, California. While I was at Sandia I invented a new word, metastrategics, the genesis of which is the subject of today’s blog.

.In my last decade I traveled mostly with the president, C. Paul Robinson, and an executive vice president, Alton Romig Jr. Robinson, world-renowned as an arms control negotiator and national laboratory director, resigned in 2005, and Romig enthusiastically accepted the unofficial mantle of Chief Sandia Spokesperson. Romig was a nationally renowned materials scientist with who had authored about 170 technical publications, was the co-author of three textbooks, and held two patents. I was delighted that such an extremely busy man was so enthusiastic to jump into the media business, for we had worked successfully on two or three papers about nanotechnology already (later I would work with him on global energy and climate change issues.)

Much of the time I treated these two men as peers, though in so many ways I was not. Since I only bugged them when I thought it was absolutely necessary, they didn’t seem to mind in the least. But whenever I had the opportunity, as when we were on the road, I would regale them with my opinions on science, technology, national policy, and the nation’s future. I had observed at first hand the decline of manufacturing in Britain, the concurrent shriveling of its materials and engineering enterprises, and the shrinkage of its aircraft, automotive, and steel industries to the role of contracting parts-makers and assemblers.

And so I was eager to point out that research in applied science, and in science/technology that had some possibility of being applied in marketable products, were essential assets for any country which wished to establish and/or maintain high-end international marketing power. This meant that very smart, very honest people had to pick which research horses to back. It also meant that industrial, academic, and national research laboratories would have to learn how to work together better – and importantly that a flow of extremely well-educated and creative minds had to be on hand actually to do the requisite research and development.

They would listen appreciatively, for I was preaching to the choir. Sandia already had won a modicum of success in setting up government-industry consortia in areas ranging from casting to adhesive tape manufacture, working one-on-one with large companies like Goodyear, and had teamed with other national laboratories to devise a new silicon-chip-making process for a private-industry consortium headed by Intel. That time had gone before the economic crunch, the idea lambasted by politicians whose technical know-how was at best questionable. But it had to be revived, I told my captive VIPs. The national labs had a huge reservoir of creative brainpower and the best-equipped scientific laboratories in the world, and they should be doing more to help the country to preserve and expand its place in the international technical community.

Later I expanded on this idea and started folding in the idea of “metastrategic” qualities into my lectures. My point was that these qualities –which included a large and creative technical infrastructure and certain other essential cultural, social, and economic features — are indispensable if any nation is to obtain and hold on to leadership status. They endow the capability to successfully achieve strategic national goals. They depend upon the voluntary sharing of social values by a significant percentage of the population, respect for knowledge and wisdom, and appreciation for demographic diversity, in a way that will sustain national cohesion, teamwork, social mobility, and an enduring economic policy framework.

I brought up the idea of metastrategic qualities in a number of talks, from the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco to the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire, England, but no one took the bait. Maybe the problem was that I tacked it on to my outwardly more dramatic comments about the Cold War and Strategic Defense Initiative.

Often I dislike the invention of new words. But I still believe avidly in the concept of metastrategics.