A review of The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD by Harlan Ullman, Post Hill Press, 2021,
336 pages, $28.00

More Dangerous Than the Old MAD

Dr. Harlan Ullman’s 12th book, The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large is a brilliant, provocative and a timely alarm that the public, politicians, and global leaders must read and take seriously. While aimed principally at a deeply and perhaps intractably divided American audience, this book has universal application.

Ullman’s thesis is crisp, clear, and compelling. Massive Attacks of Disruption are now a more imminent danger than traditional threats from state, non-state, and individual actors. Unlike the Cold War MAD that prevented nuclear war, the new MAD is grotesquely threatening and inherently destabilizing society on a near daily basis. Examples of the the new MAD include the COVID-19 pandemic that so far has claimed more lives in America than all the wars and battles it has fought since the Civil War ended in 1865; climate change; cyber threats; social media; terror, debt; and drones are among the key symptoms and disruptors of the new MAD.

Perhaps the most onerous side of MAD rests in failed and failing governments from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe with Brussels, London, Washington, and elsewhere. With danger increasing, governments have lost credibility and are weakening and staggering. 

The industrial and information revolutions, accelerated by globalization and the diffusion of power have had a dual, Janus-like effect on society. On the one hand, society has achieved unprecedented levels in standards of living. On the other hand, we have far greater vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and interdependencies which MAD exploits. 

We have seen this many times over. Suppose because of acts of man or nature, cell phones, internet connections, and access to electric power, fuel, water, food and bank accounts were lost indefinitely. Or imagine a hoof and mouth outbreak that extended to plant life, damaging or wiping out vital crops. All these dismal scenarios and worse are no longer the work of best selling thrillers and blockbuster movies.

In his analysis, Ullman demonstrates the effects of Massive Attacks of Disruption on society. He evaluates China and Russia in terms of strengths and weaknesses and in which both are utilizing MAD strategies politically, economically, and militarily. A chapter exploring the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920 is particularly relevant, including the quite astonishing historical fact that immediately after that pandemic ended, the United States embarked on its greatest economic boom ever—perhaps an optimistic note for the future.

After comparing the inflection points of 1914, 1939, and 2001 that led to global turmoil with 1918, 1945, and 1989 marking the end of two world wars and one global cold war, the last three chapters offer recommendations and solutions for dealing with MAD. Chapter eight calls for major changes in the organization of the U.S. government, including a Constitutional Convention to future-proof our freedoms (a reform many of us are calling for in the UK). Chapter nine presents a new National Security and Defense Strategy based on “active defense” and a Porcupine defense that seeks to impose such costs on any aggression to make it unacceptable, and can be funded with smaller budgets.

The last chapter offers a new foreign policy based on far greater reliance on allies, partners and friends while changing the belligerent and increasingly hostile relations with China and Russia on the basis of pursuing shared interests.

Finally, Ullman proposes a National Infrastructure Fund with a public-private partnership in which money is raised by the sale of 30-year bonds guaranteed by the government paying two percent over prime to attract private investment, something that should be considered to replace the current infrastructure and Build Back Better plans if and when either falters.

All political and military-minded individuals will enjoy Ullman’s two scenarios: one of Russian seizure of Ukraine’s Serpent Island in the very westernmost part of the Black Sea, and an innovative Chinese move to absorb Taiwan. The former was very prescient given the war in Ukraine.

The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD is a glimpse of the future, and is filled with important recommendations and solutions to the very real danger of the new, irrational, destabilizing MAD—as well as traditional threats that have not vanished. 

About David Julian Richards

General David Julian Richards (Baron Richards of Herstmonceux) served as the UK Chief of Defence Staff (2010-2013) Chief of the General Staff (2009-10) and Commanding General of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan (2004-2006). 

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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