The two high Asian states, China and Afghanistan, which share a small border in the Wakhan region, were subject to a recent flurry of news coverage concerning a Chinese military endeavor underway in Afghanistan. If true, it suggests that perhaps China may be following in the footsteps of the United States, which has had a military presence in Afghanistan since 2001, or going even further back, to emulating the Soviet Union, which engaged in a 10-year war there from 1979-1989. While China has had confrontations with Afghanistan in the past, this resurgence began with denial. Asian media sources reported throughout late February that Chinese military patrols had crossed into Afghanistan while Chinese Defense ministry spokesman, Ren Guoqiang, stated that even though Chinese security forces do have counter-terrorism cooperation along the China-Afghanistan border, “reports in foreign media of Chinese military vehicles patrolling inside Afghanistan do not accord with the facts.” This denial of operations comes amid numerous allegations and photographic evidence dating back to November 2016. Some analysts and think tank scholars are concluding the Chinese statements that “the law enforcement authorities of the two sides have conducted joint law enforcement operations,” is a way to say that China is getting more involved in Afghanistan, while still avoiding actual confirmation of a military role. The distinction between military or law enforcement is important to the Chinese, who have similarly used these distinctions and technicalities when deploying Coast Guard vessels, but not Navy ships into the South China Sea, to assert its territorial claim with a domestic agency. Though it remains unclear what type of operation is underway, or if one is underway at all, China has been “acting as a growing regional power with security interests it wants to deal with itself rather than abrogating such responsibility to others,” and as it has usually attempted the more diplomatic route with Afghanistan, the lack of success may be turning it away from soft power options and towards a more direct approach, “recognizing the need for greater security engagement.” The United States has its own long history in Afghanistan, it being the beachhead of the War on Terror in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington DC, and has had a significant military presence there ever since. In the early 2000’s, there was “support from the American public, Congress, the international community and the Afghan people themselves,” though when a decade had passed and support waned in 2014, then-President Barak Obama announced that the U.S. had to “recognize Afghanistan will not be a perfect place…and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one. The future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans”—a statement which concluded by citing the withdrawal of American forces by 2016 (though the following year, it was announced that nearly 10,000 American servicemen would remain until at least 2017). Now the choices fall to President Donald J. Trump. The situation in Afghanistan remains fragile, with the Kabul government controlling approximately 60 percent of the nation's territory, the Taliban controlling 15 percent, and the remainder contested between various other factions including the Islamic State and al-Qaida. It remains to be seen how President Trump will move ahead in Afghanistan, or whether he will let China take the reins in the region, which was speculated in 2012 during the initial talk of Western withdrawals. In 1979, it was the Russians (then Soviets) attempting to control Afghanistan, when they dispatched military forces to secure a Marxist regime that was dealing with a growing insurgency “among both tribal and urban groups, and all of these—known collectively as the Mujahideen.” Russian forces quickly found themselves in a decade long quagmire, and in “1988 the Soviet Union signed an accord with the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan and agreed to withdraw its troops.” At present, though Russian forces have long since departed, at the end of 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed Russian intelligence sharing with Afghanistan-based Taliban against ISIS forces in the region—which are speculated to be the first steps of a Russian push to have a larger political and military presence in the region. Such a move could very well have them butting heads against the Chinese who have thrown their backing to the Afghan government. While Russia may be claiming to be anti-ISIS, China has a multitude of reasons for wanting to get involved in Afghanistan. One, and possibly chief of these reasons, is to end the sanctuary its neighbor provides to the Islamic Uighur insurgents who operate in Western China, often fleeing across the border in Afghanistan, a conflict that has cost hundreds of lives in recent years. There’s also the recent proclamation by ISIS of its intent to attack China, which is thought to be retaliation for Chinese mistreatment of the Muslim Uighur population. Afghan government officials have largely been welcoming towards more Chinese involvement, often supplying information on Uighur militants, and requesting China be more involved in peace making.  Additionally, in the past, China has had numerous dealings with Afghanistan over mining of rare minerals, with some of these contracts amounting to as much as $3 billion. A more stable Afghanistan is definitely in China’s best interest; it can assert regional power, gain a measure of security, and prosper economically. Though China still denies having a military presence within Afghanistan, it is clearly involved and will have to be wary not to make the same mistakes as the U.S. or the Soviets, as well as be on the lookout for future involvement from Trump and Putin. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of the U.S. government, or any other government or institution.  About the author: Justin Leopold-Cohen completed his undergraduate degree in American History from Clark University in 2013. He later interned with the Hudson Institute’s Center for Political and Military Analysis before beginning his graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University, pursuing a Master’s Degree in Global Security Studies.  

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.