Despite the temporary trade-truce called by the United States and China during this past weekend’s G20 summit in Buenos Aires, official relations between the two countries remain at their lowest point in decades. Newsreels continually highlight the role of the escalating trade-war in the increasingly fractured relationship (symbolized by erecting new tariffs, blocking investments, and filing WTO disputes), as well as the harsher political rhetoric that is fraying bonds even further (typified Vice President Pence’s speech in October). Much less cited, however, has been the recent deterioration in military relations between the two powers. Military tensions in the South China Sea over disputed-sovereignty, freedom-of-navigation, and island-militarization have boiled over. In May, the United States rescinded China’s invitation to participate in its biennial multilateral Rim of the Pacific Exercise (after China had participated in 2014 and 2016). “RimPac” involved 27 nations in a display of international military cooperation in the region, and excluding China sent a strong signal. More alarmingly, it eliminated the only formal, large-scale military cooperation effort the two countries had maintained with one another. More recently, American and Chinese warships narrowly avoided a high-seas collision in these same disputed-waters. The Pentagon accused the Chinese Navy of using “an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver” and the Chinese accused the Americans of threatening their “sovereignty and security.” It’s clear that economic and political disagreements are spilling over into the military realm. The darkening cloud over military relations creates real risks that miscommunication, misunderstanding, or even a complete accident could lead to unwanted conflict between the world’s two superpowers.  For the sake of global security, the United States and China must quickly identify new productive mechanisms to strengthen military-to-military relationships with one another. Joint Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) operations present an effective, and relatively noncontroversial, way for the U.S. and China to do just that. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has led the charge in responding to nearly every major natural disaster in Southeast Asia because of its wide-ranging naval presence and deep regional relationships. In recent years, however, China has modernized its navy, and its capabilities increasingly rival the U.S. in this region. While certainly motivated by strategic competition, these changes also present the U.S. and China with tremendous opportunities for military cooperation through joint-HADR operations. Southeast Asia is one of the regions at the highest risk from the adverse effects of climate change. With dispersed islands, fragile coastal populations, and poor infrastructure, the nations and peoples of this region are under perilous threat from tropical storms that are more frequent and more powerful. Yet, because climate change is perhaps the only truly global problem, it offers unique opportunities for collaboration between governments who are otherwise hesitant or suspicious of one another, such as the U.S. and China. The Philippines would be a sound partner for the United States and China to cooperate with each other via newly-minted joint HADR operations. It is one of the most climate-change prone countries in the region, laying in the path of upwards of ten to twenty cyclones each year, with several mega-storms. The Philippines and the United States are longstanding allies with a mutual-defense treaty that solidifies their multifaceted military relationship. The U.S. military’s relief efforts after Typhoon Haiyan showcased the close HADR cooperation between the two governments. Nevertheless, Manila and Beijing have grown increasingly close in recent years, especially under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has courted Chinese investment and aid. Despite Duterte’s loud public calls for closer relations with China, however, military cooperation between the Philippines and China is still pretty sparse. While in Manilla recently, a senior Filipino military official mentioned that their only HADR military-cooperation efforts with China involve training to evacuate victims from collapsed structures in the event of an earthquake. While this is important, regional HADR cooperation should go much further. To make this a reality, the United States and China should first establish a HADR framework in partnership with the Philippines. Such a framework should include mechanisms to facilitate communication, distribute information, and share responsibility during a crisis. The next step would be to arrange and execute small-scale, trilateral HADR training exercises together. This will prepare military professionals from all three countries to operate together under normal circumstances. Then, when the next major humanitarian disaster strikes the Philippines, the U.S. and China will be enabled to respond effectively in partnership with local authorities during the actual crisis. The Philippines case-study provides a strong example of how the region and its two most important powers would benefit from more regular, formal avenues for military cooperation. Joint HADR operations would serve as a meaningful confidence-building measure between the United States and China, especially considering how low trust is between the two parties currently. It would also give the opportunity for military professionals from both countries to engage with one another, creating important relationships that could be drawn upon in the future to quell potential moments of uncertainty or tension. Ultimately, it could help set the foundation for cooperation in the region by establishing a pattern of productive interactions that could inspire improvement in other areas of U.S.-China relations as well. About the author: Austin McKinney is an officer in the United States Air Force Reserve, with active-duty experience in humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, studied as a Marshall Scholar at the London School of Economics, and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy. The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect those of the U.S. Government or the Department of Defense. Austin is thankful to the Carnegie Council’s Asia Dialogues Program and the Henry Luce Foundation for facilitating his research on climate change and national security.

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.