Future World


The National Intelligence Council (NIC) has released its quadrennial report forecasting global trends that have a major impact on our world, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” in shorthand, GT2030. While many organizations, both inside and outside of government, as well as pundits of varying stripes attempt to project what the future may hold – with varying degrees of success – GT2030 does this and does it extraordinarily well. And this is an especially important time to leverage this analysis. As the chairman of the NIC, Christopher A. Kojm puts it in an opening letter to readers:

We are at a critical juncture in human history, which could lead to widely contrasting futures. It is our contention that the future is not set in stone, but is malleable, the result of an interplay among megatrends, game-changers and, above all, human agency. Our effort is to encourage decision makers – whether in government or outside – to think and plan for the long term so that negative futures do not occur and positive ones have a better chance of unfolding.

Read the entire article here on the Defense Media Network website and consider what the future might hold.

Pacific Pivot

The Navy

Much ink has been spilled discussing the United States “Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region” or as it is known more colloquially – especially in naval circles, the “U.S. Pivot to the Pacific.” President Obama put it this way almost five years ago:

“Our new focus on this region reflects a fundamental truth – the United States has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation … Here, we see the future. With most of the world’s nuclear power and some half of humanity, Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, needless suffering or human progress.”

President Barack Obama
Remarks to the Australian Parliament November 17, 2011

There has been much talk of late of the United States’ “Rebalance Towards Asia,” or as it is more popularly known, its “Pivot to the Pacific.” This “Pivot” is being watched carefully – and it should be.  Major powers have sometimes been long on rhetoric and short on action. Understanding the factors that are driving the United States in this direction can help in discerning whether this rebalance – or pivot – is something that will be sustained or an initiative that will run its course until a new “strategy de jour” presents itself.

Without putting too fine a point on it, beyond the economic, demographic, trade and other reasons the United States is becoming more focused on the Asia-Pacific region to the extent it has announced a substantial shift in its military forces to the region; the rise of China as a major Asia-Pacific and world superpower is clearly driving U.S. initiatives in this region.  It is fair to say that the moves by the United States are a natural response to new geopolitical realities of a rising China in general and the rise of China’s military in particular.  Most would agree the United States’ rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific is one of the most effective ways for the United States to provide and sustain credible military presence in the world’s most dynamic area.

It’s clear that the United States wants to “Pivot to the Pacific,” but how it plays out is still a matter of debate.

In this prize-winning article in the Australian Navy League’s premier publication, The Navy, we examine whether this “pivot” is real or just rhetoric.

Alternative Worlds?


Most of us wonder what the world will look like in the future. All of us have opinions – and they are more or less well-informed. The U.S. Intelligence Community – the IC – has looked at this intently and shared their results with the public in its capstone publication – Global Trends 2030. The results are startling.

The Global Trends 2030 report builds on the precedent set by earlier editions of Global Trends in identifying four possible future models of the world out to 2030 – but takes this alternative world futures analysis to a new level. It presents these models with a caveat, by noting that “none of these alternative worlds are inevitable and in reality, the future will probably consist of elements from all the scenarios.”

GT2030 has delineated four archetypal futures. The four posited “worlds” that could present themselves as we move toward 2030 are:

Stalled Engines, the most plausible worst-case scenario, is one in which the risk of interstate conflict rises due to a new “great game” in Asia. Although the National Intelligence Council does not foresee a “full-scale conflagration” along the lines of a world war, this scenario is still a bleak one, with the U.S. and Europe turning inward and no longer interested in global leadership; a euro zone that has unraveled; and a global pandemic and recession causing a retrenchment from globalization.

Fusion, is a scenario at the other end of the spectrum, representing the most plausible best case scenario. The U.S. and China successfully manage their relationship and together halt spreading conflict in South Asia. GDP accelerates in both developing and advanced economies, and technological innovation mitigates resource constraints.

Gini out of the Bottle is a world of extremes, in which inequalities within and between countries dominate and major powers remain at odds, raising the potential for conflict. Economic growth is far below the Fusion scenario, but not as grim as in Stalled Engines.

In the last scenario, Nonstate World, new and emerging technologies (such as ICTs – information and communication technologies) spur the increased power of non-state actors, including NGOs, multinational businesses, academic institutions and wealthy individuals. In addition, subnational units such as “megacities” flourish. These networks manage to solve some global problems, but security threats, such as the increased access to lethal technologies, pose an increasing challenge.

Read the entire article here on the Defense Media Network website and consider what our world may look like in the future.

Technology Revolution


Max Boot said in his New York Times best-selling book, War Made New: “My view is that technology sets the parameters of the possible; it creates the potential for a military revolution.”

But Max Boot isn’t the only one who shares this point of view. The U.S. Intelligence Community has also come to this conclusion. Here is part of what the IC says:

The United States no longer has a monopoly on innovation or innovative technologies. The U.S. Intelligence Community’s capstone publication Global Trends 2030, places a huge emphasis on technology in general and on what it considers potential (and likely) “technological game changers” in the foreseeable future, at least out to 2030. These potential technological game changers are of enormous significance to investment and other business decisions.

Global Trends 2030 notes that technology will figure prominently in what kind of future world we live in. It asks the question, will technological breakthroughs be developed in time to boost economic productivity and solve the problems caused by the strain on natural resources and climate change as well as chronic disease, aging populations, and rapid urbanization

Read the entire article here on the Defense Media Network website and consider what role technology will play in ensuring our security and prosperity.

Our Existential Threat


There are few issues where the U.S. intelligence community, academia, industry, the U.S. military, and think tanks all agree.

The singular issue that brings all of them together is this: The one existential threat to the United States is ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

Today, a number of unstable nations possess these weapons. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency has a number of assets for defense against ballistic missiles with weapons of mass destruction.

And by any estimate, the most important weapon for defense against ballistic missiles with WMD is built around the U.S. Navy Aegis weapons system with a BMD package.

The U.S. Navy’s contribution to U.S. BMD is based on the Aegis weapon system and has been on patrol in guided-missile cruisers and destroyers since 2004. Aegis BMD has grown in importance based on its proven performance as well as its long-term potential.

Read more about this issue – including our article in U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings.

Is Autonomy Okay?


Few issues related to national security fire up such passion as the use of unmanned or autonomous systems for military use. Over the past decade, these technological wonders have been used on the battlefield as well as in targeted killings of terrorists. By-and-large, the public is torn on this issue, suffice it to say, there has been vastly more heat than light regarding their use.

The expanding use of armed unmanned systems (UxS) is not only changing the face of modern warfare, but also altering the process of decision-making in combat operations. Indeed, it has been argued that the rise in drone warfare is changing the way we conceive of and define “warfare” itself. These systems have been used extensively in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will continue to be equally relevant – if not more so – as the United States’ strategic focus shifts toward the Asia-Pacific region and the high-end warfare this strategy requires. The exploding use of UxS is already creating strategic, operational, and tactical possibilities that did not exist a decade ago.

With the prospect of future flat or declining military budgets, the rapidly rising costs of military manpower, and the increased DoD emphasis on total ownership costs, the mandate to move beyond the “many operators, one-joystick, one-vehicle” paradigm that has existed during the past decades for most UxS is clear and compelling. The DoD and the services are united in their efforts to increase the autonomy of UxS as a primary means of reducing manning and achieving acceptable total ownership costs. But this drive for autonomy begs the question as to what this imperative to increase autonomy comports and what, if any, downside occurs if we push UxS autonomy too far. Is there an unacceptable “dark side” to too much autonomy?

Read the entire article here on the Defense Media Network website and consider what the dark side of autonomy could mean:

Whither the United States?


In a recent post we talked about Black Swans that could completely change the world as we know it. These certainly bear watching. But there is another factor that could be the decisive factor in the international society evolving one way or the other. That factor sounds deceptively simple: It is the United States chooses to play in the world.

Much has been made in the last decade regarding “America’s decline.” And given the current Washington gridlock, to say nothing of the shrill predictions of some pundits, one would think the United States is about to become a third-world power. It has become a debate that, while poorly-informed, makes up for it in passion.

Beyond the shrill voices and often-unbridled passion, well-nuanced and informed studies have poured out of think tanks and elsewhere over the past several years offering prescriptions for ways the United States can and should remain the dominant world power. Other studies have predicted decline, some others have predicted ascendency, and others have left it to the reader. What most of these studies do agree on is that the world will no longer – and likely will never again be – a unipolar one the way it was immediately after the end of World War II or again decades later after the Soviet Union imploded. In both cases, the United States was the unipolar power.

Rather than “predict” the strength, or weakness, of the United States in the ensuing decades, Global Trends 2030 suggests that it is most important to focus on what role the United States chooses to play in the world years hence. And while other factors will certainly affect how this role is shaped, Global Trends 2030 makes the point that how the United States interacts with the rest of the world will be largely determined by choices this nation makes.

Read more here on the Defense Media Network website:

Navy SEALs – A Split?


By any measure, Navy SEALs have had an extraordinarily prominent role in our national security over the past decade, from their sacrifices in the field that resulted in several SEALs, Michael Murphy and Michael Monsoor receiving the Medal of Honor, to the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips held by Somali pirates, to the takedown of terrorist Osama bin Laden.

And much of this has been captured in the media, from prominent movies like Act of Valor and Captain Phillips, to a flurry of books like Chris Kyle’s American Sniper, to SEALs running for office. But now many Navy SEALs are questioning whether their fellow warriors should be “cashing in on the brand.”

In recent months, the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, Calif., which oversees the elite force, has told its men to lower their profile and tried to rein in public appearances by active-duty members. The Pentagon imposed a rule last September restricting the appearance of service members in video games, movies and television shows. Current and former members have widely circulated a pointed critique — titled “Navy SEALs Gone Wild: Publicity, Fame, and the Loss of the Quiet Professional” — that laments the commercialization and warns that it is doing harm.

“The raising of Navy SEALs to celebrity status through media exploitation and publicity stunts has corrupted the culture of the SEAL community by incentivizing narcissistic and profit-oriented behavior,” Lt. Forrest S. Crowell, a SEAL, wrote in the critique, his master’s thesis for the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. Partisan politicking and public disclosure of tactics, he added, “erodes military effectiveness, damages national security, and undermines healthy civil-military relations.”

Read more about this issue – one that played out on the front page of the New York Times:

The New World Maps


The Washington Post recently ran an interesting interview with the author of a new global/future trends book that is probably worth your attention if you follow long-term geo-political-economic-environmental trends (especially the six maps of US, North America, and the World highlighted from the book).

The author of the new book Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, argues that the arc of global history is undeniably bending toward integration. Instead of the boundaries that separate sovereign nations, the lines that we should put on our maps are the high-speed railways, broadband cables and shipping routes that connect us, he says. And instead of focusing on nation-states, he suggests we should focus on the dozens of mega-cities that house most of the world’s people and economic growth.

This is interesting food for thought in any case and comports with our earlier postings on the Director of National Intelligence’s Global Trends 2030.
Read the entire article here – and enjoy these thought-provoking maps:


Black Swans!


In a recent post we talked about Game Changers rocking our world. While megatrends and tectonic shifts represent those trends that will likely occur under any future scenario, game changers are those potential shifts that could be even more disruptive to how we currently see the future.

But beyond these game-changers are potential events we call Black Swans. Briefly, at its very basic elements, the black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that is a surprise to the observer, has a major effect, and after the fact is often inappropriately rationalized with the benefit of hindsight.

The phrase “black swan” derives from a Latin expression. Its oldest known occurrence is the poet Juvenal’s characterization of something being “a rare bird in the lands, very much like a black swan.” When Juvenal coined the phrase, the black swan was presumed not to exist. Therefore, black swan gets to the heart of the fragility of any system of thought.

A set of conclusions is potentially undone once any of its fundamental postulates is disproved. In this case, the observation of a single black swan would be the undoing of the phrase’s underlying logic, as well as any reasoning that followed from that underlying logic. For those who have read Andrew Krepinevich’s book, 7 Deadly Scenarios these black swan events are equally terrifying – or hopeful – and no-less believable.

Read more here on the Defense Media Network website: