Life Imitates Life


Last year we blogged on looking to the future – something we all are interested in regardless of our walk of life.

There are many ways to focus on the future – but one of them that seems to be increasingly valuable is what we read in novels. We all know that in our gut – and I’ve read about it too.

In his New York Times article: “Novelists Predict Future With Eerie Accuracy,” John Schwartz puts a punctuation mark on just how well novelists have been doing this.

The prediction game has generally been the bailiwick of science fiction, and many authors have shown startling foresight. Jules Verne placed his launching site for shooting men to the moon in Florida — Tampa, not Cape Canaveral, but let’s forgive that as a rounding error. And William Gibson and Bruce Sterling have mined the near future for years, in novels like Mr. Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition” and Mr. Sterling’s “Holy Fire.”

James E. Gunn, the director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, said science fiction could even help encourage the future by preparing minds. Hugo Gernsback, the creator of a pioneering scientific magazine in 1926, predicted radar and night baseball, among other things; Arthur C. Clarke described satellite communications.

One writer who did this exceptionally well was Tom Clancy. The future he predicted is with us today across the globe.

More on John Schwartz’s article “Novelists Predict Future With Eerie Accuracy,” here:

Arrows in the Night


Ahmad Chalabi died late last year. Most people don’t recognize his name. Until three years ago, neither did I. That was before I wrote a review of the book Arrow’s in the Night for the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. If there is one book that helps explain why, in 2016, the United States in still mired in the Mideast, it has my vote. Here is part of what I wrote:

Only a handful of people, those in the top policymaking positions in the United States’ government in the years – and even decades – prior to OIF, understand why the United States ultimately went to war to depose Saddam Hussein. Until now.

Arrows of the Night takes the reader on a half-century journey beginning with Chalabi’s exile from Iraq in 1958, to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, to Chalabi’s work in post-Saddam Iraq. This journey is both complex and compelling as the primary subject, Ahmad Chalabi, has a larger-than-life resume of triumphs and scandal including a degree in mathematics from MIT, a doctorate from the University of Chicago, work as a university professor and a wildly-successful banker, a conviction for embezzling, and work as a CIA operative.

Throughout this journey, in all his occupations and avocations, Ahmad Chalabi maintained a singular focus – and as Bonin describes – an obsession, to overthrow Saddam’s Ba-athist regime and return to his Iraqi homeland in a blaze of glory. This was his strategy, and everything else was tactics. While the United States ultimately might have gone to war in Iraq again under the George W. Bush administration to finish what his father’s administration had not, without Ahmad Chalabi, the last half–century relationship between the United States and Iraq – and indeed the entire Middle East – would likely have been vastly different had this complex and complicated man never been exiled from Iraq, or had he merely lived quietly in exile.

This, in a nutshell, describes Ahmad Chalabi’s journey, which began in 1958 when his wealthy Shiite family was exiled from Iraq after a revolution that ultimately put Saddam Hussein in power. It describes how the young Chalabi devoted his life to restoring his family to prominence. His first coup attempt was in 1963 at age nineteen, while on a school break from MIT. His next was aided by Iranian intelligence. But as the years passed and Saddam stayed in power, Chalabi came to realize that he needed the United States to help him rid Iraq of Saddam. Only the world’s superpower could make this happen.

More on Ahmad Chalabi’s journey in this New York Times article here:

And in this New York Times Op-ed here:

Peering into the Future


What will the future hold? We all want to know. But as the late Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

What about the future? On the subject of looking at the future, I suspect you all know there is a cottage industry of people who call themselves “futurists” and we all likely have our own favorite people we follow – either in fact or in fiction – who seem to have a knack of being right about at least some of their predictions. As to the ones who aren’t right very often, they tend to drop off our lists. And speaking of “futurists,” I think that term is going a bit out of vogue as some of the conferences and media I follow now feature “thought leaders” as a primary draw.

In the event Yogi isn’t the person you turn to for philosophical insights, here is what Walter Frick had to say in this month’s Harvard Business Review about the art and science of looking at the future. He talked about the new book by Phillip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforcasting: The Art and Science of Prediction.

Forecasting is difficult. Still, accurate predictions are essential to good decision making in every realm of life. We are all forecasters. When we think about changing jobs, getting married, buying a home, making an investment, launching a product, or retiring, we decide based on how we expect the future to unfold.

And not to put too fine a point on it (and I hasten to add I’m not Tetlock and Gardner’s literary agent) in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Leonard Mlodinow reviewed both Richard Nisbett’s Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking and Superforcasting: The Art and Science of Prediction and found the arguments made by Nisbett (who Malcom Gladwell called “the most influential thinker in my life) lacking, while those made by Tetlock and Gardner compelling.

Stay tuned to this website as we’ll look to the future downstream.

Game Changing Innovation


For most of the post-World War II era, the United States dominated potential adversaries with technology that was leaps and bounds ahead of any potential foe. This lead has shrunk or completely disappeared. Now the Pentagon is looking to the innovation center of our nation – Silicon Valley – for cutting-edge innovation.

Recently, the Pentagon issued a formal request for new ideas. Soon after, out of concern that the call for fresh thinking would not reach past the usual Washington contractors, Stephen Welby, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for systems engineering, visited a dozen Silicon Valley start-ups that are pursuing new technologies that the Pentagon believes might have a national security role beyond the next dozen or so years.

Innovation for the military is nothing new to Silicon Valley. The region has a long history of military work. During the 1960s and ’70s, Silicon Valley was dominated by aerospace and military contractors such as Lockheed Missiles and Space Company and FMC Corporation. It was also the center of the nation’s electronic warfare industry.

Read more here

China – The “Other” Pacific Power


Volumes have been written about the rise of China and we won’t even begin to attempt to replicate the scholarly work and analysis that has gone into enhancing our understanding of China’s rise. Suffice it to say that China’s stunning economic rise has happened much faster than most predicted. Further, China’s economic growth – now predicted to enable it to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy this year – has had beneficial spillover effects for the entire Asia-Pacific region. And to be sure, in spite of some speed bumps along the way, due to globalization and a host of other factors, China’s economy and that of the United States have become more intertwined over the years.

This should help explain some of the reasons for the nation’s – and the Navy’s – Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific or Pivot to the Pacific. China’s growing military capabilities that are, in turn, driving the kinds of platforms, systems, sensors and weapons the nation will need to bring to the fore as it pivots to the Pacific.  Make no mistake; the United States does not intend to shrink from its status as a Pacific power. As a former Secretary of Defense put it in a major speech in Singapore, “The United States is a Pacific power, with a capital ‘P.’”

Read more about China and the United States and power in the Pacific in my post on the Defense Media Network website

Tectonic Shifts!


Step back and think about major tectonic shifts that are – and will continue to – change our world in profound ways. While we all have our opinions, the collective vision of the United States Intelligence Community suggests there are seven of these tectonic shifts. Getting ahead of them may well spell the difference between success and failure for individuals, for businesses, and for governments. These tectonic shifts are:

  • Growth of the Global Middle Class: Middle classes most everywhere in the developing world are poised to expand substantially in terms of both absolute numbers and the percentage of the population that can claim middle-class status during the next 15 to 20 years.
  • Wider Access to Lethal and Disruptive Technologies: A wider spectrum of instruments of war – especially precision-strike capabilities, cyber instruments, and bioterror weaponry – will become readily accessible.
  • Definitive Shift of Economic Power to the East and South: The U.S., European, and Japanese share of global income is projected to fall from 56 percent today to well under half by 2030.
  • Unprecedented and Widespread Aging: Whereas in 2012 only Japan and Germany have matured beyond a median age of 45 years, most European countries, South Korea, and Taiwan will have entered the post-mature age category by 2030.
  • Urbanization: Today’s roughly 50-percent urban population will climb to nearly 60 percent, or 4.9 billion people, in 2030. Africa will gradually replace Asia as the region with the highest urbanization growth rate. Urban centers are estimated to generate 80 percent of economic growth.
  • Food and Water Pressures: Demand for food is expected to rise at least 35 percent by 2030, while demand for water is expected to rise by 40 percent. Nearly half of the world’s population will live in areas experiencing severe water stress.
  • U.S. Energy Independence: With shale gas, the United States will have sufficient natural gas to meet domestic needs and generate potential global exports for decades to come.

Read more about these Tectonic Shifts in this on the in my post on the Defense Media Network website


Missle Defense!


At the heart of Global Trends 2030 are four megatrends that it identifies as the most significant trends that will affect the world looking out over a decade-and-a-half into the future. Previous editions of Global Trends have also identified megatrends, and if there is one part of GT2030 that is the most “mature” and well-developed, it is this mega-trends aspect of the report.

Trends mean just that; extrapolation of things happening today that, if left largely alone, will continue along the path they are on and result in a “tomorrow” that while not “predictable” represents a projection of a future state that is more likely than not. For this edition of Global Trends, four megatrends dominate the landscape. These four megatrends are:

  • Individual Empowerment
  • Diffusion of Power
  • Demographic Patterns
  • Food, Water, and Energy

Read more about these megatrends that dominate our world in my post on the Defense Media Network website:

Megatrends – What are They and What Do They Mean?

What Does the Future Hold?


Tom Clancy, the most well-known military writer in a generation was universally hailed as being prescient about regarding the future of intelligence, technology and military operations in his books seemed to come to pass five, ten, or more years later.

Not all of us are so prescient about what our future world will look like. But there is a source – and an open source – available to all of us that looks deep into the future in the areas of international affairs, i.e. what our world will look like in the ensuing decades, technology and military operations.

While many organizations – inside and outside of government – of necessity look to the future to attempt to discern what the future security environment portends, the National Intelligence Council represents the “Pros from Dover,” in this regard. The NIC supports the director of national intelligence in his role as head of the intelligence community (IC) and is the IC’s focal point and governing organization for long-term strategic analysis.

Among the projections in its groundbreaking report, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds:

  • China’s economy is set to overtake that of the United States in the 2020s, but China will not challenge the United States’ preeminence or the international order;
  • Asia will become more powerful than both North America and Europe combined (based on population, GDP, military spending, and technological investment);
  • The United States will achieve energy independence with shale gas, and;
  • Wider access to disruptive technologies – including precision-strike capabilities, cyber instruments, and bio-terror weaponry – could increase the risk of large-scale violence and disruption.

Read more about what the future will hold in my post on the Defense Media Network website here:

You don’t have to be as prescient as the late Tom Clancy to know what the future will hold.

Missile Defense!


The most compelling threat to the United States today is the treat of missile attack. Nations like China and Russia who harbor enmity towards the United States have massive numbers of intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction. It is an existential threat to all of us.

And increasingly, rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran are acquiring the means to deliver intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with WMD.

But this is not a new threat! And the United States Navy has been working on missile defense for generations. Today the Navy is in the lead to prevent missile attacks on the United States or on our interests. It has been a long journey and understanding how we got here will also help understand where we are going in the future.

For anyone younger than those of the baby boomer generation, it is impossible to fully understand the urgency the Cold War brought to building and deploying the U.S. Navy’s missile fleet.  Once the Berlin Wall went up and the spectre of the Soviet Empire crushing the West – and especially the United States – began to sink in during the early 1950s, spending on defense became a compelling urgency.  Few can forget the phrase famously attributed to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev while addressing Western ambassadors at a reception at the Polish embassy in Moscow on Nov. 18, 1956, “We will bury you!”

Read more about the future in my post on the Defense Media Network website here

The World in 2030


What will the world look like in 2030 – a decade-and-a-half hence? That question bedevils nations and individuals. We all want to know. But how do we find out?

There are many sources and no lack of organizations and people “holding forth” with their opinions – some based on good sources – but many based strictly on conjecture.

For me, I’ve found it most useful to mine what the United States Intelligence Community – the IC – thinks. Their opinions are distilled from the collective efforts of the 16 agencies making up our IC. The U.S. IC is an $80B a year enterprise (yes, that’s “B” not “M”). Every five years they package what they know and share it with us in one of their Global Trends pubs.

NIC has been in existence for over three decades and represents the primary way the U.S. intelligence community (IC) communicates in the unclassified realm.  Initially a “wholly-owned subsidiary” of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the NIC now works directly for the director of national intelligence and presents the collective research and analysis of the entire IC, an enterprise comprising 16 agencies.  In a sentence: There is no more comprehensive analysis of future trends available anywhere, at any price. It’s not an overstatement to say this 160-page document represents the most definitive analytical look at the future security environment.

In addition to individual empowerment and the diffusion of state power, GT2030’s analysis suggests that that two other megatrends will shape our world out to 2030: demographic patterns, especially rapid aging; and growing resource demands which, in the cases of food and water, may well lead to scarcities. These trends, which are virtually certain, exist today, but during the next 15-20 years they will gain much greater momentum.

Read more about what the future will hold in my post on the Defense Media Network website here.