Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the key features of Heartland phenomenon in her second blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Eurasia’s Heartland is a living organism of complex interconnected systems, which shapes the geopolitical environment by which it is itself shaped. It is characterized to some degree by the interaction of demographic, socio-cultural, political, economic, and technological changes that impact the Heartland as a whole. To another degree, it also is characterized by the impact it has on its geopolitical environment.
Demographically, the Heartland includes populations in Russia, twelve other Slavic East European countries, three other Caucasus countries, five Central Asian countries, Mongolia, and parts of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. Over 500 million people strong, the Heartland spans the spectrum of contrasting demographic trends. Low fertility rates, aging populations and workforces, and year-to-year improvements in education are matters of reality in some countries. By contrast, the realities of other countries exist as higher fertility rates, high mortality rates, and a decline in educational achievements. These and other demographic trends impact socio-cultural changes in the Heartland.
Socio-culturally, the Heartland is a system of complex diversity. Its spoken languages include Slavic Indo-European dialects, Mongolic, Turkic, Arabic, and native Himalayan dialects. Its religions, those professed and or practiced, are Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Folk Religion, and atheism. Its historical transitions, from social migration patterns to the rise and fall of political empires, have fueled competing cultural preferences for Turkish clannism, Mongolic pastoralism, or Russian nationalism. There are efforts toward increased gender equality in Eastern Europe, and struggles between radicalization and social inclusion among youth in countries such as Afghanistan and Iran. Such complex socio-cultural diversity could be the environmental force that brings together nations to co-create a desirable future, yet impedes the political transformation to a unified Heartland.
Politically, the Heartland is shaped by the opposing tug of differing ideologies. On one side is Russia, geographically situated on the continents of Europe and Asia. Neither identifying as belonging solely to one or the other, it culturally identifies with both. Adamantly against Westernization, Russia has pushed for Eurasianism. It’s an ideology premised on extending Russia’s influence and power, while driving world dominance from the West to the East. On the other side are Eastern European countries that support Westernization and opportunities for knowledge sharing, trade, economic growth, etc. Between these ideologies is Turkey, strategically positioned between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Turkey aligns its political or military agenda with Russia when cooperation works to its advantage, yet it also is a bridge to connecting the West and the Middle East. Some Heartland governments are authoritarian and others democratic. From one side to the other and in-between, political ideologies in the Heartland have shaped the competing economic systems of communism and capitalism, with influences of socialism from China.
Economically, the Heartland has systems that thrive and others that merely survive. Deposits of hydrocarbon, minerals, coal, oil and natural gas reserves have supported the thriving economies of Russia, Poland, Kazakhstan, and others. These countries alone had GDP values worth over five percent of the world’s economy in 2018. The agrarian economies of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan reflect lower GDP values. Not only have they incurred rising amounts of external debt for survival, they also depend on income earned by citizens who work abroad and send money home. In the past, proximity to the old Silk Road trade routes boosted the economies of some Heartland countries. Today, China’s New Silk Road or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and other technological advancements, could help many more nations across the Afro-Eurasian World Island to thrive.
Technological change in the Heartland’s geopolitical environment is spurring multiple pathways of change. In addition to the BRI, developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, advanced-tech agriculture, and green infrastructure could open up new possibilities. Such possibilities could include new job creation, more international cooperatives, improved trade relations, or increased drug-trafficking. Undoubtedly, these changes will influence a geopolitical environment in a future increasingly characterized by competition among world powers for power, control, or dominance.
The Heartland is a living system. It is characterized by the interaction of changes to and the impact it has on its geopolitical environment. These demographic, socio-cultural, political, economic, and technological changes influence increasingly complex system impacts. Likewise, they will impact the Heartland’s future, starting with its past.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at envisioning the world power pivot towards the Heartland by 2050. This is her first post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Will world power pivot from the West towards Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050? Given recent events, it is the question many are presently pondering. The question of a world power pivot to the Heartland dates back to a theory by British geographer, academic, and politician, Halford John Mackinder in 1904. Mackinder theorized a shift in world power to, and world domination by, the international power that controls the continental “pivot area” — Eurasia, and to some extent, Africa.
Mackinder’s theory of a world power shift is known widely as the “Heartland Theory”. It reflects the intricate dynamics of and relationships between geography, political power, and military strategy, interwoven with demography and economics. It is these dynamics and relationships, which Mackinder viewed as strengths, that characterize the Heartland and speak to its importance.
Geographically, the connected landmass of Europe, Asia, and Africa, what Mackinder called the “World Island”, is centrally positioned in the world. To Mackinder, this geographic positioning means that as a united force, the World Island could both project power in a way that demonstrates her global supremacy and protect herself against external powers. He viewed the external powers in relation to the World Island as the offshore islands (mainly China, India, Turkey, Germany, and Austria) and the outlying islands (the rest of Europe, Australia, North America, South America, and South Africa). Thus, Mackinder saw three world power systems as competing international forces, with the World Island at the forefront in geopolitical importance.
Mackinder maintained that the balance of global power favored the World Island, owing to her vast resources, including social capital, her distribution channels for exploiting or leveraging those resources to her advantage, and her land mobility. He surmised that her land mobility, 21 million square miles of continuous land stretching across Eurasia, technological changes, such as the continental dispersion of railway and communication networks, and also her social capital, a population size equal to two-thirds of the world’s total population, gave her a strategic military advantage. Countries of the two other world power systems can only advance their global military strategy, and thus, global political power, by sea. The World Island’s resources, demography, and military advantages were important then and now in that it could give her an unmatched competitive advantage in these areas. Mackinder also deemed that her land mobility better supports commerce than does sea power, conceivably giving her a competitive advantage economically.
Mackinder believed that the World Island's combined strengths fortified the Heartland as the pivot region of world politics. He also viewed Russia as the pivot state, because of her central position to assert power throughout the World Island, despite her weaknesses. He felt that historical events leading to Russia’s demographic evolution and widespread expansion engendered her as the logical Heartland pivot power.
Mackinder speculated that control over Eastern Europe would ensure control over the Heartland; control over the Heartland would ensure control over the World Island; and control over the World Island would solidify power over the world. Many have criticized Mackinder’s Heartland Theory for various reasons. However, others are reconsidering its plausibility and ongoing importance today.
The Heartland’s perceived importance often has been reflected in the geopolitics of countries such as the United States, Russia, and China, to name several. These countries have either maintained, expanded, or adapted their foreign policies and geopolitics, depending on their resolve for affirming, reclaiming, or capturing global superpower status. As if playing a game of chess, they are advancing their geostrategies and positioning for a struggle to control, influence, or constrain power over the Heartland.
Globalization, as a growing geostrategy, is closing the gap between international economies. Likewise, the World Island economies could leverage their combined strengths to demonstrate a potentially unmatched power assertion. Hence, the Heartland’s importance also seems connected to superpower positioning and possibly, a power pivot towards Eurasia.
Should we care if world power pivots to the Heartland in 2050? What characterizes the Heartland today? What past and current events might shape Heartland power? Who will influence this power shift? How might it play out? What might be some implications of a power shift? What might signal how the future unfolds? Geostrategic moves over the Heartland are in play today.
Robin Jourdan inspects the real audience of democracy in her ninth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In the past governments tended to serve the governors before the people. Inspired by Magna Carta in England, the US’s Bill of Rights serve as starting gates for the idea of government designed so that the people can exercise control over their governing representatives. Governance bending to build future strengths for all, rather than fortifying old victories took its first tentative steps.
A myth is that every generation’s youth go through non-political periods. This can translate into a cynicism about government; but not always. A “Youth LEAD” trend seems to be appearing with data points going back at least 50 years that show the youth of an area, region, and nations pulling together to represent their interests in environmental and climate actions. They acknowledge that problems are complicated; but angry over the inaction about the conditions they’re due to inherit.
Today, nearly half of the world’s inhabitants is under 30 years old. It’s known that educated, healthy, employed, and civically engaged youth drive economic growth, democracy, and prosperity. However, less than 6% of parliamentarians globally are under 35 years old. Young people are under-represented and excluded in policy related decision-making. Fewer than 2% of parliamentarians around the world are in their 20s and only 12% are in their 30s. In the early part of the 21st century, efforts have sprung up, Millennium Development Goals, to increase youth representation in advisory capacities, constitution reviews, reporting, and more. For example, since the Arab Awakening young people have remained politically active through “political movements” instead of engaging with and in political parties. The United Nations (Development Program) formally recognized that when young people engage in peace-building via new and mobile technologies, these can lead to non-violent change. A Nigerian Youth Agenda on political participation was developed to encourage collaboration. Bangladesh and Jordan launched similar actions with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program. Even with this progress, this generation at the beginning of the century have been left behind and denied opportunities. Some suspect there may be a far-reaching re-negotiation in the social contract between generations approaching.
What could change in the last half of this century is multi-tiered: from AI advances, security issues, to social media. Youths around the world will turn to smartphones rather than adults for what they need. Younger people use these fingertip tools for change and impact can only strengthen. Reforms for who government serves may be waged from the inside out and change the global narrative.
The end of the century may bring well-practiced socio-emotional skills and growth mindsets. Continuing the Youth LEAD trend of youth-motivated leadership, education, advocacy and development, has long-term potential to raise their global political power. Forward acting nations may pressure laggards by limiting access to their workforce. Instabilities for isolated regimes due to internal power struggles and energy could erupt into battles.
Going forward, if a business as usual approach continues, focus on skills-gaps and employment can go on to distract influencers, and a lack of real engagement with residents will continue in pockets. A grim retaliation could result. AI may diminish unwanted interactions with police due to autonomous mobility, but jobs may be even more scarce. Again, a distraction. To the second half of the twenty-first century, if people live longer, mixed with low pay, decreased employment opportunities, and constrained health care may strain even the most resilient of systems.
When in the past has one generation sacrificed for the benefit of future generations? Two examples: medieval cathedrals were built for future generations and fighting wars meant risking your life now to keep your country free for future generations. Wishful-thinkers may dismiss the trend for young people’s stand on environmental issues.
Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out that each generation must get the knowledge, skills, and traits of character that underpin a constitutional democracy. It’s relatively easy to produce competent people. Lobbyists today teach us an essential lesson about the service of democracy. Regardless of your side of an issue, they’ve figured out how to work the system for their sponsor.
Young people will continue to demand their right to a healthy inheritance when their elders fail to act on their metaphoric cathedrals. Knowledge and education can’t be sequestered anymore. Democracy is intended to serve everyone in its borders. Reality says it serves best those who take responsibility to make it work for today and tomorrow. Youth-motivated leadership and actions could reach a tipping point in this century to catch responsibility into their increasingly capable hands. Who is government supposed to serve? There are two kinds of people, those who focus on something to gain, and those treading water over something to lose. Democracy must move forward with its people and with energy, gusto and everything to gain.
Felistus Mbolea member of our Emerging Fellows program warns about the survival of capitalism in her third blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Many believe that global inequality has been growing for decades. A month ago, the world’s elites - who comprise global political, business, advocacy, and activism leaders - gathered in Davos for the annual World Economic Forum. Inequality was a key topic in their discussions. It seems the issue is finally getting their attention. Is capitalism becoming a danger to itself?
Inequality is likely to continue to grow into the foreseeable future based on the present trajectory. The growing inequality could lead to the classing of society into a small wealthy elite and the rest of the people. This could pose a danger to capitalism if markets are perceived as benefitting the owners of capital at the expense of workers and the consumers of the goods and services they provide.
For long, most people believed in the Washington Consensus that the market economy was the best way to deliver long-term prosperity. According to the consensus, wealth would somehow trickle down to the rest of society through employment and other forms of economic engagements with markets. This has not happened. Globally, people are less optimistic about the future than they were at the turn of this century. They are discontented about stagnating standards of living as the wealthy around them attain increasing levels of affluence.
In wealthier economies, globalisation is becoming a chief agenda item for western populists. The opponents of globalisation dislike it for its power to potentially destabilise their status and sense of community economically and socially. Economically, it is perceived to cause economic losses through the loss of jobs and the imports of goods and services from other economies. Globalisation was effectively slowed down between the two world wars. This is unlikely to happen in future given the advancement in technology. Rather than fight globalisation, business owners and global leaders should ensure that it works for everyone.
Given prevailing rapid globalisation, it not surprising that there is a growing wave of populism especially in parts of America and Europe. Populists purport to speak for the average people - whom they position as different from those in authority - and as disadvantaged. They present themselves as having a solution to the problem and advocate for a change in the status quo. Populism is disruptive to society and to capitalism in particular.
This state of affairs is not sustainable. If the wealthy are seen as the elite within society who are driving a political agenda which is divergent from the will of the people, this can lead to populism. As inequality increases, the proportion of those feeling left behind is likely to increase. This could endanger capitalism. Rather than being a zero-sum game where the wealthy are perceived to take it all, capitalism could be made a win-win game for everybody. How could capitalism be transformed into a responsible system that benefits society as a whole?
Robin Jourdan examines trust in democracy in her third blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Is trust in democracy in crisis today? No, and yes. The Pew Research Center (2017) reported that nearly 60 percent of countries worldwide are operating democracies; an all-time high. But, fewer than 20 are in practice “fully democratic” governments.
Conversely, economic-governance policies like the democracy-connected Washington Consensus are in decline today, some wonder if “faith” in democracy is endangered. Of course, what is meant is “trust”. Democracy can creep into despotism and dictatorship in response to distrust of leaders and growing inequality, both seemingly abundant today. News sources tell us that young people worldwide are increasingly disillusioned with democracy. This disillusion grows out of feelings of betrayal from political gridlock and ineffective governance. Globally, they are less partisan rather than less democratic in their leanings.
Social intelligence signals that when party affiliation becomes a religious, tribal-like identity, the odds stack against compromise as is evidenced today. Some put the blame on information glut, wars, and lack of credibility. How might this impact a world leaning more on technologies that are increasingly connected and autonomously sensing for a command-triggering fact?
Facts aren’t the problem. They are uncomfortable, sometimes inconvenient, and a free society must allow for them. The phrase “post-fact” is a coping mechanism for those reacting to facts that cause them to question their belief systems. Politics and politicians spin and lie. Always it has been the case. When prominent voices in the room change the facts to fit their view of the world, it’s concerning. Note that people over age 50 are worse than younger people at distinguishing falsified facts.
The public has faced railroading before. Minstrels and magicians did this as a show. Playing this out to the later-half of this century means an intensification of today’s overwhelming news flow; to game the system and grow distraction. Without efforts to also raise our collective social intelligence, the most vulnerable will live in a dystopia. Incremental improvements do little if polarization grows. Fact-checking costs to businesses may become financially unsustainable. Mountains of data and a further breakdown in public trust poses a potent risk.
If technology isn’t the provider of trust in the second half of this century, it must rest with us. For example, if 100% of birth certificates are issued; this has the potential to shift society in a transformative manner. Birth certificates document the birth of a person. Once supplied, the contractual obligations with the government begins; i.e., access to the rights, privileges, and consumption of citizenship. Shockingly, millions today don’t have this vital record.
When a consumer doesn’t trust a brand to deliver on its promises; if afforded choices, they vote with their wallets. Every brand has to build trust, i.e., faith, even if that brand is governance.
When we feel the system is rigged against us, disillusionment grows. Intelligence must evolve to stay ahead of the magicians. Not to learn how the trick is done, but know that it is a trick. Democracy isn’t a given: it is messy. Democracy isn’t an economic system. Consumers of democracy win so long as they have trusted options available. This is not true in systems that limit choices and access to them. Faith in a democracy means to believe in the people to decide; and if flawed, trust to choose again.
Posted By Administration,
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Craig Perry has written his eighth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. His entire series explores the potential for another Great-power War. This piece asks whether there would be any profit in a great-power conflagration. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In 1999, American journalist Thomas Friedman penned his notorious “Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention,” positing that no countries with McDonald’s restaurants had ever fought a war against each other. Critics quickly noted that the presence of this ubiquitous American fast-food chain hadn’t stopped the U.S. invasion of Panama a decade earlier, nor would it preclude NATO from bombing Serbia (1999), the Kargil War between India and Pakistan (1999), Israel’s second Lebanon war (2006), or Russian incursions into Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014-present). But even if Friedman’s pop theory is bunk, it echoes an established maxim of international relations: globalization makes countries so economically interdependent, they can’t afford to wage war very intensely for very long.
English journalist Norman Angell popularized this argument nearly a century earlier, dismissing the supposed economic benefits of war as “the great illusion.” The commercial systems of Europe and America had become so complicated, Angell wrote in 1909, that it is impossible for one nation “to enrich itself by subjugating, or imposing its will by force on another.” The world was then experiencing a remarkable era of globalization, with freely flowing capital and labor producing unprecedented prosperity, and the European powers had few incentives to risk this arrangement through war.
Nevertheless, the continent soon plunged headlong into conflict—followed by an even more cataclysmic sequel a generation later—and it would be several more decades before international trade and finance fully returned to pre-World War I levels. Although Angell went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his idealistic views, it wasn’t until 1950 that Robert Schuman, the French foreign minister who championed the European Coal and Steel Community, offered a practical vision to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.” The free movement of goods, services, capital, and people within what is now known as the European Union has indeed facilitated peace among its members ever since.
Of course, neither the EU nor its constituent states are counted among the world’s great powers nowadays, while those that are—the United States, China, and Russia—haven’t achieved anything close to this level of economic interdependence. Although the sheer volume of Chinese wealth invested in the U.S. economy, which is itself highly vulnerable to disruption by Beijing, ought to be sufficient to deter military conflict, there are worrying signs that this mutually profitable arrangement is breaking down. Washington has recently abandoned its longstanding support for globalization in favor of trade wars with its closest allies and fiercest competitors, while the Middle Kingdom’s commitment to build a world-class military by 2050 suggests its foreign policy ambitions will soon catch up with its global economic dominance. Russia, for its part, is far less integrated into the world economy, while its oil and gas customers can’t easily switch to other suppliers in the event of conflict, reducing Moscow’s incentives to curb its aggressive behavior.
As much as it may militate against great-power conflict, globalization can also disrupt the international order in ways that actually increase the odds of war. This paradox played out before WWI, when industrialization created enormous wealth whose uneven distribution simultaneously reordered societies and upset prevailing balances of power. Rising industrial giants like Germany aggressively pursued greater international influence, while rulers in Vienna and Istanbul struggled to keep their polyglot empires intact, and entrenched elites everywhere stoked nationalism to distract an increasingly restive proletariat. By upending traditional social and political arrangements, this previous period of globalization unleashed centrifugal forces that ultimately tore apart the old order.
A century later, globalization has again created winners and losers, both within and between nations. In the United States and Europe, populist politicians increasingly scapegoat immigrants and minorities, bankers and trading partners, and the very institutions that for generations heralded democratic progress and economic prosperity. China, which has profited handsomely within this established world order, now plays the part of spoiler seeking a larger slice of the geopolitical pie, while Russia’s leaders do what they can to exacerbate anti-establishment tendencies for their own short-term benefit.
Globalization has indeed made much of the world so economically interdependent that it renders war objectively unprofitable—yet it has also sown the seeds of potential future conflicts. Whether the great illusion of war will again deceive political leaders in the 21st century depends in large part on how effectively national governments and international institutions resolve the inherent contradictions of modern capitalism, and continue to leverage the more peaceful logic of mutual economic benefit.
Posted By Administration,
Friday, July 27, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019
Daniel Riveong has written his fifth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. Here, he explores the continued fluctuations between rural and urban areas. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
While the megacities of the Global South continue to grow, the UN projects that over 3.1 billion people will live in rural areas of Asia and Africa in 2050. Rural areas have generally been synonymous with limited economic and educational opportunities, along with generally less infrastructure and connectivity with the broader world. While there are governments, organizations, and programs to assist rural areas, what is needed is not just assistance but also rethinking what it means to be rural.
How can we rethink rural areas as not “left behind” areas to be fixed, but as an equal to urban areas? Rural areas can play to their strengths and be rethought of as places of resilience, connection, and integration.
Rural areas are traditionally idealized as places of self-reliance and resilience. They grow their own food, dig their own wells, and build their own houses. However, it is no longer enough for a community to be self-sustaining. The idea of self-reliant rural communities must be reinvented for contemporary needs (like social justice, education, health, connectivity) and to meet modern challenges of globalization and climate change.
Countries must seek to balance the current divide between the rural areas and the urban centers that traditionally extract labor and resources from them. Towns and villages must be made again as beacons of self-reliance and resiliency in agriculture, education, health, and infrastructure. Technologies, such as in decentralized manufacturing to MOOCs, along with cultural shifts towards artisanal over mass-produced goods, provide opportunities for reimagining the meaning of self-reliant and resilient provinces.
Villages can also be places of connection as a space to reconnect urban people with traditional cultures and ecological experiences. Driven by the Chinese’s government push for rural revitalization, Chinese architects have been reimagining villages as places of education, specifically helping urban peoples connect with nature, with the food system, and ancient traditional cultures.
The Chinese architects have sought to make pastoral life as a source of pride, tied to locality and tradition. Organic farming to cultural centers has been set-up in places like the Lin’An Village Bamboo Ecofarm and the Bishan Project. These projects have varying degrees of success, but new experiments are still being put forward for rural revitalization.
Technology, such as augmented reality to autonomous vehicles, provide us with the tools to rethink how cities and rural areas can integrate. Virtual Reality could help bring the world’s universities, engineers, and doctors into classrooms, workshops, and clinics in rural areas. Provincial artisans and farmers could more easily sell to urban centers using autonomous drones. In China, companies like JD.com are using drones to help bring rural goods to urban markets directly.
Agricultural and AV technologies may radically alter the borders between rural areas and urban centers. VR-enabled telecommuting and AVs would allow people living in rural areas to better connect to urban centers. It could encourage people from urban centers to move to connected, rural communities. At the same time, the introduction of vertical farming and community gardens in urban centers are expanding elements of rural life into urban centers.
The three potential visions of rural areas – resilience, connection, and integration – would bring both positive and negative changes to villages. The last two, connection and integration, would transform rural life and culture by inviting urban culture into their communities. Yet, if they are to go beyond neglect and depopulation, villages must seek new definitions and new visions.
Posted By Administration,
Thursday, July 26, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019
Monica Porteanu has written her sixth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. Here, she explores the evolving nature of scenarios. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In private and public administration, preparing for the future by “thinking the unthinkable” was first introduced by the RAND Corporation in the early 1960s. With time, sketching the unthinkable has become a common futuristic practice. Its results are summarized in stories about tomorrow, or scenarios.
And yet, scenarios are as old as humanity. Ancient civilizations imagined them in oracles or magic while building scenarios for the military (e.g., Sun Tzu’s Art of War), describing both present traditions and future visions, especially during uncertain times. Scenarios are fundamental in military, policy, and business, being developed using a mix of disciplines such as mathematics, economics, anthropology, and story-telling.
Futurists Bishop and Kahane remind us about the three critical types of scenarios: (1) predictive, i.e., forecasts and what-ifs, asking “what will happen?”; (2) explorative, i.e., external and strategic, asking “what can happen?”; and (3) normative, e.g., preserving and transforming, asking “what should happen?”.
The most known and used scenarios seem to fall into the first category. They are mostly based on statistics and assume they are bulletproof, based on scientists’ never-ending proof of the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.” Nevertheless, when applied without checking the underlying nature of the relationships amongst the model’s variables, predictions provide a false sense of security about futures. Time series are particularly prone to mistakes, as they might carry over underlying presumptions from past and present into futures, challenging the statistical condition for independence when extrapolating from one value to the next.
All three types of scenarios tell stories about possible futures, paving the path for envisioning adaptive strategies, but only normative scenarios expand the futures paradigm from predicting or thinking to practical actions that have the potential to shape the future.
The normative scenarios seem to be the least used. They initiated out of challenges brought on by significant shifts, such as a political regime change. In recent years, disciplines that promote open creativity, collaboration, and innovation have increasingly embraced normative scenarios.
Design-led disciplines such as design thinking, strategic design, or research through design bring to scenario development effective new methods such as visualization, aesthetics, ethnography, or experience design. They have taken the telling of a story to showing, feeling, and experiencing it. Such immersion creates that magical circle of trust around scenarios that gives leaders the confidence to embark on a hero’s journey to act now and create “what should happen.”
Nonetheless, design, futurism, and scientific methods for scenario development can further benefit from learning about each other.
For example, design’s approach falls somewhere in between a binary selection (e.g., optimistic/pessimistic) and a high-medium-low style (e.g., most to least likely) which, most of the times, leads either to an optimistic-only path or, as the game theory demonstrates, to a sensible middle of the road but mediocre outcome. Futurism, on the other side, advocates for multiple, alternative futures that might have unpleasant or unexpected outcomes. At the same time, scientists look for theories that can provide evidence for the stories foresight scenarios aim to portray.
Could experiencing scenarios and the quest for hard facts be ever reconciled? Where might scenarios go from here? Would the futurists of 20018 still develop foresight scenarios? What would their toolset be?
In more immediate futures, data and ways to consume them are increasingly making their way into scenario development. Data have become essential in providing evidence of emerging blips that could turn into disruptors. Although digital and visual storytelling based on these data has progressed, the human brain, functioning in a 3-dimensional environment, still has difficulty making sense of large amounts of data presented on 2-dimensional screens.
These days it seems possible to narrow the gap between the 2-sided digital and the 3-dimensional physical worlds through augmented reality. This new technology enhances humans’ ability to make sense of data by juxtaposing digital information onto the real world. Furthermore, as humans process information through their five senses, the visualization side of augmented reality could be paired up with sound, touch, scent, and even taste to portray the envisioned images of the future.
It is up to us now to test whether scenarios born out of signals, sifted through the growing universe of data, and felt through augmented reality experiences, can be more potent than existing scenario consumption methods. Can these envisioned stories generate action, agency, and resilience for building preferred futures?
Posted By Administration,
Sunday, July 15, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019
Craig Perry has written his seventh installment in our Emerging Fellows program. His entire series explores the potential for another Great-power War. This piece asks about what might ignite the next great-power conflagration. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
America’s great-power rivals are increasingly pursuing strategic ends through nonmilitary means, betting that competition short of conflict will advance their interests without risking nuclear annihilation. Yet they are also gearing up to project military force abroad, and defend themselves should the United States intervene to defend its interests and allies. This raises the very real possibility that Russian or Chinese adventurism—and miscalculations over American willingness or ability to respond militarily—could inadvertently trigger the next great-power war. Unfortunately, growing doubts about longstanding U.S. commitments to its allies and international norms are making this tragic outcome far more likely.
Russia has reemerged in the past decade as a formidable military power, capable of defeating neighboring states such as Georgia and Ukraine while seizing the initiative farther afield in Syria. Its theater ballistic missiles and sophisticated air and coastal defense systems dominate the Black Sea and Baltic regions, posing a worrying threat to America’s NATO allies. Similarly, the People’s Republic of China has vastly improved its offensive capabilities in recent years, projecting naval power far beyond its littoral areas while holding its renegade offshore province, Taiwan, at ever-greater risk.
These developments have substantially increased the likelihood of American forces coming into conflict with their great-power counterparts. For example, not long after Russian mercenaries launched an ill-fated attack on a U.S. outpost in Syria earlier this year, the United States and Russia nearly come to blows over the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. Just a month later, China deployed a nuclear-capable bomber to the disputed Paracel Islands, then dispatched warships to challenge the U.S. Navy’s freedom of navigation in the region. As such brinkmanship becomes more common, the likelihood of a serious—and potentially escalatory—military confrontation will only grow.
This problem is particularly acute wherever the United States maintains alliances within its rivals’ historical spheres of influence. In Europe, Moscow could quickly defeat the meager NATO forces forward-deployed to the Baltic States—former Soviet republics sandwiched between mainland Russia and its Kaliningrad exclave—while making it exceedingly difficult for the United States and its allies to retake this territory without triggering nuclear war. Meanwhile in Asia, Beijing has set a mid-century deadline for national reunification, with the People’s Liberation Army reportedly planning to accomplish this goal as early as 2020. The PLA is already poised to overwhelm Taiwanese defenses with little warning, and disrupt U.S. carrier and airbase operations as far away as Okinawa and Guam through a combination of kinetic, cyber, and electronic warfare. In both cases, America’s near-peer adversaries are positioned to seize the initiative in their own backyards while severely complicating Washington’s ability to come to the aid of its allies.
All of this presupposes, of course, that the United States remains fully committed to its far-flung network of alliances, which have been a cornerstone of its foreign policy success since World War II. The 2016 election of a U.S. commander-in-chief who repeatedly questions the value of NATO and other foreign entanglements, however, has fundamentally challenged assumptions of American resolve. President Trump’s pronouncements naturally undermine confidence in U.S. security guarantees, and this growing uncertainty may eventually embolden Russia or China to call America’s bluff. The ramifications of such a gamble would be catastrophic: if the U.S. military responds as promised, it would plunge the world into the next great-power war; if it does not, the international system that has underpinned global peace and prosperity for the better part of a century would come to an ignominious end. Either way, the future is shaping up to be a much different place than the “Pax Americana” of yesteryear.
Posted By Administration,
Monday, June 18, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019
Craig Perry has written his sixth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. His entire series explores the potential for another Great-power War. This piece asks an important question about nukes and their effectiveness as a deterrent. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
For all their destructive potential, nuclear weapons ushered in an unprecedented era of global stability after 1945, deterring the great powers from the kinds of internecine conflicts that risk their mutual destruction. But this period hasn’t been entirely peaceful, either, as states and non-state actors have sporadically waged more limited wars the old-fashioned way—that is, utilizing “conventional” weapons—whenever they calculate the odds of nuclear escalation are low. Consequently, powers great and small have continued to arm themselves with military capabilities of ever-increasing speed and lethality, determined to gain a decisive advantage on some future battlefield—an unfortunate function of survival in our anarchic international system.
For much of the Cold War, the United States made little effort to match the Soviet Union’s massive conventional-warfare superiority in Europe, calculating that its nuclear arsenal would be enough to offset any Soviet military advantage. Beginning in the late 1970s, however, the Pentagon embarked on a new offset strategy incorporating technological breakthroughs in precision-guided munitions, radar-evading stealth technology aircraft, and space-based communications and navigation. Rather than rely on the traditional American way of war—attrition and annihilation—this revolution in military affairs allowed relatively small numbers of highly nimble American and allied forces to defeat numerically superior adversaries, as dramatically demonstrated during such operations as Desert Storm (1991) and Iraqi Freedom (2003), while sharply reducing civilian casualties and collateral damage.
Some scholars attribute the collapse of the Soviet Union in part to its failed efforts to keep up with the West in this expensive, high-tech arms race—and for decades afterward the United States had no peers in terms of conventional military capabilities. But a funny thing happened on the way to American global hegemony: while Washington diverted resources away from cutting-edge investments after 9/11, Moscow and Beijing slowly but surely began closing the capability gap through a combination of indigenous know-how, industrial espionage, and lessons learned from U.S. military operations. In recent years, Russia and China have developed increasingly effective air defense systems to blunt America’s signature warfighting advantage, and deployed sophisticated missile systems on a variety of platforms to complicate U.S. ground and maritime operations near their territory. Such anti-access, area-denial measures complement their markedly improved power-projection capabilities now on display in Syria and the South China Sea, respectively.
Not to be outdone, the U.S. Department of Defense recently embarked on a third offset strategy to harness innovations in artificial intelligence, automation, additive manufacturing, and other fields. While traditional weapons acquisition processes have become increasingly unaffordable—with more and more money spent procuring fewer and fewer high-end aircraft, ships, and armored vehicles—this latest approach hopes to reduce costs by disaggregating marquee platforms into more specialized networked systems leveraging off-the-shelf commercial technology. Of course, this same technology is accessible to America’s rivals as well, suggesting U.S. forces will soon need to develop new defenses against the very drone swarms and other “futuristic” weaponry they are currently developing, in a seemingly never-ending cycle.
Unfortunately, such military modernization has the potential to make great-power conflict more likely, their credible nuclear deterrents notwithstanding. Both Russia and China perceive America’s superior conventional capabilities—coupled with its expanding anti-ballistic missile networks in Europe and Asia—as destabilizing, since they could facilitate preemptive U.S. attacks targeting their nuclear arsenals. Meanwhile, each country is developing its own expeditionary forces capable of quickly seizing nearby territory, then (theoretically) holding out against an anticipated U.S.-led conventional counterattack—which may embolden them to resolve a greater variety of regional disputes militarily, especially where they judge the United States unwilling to intervene at the risk of nuclear war.
This combination of mutual distrust and localized military parity is increasing the likelihood of strategic miscalculation, and undermining the logic of nuclear deterrence that has constrained great-power competition for nearly three-quarters of a century. While it remains unlikely that the United States, Russia, or China will launch large-scale attacks on each other in the coming decades, they could very well become embroiled in regional conflicts that devolve into direct military confrontation among the great powers—conflicts with the potential for a much wider global conflagration.