Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Strategic Trends 2007-2036

If you're looking for a reliable guide to the political, environmental, social, technological and social trends which will shape the world over the next 30 years, look no further than Strategic Trends, a rolling document produced by the MoD's Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC).

The latest iteration of this document emphasises the importance of global warming to a much greater extent than its 2003 predecessor. It also includes a short section on Non-Western perspectives, and now acknowledges that the growth of moral relativism is an important trend:

"Secularism and materialism are likely to grow in significance in an increasingly competitive, inter-connected world, reflecting trends that are already well established in the more developed regions. Meanwhile, cultural mixing, the pace of change and a rapid confluence of modern ideas and traditional values are likely to increase the trend towards moral relativism and increasingly pragmatic values. These developments will trigger responses from complex, traditionally defined communities, as well as among significant minorities, whic will seek the sanctuary provided by more rigid belief systems, including religious orthodoxy and doctrinaire political ideologies, such as popularism and Marxism," (p12).

However, in one respect, I think that the authors of the current document have failed to make an obvious connection between a couple of their observations. Firstly, consider this accurate analysis of the geopolitical significance of the Arctic:

"The US Geological Survey estimates that around 25% of the remaining global oil and gas reserves are likely to be located in the Arctic. Although the harsh climate and environmental restrictions currently militate against oil exploration and production in this region, Arctic warming is likely to be double the global average and this will significantly improve prospects for future exploitation. Petrochemical companies, aggressively developing new extraction technologies, are likely to pursue oil production, undeterred by current environmental limitations, constraints and concerns. The annual reduction in Arctic ice coverage is likely to continue, leading to the prospect of a year-round Northern sea route across the Arctic Ocean between continents and may culminate in a summer ice-free Arctic in the period 2040 to 2080. These routes will become strategically significant, offering shorter and more direct trade links between North America, Europe and Asia," (p26).

Secondly, it is noted that:

"Russia's significance and influence in Europe is likely to increase, reflecting its extensive natural resources, particularly in oil and gas, but its ability to exert direct leverage or leadership will be limited by its internal tensions, not least its acute demographic crisis, threats to stability from radical Islam and severe regional instability on its southern periphery. The failure of Russia to diversify its economy from a single sector based on energy, as a 'Saudi Arabia of the North', may result in stunted economic development and huge inequalities resulting in political stasis and the potential for instability and disorder. This tendency will be perpetuated by ongoing difficulties in generating a self-sustaining middle class, significant levels of civic responsibility and a socio-economic model based on the rule of law. A failure to overcome these problems is likely, given historic experience, to result in an increasingly authoritarian, overtly nationalistic posture, characterized by a highly regulated, but irregular and criminalized economic sector and poor democratic credentials," (p45).

And yet, on p5, the map of conflict points around the world does not suggest that the Arctic will be a region of potential military conflict...

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