Global Security Trends Workshop

This week we hosted a workshop with Royal Holloway staff and colleagues associated with the Ministry of Defence’s think tank, the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) based in Wiltshire. According to the official website, the DCDC has the following mission, “We produce concepts and doctrine, underpinned by thorough research and experimentation, for defence. This helps to inform decision makers in defence strategy, capability development and operations. It also provides the foundation for joint education”.
The workshop was designed to allow DCDC staff to discuss their interim findings for the 2014 Global Strategic Trends report. The previous report published in 2010 is to be updated with due emphasis given to the drivers, trends and outcomes that may well have a decisive impact on the future (or multiple futures). In the coming months, the DCDC team will visit a number of institutions (both domestic and international) to obtain critical feedback on this report. Royal Holloway was their first visit in this peer review process. Once published in April 2014, the report will inform National Security Strategy planning and a likely defence review after parliamentary elections in May 2015 (as currently expected).
The panel assembled included participants from history, criminology, economics, politics and IR, information security, and geography which reflected a wide range of interests and expertise in areas as diverse as globalisation and consumption to sociologies of political extremism, from regional focus in south america, to the history of Islam. After a brief introduction from the Director of DCDC and the team responsible for the draft report, we were initially offered a set of intriguing insights into how DCDC approach futures research and the methodologies deployed in scenario planning and the role of strategic shocks. Probabilities has been replaced by an interest in degrees of confidence. The DCDC staff made it clear that their interest is in ‘trends’ rather than prediction per se and their goal is to try to ‘think future(s)’ through quite a complex process of revising and resolving those apparent trends through subsequent rounds of scenario testing and ‘red teaming’.
The initial findings were then the subject of detailed discussion as demographics, globalization, economic change, climate change, technological change, governance and resources formed the backbone of what followed. Academic colleagues were quick to challenge the narrative framing devices of the interim report such as population growth and how it could be perceived as being construed as a ‘problem’ caused by the global South rather than thinking about consumption patterns and the bio-capacity of the earth. The notion of the ‘west’ at work in the discussion also took a front seat. We also discussed whether the report needed to have a more explicit consideration of neo-liberal capitalism and its rapacious and opportunistic capacities. Changes in the US domestic energy market might have transformed energy security calculations but at the same time allowed the US to export greater quantities of high polluting coal elsewhere. Thinking through the inter-relationship between energy, climate change and food security was acknowledged to be complicated but again caution should be applied in assuming that this was something caused by population growth and middle class consumerism in countries like China. One area not acknowledged in the interim findings was the role that gender, race, class and levels of education continues to play in shaping the experiences of the global community. One trend that does appear to be intensifying is a growing inequality between rich and poor, which is not neatly mappable onto a global North and South.
Tracing through the implications for the UK in terms of defence and security was judged to be complex. The UK was likely to be increasingly involved with European partners as US security interests turned towards the Asia-Pacific region. Notwithstanding specific territorial interests such as the disputed Falklands and Gibraltar, the UK’s defence/security strategy was likely to be characterised by a growing investment in cyber-security, regional co-operation and possible involvement in expeditionary involvement in conflicts where international norms are at stake (e.g. Libya, Syria). All of this, however, will be occurring against a backdrop of ongoing climate change, resource stress and a population numbering closer to 9 billion sometime in the 21st century.
Of course where research like this goes is very interesting and we are just as curious about how the eventual strategic trends report will be circulated and used, how versions of the future gain purchase in certain contexts, how the findings may be abstracted and decontextualised, and ultimately what kinds of futures this report will help to make.
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