Earlier this year the World Economic Forum put out a set of three original scenarios forecasting possible futures for the international security landscape. This was an attempt by WEF to use futures thinking to explore the international security environment in 2030. I haven’t conducted a count yet, but it feels to me like more and more organizations are using basic futures thinking approaches like scenarios to engage experts and audiences in thinking more broadly about the future security environment.
The three scenarios WEF came up with were:
- Walled cities: a scenario framed by issues of governance and the continued erosion of the power and prerogative of the nation-state
- Strong regions: an accelerated unraveling of the globalized and liberal world order, though one with security and stability for many – at a price
- War and peace: a future outlined by power transition dynamics and war, where restoring peace and global trade trump universal values
Far from being surprising or deeply provocative, it is possible to see all three scenarios as logical extensions of current trends and projections (i.e. growth extrapolations) of current policy concerns. While parts of each scenario are uncomfortable or undesirable, none of the three present the reader with a truly surprising future; all of them are easily understandable and recognizable to a moderately informed reader.
Now, so as not in any way to demean such efforts, it’s perhaps best to understand these sorts of forecasting exercises as being more useful for understanding the concerns and imagery in the minds of mainstream experts and decision makers. As the post itself makes sure to point out to the reader, the WEF team “consulted with over 280 members” of their “global network” to build the three scenarios. It’s a reasonable bet that WEF’s membership is largely composed of individuals well-respected by mainstream institutions and power centers. When scenario building relies heavily on expert and senior decision maker input, there is always a high risk that the scenarios will fail to really challenge the audience’s expectations for “plausible” possibilities.
That being said, it is an interesting exercise to contrast these three relatively unsurprising scenarios with, say, the future security environment depicted in the most recent Department of Defense Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). In contrast to the QDR future, the WEF scenarios look quite divergent…
In the future it will be interesting (perhaps) to contrast these three scenarios about the future security environment produced by the World Economic Forum with those soon-to-be-created by the US National Intelligence Council in their future Global Trends 2035 report (which will be part of a future post here).