Called ‘The Future Starts Today’, the report claims that the world has reached a critical point in the need to tackle the evolution of threats faced in the current climate.
Commenting on the report, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
This report makes clear that we are living in a world becoming rapidly more dangerous, with intensifying challenges from state aggressors who flout the rules, terrorists who want to harm our way of life and the technological race with our adversaries. Identifying these threats means we can continue to build an Armed Forces that can stay ahead of them.
The last Strategic Defence and Security Review, published three years ago, identified four main areas of threat, including the evolution of extremist terrorism, the resurgence of state-based threats, the rapid advance of technology on all fronts and the erosion of the rules-based international order.
The sixth edition of the Global Strategic Trends report recognises the danger of those threats, but also sets out how they are continuing to speed up and intersect to create new and unparalleled risks.
It outlines how regional powers could develop nuclear capabilities with global reach, internationally accepted rules on chemical weapons are ignored, and non-state actors could acquire sophisticated missile technology. It also describes how the interaction between climate change, demand for resources and over-population will drive competition, possibly leading to future conflict.
In publishing the report, the MOD confidently stated that UK defence “has always been at the forefront of global military capabilities and has risen to meet threats ranging from global conflicts, insurgent warfare, disinformation campaigns and offensive cyber. This has ensured the UK maintains a military edge over adversaries.”
Two Years’ Work by the Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre
The MOD’s thinktank, the Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre, worked on this comprehensive report for two years. They drew on a range of analysis across academia, business, government departments and nations from across the globe. The findings support those who formulate Defence policy, strategy and capability development, and includes a range of innovations. This has been evident in the development of the MOD’s Arctic Strategy, Space Strategy and approach to future autonomous systems.
The MOD’s research teams used a suite of research methods to provide insight into alternate, plausible futures, watchpoints and discontinuities. Through this analysis UK Defence has identified key areas that have the potential to profoundly change humanity over the coming years.
Global Strategic Trends Report in Detail
Global Strategic Trends (GST) describes a strategic context for those in the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and wider government who are involved in developing long term plans, strategies, policies and capabilities. Without a strategic context there is a risk that planners, policymakers and capability developers may assume a future that adheres to preconceived thoughts and assumptions.
As well as providing a strategic context, this sixth edition of GST identifies long-term threats and opportunities. It also identifies 16 focus areas where the potential for profound change to humanity is high, and describes a series of short alternative future scenarios.
GST does not and cannot attempt to predict the future. What it does is describe those phenomena that could have a significant impact on the future and combines these differing perspectives to produce a multifaceted picture of possible outcomes.
Global Strategic Trends Focus Areas
1. Harnessing artificial intelligence
2. An expanding competitive space
3. Increasing proliferation of weapons of mass effect
4. Erosion of state sovereignty
5. Adaptation of the rules-based international system
6. An expanded and unregulated information space
7. Rising inequality, reducing social cohesion, and fragmented societies
8. Understanding human enhancement
9. Increasing competition in the global commons
10. Increasing disruption and cost of climate change
11. Increasing demand and competition for resources
12. Greater automation and an increasingly diverse workforce
13. Managing technological change
14. The challenge of affordability
15. Increasing threat from crime and extremism
16. Managing demographic change
What the report calls “managing demographic change” comes at the bottom of a list of 16 factors and is described as having a low level of impact and uncertainty relative to the other factors. Only “increasing threat from crime and extremism” is seen as having less impact on our lives.
The population is expected to grow by around 2.1 billion and reach around 9.8 billion people by 2050, but growth will be unbalanced. (GST, p. 12)
The population explosion in the developing world is already causing significant problems and can be seen behind a number of other factors in the list, such as rising inequality, fragmented societies, increasing demand for resources and increasing extremism – and Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria has been the primary cause in recent conflicts. Even climate change is only the result of population growth and its greatest effects will be felt by those areas experiencing the fastest rate of population growth, but the consequences will be felt by all.
The Global Strategic Trends report can be downloaded here.
Image: a line of Challenger 2’s fire as part of the Royal Welsh Battle Group during Exercise Prairie Lightning (Crown Copyright, 2014).