Taking a look into the future is something we all like to indulge in from time to time.
But gazing into a crystal ball is fraught with dangers and problems as we can never be truly certain about what lies around the corner, or whether we actually want to know what will happen.
Perhaps that is why the Ministry of Defence is being quite guarded in its use of language to describe a new study painting a picture of the “future strategic context” likely to face Britain’s armed forces.
The rather alarming images thrown up by the study, carried out by a team led by Rear Admiral Chris Parry, head of the MoD’s Development, Concepts & Doctrine Centre, are “probability-based, rather than predictive”, according to military sources.
Highlights of the 90-page document include: information chips implanted in the brain; electromagnetic pulse weapons; the middle classes becoming revolutionary, taking on the role of Marx’s proletariat; the population of countries in the Middle East increasing by 132%, while Europe’s drops as fertility falls; and so-called “Flashmobs” – groups rapidly mobilised by criminal gangs or terrorists groups.
There are also comments on the rise of emerging economies such as China and India, as well as the possibility of a new arms race based in space.
One other intriguing section involves the “declining news quality”. The MoD is seemingly concerned with the rise of “internet-enabled, citizen-journalists” and pressure to release stories “at the expense of facts”.
Arguably this is an issue that the MoD is already dealing with in terms of the on-going operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Certainly the media frenzy surrounding the capture and eventual release of 15 British service personnel by Iran continues to exercise the minds of the MoD and senior officers.
The decision to allow the 15 former captives to seek payment for media interviews is largely uncharted territory for the MoD and so far it has not coped well with the story.
The whole story – from their capture, imprisonment, parading in front of TV camera by Iran, “confessions” and subsequent release – has thrown up uncomfortable images and coverage for the British military. The questions are coming thick and fast and thanks to the rise of the blogosphere and 24-hour news, they are also coming from many different quarters and many new commentators.
What is clear is that certain sections of the often bleak picture painted by the MoD’s piece of crystal ball gazing are fairly broad assumptions.
But there are other, significant sections that have a more solid basis in fact because we can already see that some elements already exist.
We would all love a sneak preview of the future. Yet there are growing indications that we might not be ready for what lies ahead.