Friday, February 14, 2014

The Futurists

The science - or some would say the art - of futurology emerged as an academic or semi-academic discipline in the 1960s under the influence of writers like Herman Kahn, Dennis Gabor, Wendell Bell and Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the Dymaxion House and the Geodesic Dome. In the 1960s and 70s "futures studies" - based on the analysis of possible futures and their causation patterns - became fashionable both in the United States and in Europe. While the American branch of futurology tended to focus mostly on practical projects - Stewart Brand's Buckminster Fuller-influenced counter-cultural Whole Earth Catalog being one of the most notable - in Europe there was a tendency to prefer theoretical speculations about the long-range future of humanity and the Earth. Although nowadays futurology is a term that - in a Western context, at least - mostly belongs to a bygone era, the term "futures studies" has survived, and still represents a considerable body of scientific, pseudoscientific, sociological and historical research associated with ecology and sustainable development.

In the Soviet Union futurology developed along rather different lines, and was mainly associated with government-controlled national economic, industrial and defence projects. Even today, more than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the study of military futurology is alive and well in Russia, where it provides an underpinning and rationale for the current large-scale modernization and expansion of the country's military and defence capabilities. A glance at the website of the Russian Armed Forces broadcasting company Zvezda reveals a wide range of documents and videos devoted to the subject of Russia's place and role n the world, while journals like Voyennaya Mysl' (Military Thought) and Voyenno-Promyshlennyi Kur'yer present many articles and links to material of a more detailed kind.

As Stephen Blank points out in a recent Eurasia Daily Monitor article, the central task of institutions like the Academy of Military Sciences is to predict and assess military and other threats to Russia, and to elaborate ways of reacting and responding to them:
For Russian writers and officials, not only will contemporary and future war be a war of high-tech precision-strike complexes, it will also encompass a broad range of information warfare or even attempts at creating major economic disasters through conventional, non-nuclear, high-tech, precision strikes. This involves war from earth (or in the case of submarines underwater) to space to the digital realm. Indeed, Russia plans to create cyber warfare units by 2017 (RIA Novosti, January 30). Similarly Russia’s long-range aircraft will start using foreign airfields in 2014 to perform their missions (Interfax-AVN Online, January 22). Furthermore, writers like Konstantin Sivkov, First Vice President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, call for imitating the United States’ move to a global strike capability using non-nuclear missiles. This capability is ostensibly for use against terrorists, but clearly also encompasses major theater war (Voyenno-Promyshlennyi Kuryer Online, January 22). Colonel Sergei G. Chekinov (Reserve) and Lieutenant-General Sergei A. Bogdanov (Ret.), prominent writers on information operations, even argue that “non-traditional forms of armed struggle will be used to cause earthquakes, typhoons and heavy rainfall” that can damage not just the economy, but aggravate the overall socio-psychological climate in any targeted country (Military Thought, October–December 2013).

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