Race & Class - Vol. 51 No. 3
18 Race & Class 51(3)
possible for the United States to maintain its military advantage for centuries if it remains capable of transforming its forces before an opponent can develop counter-capabilities’.9
Stripped of its anachronistic application of contemporary military jargon, its shallow scholarship and its unproblematic comparisons between the United States and previous empires, this document was essentially a variant on ONA futuristic studies such as Preserving American Primacy (January 2006) and Preserving US Military Supremacy (August 2001). The same objectives are shared by the neoconservative thinktank Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in its 2000 call for US military transformation, Rebuilding America’s Defenses. The PNAC couples a boyish fascination with sci-fi weaponry with a strident insistence on the need to preserve US ‘primacy’, ‘geo-political pre-eminence’, ‘dominance’ and a ‘global security order that is uniquely friendly to American principles and prosperity’.10
This determination to shape, control and ‘dominate’ the turbulent and conflictprone twenty-first century in the foreseeable (and unforeseeable) future is a key component of the new military futurism. On the one hand, military futurism is a by-product of the megalomaniac military doctrine of ‘full spectrum dominance’. At the same time, its predictions about the future express very real fears amongst the US ruling elite that the United States is inextricably connected to a world that may be slipping out of its control. Perhaps not surprisingly, therefore, the new military futurists are often considerably more pessimistic than their predecessors and tend to paint a very bleak future of an unsafe and unstable world that demands a constant military presence to hold it together. From Yevgeny Zemyatin’s We to Brave New World and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, twentieth-century writers have used dystopian visions of the future as a warning or as a satirical commentary on the often lethal consequences of twentieth-century utopianism. The dystopias of the new military futurists have a very different purpose. The US military often tends to perceive itself as the last bastion of civilisation against encroaching chaos and disorder. The worse the future is perceived to be, the more these dark visions of chaos and disorder serve to justify limitless military ‘interventions’, technowarfare, techno-surveillance and weapons procurement programmes, and the predictions of the military futurists are often very grim indeed.
Dark skies The new military futurism is not universally pessimistic and even its worst-case scenarios are often qualified within a sliding scale of probability. But its determination to leave no possibility unexplored often results in a spectacularly bleak picture of the ‘near future’. Consider the following scenario outlined in Known Unknowns: unconventional ‘strategic shocks’ in defense strategy development, a study published in 2007 by the US Army’s Strategic Studies Institute (SSI):
Threats of context might include but are not limited to contagious un- and under-governance; civil violence; the swift catastrophic onset of consequential
Matt Carr: Slouching towards dystopia: the new military futurism 19
natural, environmental, and/or human disaster; a rapidly expanding and uncontrolled transregional epidemic; and the sudden crippling instability or collapse of a large and important state. Indeed, pushing at the boundaries of current convention, it would be prudent to add catastrophic dislocation inside the United States or homegrown domestic civil disorder and/or violence to this category as well.11
Written by Nathan Freier, a professor at the SSI and a former consultant to the US military in Iraq, this study considered a number of ‘unconventional threats’ to the United States in a future security environment characterised by ‘the unguided forces of globalisation, toxic populism, identity politics, underdevelopment, human natural disaster, and disease’. The study also considered more ‘conventional’ threats, including the possibility that a ‘China-Russia axis’ might instigate ‘a new era of containment with the United States as the nation to be contained’.
China generally features in futurist analyses as an economic rather than a military competitor but a 2008 study produced by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment (CSBA), Strategy for the Long Haul: Special Operations Forces: future challenges and opportunities, argued that Chinese military power was growing to the point when it might eventually ‘threaten the United States’ access to the “global commons” of space, cyberspace, the air, the seas and the undersea, and possibly to US ally and partner nations in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan’.12 In these circumstances, US Special Forces might be required to mount ‘large-scale, overt unconventional warfare operations on China’s periphery to open up additional fronts’.13 For the most part, the CSBA study predicts that US Special Forces will be largely devoted to ‘persistent air and maritime surveillance and strike coverage over “under-governed areas” and littoral zones’.14 The US Joint Forces’ Joint Operating Environment 2008 (JOE), published the same year, also predicts that the US military would face ‘threats and opportunities ranging from regular and irregular wars in remote lands, to relief and reconstruction in crisis zones, to sustained engagement in the global commons’ over the course of the next quarter of a century.15 Its hypothetical scenarios include the possibility of armed conflict over access to water and diminishing energy resources, the disintegration of the ‘arc of instability’ ranging across North Africa to SouthEast Asia into an ‘arc of chaos’, the ‘collapse of governing authority, migrations, societal collapse, and social disorder’, as a result of famine and hunger and the potential emergence of Pakistan and Mexico as ‘failed states’.16
The prospect of state collapse features in many military futurist documents, such as the US National Intelligence Council’s Mapping the Global Future (2004), whose ‘possible futures’ included the prospect that ‘lagging economies, religious extremism, and youth bulges will align to create a perfect storm for internal conflict’.17 Drawing on expertise from military and corporate institutions that included the RAND Corporation, the UK’s Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre and ‘global scenarios’ analysts from Shell International, the report described an international context with unprecedented ‘state of flux’ and identified various