maximize strategic foresight for national security

Maximizing Strategic Foresight to Strengthen National Security

The Winter 2019 cover article of the peer-reviewed journal Joint Force Quarterly featured Amy’s article, “Maximizing Strategic Foresight.” The article argued that militaries will benefit from strategic foresight – an interdisciplinary skillset concerned with identifying relevant signs of change in uncertain environments.

Amy offered five areas of needed improvement in national security institutions:

  • Shift analytic focus from technology-focused futures to a more integrated vision of future environments.
  • Use lessons from systems thinking to evaluate more accurately the global system.
  • Provide more instruction on complexity thinking.
  • Introduce foresight thinking early in professional development
  • Create a unified lexicon of the concepts and terms

An excerpt: What is the history of foresight in the U.S. military?

In the 1970s, the ideas of previously obscure futurists gained popularity, most notably as a result of Alvin Toffler’s bestselling book, Future Shock. These ideas trickled into the executive offices of both government leaders and major corporations. Long-range planning and the basic tenets of foresight were accompanied by a spirit of openness and an exploratory readiness to consider the potential that more than one future might emerge. At the same time, voices of warning also called on political and military leaders to adapt U.S. planning processes to a world that was becoming more complex and interconnected. Projects such as the Department of Defense Office of Net Assessment, which was established in 1973 to assess the impact of converging macro-trends, were attuned to the need to assess complex environments.

Some of the most forceful notes of warning can be found in a 1987 volume titled Creating Strategic Vision: Long-Range Planning for National Security.7 This compilation of essays outlining the various techniques of strategic foresight was offered as an antidote to the “pragmatic, fragmented, short-term” tendencies that were presumed to characterize the American way of leadership.8 Much of this critique from a generation ago about the short-term nature of U.S. strategy has become dogma today. When I introduced the work to a cohort of flag officers in an advanced training course recently, they readily warmed to the thesis that the United States is inherently poor at long-term thinking and needs to do a better job.

Also, in the late 1980s, the U.S. Army War College introduced a new course titled Futures: Creating Strategic Visions.9 The goal of the course was to provide promising future leaders with the creative thinking skills required to envision and communicate alternative futures in an executive setting. Alternative futures, in this context, refers to a practice of indicating that more than one future is possible and that one’s own present-day decisions help to shape the future. The course was notable for stressing creativity as a teachable skill and for proposing that the future may unfold in many possible ways.

And there the enthusiasm stops …

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