British military looks into the future

The Guardian has an article about a British Ministry of Defence report that looks at some "key risks and shocks" that the UK's military establishment thinks it might face in the near future.

Reports like this are more interesting for what they say about how the people in charge of the sources of power see the present rather than the future. Prediction, or as the MoD prefers to call it, "probability-based" assessment, is a notoriously difficult business. The report, as presented by the article, is kind of a mixed bag. Some points raised are genuinely interesting, such as projections for new weapons and demographic changes.

Others are confusing. Why, for example, should "information chips" wired directly to the brain be a possible risk to Britain's military? Do they foresee "counter-counter-insurgency" chips being peddled at the local greengrocers? And the references to Marx are preposterous - if the middle classes are projected to take on the role of a revolutionary proletariat that would... be nothing at all like Marx's analyses of the revolutionary potential of the lower/working class. Marx and Engels recognized that other classes could be revolutionary in certain circumstances (like the French Revolution) - where, specifically, does Marx fit into all this?

Other "strategic" risk assessments sound like the authors have drunk a little too deeply from the right-wing Kool-aid well. Consider this analysis of trends in "Islamic militancy":

Tension between the Islamic world and the west will remain, and may increasingly be targeted at China "whose new-found materialism, economic vibrancy, and institutionalised atheism, will be an anathema to orthodox Islam".

China has already had problems with its Muslim minority in its western provinces. Still, the idea that "Islamic world" will turn against China because of its "materialism", "economic vibrancy," and even "institutionalised atheism" is pretty far-fetched, and the only people who would come up with such a scenario are those who have bought into the whole "the-terrorists-hate-us-becaue-we're-free" bullshit line.

Now if China began invading countries to, say, prop up favored clients, like the USSR did in Afghanistan, or for contradictory but ultimately self-serving reasons, like the US has done in Iraq, then the "Islamic world" might not be too happy, and its "atheism" and "materialism" might become issues. But in that case we would be dealing more with the form that grievances would be aired rather than the grievances themselves. The majority of the people in the Middle East - and the "Islamic world" in general - simply hate imperialism and people from the West interfering in their lives.

Another curious part to this report is the idea of

"declining news quality" with the rise of "internet-enabled, citizen-journalists" and pressure to release stories "at the expense of facts".

There is a debate going on as to whether or not such vehicles as blogs contribute positively or negatively to the general social and political debate (see, for example, this rather elitist view of blogs as platforms that poison "real" political debate by someone who is apparently a "left-wing neoconservative"). I don't want to get into that issue right now, although my opinion is that such "internet-enabled, citizen-journalists", in general, have the beneficial effect of forcing an increasingly insular and unaccountable mass-media to do a better job when it comes to reporting. In any event, it is interesting to note that the MoD, an organization currently engaged in a war of aggression in Iraq sold on blatant lies helpfully peddled by much of the media and against the overwhelming opinion of the British public, can complain about "declining news quality" and the lack of "facts" in news coverage. What exactly are they talking about?

Full report, if I can find it, and other thoughts, if I feel like, later.

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