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How NATO Nations use Foresight to bound the Future World Long range forecasting for the security environment. ISMOR 28 30 Aug – 2 Sept 2011.

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How NATO Nations use Foresight to bound the Future World Long range forecasting for the security environment


30 Aug – 2 Sept 2011


“No matter how clearly one thinks, it is impossible to anticipate precisely the character of future conflict. The key is to not be so far off the mark that it becomes impossible to quickly adjust once that character is revealed.”

Sir Michael Howard

  • Bit on NATO SAS panel and the RTO
  • Bit on background to the specialist meeting
  • Details of the meeting
  • Proceedings and discussions
  • Conclusions and recommendations
  • Where you can find out more
the nato sas panel
The NATO SAS Panel

North Atlantic Council

Military Committee

Conference of National Armaments Directors

Research and Technology Organization

Research and Technology Board

Research and Technology Agency

System Analysis and Studies

Systems Concepts and Integration

Sensors and Electronics Technology

Information Systems Technology

Applied Vehicle Technology

Human Factors and Medicine

Modelling and Simulation Group


Network of 3500 scientists/Engineers collaborating on ~ 130 activities per year

sas 088 objectives
SAS 088 Objectives

The theme for the SAS-088 Specialists Meeting was

“Long Range Forecasting of the Security Environment”

  • The SAS-088 Specialists Meeting aimed to:
      • Share knowledge, facilitate cooperation and critically evaluate national and international approaches to estimating medium-to-long term security conditions, to inform defence planning;
      • Explore what methods, techniques and processes NATO nations use to perform long-range forecasts of the future security environment; and,
      • Understand better the implications for the future security environment to assist defence forces in establishing coherent strategies and force structures for future NATO military operations.
specialist meeting participants
Specialist Meeting - Participants
  • Study Co-Directors:
    • Noel Corrigan, GBR, BAE Systems,
    • Shaye Friesen, CAN, DRDC CORA,
  • Organising Committee:

CAN (co-chair); GBR (co-chair); SWE (hosts); EST; NOR; NATO/ACT

  • Papers from:


  • Participants from:


  • Keynotes:
      • Stephan De Spiegeleire, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, NLD
      • Simon Jewell, Director Strategic Capability Solutions, BAE Systems GBR
      • Cdr Dick Börjesson, Future Capabilities Directorate,Swedish Armed Forces SWE
specialist meeting summary
Specialist Meeting - Summary
  • A 2 day Specialist Meeting, with third day for core team synthesis and draft report generation
  • Scale – more than 40 attendees , 3 keynotes, 12 papers
  • Structure – keynotes, 3 sessions of 4 papers each, Syndicate discussions, final wash up session
  • 3 Sessions
    • Methods
    • Process
    • Integration with Policy
  • Scenario based
    • As a means to provide a systematic outlook of ‘real world’ political-military conditions (strategic & operational) for developing precise military assessments of capabilities and force structures that may be required for future operations; the scenario approach is used within NATO and national capability and force development processes
  • Theme based
    • a complementary method to the scenario-based approach for producing foresight products for policy and defence planning. Since understanding current and possible future environments is essential to strategy, the thematic approach aims to provide options for decision makers that are less concerned with predicting a future than with making informed and better decisions.
scenario approaches
Scenario approaches
  • Force Planning Scenario Development Method: Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC)
  • 10-Step Cyclical Process: Army 2040 Project – Canada
  • Siegener Scenario Development Method: University of Siegen - Germany
thematic approaches
Thematic approaches
  • NATO Joint Ops 2030
    • Supreme Allied Command Transformation had 18 themes for their analysis of 2030
    • A Theme is a description of developments that could lead to or provoke change in the ‘why’ (role and embedding), ‘what’ (missions and tasks) and ‘how’ (structures, processes, and concepts of operation) of future operations and organisations
    • A realized strategy is influenced and built upon intended, deliberate, unintended and emergent strategies
  • Scenario Analysis Tool
  • Matrix-Based Quad Chart
  • The Futures Wheel
  • Science Fiction Writers
  • Sociometric and Evolutionary Analysis
  • Scenario Workshop
quad view 1

Scenario 1

Scenario 2

Scenario 3

Scenario 4

Scenario 5

Scenario 6

Scenario n

Quad view 1

Major Terrorist Attack (CFDS 3)

Explosive Attack

CBRN Attack

Cyber Attack

Attack using new Technology

quad view 3

Environment & Climate

Quad view 3

Sustainable – Supply Exceeds Demand



Gone Mad

High Octane

Green World

Crisis Reaction

Proactive Action





Unsustainable – Demand Exceeds Supply

  • NATO Long Term Requirements Study (LTRS) and Multiple Futures Project (MFP)
    • resonated very positively with Alliance nations and its partners,
    • Inform and Support a new Strategic Concept Development
    • Support Policy Forming Process
    • Align Transformation work. - common transformation situation awareness
  • The Case of Estonia
    • Dominated by Russian Policy and behaviour
  • NATO: The Joint Analysis Lessons Learned Centre (JALLC)
    • NATO lacks a proper institutionalized lesson learned process
integration with policy 1
Integration with Policy (1)
  • Sweden - insights provided to the Swedish Armed Forces and government in planning for future challenges
      • Possible future missions as inspired by the NATO Multiple Futures Project;
      • Long-term implications of economic inflation on the Swedish national defence budget;
      • Six strategic military trends;
      • A risk assessment of the new all volunteer system; and,
      • An assessment of a comprehensive approach towards national and international crises management.
  • Netherlands - review how the level and character of defence expenditures were expected to evolve in relation to the current level of ambitions
integration with policy 2
Integration with Policy (2)
  • Norway - prioritized long-term security forecasts that take a historical perspective, while translating global strategic trend projections to potential challenges on the national level
  • Poland - Forecasting of the future security environment and armament development planning are parallel processes requiring increased information exchange and cooperation
foresight assumptions
Foresight Assumptions

You cannot know the future, but a range of possible futures can be known;

The likelihood of a future event or condition can be changed by policy, and policy consequences can be forecast;

Gradations of foreknowledge and probabilities can be made; we can be more certain about the sunrise than about the rise of the stock market;

No single method should be trusted; hence, cross referencing methods improves foresight; and

Humans will have more influence on the future than they did in the past.

foresight principles
Foresight Principles
  • Broaden the aperture
  • Answer three questions
    • (1) what is it specifically trying to tell decision makers?
    • (2) why is it significant?
    • (3) why should the decision maker care?
  • Develop close relationships with decision makers.
  • Explicitly tie foresight efforts to current issues and policy development
  • Must be monitored against the environment
  • Must be timely
ten trends in foresight for defence
Ten trends in Foresight for Defence
  • Interest is growing
  • Better balance between planning horizons – away from presentism
  • Diversification of types of foresight
  • Diversification of methods
  • Diversification of frames of reference
  • More focus on non –”known knowns”
  • Black Swan Hunting
  • Anchoring foresight
  • Towards whole of government Foresight
  • More inside-out Foresight
  • The national perspective is reflected both in the methods used, and in the priorities given to particular attributes of the future
  • The use of a range of techniques and methods is preferred
  • Foresight studies have limited impact within many NATO nations: Politicians are not interested as the outputs are outside the timescales of their tenure; the Military appreciate the benefits but must weigh these against short term operational imperatives;
  • Many NATO nations lack a sufficient body of foresight experts with expertise in the appropriate methods and tools. (Though the track record of foresight “experts” is not particularly good)
  • The value of a forecast is not in its quantitative accuracy, but rather how well it supports decision-making in the present
  • This requires early and continual engagement with decision makers
  • NATO nations should recognise and exploit the range of foresight methods and expertise available within the alliance
  • NATO to adopt a range of best practice identified within the nations and the agencies
    • SAS panel to codify this practice
  • Improve the utility of foresight by strengthening the linkage with policy formulation amongst the nations
    • Ensure the needs of the policy makers are recognised and addressed
    • Ensure all stakeholders, including industry, are engaged
further reading
Further Reading
  • More information - report, papers and presentations, at
foresight all good
Foresight – all good?
  • Much foresight being done (also – even especially – in Europe/the NL), growing cottage industry
  • <-> Genuinely popular in various circles (also at highest levels)
  • Striking degree of presentism/reductionism (especially with point scenarios)
  • Striking irrelevance of foresight
    • Few good examples (NOT defence planning NOR petrochemical sector)
    • Should be an organic part of strategic planning, frequently isn’t
  • Virtually no validation effort (and what little there is, is very discomforting) / little meta-foresight
  • Security foresight (unusually) ‘negative’ bias
  • Suspiciously facile acceptance of ‘process as important as outcome’
  • No real constituency for forward planning
    • Politicians (“not in my tenure”)
    • Parliament (in Europe, defence/security = political death warrant)
    • Defence/security industry (shareholders interested in short-term)
    • Military (certainly not in an era of high OpTempo)
    • Academics (too ‘applied’, not ‘rigorous’ enough)
    • Media (not sexy enough)
    • The broader public (too complicated)
  • Growing impact of complex adaptive systems-thinking (<-> OR)/ Risk vs uncertainty

 need for more rigour and modesty (META-foresight) and anchoring it in strategic planning

foresight all bad
Foresight – all bad?
  • Our track record on foresight is dismal (see also Taleb 2006 The Black Swan, especially chapt. 9 ‘The scandal of prediction’)
    • Understood theoretically
      • Batchelor 2007 – “private sector forecasters also have incentives to bias their forecasts to optimism or pessimism” to stand out from the crowd
      • principal-agent model (reputation) – Lamont (2002)
      • herding model – Banerjee (1992)
      • Scattering – Henry (1989)
      • Seer-sucker model (Armstrong 1980 – “no matter how much evidence exists that seers do not exist, suckers will pay for the existence of seers”)
    • And empirically
      • Tetlock (2005) – 82’000 predictions of about 300 pol/ec experts; experts' error rates much higher than they estimated; not better than non-experts; negative relationship between reputation and ex post prediction accuracy
      • Makridakis e.a. (2000) competition
  • Yet consensus forecasts (robustly) most accurate ones (Zarnowitz and Braun 1993 - see also Surowiecki 2004) – at least in economics
    • Especially with diverse set of foresights (Bunn 87; Goodwin 2000)
    • Different ways – unweighted (de Menezes, Bunn and Taylor 2000) and weighted (Harvey and Harries 2004; De Spiegeleire e.a. 2005 for a concrete example)
  • Knightian (1921) Risk vs Uncertainty
    • Risk – computable, ‘ludic’, Gaussian – still at the heart of the discipline
    • Uncertainty– incomputable, epistemically opaque, Mandelbrotian – up and coming