Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/04/11/admiral_nostradamus_parry/

Military thinktank sees dark future

Brain-chipped middle class Goths in flashmob revolution by 2035

By Lewis Page

Posted in Science, 11th April 2007 12:26 GMT

A UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) thinktank led by a controversial senior officer has issued some radical predictions for the future.

In its rolling Strategic Trends Programme document, the MoD's Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) seeks to outline the challenges the British forces might face in the period up to 2035. The DCDC is led by Rear Admiral Chris Parry, an Oxford history graduate, helicopter observer, and Falklands veteran.

Admiral Parry won some notoriety last year when he told a conference of security professionals that Britain and Europe were threatened by "reverse colonisation", in which huge waves of migrants would overwhelm the native culture of Western nations. These migrants, rather than being assimilated like many in the past, would remain connected to their home cultures by the internet and cheap flights, thus taking on the character more of colonials than new citizens. No specific groups were mentioned, but it's possible to speculate that the Admiral was referring to Australians and Kiwis.

Indeed, the MoD's Nostradamus went so far as to liken modern-day Blighty to the Roman Empire as it was overwhelmed by the Goths. In another historical allusion, he suggested that the Barbary corsairs might soon prowl the Mediterranean once again.

"At some time in the next 10 years, it may not be safe to sail a yacht between Gibraltar and Malta," he said.

Of course, many historians nowadays feel that the Goths were actually nicer than the Romans, and that Western democracy owes more to the relatively chilled-out "barbarians" than it does to the autocrats, tax farmers and slave traders of the Empire. Admiral Parry is clearly a member of the old school in this regard.

As for safety in the Mediterranean, he may have a point; modern-day piracy is definitely an increasing problem, and already there are many coasts where only a foolish blue-water yachtsman would stray too close inshore. That said, the modern European environment of instant communications, radar, fast-moving aircraft, and sizeable ex-Cold War navies looking for employment doesn't favour the surface raider. The North African corsairs of tomorrow will need to be on the top of their game if they plan to operate much beyond their home territorial waters.

Getting on to this year's predictions, Admiral Parry and his team of military prophets have mostly stuck to fairly well-trodden paths: China, climate change, competition for scarce resources, the burgeoning worldwide urban underclass, cheesed-off Muslims denied their shot at Western affluence – all are laid out as potential problems for the British forces.

But there are some relatively unconventional twists. The DCDC doom-mongers also see the middle classes as a possible source of strife.

"The middle classes could become a revolutionary class," says the report. "The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat...Faced by these twin challenges, the world's middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest."

The report's authors, of course, are all British military officers: members of the middle classes. They seem to feel more sympathy with "beleaguered middle classes" than they do with the super-rich or the proletarian rabble. Admiral Parry and his team seem to be hinting that if the urban mob ever rises up against the super-rich, the fat cats will want to have kept the military middle classes on side - just as the Roman toffs had to.

There is also some conventional internet/sci-fi fare, probably seen as radical stuff in Whitehall but quite familiar to the average Reg reader.

For instance, Admiral Parry's crew flag up the threat of electromagnetic pulse weapons or other specialist new-wave kit against electronics-dependent societies, either by disabling backbone strikes or perhaps knockout blows against space infrastructure. They make the point that a sudden loss of satellites could cause multiple mass-transport accidents or "the collapse of international financial systems". They also suggest that: "Rapid mobilisation - 'flashmobs' - may be undertaken by states, terrorists and criminals...challenging security forces to match this potential agility and ability to concentrate."

Someone at the DCDC has clearly been reading classic cyberpunk, as well. "By 2035, an implantable information chip could be developed and wired directly to the user's brain," says the report. "Developments might include the invention of synthetic telepathy, including mind-to-mind or telepathic dialogue. This type of development would have obvious military and security, as well as control, legal and ethical, implications."

So obvious, in fact, that the MoD brain trust declines to say what they are.

The staff-college moguls of the DCDC also seem worried about some blasted boffin inventing something which they have failed to predict. To deal with this, Admiral Parry's crystal-ball-gazers include a splendid catch-all:

"A cheap, simple-to-make and easy-to-use weapon might be invented that is effective against a wide range of targets and against which established countermeasures are ineffective," they warn, without going into further detail. A superb bit of bureaucratic ass-covering, if not terribly useful for the military planners of the future.

All in all, the Strategic Trends programme is relatively lacklustre stuff. It's supposed to provide a firm basis for the MoD to make plans on, but you'd hate to be the person who had to use it for that purpose. Admiral Parry tells us that the document is "the result of over a year's research by my team and me".

Perhaps the biggest question that raises for ordinary taxpayers and servicemen is whether the DCDC thinktank, with all its expensively-trained staff brains, is genuinely worth the money.

The full report is available here (big pdf). ®