What about Foresight? The shock of the war left many in unknown territory

What about Foresight? The shock of the war left many in unknown territory
What about Foresight? The shock of the war left many in unknown territory

What kind of turning points are we going through, and could Foresight be successfully used in a longer-term basis, contributing to better choices in times of unknown territories? What could Foresight to Strategy do to help find new ways of thinking and new narratives in times of unknown territories? Many comfortable believes must be put in question all in a sudden due to the war in Ukraine. Some observations below.

Time erosion: changes have come about in a few days only, or a turbo mode, which were usually not being expected to happen during the next 10 years. Overwhelming surprise in most of the western and also in German politics. While before Governments strongly hesitated to spend enough funds e.g. for countering climate change, or for social equality issues, or for better social housing and so on, now, from one day to the other, decisions were made, to invest billions in military spending in light of defence and security.

Trust erosion in governance: even highly respected politicians loose public trust in hindsight. Merkel and Obama are prominent among these. The damages of errors or wrong decisions show up in a much longer-term than expected (e.g. taking energy as purely economic resource; climate not taken serious for decades; market economy with rising inequality). All these prominent figures had little or no sense of being alarmed by the attacks on Donbas 2014. The shock of the war has posed as an outcome of the long-term wrong decision making after the handling of the Donbas situation. Today´s governments must try to fix the damage, and find remedies for short term and in longer-term processes.

Trust erosion in economic thinking: Do we need new ideas and narratives, as the dominant narratives held in western economies and politics had believed in the priority of permanent economic growth, fuelled by almost every available sources of energy and commodities, while trickle down of the rich to the poor which didn´t work out? What do we learn from continued overconsumption by all? What about extensive investments in authoritarian states, at what longer term costs? After all, Putin may intend to take over the property from those businesses that had invested in his country, and now closed down in retaliation (for a while) to protest the war. Could be Russian managers running MacDonalds or VW production chains? One horror picture for the industry and by parts of their labour force in the country would be a continuous compulsory administration (“Zwangsverwaltung”) by Russian autocrats.

Risk awareness maybe put in question: What if, one may ask, the various businesses involved in the supply chain of Russian oil and gas, had their own and sufficient risk awareness, a risk assessment not only with an economic lens but on severe and long-term policy risks? What if all traders and users of oil and gas had taken into consideration the externality costs for the environment and ecosystems and the risks on uncertainties all over? As of weak signals from prognostics, did they fail and why? Who´s put the political risk on the screen earlier? A working paper of the Washington based World Uncertainty Index, for example, did take events like a Gulf war into account, rather than a possible Russian aggression. It seems that researchers were focussing mostly on GDP, which might not be the best indicator for aggression around European borders. Some but not many sources indicated a possible event of a Russian aggression, e.g. in a Risk Radar or in other sources that were not listened to. Even in 2020, there some key enterprises expressed doubts on the stability of energy from Russia, these however were not being reflected by governments[i]. As two futurist analysed in general the lack of preparedness on unexpected events in almost all states around the globe and they conclude, “…A lot has happened in the field of future research in recent years. Unfortunately, political actors have so far made insufficient use of this knowledge. Measured against the many unrecognized crises, there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to the effectiveness of the current foresight.” [ii]

A new view on security policy is necessary. Ambassador Ekkehard Brose, President of the Federal Academy for Security Policy (BAKS) writes in ´Ende eines Sonderwegs´, that the need to leave “…the Biedermeier tranquillity of our security policy culture is too clear…” and he´s looking forward “…It is about the willingness to adapt our security policy perception in the light of experience, or to put it more clearly: about a learning process that is essential for survival. Something like this requires time and social support, because in a democracy, security policy, like all politics, needs majorities. Only then will the necessary turning point in time continue to exist beyond the day.”[iii] According to German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, a new security policy will include the nexus with food security, climate policy, and feminist foreign policies.[iv]

What about the instrument of strategic Foresight then? How to find alternative ways and new narratives in a time of unknown territories everywhere? What if Foresight would be used for all key topics in political decision-making? Rather than only interpreting data or modelling, Foresighters do want to learn on multi-stakeholder perspectives by looking at broader disruptive systems and the transformation of eco-systems. As one of the conclusions, Foresight could be realized as a necessary instrument for policy making in a longer-term context, becoming more resilient of shocks and unknown territories. This could be a broad based futures learning initiative, similar to futures literacy offered by UNESCO for years[v] . The task should be to sensitize all players in societies, politicians and businesses as well as civil society for longer-term future perspectives, being open minded for change and take action where needed.

[i] Der Spiegel, 2.4.2022

[ii] Lars Brozus und Leopold Schmertzing, Von schwarzen Schwänen und roten Teams, in: Handelsblatt, 11.,12.,13. Dezember 2020

[iii] Ekkehard Brose, Ende eines Sonderweges, in: Die Wirtschaftswoche. Februar 27, 2022; private translation). https://www.baks.bund.de/de/aktuelles/gastbeitrag-von-baks-praesident-brose-ende-eines-sonderweges.

[iv] Interview with CNN: German FM: Ending war is ‘in Putin’s hands’.

[v] https://en.unesco.org/futuresliteracy/about