A look at the future by DoD, a must-read for anyone interested in geopolitics!

For anyone interested in geopolitics, the long-range forecasts of military and intelligence agencies are among the best available material — the building blocks upon which one can construction one’s own vision of the world.  IMO no private agency does anything comparable in detail and esp. scope to these.   Here is the latest:

Joint Operating Environment (JOE 2008)“, United States Joint Forces Command, released 25 November 2008

This post has six sections.

  1. The ‘factsheet” about the report
  2. Grand Strategy (page 9)
  3. Economics (page 14 – 16)
  4. Energy (pages 16-19)
  5. Mexico — a brief note that has recieved an absurd amount of attention.
  6. Other similar long-range forecasts by military and intelligence agencies 

1.  The ‘factsheet” about the report

Authored by the U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM), the Joint Operating Environment (JOE 2008) outlines a strategic framework and forecasts possible threats and opportunities that will challenge the future joint force.

It is intended to spark discussions with the widest set of national security and multinational partners about the nature of the future international environment and its potential military requirements.

JOE 2008 examines changes/trends in the geopolitical and military landscape such as:

• Demographics • Globalization • Pandemics
• Energy • Cyber and space • Resource scarcity
• Economics • Climate change and national disasters

JOE 2008 also examines the contexts of the future security environment which the joint force of the future will face in areas such as:

• Competition and Cooperation Among Conventional Powers • Weak and Failing States
• Potential Challenges and Threats • Technology
• Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction • The Battle of Narratives
• The Threats of Unconventional Power • Urbanization

In the broadest sense, the Joint Operating Environment examines three questions:

• What future trends and disruptions are likely to affect the joint force over the next quarter century?
• How are these trends and disruptions likely to define the future contexts for joint operations?
• What are the implications of these trends and contexts for the joint force?

By exploring these trends, contexts, and implications, the Joint Operating Environment provides a basis for thinking about the world a quarter of a century from now. Its purpose is not to predict, but to suggest ways leaders might think about the future.

 At 56 pages, an analysis of this report is beyond the scope of this site.  This post can only direct attention to some salient aspects that you might find useful to read — or help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of this work.

2.  Grand Strategy (page 9)

As in a building, which, however fair and beautiful the superstructure, is radically marred and imperfect if the foundations be insecure — so if the strategy be wrong, the skill of the general on the battlefield, the valor of the soldier, the brilliancy of victory, however otherwise decisive, fail of their effect.
—   Mahan (Robert Heinl, Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations, U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1976, p. 311)

That the authors even mentions grand strategy is progress, and the brief section is apt and direct. 

Note, however, the source.  The original source is “Naval Administration and Warfare: Some General Principles, with Other Essays” (1908).  This is a trivial example of a deeper weakness:  DoD reports tend to rely on secondary sources, which sometimes introduce disturbing and probably unnoticed torques in the material.  Worse the way in which material is cited sometimes raises the concern that the authors do not understand the context from which it is taken.  (IMO this is a serious problem in FM 3-24, the COIN manual)

3.  Economics (page 14 – 16)

Nevertheless, the long-term strategic consequences of the current financial crises are likely to be significant. Over the next several years a new international financial order will likely arise that will redefine the rules and institutions that underpin the functioning, order, and stability of the global economy. There is one new watchword that will continue to define the global environment for the immediate future – interconnectedness.

Until a new structure emerges, strategists will have to prepare to work in an environment where the global economic picture can change suddenly, and where even minor events can cause a cascading series of unforeseen consequences.

This goes to the heart of why these lavishly funded (compared to any equivalent private efforts) visions so often fail to predict major events. This section about the economy shows extreme blindness to the warnings during the past decade to the warnings that our current world financial regime — esp that of the US — is unstable.  The authors need not agree, but should show some awareness of the warnings given by major institutions, famous financial experts, and eminent economists. 

  1. For a very partial list see We have been warned. Death of the post-WWII geopolitical regime, Chapter II, 28 November 2007.
  2. For other posts on this subject see End of the post-WWII geopolitical regime.

4.  Energy (pages 16-19)

The central problem for the coming decade will not be a lack of petroleum reserves, but rather a shortage of drilling platforms, engineers and refining capacity. Even were a concerted effort begun today to repair that shortage, it would be ten years before production

Again, this is just blindness.  Not blindness to the actual future, but to the uncertainty.  Unless they have access to secret intelligence (a possibly described here), the accurate answer is that we cannot reliably forecast the arrival of peak oil — except to say expert expect peak oil somewhere in a range from now out two decades (for a list of expert forecasts as of October 2006 see this presentation, slides 11-13).  Note forecasts have tended compress (esp notable in those of the EIA and IEA).

The authors could just state that the arrival of Peak Oil is uncertain due to the many unknown factors.  Or they could assign probabilities to several scenarios, perhaps stating their preferred estimate.  But in fact the report just ignores the question — one of the major ones for the global economy — which makes exercises like this somewhat futile.

For reports about energy on the FM site and elsewhere, see

5.  Mexico

Perhaps the most interesting facet of the report is its analysis of Mexico, briefly but alarmingly mentioned in several places.

Demography (page 16)

By the 2030s the U.S. population will climb by more than 50 million to a total of approximately 355 million. This growth will result not only from births in current American families, but also from continued immigration, especially from Mexico and the Caribbean, which will lead to major increases in America’s Hispanic population. By 2030 at least 15% of the population of every state will be Hispanic in origin, in some states reaching upwards of 50%.

How effective Americans prove in assimilating these new immigrants into the nation’s politics and culture will play a major role in America’s prospects. In this regard, the historical ability of the United States to assimilate immigrants into its society and culture gives it a distinct advantage over most other nations, who display little willingness to incorporate immigrant populations into the mainstream of their societies.

Organized Crime (page 34)

A serious impediment to growth in Latin America remains the power of criminal gangs and drug cartels to corrupt, distort, and damage the region’s potential. The fact that criminal organizations and cartels are capable of building dozens of disposable submarines in the jungle and then using them to smuggle cocaine, indicates the enormous economic scale of this activity. This poses a real threat to the national security interests of the Western Hemisphere. In particular, the growing assault by the drug cartels and their thugs on the Mexican government over the past several years reminds one that an unstable Mexico could represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United States.

Mexico as a failed state (page 36)

There is one dynamic in the literature of weak and failing states that has received relatively little attention, namely the phenomenon of “rapid collapse.” For the most part, weak and failing states represent chronic, long-term problems that allow for management over sustained periods. The collapse of a state usually comes as a surprise, has a rapid onset, and poses acute problems. The collapse of Yugoslavia into a chaotic tangle of warring nationalities in 1990 suggests how suddenly and catastrophically state collapse can happen – in this case, a state which had hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo, and which then quickly became the epicenter of the ensuing civil war.

In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

… The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.

The news from Mexico has received much attention on the FM site.

  1. Is Mexico unraveling?, 28 April 2008 — a summary of Stratfor’s warnings about Mexico.
  2. “High Stakes South of the Border”, 13 May 2008
  3. Stratfor: the Mexican cartels stike at Phoenix, AZ, 6 July 2008
  4. “Drug cartels ‘threaten’ Mexican democracy”, 24 July 2008
  5. Stratfor reports on Mexico, news ignored by our mainstream media, 19 August 2008
  6. Nonsense from StrategyPage: Iraq is safer than Mexico, 17 December 2008
  7. New reports about Mexico, the failing state on our border, 9 January 2009

6.  Other similar long-range forecasts by military and intelligence agencies 

  1. Air Forced 2025“, conducted 1995-1996 for the Air Force Chief of Staff
  2. Global Trends 2010“, November 1997 (revision)
  3. Global Trends 2015“, December 2000 — “A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts”
  4. Mapping the Global Future 2020“, December 2004 — “Based on Consultations With Nongovernmental Experts Around the World”
  5. Global Scenarios to 2025“, February 2008
  6. Global Trends 2025“, November 2008 — Here is a FM post briefly reviewing it.
  7. A National Drug Threat Assessment – 2009, 30 December 2008


If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below.  You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp relevance to this topic:

Posts on the FM site about shockwaves:

  1. Spreading the news: the end is nigh!, 8 May 2008
  2. The most dangerous form of Peak Oil<, 8 April 2008
  3. The “Oil Shockwave” project: well-funded analysis of the obvious, 10 April 2008
  4. Peak Oil Doomsters debunked, end of civilization called off, 8 May 2008
  5. What does $120 oil mean for the global economy?, 15 May 2008
  6. There is no “peak water” crisis, 19 June 2008
  7. A reply to comments on FM site about Global Warming, 17 November 2008
  8. We are so vulnerable to so many things. What is the best response?, 30 December 2008
  9. Comment:  warnings about a reversal of Earth’s magnetic field, 30 December 2008
  10. About our certain doom from the Yellowstone supervolcano, 11 January 2009
  11. More shockwave events to worry about, in addition to peak oil and global warming, 15 Janaury 2009

3 thoughts on “A look at the future by DoD, a must-read for anyone interested in geopolitics!”

  1. It proves extraordinarily amusing to study this report in contrast with the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review. Several conclusions leap out:

    [1] Faced with a reckless imprudent president and a public willing to spend money indistriminately, the Pentagon’s predictions show a dangerous unipolar world full of enemies who must be vanquished in perpetual foreign wars to make the world safe for democracy.

    [2] Faced with a cautious president and a public strapped for cash, the Pentagon’s predictions for the future suddenly discover abundant evidence of a multipolar connected world largely lacking in sinister enemies and requiring no grand crusading foreign wars.

    Instead of wasting time and money on these kinds of ludicrous “future forecasts,” the Pentagon should simply write a computer program in which the only inputs are the recklessness of the president and the available cash in the budget. The computer program can then scour the net to confect a superflux of “facts” necessary to support the required “future prediction.”
    Fabius Maximus replies: Great, I like this! It would save much money and produce much the same recommendations!

  2. I was wondering if you had posted on the JOE yet. I found the report to be an interesting read, particularly the bits on Mexico. Robert Haddick also found the report to be useful. Like FM, he has been giving Mexico no small amount of attention and was able to produce a sharp analysis of the likelihood of Mexico “failing” that I would recommend to all FM readers. (Reading the post he links to on Somalia’s decline would also be worth your time.)
    * “Now that would change everything“, Westhawk, 21 December 2008
    * “Mexico’s drug cartels realize they now need political power“, Westhawk, 9 January 2009

    ~T. Greer, moving fine material.

  3. From Stratfor: “Obama’s Mexico Challenge”, 15 January 2009 — Excerpt:

    “Mexican Interior Secretary Fernando Gomez Mont on Wednesday criticized a recent U.S. Joint Forces Command report that warns of the potential for the Mexican state to collapse and says a devolution of control in Mexico would require U.S. intervention. Gomez Mont’s statement, along with growing concern throughout the United States over the stability of Mexico, is yet another reminder of the challenges facing the Mexican government -— and the incoming presidential administration of Barack Obama.

    “As violence in Mexico soars to record levels —- more than 5,700 people died in organized crime-related violence in 2008 — the U.S. government has gradually begun to note the severity of the situation. Though Washington certainly has been waiting for the transition to a new administration, there has been a shift in the way Mexico is being discussed in policy circles -– as seen with the Joint Operating Environment 2008 report. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and National Security Council have all, in one way or another, expressed similar concerns that Mexico might collapse under the strain of the drug cartel violence, or that there could be significant spillover of violence into the United States.”

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