Anticipating wild cards in world affairs

An article in the latest The Futurist magazine (January-February 2008) summarizes an essay by Peter Schwartz & Doug Randall about wild cards in world affairs. (For futurists, a wild card is something that was thought to be a low-probability, but high-impact, event. Example: the collapse of the Soviet Union.) Some of the “strategic surprises” they see on the horizon that world leaders need to contemplate:

“The warning signs are there if one’s eyes are open to them,” Schwartz & Randall write. “The world’s business and government leaders will be immeasurably better off if they carefully consider how these scenarios could come to pass and act today to create maneuvering room for the radically different world that these game-changing events could create.”

The Futurist summarized “Ahead of the Curve: Anticipating Strategic Surprise,” by Peter Schwartz & Doug Randall, an essay in Blindside: How to Anticipate Forcing Events and Wild Cards in Global Politics, edited by Francis Fukuyama (Brookings Institution, 2007).

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Top five political issues in the U.S., 2007

Top five political issues in the U.S. (November 2007)

Issues cited as either a first or second priority, by all polled adults (regardless of political party)

  1. Iraq (46%)
  2. Health care (34%)
  3. Jobs/economic growth (27%)
  4. Illegal immigration (24%)
  5. Terrorism (23%)

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Source: Wall Street Journal / NBC News telephone poll of 1,509 adults, conducted in early November (reported 19 November 2007). Note: The margin of error is +/- 2.5 percentage points, so the difference between Nos. 4 and 5 is negligible.

Related: Poll: Americans are gloomy about the future

Lessons in forced democracy

A key tenet of current U.S. foreign policy is to export democracy to other countries. So, how well does that really work? What are the critical success factors for one nation imposing democracy on another?

The Washington Post (17 September 2007) reports on new research by political scientists Andrew Enterline and J. Michael Greig that sheds light on this. Enterline & Greig studied 41 cases over the past 200 years and came up with four critical success factors (ingredients) for imposing democracy:

  • large occupation forces early on to stamp out nascent insurgencies;
  • a clear message that occupation forces were willing to spend many years to make democracy work;
  • an ethnically homogeneous population, where politics was less likely to splinter along sectarian lines; and,
  • the good fortune to have neighboring countries that were also democratic, or least didn’t interfere.

The two most successful “forced democracies” — West Germany and Japan — had all four ingredients. They’re in the category of “strong democracies,” which tend to survive at least 15 years and perhaps indefinitely.

Then there are the “weak democracies,” such as The Philippines, which tend to fail within the first 10 years.

Iraq, unfortunately, has none of the four ingredients.

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