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The Role of Science Fiction in Strategic Thinking

Author: Peter A. Garretson, International Affairs Fellow in India
May 26, 2009
Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

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The recent publication and controversy over STRATFOR founder George Friedman's The Next 100 Years, with its forecasts of war and new space technology reminds us all to consider the value of science fiction to strategic thinking.

Science Fiction is an underappreciated tool in a nation's and strategist's tool book as well as an underappreciated part of culture and literature. Many, because of a lack of scientific literacy or unfamiliarity confuse hard science fiction, often written by well qualified scientists, with fantasy. Many use the term pejoratively to denigrate an idea as being too remote and fantastic, as in "This is the stuff of science fiction." That is an unfortunate self-lobotomy of individuals and cultures that are held captive by the tyranny of the now, or of the past.

No culture is naturally strategic. Strategy is an uphill battle, a constant struggle for all levels of all organizations. It is the natural instinct to be biased in favour of the present and its concerns, and not to consider the far-term and its implications. If one culture appears more strategic, it is only because at that particular period of time, there is some core of strategists, of gadflies prodding their establishments to take a longer view, and a calculated influence campaign fought through media and entertainment to value the future. Perhaps over time, nurture and inspire others, and like a nuclear reactor, keep enough interactions going so they don't entirely fizzle out. Occasionally they can be brought together in enough concentration to create enough heat to drive the turbines of society in new and productive directions.

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