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Alternative World Scenarios for a New Order of Nations

Authored by Dr. Charles W. Taylor. | January 1993

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This futures study1 has four objectives. The first is to establish a standard method for Department of the Army (DA) agencies to plan for the midrange to the long-range future through the use of an alternative scenario approach. The second is to describe four future alternative world scenarios (environments) that are plausible, realistic, and appropriate for Army and organizational planning into the 21st century. The third is to revise and update the scenarios to bring them into alignment both with world changes that have occurred since they were published and with the author's recent forecasts.2 The fourth objective is to adjust the forecasts inherent in the scenarios to accommodate plausible future environments.

The scenarios in this study have broad utility throughout the Army and potential use throughout the Department of Defense (DoD) as well as other government agencies, industries, and academia. The alternative scenario design described here was used in 1986 for a long-range stationing study for the Army in 2020.3 The design provides a set of four relevant, interrelated scenarios for midrange to long-range planning, policymaking or decision making. Each scenario of the set is multifaceted, holistic, and internally consistent with a time and topic of focus, yet interrelated by design with the other scenarios of the set.

Two time periods are addressed by the scenarios: the years 2005 and 2020. These provide an historical perspective of the future linking 20th century experiences to 21st century requirements, allowing planners to posture for an evolutionary transition of military forces into the 21st century. Further, the scenarios highlight key underlying conditions that may set in motion organizational changes, e.g., in national defense during peacetime. As such, they provide a background for planning alternative strategic courses of action and for assessing defense and security policies. Equally important, they provide a framework for exploring long-term requirements. Moreover, the alternative scenarios include common parameters that make the most difference to an organization. Planning begins against these common parameters. Once these parameters are defined, organizational subdivisions usually discover unique scenario differences that contribute to the building of a master plan against which decisions can be made and policies set forth.

The advantage of the alternative scenario approach is that it provides a context for planning where a spectrum of trends and concepts can be considered across a variety of settings.4 Giving each scenario a descriptive title provides a shared reference and common vocabulary for comparisons and discussions among a variety of scenario users.


1. The futures study, A World 2010: A Decline in Superpower Influence (Taylor, 1986) was used as the base-line scenario for the development of Alternative World Scenarios for Strategic Planning (Taylor, 1988, rev. 1990). The 1986 study was rewritten in 1990-1991 at the time of the Soviet Union's collapse and republished as A World 2010: A New Order of Nations (Taylor, 1992). This futures study brings the Alternative World Scenarios study (1988/1990 editions) into agreement with A World 2010: New Order of Nations.

2. These forecasts can be found in A World 2010: A New Order of Nations (Taylor, 1992).

3. The credibility of the scenarios (before revision) contained in this futures study was established originally by a general officer Study Advisory Group (SAG) during the course of the study's use in the Long Range Stationing Study (LRSS) for the Army in 2020 for which the scenarios were designed. They were approved by the SAG Chairman, LTG Schwarzkopf, and recommended to the Major Commands for use in their long-range planning. The U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) was directed by Chief of Staff Memorandum, U.S. Army (CSM 86-15-14, 6 November 1986, Long Range Stationing Plan for the Army) to assist the LRSS Group (created by the same CSM) during Phase I of the study by developing plausible alternative world scenarios in which the Army may be required to operate in the year 2020. The scenarios created by the author and used by the LRSS Group are described in revised form in this study. The LRSS Group designed and developed its long-range stationing model and process by planning against all four of the original scenarios. The initial members of the SAG included: LTG RisCassi and LTG Schwarzkopf, DCSOPS, SAG Chairman (in turn); Mr. Johnson, OASA; LTG Register, DCSLOG; LTG Heiberg, COE; LTG Jenes, FORSCOM; LTG Forman, TRADOC; and LTG Burbules, AMC. The disposition of these individuals on the revised edition of the scenarios was not solicited. Representatives of the HQ, U.S. Air National Guard and State HQ members, under the direction of MG Philip G. Killey, Director, Air National Guard, validated the scenarios during a 5-day workshop, 1-5 June 1992, and suggested changes in the text to fit "A New Order of Nations." The scenarios were used for their 1993 Air National Guard Long-Range Plan.

4. All too often, planning is based against a single, unique scenario that has been derived from a consensus view of a continuation of current trends. In general, a single view of the future tends to be deterministic and often shortsighted. A single scenario cannot be relied upon as a credible projection for the long range. For short-term planning (e.g., 0-2 years hence), however, a single, surprise-free scenario approach can be reasonably accurate, but is considerably less accurate than planning against a set of alternative scenarios for the same time period. For midrange planning (2-10 years), drawing out specific trends and achieving a consensus view becomes increasingly difficult, unless expert opinions are obtained through the use of Delphi, cross-impact analysis, or other expert techniques. For long-range planning (10-20 years), the range of uncertainties, e.g., regarding the continuity of trends and new trends and their impact on society, make the single scenario less manageable unless many assumptions can be agreed upon. The multipleor alternative-scenarios approach tends to create and accommodate a more objective future than a subjective one. See Heydinger and Zentner,"Multiple Scenario Analysis," pp. 65-67, in Morrison, Renfro, and Boucher, eds., Applying Methods and Techniques of Futures Research, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc., 1983.