Prediction is both science and art. For Mathew Burrows, the director of the Strategic Foresight Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, a career in government culminated in a focus on describing future worlds that many never stop to consider. The Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report from the National Intelligence Council tackles head-on one of the most difficult tasks for the US military and intelligence communities: making sense of an increasingly chaotic and disordered tomorrow well beyond the usual budget or political horizon.
The latest endeavor by Burrows since leaving government has been to employ fiction as a highly effective tool alongside rigorous analysis to capture the attention of policymakers and better illustrate complex future scenarios in a memorable way. His 2014 book The Future, Declassified: Megatrends That Will Undo The World Unless We Take Action features a selection of his short stories that help drive home the imperative underlying his analysis. By using fiction alongside clear-headed analysis, the efficacy of both forms of writing is amplified.
One of those stories was recently showcased by Politico, “How the Middle East’s First Nuclear War Started.” There are plenty of ways to delve into the very difficult policy issues of nuclear proliferation and Middle East politics. Countless hours are devoted to well-designed briefings and thorough white papers. Yet in the end, much of this insight can end up being quite forgettable. Burrows’ stories, however, are not.