Breaking Out With Fiction

Air Force combat controllers observe an AC-130 gunship conducting a live-fire mission during Emerald Warrior on Camp Shelby, Miss., April 22, 2015. The controllers are assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron.
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder

On Tuesday, July 7, the Atlantic Council hosted a panel continuing the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security’s series, Art of Future Warfare. The panel entitled “How to Write and Fight World War III” surrounded the newly released book Ghost Fleet and its implications in predicting a future great war. The panelists include coauthors Peter W. Singer, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and August Cole, Director of the Art of Future Warfare Project at the Atlantic Council; Kathleen McInnis, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council; and Mark Seip, US Navy Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. The discussion centered on how creativity in fiction can bring new perspectives to strategic planning.

The panel, moderated by Editor-in-Chief of War on the Rocks Ryan Evans, discussed various elements of Ghost Fleet, as well as the role that fiction can play in strategic thinking. The panel concluded that a balance of artistry and analysis is key. Bureaucracies are often in need of different points of view and including creative minds in the discussion can enhance innovation and efficiency. Literature like Ghost Fleet can provide this new outlet, according to the panel.

Singer stated that the book aims to be “useful fiction” and can help illuminate “human themes nonfiction cannot” address. McInnis pointed out the incredible potential that is fostered by literature and art, stating that they provide “natural intellectual playgrounds of statesmen.” Through fiction, governments, such as that of the United States, can exit the “circular thought rut and break out of the mold.” Both of Ghost Fleet’s authors reiterated that, because their novel is grounded in facts, the scenarios that it depicts could potentially play out in real life.

Seip pointed out that cyber already poses a very real threat. However, because there has not yet been a direct human cost, cyber issues are sometimes treated with a nonchalant attitude. The possibility of a cyberattack on life support systems in military or civilian materials should be taken incredibly seriously. The panel also explored the possibilities that the main actors in a future conflict may not be nation states. As technology continues to develop in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, and multinational corporations become more influential, the future of conflict may look very different from what we imagine today.