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NDC - News-NATO 2099 - The science fiction anthology

NATO 2099 - The science fiction anthology

  • 04 Apr. 2024
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  • Last updated: 04 Apr. 2024 07:39


NATO & science fiction: a foreword

Florence Gaub

NATO is a fundamentally future-oriented organization: the entire North Atlantic Treaty is written in the future tense. The word “will” appears ten times, the word “shall” even fifteen times. And yet, it features very little in the genre that is dedicated to all things future, science fiction. In the 75 years since its inception, the Alliance has appeared in just six films and five books, with most of these not even strictly science fiction. To some, this does not matter: they equate science fiction with fantasy, a realm of the impossible. But to others, it does: science fiction has a knack for detecting trends, imagining the rare, extrapolating consequences, and sparking important debates about what is to come.

It is precisely this quality that makes science fiction useful for security and defence purposes. In part, this is because science fiction often focuses on technology, projecting innovations such as sliding doors, mobile phones and tablets (Star Trek 1966 - 1969), Virtual Reality (The Matrix 1999), and space travel (Francis Godwin, Cyrano de Bergerac, Johannes Kepler in the 17th century). But it also asks moral questions about the implications of these innovations, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Isaac Azimov’s I, Robot (1950) or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931). Science fiction can also have a warning effect, highlighting were things might go wrong in the political sense, whether it is 1984 warning of a totalitarian society or Snow Crash (1992) showcasing the effects of excess capitalism on democracy.

For military purposes, science fiction can imagine conflicts precisely in order to prevent or mitigate them. Since the late 19th century, authors have used this genre to anticipate and prepare for conflicts to come, with George Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking (1871) being one of the first of this kind, describing an invasion of Britain by a German-speaking country, including the destruction of the Royal Navy by a futuristic wonder-weapon (“fatal engines”). H.G. Wells’s The Land Ironclads (1903) in turn featured tank-like armoured fighting vehicles. 1 It is for this reason that science fiction has been used repeatedly by military organizations. In the 1980s, US President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative was influenced by science fiction material, and Ghost Fleet (2015) was said by then SACEUR Admiral James Stavridis to be “a startling blueprint for the wars of the future and therefore needs to be read now!” But the military has not just used existing science fiction, but also used the genre to develop its own thinking, be it in the United States – such as the US Army TRADOC Mad Scientist Initiative which produced Science Fiction: Visioning the Future of Warfare 2030-2050 (2016) – or in France, where the project La Red Team hires science fiction authors to imagine what future opponents might think and do. 2 Similar initiatives are also underway in the United Kingdom and Germany.

Of course, imagining the future of NATO is a much bigger task than solely imagining the future of conflict, and perhaps this explains why the Alliance features little in regular science fiction. While NATO might be about defence, it is first and foremost a political enterprise, a promise for the future. Envisioning what challenges it will face and overcome, how it will adapt to a changing political, technological and even physical environment and maintain unity makes for a much bigger task than coming up with a new weapon that could change everything. And this is precisely what we asked the authors in this volume to do 75 years after NATO was born: imagine what it will look like 75 years from now, in 2099.

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* (back) Director of the Research Division at the NATO Defense College

1 (back)  Lawrence Freedman, The Future of War: A History, (2018).

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