The events of September 11th 2001 are a watershed; they mark the start of a new era, perhaps the beginning of a third world war. So opens the article by Michael Marien, who is very well-informed about the futures studies undertaken in the United States over the last 30 years and who, just after the September terrorist attacks, invited a dozen futures studies colleagues to react to the events and to suggest what consequences they might have.
He draws on their responses, as well as on about 30 texts available on the website of the World Future Society (www.wfs.org), in pointing out that many futurologists had already issued warnings about major terrorist action, although naturally they did not foresee the precise form that this would take.
Rather than describing the scenarios envisaged, Michael Marien outlines here the comments elicited by three types of question: those relating to war, and to the costs and the issues it may raise.
On the war itself, Marien stresses first the risk of further attacks, possibly even more serious ones using nuclear, biological or chemical means. Next, given that the war on terrorism will last a long time, he wonders about the chances of a positive outcome and worries about the strength of the alliances forged by the United States with Western nations where popular support for the war may weaken, as is even more likely in Muslim countries, especially Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
As to the costs of the operation, the first question is obviously whether there will be, as there was after the Gulf war, a new period of prosperity or whether, on the contrary, the conflict will worsen the recession. But besides this economic aspect, Michael Marien stresses that the strengthening of security measures will probably be at the expense of individual freedom, and he wonders about the long-term future for such freedom. He mentions the sacrifices that Americans may have to make, as will the Muslim world, especially the Afghans who are already suffering great hardships. Finally, Marien is afraid that the war will push many important issues, such as global warming and the adoption of policies that promote sustainable development, further down the agenda.
As for the issues, Marien stresses two key points: first, the major challenge of stopping the flows of ill-gotten funds amounting to billions of US dollars and the consequent need to restructure and cleanse the international banking system. Second, provided that the international effort tackles the many real causes of terrorism, the recent events might mark the start of a new era (if the Americans learn the virtues of multilateral action) in which the world might become more concerned with fairness and solidarity, with respect for human rights and democracy...