The Seduction of Analysis

Do we need to call ‘time out’ on global risk analysis?  The NIC report on global trends 2025 is one of a plethora of recent publications on global risks and security challenges from think tanks, Government departments, the defence community, NGOs, business, academia, and the media. Do we really need any more?

3 questions spring to mind:

1. Are we suffocating under the weight of all this analysis?
2. Should we consider having a period of consolidation and reflection?
3. Do we need a transformational shift from analysis to action?

How many times do we need to be told that:

  • Since the end of the Cold War, the international landscape has been transformed.
  • During the next 30 years, every aspect of human life will change at an unprecedented rate, throwing up new features, challenges and opportunities.
  • The unprecedented transfer of wealth roughly from West to East now under way will continue for the foreseeable future.
  • The formidable acceleration of information exchanges, the increased trade in goods and as well as the rapid circulation of individuals, have transformed our economic, social and political environment
  • New players—Brazil, Russia, India and China will bring new stakes and rules of the game to the international high table.
  • Increase in global population will put pressure on resources—particularly land, energy, food, and water—raising the spectre of scarcities emerging as demand outstrips supply.
  • There are a set of interconnected set of threats and risks, including international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, conflicts and failed states, pandemics, and trans-national crime.

Surely it is time to complement existing analytical work with some ideas for action or even, as someone suggested earlier, divert our focus to analysing potential ‘solutions’ rather than identifying the same ‘problems’ time and again. Given the vast number of reports and papers in the system, surely now is the time to consider what improvements and upgrades can and need to be made to the global system in response to the myriad of issues the international community faces.

In order to do this we need to move away from the comfortable exercise of scene setting, describing the world around us and instead take a different approach. One simple way would be to look East and see what Indian & Chinese thinkers and academics are developing. Analysis obviously plays a crucial role in thinking through issues and in policy-making but the very process of analysis can be seductive; providing us with breathing space when we actually need to be pushing on and debilitating by creating ever greater complexity which can often lead to inaction.

In the words of the King:

A little less conversation, a little more action please
All this aggravation ain’t satisfactioning me
A little more bite and a little less bark
A little less fight and a little more spark

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About Charlie Edwards

Charlie Edwards is Director of National Security and Resilience Studies at the Royal United Services Institute. Prior to RUSI he was a Research Leader at the RAND Corporation focusing on Defence and Security where he conducted research and analysis on a broad range of subject areas including: the evaluation and implementation of counter-violent extremism programmes in Europe and Africa, UK cyber strategy, European emergency management, and the role of the internet in the process of radicalisation. He has undertaken fieldwork in Iraq, Somalia, and the wider Horn of Africa region.