Eleanor Wragg 

Head of External Affairs 

Coriolis Technologies presented its inaugural Future of Strategic Studies conference at Goodenough College, London on September 18-19, reflecting on the challenges to collective defence in the modern era. Delegates participated in a wide-ranging series of panels led by leading thought leaders from government, academia and the private sector on topics including the new and emerging challenges to western strategic and defence policy, intelligence and counter-terrorism, conflict and trade. In this post-event wrap-up, we bring together some of the key themes raised during the event.

The global strategic landscape faces unprecedented disruption

The world is in a state of transition. The era where conflict could be understood as a function of hard power and military might is drawing to a close, and today’s world is one where soft power, particularly economic power, has begun to dominate the strategic studies discourse. The role of the future army in this modern era reflects the fact that power is being transferred from the physical to the digital space, which has clear and pressing consequences for the way in which the current political tensions and uncertainties need to be addressed.

Technology and finance will evolve as short-termism gives way to the Chinese long game

Time is running out for the western consensus model whereby a binary choice exists between war and peace. In the new normal, war and peace will co-exist as the cultural base of national strategy evolves. In the Nato-aligned world, strategy is based upon short-term reactions to growing global uncertainty. Meanwhile, in China, where the culture is driven by a long-term view, the nature of warfare is unrestricted covering law, psychology, media and economics as a means of peaceful domination and coercion. This has a profound impact on the way in which technology and finance are evolving – potentially with two parallel systems coexisting which are culturally based, but between which there is a constant state of war.

Replicating the effect of the nuclear deterrent across spheres of influence has become a priority

The fragile peace in the hard power space brought about by nuclear arms and the threat of mutually-assured destruction will be replicated in the soft and sharp power space as new technologies drive the nature of conflict. The western approach will always be that “thinking the unthinkable” is a strategy – in other words, having a nuclear option stops others from acting. As a result of the transition underway towards power in the digital era, the same now applies to economics: a full-blown trade war that incorporates trade finance could be the economic equivalent of pushing the nuclear button.

How trade data can be used to know the unknowable

The current trade war is predictable both in terms of the rhetorical arms race we have seen and in terms of the actual arms and dual use goods trade we are seeing. The problem for banks is twofold – that the sanctions regimes are changing on an almost daily basis and that knowing the unknowable presents huge compliance problems. In a session led by Jack Harding, head of political risk at Coriolis Technologies, the distinction between dual use goods and ordinary goods was shown to be an important factor in predicting conflict. This is the embodiment of the new nature of simultaneous war and peace. However, as delegates heard, although banks have the technological solutions to manage these risks when they know them, they are currently still operating in a reactive rather than a proactive manner.

Data: the new battleground

The military and security services are now working as much with data providers and tech companies as banks are, and there is scope for mitigating risks on both sides by better information sharing. Foreign policy and diplomacy is increasingly reflecting the complexity of the new landscape for strategic studies, war and strategic thinking. More than ever it is important that academics, businesses and financiers, as well as the security and intelligence communities, engage in MultiLateral Thinking to mitigate the risks of the paradigmatic power struggle for which trade is a proxy.