A failure of imagination is the worst mistake that a country’s defence establishment can make. That was the conclusion of The 9/11 Commission Report, which investigated the circumstances surrounding the September 11 attacks. In the aftermath, the Pentagon sought advice from dozens of science-fiction writers whose jobs involved imagining outlandish future conflicts.
Governments have enlisted sci-fi novelists to inform defence planning for decades. In 2005 the Canadian military hired novelist Karl Schroeder to write Crisis in Zefra, a novel set in a fictional African city-state, which explored scenarios that peacekeepers might face in the near-future. Last year the UK’s Ministry of Defence hired two of the sharpest minds in sci-fi, Peter W Singer and August Cole, to write eight stories about threats that might emerge within the next 20 years. In France, a group of writers known as the “Red Team” has been tasked with imagining conflict scenarios for the country’s military.
According to Singer, fiction’s main advantage is that it is the antithesis of a dry report, making expert conclusions and complex ideas more digestible. But it’s only useful to policymakers when it’s grounded in research, offering strategies to mitigate the conflict that it describes. Retired Australian major-general Mick Ryan’s novel White Sun War: The Campaign for Taiwan posits the scenario of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. “It involves drawing a line from where we are now and where we might be in five or 10 years, given the technologies that we’re starting to bring into the military,” says Ryan.
History has shown that unimagined threats can become reality. Coronavirus came as less of a surprise to those who had grown up watching films such as Contagion and The Andromeda Strain. Technologies and weapons were germinated in the minds of novelists such as HG Wells and Jules Verne. Military expertise and wisdom can sometimes be found in unconventional places.
Emma Searle is the producer of ‘The Foreign Desk’ on Monocle Radio. This piece is taken from Monocle’s December/January issue and is part of our 2024 Security Survey. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.
In recent years the debate around European defence has largely focused on Nato’s expansion but the continent’s military security could be bolstered by a separate development. This week, Italy’s foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, called for the formation of a combined EU army, which could prove instrumental in the bloc’s peacekeeping efforts and help to prevent conflict. The idea has been floated by various European leaders in recent decades, including Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. It has long been mooted as a potentially effective counter to Russian aggression, as well as an opportunity to ease military dependence on the US – a matter of increasing urgency, with the White House hindered by an unco-operative Congress and a crucial US presidential election scheduled for November. As the European Parliament’s own elections approach, one thing is certain: defence will be at the top of the agenda.
As you ease into 2024, you might be looking for small but effective ways to refresh your look. Enter Topologie, the Hong Kong-based brand selling backpacks and crossbody bags inspired by rock-climbing, a lifelong passion of the brand’s founder, Carlos Granon. Launched in 2018, Topologie focuses on a niche corner of the market: rope straps. “We took the decision in 2021 to create bags and phone cases with detachable and interchangeable straps,” says Granon. The brand currently sells about 120 different strap designs, which account for half of the company’s €20.4m annual revenue. Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong are currently the biggest markets but Topologie has expanded into Europe. A Paris shop opened in October last year, a London outpost is due to follow and a capsule collection with French label APC is in the pipeline for June. Strap yourself in.
Topologie is included in Monocle’s new Hong Kong guide, tucked within the pages of ‘The Escapist’, featuring our top-50 places to visit, stay and shop in the vibrant city.
What will the pit stop of the future look like? Denmark might have the answer. Copenhagen-based architecture studio Cobe has already built 11 such stop-offs – timber structures that arch over ultra-fast electric-vehicle charging points – in the country and has plans to add dozens more across Scandinavia. According to Dan Stubbergaard, the company’s founder and head architect, the use of electric cars is expected to increase significantly over the next five years.
When asked to design a concept for future charging stations, Cobe focused on creating spaces where people could make the most of the time that it takes for an electric vehicle to charge. “We wanted environments where you want to stay a while,” Stubbergaard tells Monocle. “A place to sit on the bench, exercise, watch the kids play football. This project shows how architecture and design can create spaces for meaningful experiences and help us to change our behaviour for the better.”
For more unlikely finds, travel insights and ideas from the road, buy the latest issue of ‘The Escapist’, which is out now.
Tiffany Jow is the editor in chief of Untapped, a New York-based monthly journal published by design company Henrybuilt. The publication focuses on people and projects looking to the past for neglected pieces of knowledge that could help to shape our future. Here, Jow tells us about the journal’s origins, its vertical format and its dedication to creating evergreen content.
What is ‘Untapped’?
Untapped is essentially a design publication that looks back in order to look forward. We launched our first print edition in October. The long-form stories are about how overlooked knowledge can be a means of improving the spaces in which we live today.
Why did you decide to give ‘Untapped’ such an unusual format?
The magazine was designed by Yeliz Secerli, who also did our brand identity and website. It has a vertical format in bright, highlighter blue. The title wraps around the entire thing. You have to turn it over to read the table of contents, which is kind of a wink to the “look back to look forward” concept. All of the stories are enhanced with footnotes. Beautiful, full-bleed foldout images are sprinkled throughout. The idea was based on taking a traditional magazine, folding it in half and putting it in your back pocket.
Tell us about the content.
We don’t publish news or stories about product releases. We want readers to return to the content again and again. Our first issue opens with a piece about “prime objects”, which are creations that have no precedent but serve as a model for other things. At the centre of the issue is a little book of images taken by the late architects Alison and Peter Smithson of their country home in England, where they tested ideas and materials that would later inform their practice. It includes pictures of the building being constructed, designed and used by their children, and it really encapsulates so many of the ideas that the journal is interested in: looking into the past and testing – and retesting – things in domestic spaces.
For the full interview, tune in to episode 594 of ‘The Stack’ on Monocle Radio.
For a second week, Monocle’s Chiara Rimella looks back on a delicious 2023.