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Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century
By Alvin and Heidi Toffler
Little, Brown and Company, 1993, 302 pages

This work builds on the theory set forth in the Tofflers' 1980 book, The Third Wave, which proposed that the agricultural revolution of ancient times launched the first wave of human civilization; that the industrial revolution some three centuries ago precipitated a second wave of change; and that the United States, Europe, and Japan are now at the brink of a third wave of change into a new post-industrial, information-based civilization with its own economy, family forms, media, and politics. The international power system, once bisected into first wave (agrarian) and second wave (industrial) powers, is now undergoing a drastic restructuring process, the authors point out. The historic shift from a bisected to a trisected global system "could well trigger the deepest power struggles on the planet as each country tries to position itself in the emerging three-tiered power structure."

The Tofflers believe that the end of the Cold War is a symptom, not a cause, of the historic change taking place. The coexistence of three fundamentally different types of civilizations — the first symbolized by the hoe, the second by the assembly line, and the third by the computer — may reduce the risk of an all-out nuclear war between two superpowers, but it has only heightened the threat of small, hot wars between states scrambling to safeguard their vital interests. Economic and ethnic rivalries, political demagoguery, religious fanaticism, the erosion of nation-states' sovereignty, and various allied causes are likely to produce more, not less, armed conflicts in the coming years.

Against this background, the Tofflers insist that we need to rethink how we make war and how we make peace. They describe what they see as "a true revolution in military thinking" taking place in response to today's changing economic and technological imperatives. As the rationale and the means of war begin to reflect the "third wave" paradigm, wars will become increasingly dominated by "knowledge strategy" featuring high-tech weaponry such as battlefield robots, pilotless combat aircraft, omniscient surveillance satellites, and sonic systems capable of disabling enemy troops without killing them. This new approach to war was epitomized in Desert Storm, the authors observe, which was a showcase for a new generation of intelligent weaponry that promises to minimize if not eliminate the importance of brute-force firepower and set-piece battles.

For all the advantages of "sanitized" warfare, however, the authors point to the increasing threats of nuclear terrorism, chemical and biological weaponry, genetically engineered "superplagues," and other horrors of technologically-aided warfare. These underscore the importance of "anti-war" efforts aimed at preventing war, or at least making it less terrible. The authors sketch a preventive strategy for peace that includes the sharing of information technology to halt weapons proliferation and the creation of a "rapid reaction contingency broadcasting force" capable of beaming news anywhere in the world.

Copyright 1994 by Scott London. All rights reserved.