Editorial – Perceptions and facts – Besides the acceleration of the regionalization and internationalization of the Syrian war and quagmire, besides the futurist use by Erdogan of “hologram to address party members” (imagine a world where such practice would be common), among others, this week presents us with two very interesting instances of the importance of perception and its relationship to facts.
Identifying weak signals and monitoring for warning demand that we observe the world, the actors and their actions to try understanding what could happen next or more largely the potential chain of events that may follow. We thus need not only to pay attention to events and facts but also to how others will interpret those phenomena. How the actors perceive the world will in turn influences their actions – including their statements and the analyses they publish. Those will then be perceived by all actors and influence in turn their actions. Out of this web of reciprocal perceptions, actions and reactions, a reality emerges made of the facts or events we are looking for and trying to foresee.
China and its “growing assertiveness” (as perceived by two U.S. scholars and relayed by CNN) and Russian and American policies towards Ukraine are two very real examples of this phenomenon. In the first case, try to read the article published on China, and imagine you are Chinese: how would you feel and what would you do, as government official, or which policy would you support as citizen? Imagine that a very similar article were published by Chinese scholars, but replacing China by America, getting their fact right but explaining them in a very specific light? Repeat the same experiment imagining you are Korean, then Japanese. Would your feelings and the actions you would want to undertake be different each time? Would your feeling be strong? The escalating tensions that most often result from conflicting perceptions were exemplified in the U.N. (BBC News – Asia history tensions flare at UN debate). This, also let us expect that tensions in East Asia will not lower soon.
A far as Ukraine is concerned, perceptions lead both the U.S. and Russia to adopt very similar policies, which each believes (or says it believe) as right and done for the good of Ukraine: the U.S. readies financial sanctions while Russia”awaits new Ukraine government before fully implementing rescue“. From a Russian perspective, the U.S. approach may be seen as unacceptable, a meddling in the affairs of a sovereign country, moreover part of its “near abroad”. From an American perspective, Russia’s behaviour may be seen as unacceptable, a forceful way to manipulate what a foreign independent democratically elected government can do, i.e. a meddling in the affairs of a sovereign country. We thus, actually, have similar perceptions but each applied to an opposite side of the Ukrainian political spectrum. For all the talks of moving beyond a Cold War mentality, Cold War perceptions seem to still be very pregnant.
Being able to warn and foresee (as designing a strategy) demands that we become aware of those perceptions, that we abstract ourselves as analyst from them, first to be able to see how they influence actors, and second, when we deliver warning and foresight products, to make sure that our message can be heard.
Ideally, it could also lead to better understanding among actors and, maybe, to a more constructive future.
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