A UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) thinktank led by a controversial senior officer has issued some radical predictions for the future.
In its rolling Strategic Trends Programme document, the MoD's Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) seeks to outline the challenges the British forces might face in the period up to 2035. The DCDC is led by Rear Admiral Chris Parry, an Oxford history graduate, helicopter observer, and Falklands veteran.
Admiral Parry won some notoriety last year when he told a conference of security professionals that Britain and Europe were threatened by "reverse colonisation", in which huge waves of migrants would overwhelm the native culture of Western nations. These migrants, rather than being assimilated like many in the past, would remain connected to their home cultures by the internet and cheap flights, thus taking on the character more of colonials than new citizens. No specific groups were mentioned, but it's possible to speculate that the Admiral was referring to Australians and Kiwis.
Indeed, the MoD's Nostradamus went so far as to liken modern-day Blighty to the Roman Empire as it was overwhelmed by the Goths. In another historical allusion, he suggested that the Barbary corsairs might soon prowl the Mediterranean once again.
"At some time in the next 10 years, it may not be safe to sail a yacht between Gibraltar and Malta," he said.
Of course, many historians nowadays feel that the Goths were actually nicer than the Romans, and that Western democracy owes more to the relatively chilled-out "barbarians" than it does to the autocrats, tax farmers and slave traders of the Empire. Admiral Parry is clearly a member of the old school in this regard.
As for safety in the Mediterranean, he may have a point; modern-day piracy is definitely an increasing problem, and already there are many coasts where only a foolish blue-water yachtsman would stray too close inshore. That said, the modern European environment of instant communications, radar, fast-moving aircraft, and sizeable ex-Cold War navies looking for employment doesn't favour the surface raider. The North African corsairs of tomorrow will need to be on the top of their game if they plan to operate much beyond their home territorial waters.
Getting on to this year's predictions, Admiral Parry and his team of military prophets have mostly stuck to fairly well-trodden paths: China, climate change, competition for scarce resources, the burgeoning worldwide urban underclass, cheesed-off Muslims denied their shot at Western affluence – all are laid out as potential problems for the British forces.
But there are some relatively unconventional twists. The DCDC doom-mongers also see the middle classes as a possible source of strife.
"The middle classes could become a revolutionary class," says the report. "The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat...Faced by these twin challenges, the world's middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest."
The report's authors, of course, are all British military officers: members of the middle classes. They seem to feel more sympathy with "beleaguered middle classes" than they do with the super-rich or the proletarian rabble. Admiral Parry and his team seem to be hinting that if the urban mob ever rises up against the super-rich, the fat cats will want to have kept the military middle classes on side - just as the Roman toffs had to.