Toffler senses another shock to the system

NEXT Thursday, futurist Alvin Toffler will give Japan a dose of future shock. It will be the second such Toffler-administered jolt to the Japanese in the space of two weeks.

Mr Toffler is an author-cum-academic, social thinker, journalist, former factory worker and guru for an uncertain global future, who, often in partnership with his wife Heidi, has written such best-sellers as Future Shock, The Third Wave, Previews and Premises, and most recently, in English, Powershift.

For the most part, Mr Toffler writes primarily about world trends, problems, and likely developments. But now he is looking specifically at the Asia-Pacific region - not least because the area is economically dynamic, and it is profitable for him to do so.

On January 27 his latest book War and Peace was published in Japanese. It will be some time before it's likely to appear in English. The American edition, which will contain more material and may even be broken up into two volumes, is not due until the autumn at the earliest.

War and Peace pays much attention to the ''changing nature of warfare''. Its origins are interesting. When he co-authored The Third Wave with his wife, he did not have the military specifically in mind. But the American defence establishment found the book's analysis interesting and offered Mr Toffler a briefing on how technological changes were affecting their thinking.

''Ten years later,'' he said, ''all those changes were right there on CNN as it brought the Gulf War into every home on television.'' As he sees it, ''the way you will make wealth (in the future) relates to how you will make war. Both activities will take advantage of the great changes in information technology.'' On February 11 Mr Toffler will go beyond the printed page to give the Japanese their second jolt when he features as the host and interviewer of a two-hour documentary on Fujisankei Television in Japan, to be shown on National Foundation Day, a national holiday. The documentary will not be the ''film-of-the-book'', but as he takes an extended look at some aspects of Asia-Pacific geopolitics, the book and the TV programme will obviously be related.

Fujisankei TV, best known abroad as the communications giant which paid former United States president Ronald Reagan US$2 million (about HK$15 million) to visit and make two short speeches in Japan, has spared little expense in the production.

Mr Toffler and the television crew not only visited Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Beijing during shooting, they also interviewed former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk in Kiev, and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayaev in Alma Ata.

Hopes of an interview with the North Korea's President Kim Il-Sung evaporated when the US and South Korea refused to postpone their annual military exercises.

And hopes of securing an interview with former Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang by ambushing him on a Beijing golf course foundered amidst six feet of snow.

Nevertheless, Japanese viewers look set for a stimulating package.

Mr Toffler said the reason for trips to the new republics of the Soviet Union and the attempt to get to North Korea was because too little attention has been paid to the ''ring of nuclear fire'' encircling Asia.

''Asia-Pacific is a most important economic region,'' said Mr Toffler. ''Its continuous growth is vital for the United States and Europe. If growth in the region is arrested, it will have a serious (global) impact''.

He sees cause for worry over future political and military instability. India, suffering again from Hindu-Muslim clashes ''is not exactly a stable place''. He is sceptical that China after Deng Xiaoping will experience a ''smooth transgression''. A succession crisis also looks likely in Indonesia.

Just because economic prospects appear bright, ''we cannot close our eyes to the indications of instability''.

Hindu-Muslim tensions could again escalate into Indo-Pakistan fratricide. China has obtained 24 SU-27 fighter bombers from Russia, and Taiwan has acquired 200 front-line fighter aircraft from the US and France.

China is seeking aerial refuelling technology plus an aircraft carrier from Russia or the Ukraine with which to buttress its claim to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China is also developing a blue water fleet, and, according to Mr Toffler has already decided not to let India dominate the Indian Ocean.

North Korea may be close to possessing nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan already do. Mr Toffler is sceptical that Russia will be able to keep its promise to demolish two-thirds of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal within the next decade. ''The official(American) line is everything is under control, and the Start Two treaty will be implemented,'' he said. ''But I don't believe it.'' For one thing, the Russian tactical nuclear weapons are inadequately housed, poorly protected and could be easily stolen. For another, there is no guarantee that strategic nuclear weapons currently sited in the Ukraine and in Kazakhstan will be handed over.

The Ukrainians deny that they are trying to crack the control codes so that they can target the Russian nuclear missiles deployed their soil. Mr Toffler suspects that independent control of such nuclear arms is what they are both seeking.

All this may look on Japanese TV screens almost like an invitation to Japan to quickly drop Article Nine in its constitution which says the country's defence forces cannot play a role overseas.

But Mr Toffler said this was not his intention, but added that the two conditions which kept the constitutional clause in place are weakening.

''Article Nine was sustained by an ever-growing Japanese economy and by a single fairly stable superpower arms race. Now economic growth is no longer assured and there are many unstable arms races.'' Additionally, the conditions which sustained US-Japan relations have disappeared.

Mr Toffler maintains that in 1955 the US and the ruling Japanese Liberal Democratic Party struck a bargain: ''Japan would help the US strategically, and Japan would have access to the US market for the few goods it then had for sale.

''Today, Japan has all too much to sell, while the Soviet Union has vanished.

''It is realistic (for Japan) to preserve Article Nine. The greatest danger to Article Nine is any further reduction of the US military commitment to the region.'' He worries that the Clinton administration, being ''Europhiliac'' in temperament may force US military cutbacks.

Fearing US withdrawal form Asia, Mr Toffler said it would be ''ridiculous to pull the stabiliser of last resort out of the region at the time when time is needed to build such a multilateral system. Were the Clinton administration to weaken the US militaryposition in the Pacific, it would be a strategic error of historic proportions''.

Perhaps the Fuji TV documentary also needs to be translated and shown on the other of the Pacific.