Known as the Pentagon's "futurist in chief" -- or, more affectionately, "Yoda" among Defense Department insiders -- Andrew Marshall has spent the past 40 years speculating about over-the-horizon threats to the United States. At the top of his list today: a rapidly militarizing and increasingly belligerent China. As the longtime director of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment, the nonagenarian Marshall has spent recent years devising battle plans for an admittedly unlikely showdown with Beijing.
But unlikely scenarios are Marshall's specialty. The details of his blueprint, known as the Air-Sea Battle, are classified, but its aim is to coordinate the U.S. Air Force and Navy more closely in order to respond to future threats to the global commons, not just in potential flash points like the South China Sea but all over the world -- even helping the military reach melting ice caps in the Arctic. Marshall's ambitious "organizing concept," as Air Force Secretary Michael Donley calls it, has moved outside the realm of ideas as Barack Obama's administration has sought to turn its proclaimed "pivot" to Asia into military reality. A hot war with China, for one, would be one of the most complicated logistical problems in U.S. military history. In that sense, Air-Sea Battle is bigger than any single military doctrine -- it's a bureaucratic reorientation that has already inspired more than 200 Air Force and Navy initiatives, including a new precision conventional-weapons system called Prompt Global Strike, as well as the Next-Generation Bomber program. Wired magazine has called Marshall's concept a "help desk for 21st Century warfare."
Marshall, an appointee of Richard Nixon who has been reappointed by every president since, seems also to have shaped Chinese military strategy. Gen. Chen Zhou, who helped write China's four most recent defense white papers, told the Economist, "Our great hero was Andy Marshall in the Pentagon. We translated every word he wrote."
Alexey Navalny almost single-handedly reinvented Russia's moribund activist culture for the digital era. Soon, he could be spending his days behind bars, if President Vladimir Putin has his way. A commercial-rights lawyer by training, Navalny painstakingly built a large following in recent years for his unique LiveJournal blog, a pioneering exercise in accountability in which he and his loyal readers sift through mountains of paperwork to uncover corrupt practices by Russia's political and business elite -- a busy job in a country that ranks 143rd on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. After exposing embezzlement and malfeasance at major state-owned energy companies and banks, he turned to politics more explicitly. Navalny famously described Putin's ruling United Russia party as the "party of crooks and thieves," a nickname that stuck and helped fuel the anti-regime protests that began in late 2011. Navalny took a central role in organizing those protests, sparked by Putin's impending return to the presidency -- a process that felt more like a coronation than an election. Regularly at the forefront of major demonstrations in Moscow, the blogger has ties to nationalist parties rather than the traditional Western-backed anti-Putin intelligentsia, making him a particularly potent, homegrown threat. Navalny has said he took inspiration from Arab Spring uprisings, telling Reuters, "If they do not voluntarily start to reform by themselves, I do not doubt that this will happen in Russia."
Now the Kremlin has seemingly struck back by filing charges of embezzlement against Navalny. Although they appear dubious, they're certainly cause for concern given the fate of Kremlin critics like former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, now in his ninth year in prison. Of course, if the authorities do lock up Navalny, they'll only be proving his point.