“We who have put this book together know very well that the only forecast that can be made with any confidence of the course and outcome of another world war, should there be one, is that nothing will happen exactly as we have shown here”.
The Third World War, August 1985: A Future History
General Sir John Hackett
Alphen, Netherlands. 6 July. With the world stuttering towards a possible armed confrontation between the US and North Korea, and between superpower America and proto-superpower China, it seems appropriate to announce the publication of a new book in which I have made two very substantial contributions. Entitled 2020: World of War (London: Hodder) the book is edited by my friend Professor Paul Cornish and Kingsley Donaldson, and is (of course) brilliant and very reasonably priced.
The book sets out a series of dangerous, but plausible scenarios that “depicts twenty-first century international security as a complex of interwoven pressures, challenges, hazards and threats”. Critically, the book avoids overly-military prescriptions and advocates the need for a real joined-up government and governance approach to dealing with complex crises. At the heart of the book there are seven scenarios, although the threat posed by Russia’s strategic challenge is also considered, together with a piece entitled Strategy in Breadth, which captures the essence of both the challenge and the much-needed strategic response.
Scenario 1: Unravelling Imperiums: China and the US in the South-East Asia Region. China in 2020 is on the verge of re-establishing one of its greatest historic achievements; reclaiming its place at the centre of world affairs. However, Beijing’s actions are clumsy and aggressive leading to dangerous frictions across Asia-Pacific, but most particularly in south-east Asia. What if strategic miscalculations by China are matched by similar mis-steps in other key capitals?
Scenario 2: The Afghan Factor. Afghanistan in 2020 is still a failing state, and unlikely to be stable for the foreseeable future. India and Pakistan continue to struggle, both overtly and covertly, to assert dominant control over southern Afghanistan. As the West retreats in the wake of a failed stabilisation mission and tensions mount a combination of poor policy decisions in Islamabad and New Delhi, terrorist attacks, transnational organised crime, and nuclear proliferation results in that worst of all nightmares; a pre-emptive nuclear strike.
Scenario 3: The Caliphate Resurrected: Cairo in Chaos. In 2020 having lost Mosul and Raqqa, and with Egypt collapsing, a reinvigorated IS establishes a powerful base in lawless Libya. As IS shifts the centre of gravity of the campaign to create a new Caliphate they come to an uneasy but enduring alliance with Al Qaeda. Specifically, they see an opportunity to exploit the huge numbers of disaffected migrants trapped in camps across southern Europe. They set out to recreate the Ummayid Caliphate of the 8th century across North Africa and Southern Europe. The campaign fails because most migrants want nothing to do with either AQ or IS, but not before several months of lawlessness is endured as gangs of terrorists roam across southern Europe, and co-ordinated terrorist attacks take place in the cities of northern and western Europe.
Scenario 4: The Passenger in Seat 7B. In 2020 a hitherto virtual threat becomes real as an individual exploits the interplay between criminality, terrorism, advanced weaponry and the darker reaches of cyber-space, to force the effective collapse of UK border security.
Scenario 5: Dark Code: The Cyber-security Challenge. A massive cyber-attack takes place on the British power grid. Several people are killed and many injured as a result of the attack. However, only later does the geostrategic significance of the attack become apparent…
Scenario 6: A Disunited Kingdom: UK Domestic Security. Brexit has many consequences, but perhaps the least understood is the impact on the Union itself. As Scotland gains independence the bonds between the four home nations fray and border security becomes an internal issue for the islands for the first time since the 1998 Good Friday agreement led to the removal of the border between the UK and the Irish Republic. On the UK mainland the impact is far, far greater as internal border security is forced onto to the agenda for the first time since the Union of Crowns in 1603.
Scenario 7: Operation Imperfect Storm. Based on a scenario I have been offering in various speeches and lectures for some five years now this scenario poses THE most sobering question of all. What if several (or all) of these scenarios occurred simultaneously? Fantasy? Think about it. None of the scenarios are entirely implausible in the twenty-first century, which means they could in some form all be plausible together – a meltdown in the Middle East, Russian cyber and territorial aggression in central and eastern Europe, and armed conflict in the South China Sea between the US and China.
The message of the book is clear: if peace is to be preserved as some sort of recognisable state, and today’s complex international security environment is to be managed effectively to that end, policy-makers and strategists must have the capacity and the confidence to deal with a wide-range of evolving security challenges.
Former NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson says of the book, “This informed and expert book examines credible scenarios of what might happen, could happen, and hopefully won’t happen”.
2020: World of War…or big strategy for dumb, little leaders. As the Yanks like to say, "have a nice day".