Futurists use the technique of exploring scenarios to try to get a
handle on real possibilities for future developments. They make up several
scenarios, some at the extremes (best-and worst-case outcomes); some more
moderate. But they stress that scenarios at the extremes may actually be
just as likely as those in the middle - although we tend not to imagine
these extreme things happening until they do.
Let us then apply this method to the greatest problem occupying the
world's attention right now, the futures of conflict with Iraq and the
wider implications for the world. Obviously, in so few words these
scenarios cannot be developed in any depth, but they can help outline some
of the likely outcomes if certain things were to happen.
Scenario 1: "The New Golden Age"
Peace is maintained and global order strengthened
Iraq allows unqualified UN access, and either accounts for all weapons
of mass destruction (WMD) or owns up to remaining stocks and programs.
World opinion forces the UN, and thus the US, to allow ongoing inspections
in Iraq. Iraq becomes just another country. Aid flows in, Saddam is
sidelined, and Iraq approaches normalcy. Discredited by international
opinion and domestic economic mismanagement, the current US leadership
falls and a new US President adopts a more consensual approach to world
affairs. Everyone is so impressed by the successful disarming of a nation
of WMD that the now strong UN turns its attention to North Korea (where
inspections are traded for economic aid), Pakistan, India and then even
Israel, to dismantle nuclear programs in a context of real international
security. Pressure mounts for the major nuclear powers to carry out their
obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and get rid of their own
nuclear weapons. France goes first, followed by Russia, Britain, China,
and finally the US. Initiatives are then begun to end chemical and
biological warfare programs - a much more difficult prospect. However, in
this new age of global cooperation and trust, national governments begin
to allocate substantial resources to fixing problems around the world in
relation to health and the environment. Debate seriously starts on how to
restructure the global economy to allow development to occur more evenly.
Scenario 2: "Business as Usual"
A short war takes place with minimal disruption
Without UN support, the US invades Iraq; fighting and destruction is
minimal; Saddam goes, and the US occupies Iraq. A puppet government is set
up, the oil flows and prices drop, and everyone returns to business as
usual. However, resentment of Western power grows in the Islamic world,
and radical terrorism grows with it. Terrorist attacks become commonplace
but are comparatively ineffective due to increased powers of suppression.
The principle of collective security is weakened, as is the UN, and
international relations generally become more strained. Cooperation to
face global problems in regard to health, climate change, development, and
so on, is limited. The rich countries become ever more militarised and
security conscious, and this acts as a major tax on economic growth.
Scenario 3: "Skin of our Teeth"
A messy war occurs but the repercussions are contained
The US invades without UN support; its high-tech weaponry does not work
as well as was hoped; the Iraqis strongly resist (including messy
house-to-house fighting); Saddam burns oil wells and deploys some WMD
against the invaders. The US wins albeit with thousands of casualties, and
many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed and injured. The US sets up a
puppet government. Resistance within Iraq is sustained and a sizeable
occupation force must be maintained to suppress it. The whole region
becomes destabilised and the US is drawn into a series of brush wars. The
US becomes increasingly militarised and nationally chauvinistic, souring
relations with other countries. European integration gains pace, with an
eye to challenging rampant US power. The US economy weakens severely,
adding to global instability.
Scenario 4: "Shit Happens"
A messy war unfolds and a new international arms race begins
As above, the invasion and aftermath do not go well. The US leadership
becomes increasingly belligerent as it responds to growing international
criticism. The UN is completely sidelined. A solidifying Europe (led by
France and Germany) and Russia begin to rearm as they perceive the US as
presenting a growing danger. The global economy suffers as international
tension undermines trade and the financial markets. China, having caught
up in the technology race and operating in quasi-alliance with the
Europeans and Russians, overtly challenges US dominance. Meanwhile, the
emergence of new diseases and the effects of climate change wreak havoc in
the developing world and begin to affect the West.
Scenario 5: "Global Meltdown"
Things spiral out of control
The Iraqi war goes badly. Israel gets involved. Nuclear weapons are
used (by someone). There is massive disruption in the Middle East and
south-east Asia, and a pan-Islamic coalition emerges to challenge the
West, mainly through greatly increased terrorism and insurgency. The
global economy implodes, and the corporate sector changes tack to become
focused on intra-bloc trade and the provision of weapons and security. New
biological weapons and other WMD are developed and used; around the world
millions of people, mostly civilians, die. Everyone lives in fear. The
world turns into an armed camp and increasingly sophisticated weapons are
used more regularly. With or without a cataclysmic global war, human
civilisation faces collapse.
The scenarios imagined by futurists never actually come true in detail,
of course. However, they help us think about what might happen. Right now
decisions are being made that will fundamentally shape our future - and
perhaps destroy that future altogether.
Whatever does happen in Iraq, the real lesson is that such decisions
should no longer be left to our manifestly irresponsible and incompetent
global leaders. Genuinely representative democracy must go global as well.