Future Large Wars of the 21st Century

This blog is inspired by the idea that the same cognitive errors we make in every day life are reflected at increasing levels of scale right up to large scale wars, which killed 150 million people in the 20th century. I don’t know how many 20th century wars someone writing in 1911 would have foreseen. I guess they might have foreseen the First World War, but not its lunatic casualty level, but I doubt they would have seen the rest.

But I will nevertheless have a go at forecasting some, hoping that there very obviousness may allow us to head them off. None are inevitable, except the first that has already happened.

  1. Eastern Congo Wars are already underway and have killed 3.8 million people without anyone in the western media noticing. The Congo has been suffering the aftermath of the appalling Belgian colonialism of the late 19th century so well captured in Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, and no Belgian I know has ever said sorry. Of course the wars are over resources and minerals these days.
  2. Israel-Iran nuclear War. I care for both my Israeli and my Palestinian friends and Iranians too. But somehow the entwined people of the Middle East have a death wish or at least their incompetent leaders do. So at some stage in the next 20 years, I expect the Holy Land of three faiths to become a heap of radioactive dust. Unless of course there is an outbreak of common sense and conflict discipline and the loony Christian Right in the US give up their Revelations- inspired murderous fantasies and allow the US to actually play a constructive role here.
  3. South China Sea War. I suspect that China’s meteoric rise will at some stage be interrupted, and faced with internal unrest, it will seek to solve the Taiwan issue by force as a distraction. This will involve the US navy who will lose their aircraft carrier battle groups to shore launched Chinese anti-ship missiles, and the US and China will engage in a limited, but risky nuclear exchange. This war is so goddamn predictable and hugely risky, yet I see no one taking precautionary steps to avoid it. I would avoid living in Los Angeles, if this becomes more likely, as that is the likely exchange for the destruction of Shanghai.
  4. Russia-China War in eastern Siberia. The world is running out of so many minerals that China needs to grow economically,  and Russia has many of them and is de-populating, especially in Eastern Siberia. Sooner or later there will be border clashes as in the 1960s that may escalate into a full scale war, hopefully non-nuclear.
  5. African Climate Wars As climate change accelerates, Africa will be the first large scale test bed for the lunatic idea that human induced climate change is not happening. My money is on Sudan-Egypt over the waters of the Nile (Egypt currently uses half of them) as the water flow diminishes with climate change. A  bit one sided war, but possibly fairly bloody nevertheless and if the water supply is cut off, utterly devastating to Egypt.
  6. Russian-Eastern Europe War Perhaps I lack imagination or know too much 20th century history, but is hard to imagine that the so called Bloodlands of Eastern Europe will not see some sizable warfare, probably a few weeks after the last remaining US and British forces leave Germany.
  7. US-Mexico With no one in the US paying the slightest attention to Mexico’s problems, this one will sneak up on everyone and may take the form of mass refugee crisis as climate change collapses Mexican society, and military resistance to it by the US on the border, risking internal civil war in the US.  This is so utterly avoidable with some intelligence but no sign of required intelligence in the current US political scene.
  8. India-China. These two rising super powers have large areas of disputed territory and China will be tempted to back Pakistan in any India-Pakistan War that gets out of hand. There really is so much incentive to negotiate a territorial settlement here as much of the disputed land is worthless mountains, but hey who ever said humans were rational about territory.
  9. Wars where Chinese expansion into Africa or South America for minerals brings into a clash with the USA far from home. This is longer term as right now China does not have the force projection, but give it time….
  10. Some completely unexpected war…..
So plenty of work to do heading off these wars. But do you see any sign of it? Anyone working on this? Anyone learned the lessons of the 20th century? Or of the near misses of the Cold War? No I didn’t think so.
This is site that gives information on 21st century wars already underway.http://www.historyguy.com/21st_century_wars.html
And here is a handy map of water basins that have international boundaries for the water wars of the 21st century:


About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict History, Conflict Processes, Economic Conflict, Environmental Conflict, Rise of China, The Rise of India, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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