Through all of history, everywhere in the world, recorded or otherwise, it has been proclaimed that The End is Nigh. Preachers, politicians, protestors, pundits of every ilk and hue; from the pulpit to the podium to the sandwich board in the street, all manner of doomsayers have sung and shouted and chanted their various predictions as to the impending demise of Mankind.
One day, of course, one of them will be proved right; but when that happens, everyone else will be dead, so moral victory won’t be accompanied by the chance of a ticker-tape parade.
Here in the UK, one could be forgiven for thinking that the end of civilization as we have known it is indeed at an end – and not for the reasons some might think.
Official commentary aside, Iran and the US have just lit the long fuse on the beginning of World War Three. Yes, they have. Both are playing it down. Both have said they don’t want an escalation. Both will continue to make the right sorts of diplomatic noises. But the reality is that both are actually spoiling for a fight, even though neither one can win, and both probably know that as well.
Actually I’ll qualify that; neither one can win a conventional war. The entire world, never mind the US, couldn’t defeat Iran on the ground in her own territory. Iran is huge, mountainous, and populated by 80 million people who are armed to the teeth, have generations of universal military service training underpinning their society, and who are staunchly patriotic, even if lots of them don’t much like their current Government. They will fight to defend their completely uninvadable homeland, and because it’s uninvadable, they will win.
And Iran can’t defeat the US either, in any military scenario; but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t inflict some serious damage on America’s military, at a regional level at least, and when Iran does arm itself with nuclear weapons, it can certainly harm America’s interests, and perhaps even strike closer to home.
The ultimate end to any such confrontation would of course be the complete destruction of Iran, both as a nation and as a habitable chunk of real estate, but not before Israel had similarly ceased to exist – and even a very limited successful nuclear attack on the US, has the potential to upset the balance of world power in a manner that would very tangibly affect all of us.
Just this week, the fragility of that balance has been thrown into sharp relief in the South China Sea. Chinese fishing boats, operating in disputed waters, and accompanied by armed Chinese Coastguard vessels, have come into confrontation with Indonesian combat air and naval forces. These are two very big, very powerful countries, going head-to-head as we speak, and the Indonesians aren’t backing down. Push is going to come to shove here, because face and national pride are on the line, as well as territorial and economic sovereignty. Exploding things are going to be flung, and boats are going to be sunk. You heard it here first.
This is important because for three generations, the world in general and the Pacific in particular have enjoyed relative peace, thanks to the Pax Americana – the threat of real or potential American might, keeping fractious factions apart, sometimes through the possibility of force, sometimes through the use of it, in precisely the same manner as did the Pax Romana and the Pax Britannia before it.
Contemplate for a moment, then, a China with a bloody nose, delivered by an Indonesia that wouldn’t be bullied, but still with a hunger for fish; and a small group of other nearby countries, with minimal populations, large exclusive fishing zones, and zero military to speak of (remember, they live in a Benign Strategic Environment). Now factor in a United States suddenly fully occupied with cleaning up after two or three nuclear strikes on her own major cities. Who are the small countries going to call on for help? Perhaps New Zealand keeping some of the abovementioned military capabilities operational might have been a good idea all along, hmm?
Well, Iran IS going nuclear. Any question of that is now gone. And Israel cannot afford to let them do that. No, they really can’t. So yes, push is going to come to shove there as well, and because all three players on both sides need an excuse, tit-for-tat will continue until the necessary threshold is passed, at which point the missiles will start flying.
Just to add spice to the mix, Saudi Arabia, Iran’s other staunch enemy, footed the bill for Pakistan’s nuke program, and have always held an option to receive some of said arms as part of that deal. Watch for this upping of the ante being rolled out in the coming months.
But no, it’s not any of the above that has the Brits’ knickers in a twist – no, the headlines are dominated by Harry and Meghans’ impending move to become freelance Royals based in Canada. This is the real End of the World as far as the tabloids are concerned, even though it will have absolutely zero effect on the Monarchy, or on Republican sentiment (or lack of it) anywhere.
The one message in all this is that change is the only constant – and we’re simply not prepared for it.