Revelation space

Revelation space

A succinct lesson in strategy and forward thinking through the prism of a hypothetical international conflict scenario

2020 World of War, Paul Cornish, Kingsley Donaldson, Hachette India, book review, indian express book review, indian express news
Paul Cornish and Kingsley Donaldson have borrowed the idea from Sir Hackett, with due acknowledgement, and posited a scenario for the immediate future in 2020 World of War.

Book: 2020 World of War
Author: Paul Cornish & Kingsley Donaldson
Publication: Hachette India
Pages: 298
Price: Rs 699

In 1978, a book by the title The Third World War, August 1985: A Future History caught the attention not only of the strategic community but also the imagination of the larger public. Authored by General Sir John Hackett with others, the book was a runaway success in the United Kingdom and serialised in various newspapers in the United States. It was a work of “future history” where a scenario was developed such that the Cold War led to a military conflict that ended with the use of nuclear weapons. The book reflected the disquiet among the Western strategic community at the time that the Soviet challenge of Cold War was not being matched by their military readiness.

Paul Cornish and Kingsley Donaldson have borrowed the idea from Sir Hackett, with due acknowledgement, and posited a scenario for the immediate future in 2020 World of War. They are equally driven by the concern that the British — or broadly speaking NATO and Western — strategy is ill-prepared to deal with modern security challenges. Unlike Sir Hackett, who could plot a linear path for conflict in a Cold War, their challenge is much more urgent, diverse and complex. Countries may not be officially at war, but they are not at peace either; the challenges could be natural, man-made or a combination of the two; non-state actors and even a small group of motivated men could hold the world to ransom; the short-term and long-term challenges could fuse together: essentially, a scenario which is hard to predict, leave alone equip, train and prepare for.

Cornish and Donaldson envisage nine scenarios in the near future. They start with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and its revivalist intentions, which is the biggest European concern. Then, they move on to China’s aggressive expansionist policy, focussing on Australia and South East Asia – the scenario they predict is timelined in August 2017 and vaguely resembles the events in Doklam, but it is situated in South East and East Asia. Moreover, it is not playing out at all in the manner they see it as playing out, with the US involvement: Indian stance at Doklam has surprised many people globally.


The other chapters contain scenarios which pertain to the Middle East, terrorist strikes, cyber-security challenges and UK’s domestic security. The chapter which will interest many observers in India is the one on a confrontation between India and Pakistan, spurred by a jihadi terrorist group which wants to create a caliphate in the tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Multiple terror attacks inside Pakistan, a messy coup attempt by the army, an attack by Indian army to capture Muzaffarabad, Pakistan’s loss of some tactical nuclear weapons to this jihadi group and kidnapping of a CIA official from Kabul. It ends with the Indian Prime Minister deciding to jettison the No First Use (NFU) policy and use a nuclear weapon as there can be no NFU against a jihadi group.

To those who would call this scenario implausible, Cornish and Donaldson have insured themselves against any such criticism by invoking Sir Hackett’s concluding lines: “…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 book, which is deeply researched and well-written, suffers from the British viewpoint of looking at events. But that is made up in good measure by the short introductory essay which is a succinct lesson in future planning, strategy and forward thinking. It contains lines like “The wide availability of very shallow knowledge has led to the illusion of profound understanding”, which would make any commentator think manifold before opening his mouth. Notwithstanding that warning, 2020 will provoke many bloggers and internet commentators to debate its various scenarios, although it will have a very short shelf-life because events will bear their veracity out in a few year’s time. Let us hope for this planet’s sake that none of the scenarios come true.