September 24, 2010 / 10:56 AM / 9 years ago

Scenarios: How mega-crises may unfold

LONDON (Reuters) - In a world of proliferating threats and assertive emerging powers, what kind of global security system can best tackle increasingly complex trans-national crises?

One way of answering that is to examine possible future disasters and their likely results.

Below is a scenario devised by Chung Min Lee, a South Korean scholar and senior fellow at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, and edited excerpts from the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s (NIC) “Global Scenarios to 2025.”


A political crisis snowballs into a catastrophic crisis in the vicinity of the Strait of Hormuz or Strait of Malacca with a dirty nuclear bomb attack; passage of oil tankers is frozen with immediate repercussions for global commerce and navigation.

Highly oil dependent economies such as Japan, South Korea and other Asian economies would have to rely on their limited strategic petroleum reserves. Financial markets worldwide would tumble, which could trigger another global financial crisis.

Governments would face two mega-crises: fallout from a nuclear terrorist attack compounded by an international economic crisis that could result in a global depression.

* Cascading crises

Already overdrawn and overstretched capacities would be totally saturated so that emergency responses would be practically meaningless.

Concerted international actions would take months even years to return the world to normality although by that time the world will live with an entirely “new normal.”

Vulnerabilities, contagions, disruptions and severe dislocations would be beyond effective control. A crisis would feed off and trigger secondary and tertiary crises. (Chung Min Lee)


* De-globalization

This is a world in which parochial interests take priority over sustainable economic growth.

Three forces are apparent — a decline in the power of the nation states, a collapse in the effectiveness of international institutions, and the rise of alternative power sources.

These alternative power actors run the gamut from NGOs and philanthropists to Islamic groups ... to criminal and terrorist networks. The effectiveness of the influence of major powers is weakened and the power of large scale actors is constrained.

The global economy suffers prolonged slowdown with high inflation, relatively high levels of unemployment and low growth. Swathed in a blanket of stagflation, governments, while not indifferent, are simply unable to pull off the process of continued globalization.

A wave of de-globalization begins to wash over the West. Volatile fuel costs encourage a contraction of globalization.

Nuclear states refuse to consider reductions in the face of growing demands from non-nuclear states. Iran maintains ambiguity over its nuclear development, but it is generally assumed that it now has atomic bomb technology.

Perhaps encouraged by Iran’s success, other states in the region step up their nuclear energy programs. The Saudi king announces a multi-billion dollar assistance plan for Pakistan, citing hardship suffered by Pakistan because of high oil prices. Suspicions grow that the help is a quid pro quo for Pakistani help with the Saudis’ nuclear technology program.

* European tensions

Growing unemployment in Europe and the United States means that both regions rescind visas for not only unskilled but also skilled workers. Replacing those skilled workers from the domestic talent pool is a great challenge, particularly if there was a dearth of qualified candidates in the first place. As a result, in Europe recent Muslim migrants are separated from their families. Riots erupt in French cities once again. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb announces a new campaign to retake Andalucia in Spain. A dirty bomb attack occurs in Granada, injuring a group of Norwegian tourists and damaging the Alhambra.

* Cyclone

Ten percent of Bangladesh is submerged under water following a devastating cyclone. Millions are at risk of serious health problems. The growing numbers of climate refugees to India intensifies border tension. At the United Nations, squabbling occurs over whether to label the migrants climate refugees, which would give them enhanced rights to assistance, or whether they are migrants using the cover of the disaster to flee a deteriorating economy in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, millions of refugees remain in limbo as victims of both extreme weather and a disjointed response from global leadership.

For the NIC's complete Global Scenarios, click here Editing by Mark Heinrich

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