editorial opinion

Forecasting the next 150 years

Some events are certainties but you can bet on some wild cards as well.

Syria and Lebanon

Violence in Syria is no further away than the morning headlines. Reports of bombings, artillery attacks, ground fighting, summary executions and atrocities arrive daily. More than 60,000 people have been killed since the civil war there began in Mar 2011. About 2 million Syrians have been displaced within the country. Nearly 750,000 have fled to Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

The United Nations reports that it is helping 1/5 of the country's 23 million citizens, although many parts of Syria are too dangerous for humanitarian workers to enter.
Sectarian and ethnic components of the Syrian civil war may threaten to destabilize some of the country's neighbors.

Unrest in the Middle East is almost certain to continue. Israel remains the only true democracy in the region and is likely to continue receiving a large amount of US aid regardless of who becomes President of the US. Here we see a highly-trained Israeli Defense Force group of soldiers on patrol deployed from a Sikorsky UH60 Black Hawk helicopter.

President Bashar al-Assad and his family are Alawite Muslims—a minority within the minority Shiite population that has dominated Syrian society under the Assads. Most of their neighbors—74%—are Sunnis, and relations between the groups are seriously frayed, even in relatively peaceful regions.

In neighboring Iraq, Shiites (65% of the population) and Sunnis (about 35%) have been at odds since the US deposed Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.

In Lebanon, Sunnis and Shiites fought together against the Christian minority during the country's 15-year civil war, which ended in 1995. Since then, there have been periodic clashes between Alawite Shiites, who support the Syrian government, and Sunnis, who oppose it.

They have grown more common and violent as the Syrian conflict continues.
Yet it may be Syria's 2 million Kurds who most worry neighboring governments. Thus far, they have been affected little by their country's civil war—but that is the point.

When hostilities end, they could be in a position much like that of Iraqi Kurds—relatively prosperous and largely autonomous. Turkey in particular worries that another such example could renew the ambitions of its own Kurdish minority. Iran, where Kurds make up 10% of the population, likely has similar concerns.

Over the years, the Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey has been very active during some periods and much less so in others. More than 35,000 people on both sides are believed to have been killed in the conflict since 1984.

In 2006 alone, fighters for the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK) are said to have killed more than 500 people. However, that October the organization declared a unilateral cease-fire and remained largely inactive except when responding to Turkish security operations. That lull ended in mid-2011, and some 870 people have died in fighting since then. However, the PKK has announced that it will begin another cease-fire in February as a confidence-building measure for ongoing negotiations with the Turkish government.

Unlike some other conflicts on this list, the Kurdish separatist movement could spin off into a larger conflict. There are some 30 million Kurds, plus or minus several million, most of them living in neighboring areas of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

The modern dream of a united Kurdistan dates to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Despite peace talks that both sides appear to consider promising, Louise Arbour believes the conflict in Turkey will grow more intense, not less so, as militant factions gain power on both sides.

Looking ahead

We don't have a single bottom line for such different attempts to see what lies ahead. Their one common feature is having captured our interest.

The BBC's exercise in "pop forecasting" alerted us to a number of possibilities we had not considered, including a few that may be a bit far-fetched. (Does anyone really believe China will lay claim to the Moon in 2030? Ladbrokes gave it odds of only 5 to 1 against.) If we did not always agree with their conclusions, we appreciated learning of some notions bubbling up within the online community.

Whether any of the BBC's forecasts come to pass, whether Arbour's troubled lands explode into violence this year or find unexpected peace and prosperity, they give ample food for thought. They help us to avoid being taken unaware by future challenges. In the end, that is the purpose of all forecasting.

Marvin Cetron is a forecaster/futurist and president of Forecasting Intl. His study for the Pentagon, Terror 2000, written in 1994, offered detailed predictions of the subsequent course of terrorism.


1 | 2| 3 |