“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”— Albert Einstein
“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”— Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher
“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”— W. Edwards Deming
“It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value.”— Arthur C. Clarke
“The human race’s prospects of survival were considerably better when we were defenseless against tigers than they are today when we have become defenseless against ourselves.”— Arnold J. Toynbee
“Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”— Arnold J. Toynbee
“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”— Carl Sagan
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”— Charles Darwin
“The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.”— Thomas Hobbes
News from the first two weeks of March 2022 is somewhere between dismal and very frightening. It suggests that we are on the brink of a global economic and financial collapse as well as growing superpower tensions that point to a nuclear World War III in the near future.
Will sanity ultimately prevail? Unfortunately, among our many shortages today, sanity is among the very worst.
My take on all of this, however, is that the real situation is not nearly as bad as the always-reliable and -objective media are presenting. Almost seems as if some kind of underlying agenda is driving things. Too many seemingly separate happenings appear to be rolling out in a strongly, strangely, purposeful manner. If this is the case, it seems very likely that nothing truly catastrophic like a nuclear WWIII is in the cards. I hope.
So, despite all of the rampant WWIII fear-porn presently out there, I am betting that our survival odds are actually quite good. This possibly too-optimistic position will serve as the basis for this hopefully-upbeat post.
How many times has the world ended in the past?
Some very nasty and painful times certainly appear to be coming along shortly, or are even already here, but probably not in the form of a world war with nukes. The powers that be, whoever they may actually be, are hardly likely to go to all of this bother just to have things shortly blow up on their grand schemes. Literally.
So perhaps what we are really facing is yet another “world-ending” episode of human progress and its unpleasant, associated-but-necessary, transitional stumblings. Let’s see – how many of these periods have we humans experienced since humans were invented?
Humankind has experienced an uncountable number of major catastrophes, war among them. We have in fact survived and adapted successfully to so many enormous hits over the millennia that, otherwise, we should have long since perished. Considering there are today nearly eight billion of us non-perished folks around suggests we can survive pretty much anything that comes our way.
Wars, plagues, and natural disasters come and go all the time but the majority of us somehow survive. The aftermaths may be extremely difficult and painful but we do get through them eventually. A breather before the next big hit.
What are the odds of a nuclear World War III?
Helpfully, Peter Berezin, the global chief strategist at BCA Research, just published a note claiming that civilization currently has about 10 percent chance of collapsing due to nuclear war. Entitled “Rising Risk Of A Nuclear Apocalypse,” the note explained that “the risk of Armageddon has risen dramatically” and now sits at an “uncomfortably high 10% chance” of turning into a nuclear fallout wasteland. He hedges a bit with the remark that “While there is a huge margin of error around any estimate,” Berezin admits about his calculations, he is sure that over the next 12 months, the risk of nuclear war stands about a one in 10 chance.”. Umm …
You might want to check out this prognostication with your cat, or other sentient creature, to get a more balanced and equally useful perspective.
My answer to this question would be an emphatic “nobody knows” but the odds must be pretty low, or maybe even essentially zero, if the powers that be are going to so much trouble to do a Great Reset and its happy companion, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (see here, here, and here). Who puts in so much effort and money to remake the world if it has any chance at all of being blown up prematurely?
So, we appear instead to be doomed to survive.
Big wars and natural disasters ‘R Us
Life on this small planet has never been anything but struggles large and small. That’s just what life is. People cause some of the nasty stuff but Mother Nature weighs in regularly with her own set of challenges.
What would be really strange is to have all of these challenges suddenly disappear. Probably with us all disappearing as well. People seem to have become pretty adept at survival, no matter what the situation. Overpopulation has recently become more of a concern than underpopulation, or no population.
We do at this point appear to have a world war in progress. Not nuclear (yet) but serious financial and economic wars. Major inflation as well is already locked in for the near-term, if not longer.
Turns out that we don’t even need a nuclear world war to mess things up badly but even these non-nuke-war events could possibly have an upside:
Lesson from the Medieval Black Death
The Black Death plague in years 1347-1351 killed around 30%-50% of the European population. It doesn’t get much worse than this. No nukes involved – just Mother Nature on one of her periodic rampages.
- Bryan Walsh writing Time magazine noted that:
“The upside, if you can call it that, is that the plague left in its wake populations that were healthier and more robust than people who existed before the plague struck. The plague was natural selection in action. ”
“By the late 15th century, real wages were three times higher than they were at the beginning of the 14th century, before the plague struck. Diets improved as employers were forced to raise wages and offer extra food and clothing to attract workers.”
Assuming that you were among the survivors – a majority it turns out, you actually were quite a bit better off after the plague. Humankind adapts amazingly well to the most horrific situations. Is there any reason not to expect something similar occurring post-WWIII?
A pretty gruesome thought but it reflects what actually occurred in a much worse period of history. This is good to know, yes?
World War III has been widely assumed to be a nuclear conflict between major powers, but it could instead be a worldwide nation against nation set of battles, each nation simply seeking to survive. Food production and distribution have been hugely disrupted already. The economic damage almost globally so far has been enormous.
This I think is what World War III will actually be about. Food. Oil. Money. But no nukes.
Increasing our successful-survival odds
In any case, just surviving seems like a pretty short-sighted, limited objective. What we really want is to be among the survivors who succeed – that is, prosper – in the newly messed up WWIII situation. This is a kind of generalized resilience aimed not at situation details that cannot be predicted but at something more along the lines of “whatever-comes-along” resilience.
While this may seem like a very great challenge, it can be addressed practically in quite a number of very generalized ways. The majority of these are likely to take some time to plan and implement so we are probably not looking at anything in the very short term. Apart from not standing too close to things exploding nearby.
Note that the objective here is for survival+ of a business or other organization and not for that of any particular individual.
Non-concentration and diversity are the keys to survival+
World wars and such tend to affect many countries, regions, and economies. It is normally impossible to identify these far enough ahead to make any targeted plans. What you can do, assuming at least some decent amount of lead time, is to spread out your operations as widely as you can. This gives you the best chance of having a substantial part of your operations intact and functioning no matter what happens and where.
Again, the context here is survival+ should a major black swan (or flock) WWIII event (or events) of unknown nature, timing, or magnitude occur.
A few brief ideas to help you get started:
1. Critical functions and operations redundancy
Identify and map your critical operations and functions. These are ones that, if largely or fully lost for any reason, the business or organization would have to cease operations or take what may well be much too long to replace. Then, if these are geographically concentrated, you might want to create duplicates as much as needed to ensure that the loss of or serious damage to any one, or even a few, would allow the organization as a whole to continue.
2. Geographical diversity
While making critical functions and operations themselves redundant, it is also nearly always necessary to ensure as well that these additions are not located in any close proximity. Since WWIII in whatever form seems to have its most serious disruption potential concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere, it might be good to seek diversity in the Southern Hemisphere. Avoiding Australia, from what I am reading, and probably quite a few other war-magnets. Or someplace. This one is likely to very tricky to figure out.
Sourcing diversity enters into this one as well. As so many have learned in recent years, having multiple sources for any critical production materials (and services) is vital under anything but periods of long-term stability.
3. Lead time may be too short for much in the way of protection efforts
The current conflict got hot in a very short period of time. While it may cool off for a while, or become an intermittent concern, what appears at the moment to be an excessive amount of poking the bear is taking place. Bears are unpredictable so this practice may well result in some very nasty and sudden reactions. Kind of a worst case WWIII expansion even. No time to do much of anything – especially if you are in or near the hot zone.
Your game plan should probably include a mix of short-and longer-term changes just in case the long-term in a practical sense does not occur.
4. Income source and business diversity
Wars and their predecessors can mess up markets, supply chains, and much else. You will want to analyze the effect of having any of these seriously damaged or even destroyed on your ability to continue your core operations. Cash flow security is paramount.
Business diversity is achieved by avoiding major concentrations of customers, markets, facilities, and the like. This is something that you would probably not do in normal times but today they may well determine whether you survive or not.
5. Cyber-attack resilience
The world today is so reliant on communications and interconnected systems that it is hard to imagine functioning when these are seriously damaged or largely unavailable. A cyber-attack, via cyberspace, targets an enterprise’s use of its cyberspace for the purpose of disrupting, disabling, destroying, or maliciously controlling a computing environment/infrastructure; or destroying the integrity of the data or stealing controlled information.
This is a reality of our present world for nearly every organization. We don’t need a WWIII driver for these attacks. WWIII may simply broaden and intensify the impacts. Resilience in this case may be achieved largely by business unit isolation as much as possible and by solid backup systems.
6. Start small – today
If you are largely unprepared for anything close to a world war or similar major disruption, the present nastiness may provide a great incentive to make at least some initial moves. There are probably many small steps that you can take to increase your location diversity and reduce any customer or sourcing concentrations. Such steps are almost certain to be worthwhile regardless of how things play out over the near term.
Partnerships and acquisitions can be relatively quick ways to diversify your geographical, market, or product footprint. Again, you will want to focus here on your most vulnerable and business-critical functions and operations.
7. Vulnerability assessment
Which of these might be most important for your organization or business? The only way I know of to get some reliable sense for your most vulnerable points is to carry out a business simulation. This is a computer model that captures your primary financial flows and resources as well as major customers, products, and sources.
You can experiment with various war impact scenarios to see how well (or badly) your business is likely to make out. The latter are vulnerabilities. You can then develop ways to eliminate or at least minimize your exposure to each one.
If you are not familiar with business simulations for planning and testing, Wikipedia has a nice overview.
As noted in the Related Reading section below, the world has experienced dozens of nuclear accident close calls over the past 50 years or so. The system for avoiding a nuclear accident may not be perfect but it really has a solid track record of success. This probably means that we are not likely to get smoked by any nuclear accident. More likely, but still quite improbable, is that any nuclear exchange will be deliberate.
The Russia-Ukraine-NATO conflict has virtually chased COVID from the news. Fears of a Russia-U.S. nuclear World War III are going off the charts. End-of-the-world stuff. But do these media-stoked fears have any real basis in fact? Very hard to tell right now but there are some strong indications that survival is much more likely than not. We may already be in a world war today – but an economic and financial war, not a nuclear war. There already has been enormous damage and much more seems very likely. Survival from all of this is far from certain but there are quite a few actions that can be taken now to greatly increase the chances of your business or organization surviving, and even prospering – survival+.
- Joey Bertschler writing in Medium.com in August 2020 offered some insights on precisely calculating nuclear war odds: “93.16% Likelihood Of Nuclear War” and came up with this helpful summary table:
A rather lengthy recent article on NaturalNews.com emphasized the dangers of war propaganda in times like these:
“… war propaganda stimulates the most powerful aspects of our psyche, our subconscious, our instinctive drives. It causes us, by design, to abandon reason. It provokes a surge in tribalism, jingoism, moral righteousness and emotionalism: all powerful drives embedded through millennia of evolution. The more unity that emerges in support of an overarching moral narrative, the more difficult it becomes for anyone to critically evaluate it. The more closed the propaganda system is — either because any dissent from it is excluded by brute censorship or so effectively demonized through accusations of treason and disloyalty — the more difficult it is for anyone, all of us, even to recognize one is in the middle of it. When critical faculties are deliberately turned off based on a belief that absolute moral certainty has been attained, the parts of our brain armed with the capacity of reason are disabled. “
“In his 1931 novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley perfectly described what happens to humans and our reasoning process when we are subsumed by crowd sentiments and dynamics:”
“Groups are capable of being as moral and intelligent as the individuals who form them; a crowd is chaotic, has no purpose of its own and is capable of anything except intelligent action and realistic thinking. Assembled in a crowd, people lose their powers of reasoning and their capacity for moral choice. Their suggestibility is increased to the point where they cease to have any judgment or will of their own. They become very excitable, they lose all sense of individual or collective responsibility, they are subject to sudden accesses of rage, enthusiasm and panic. In a word, a man in a crowd behaves as though he had swallowed a large dose of some powerful intoxicant. He is a victim of what I have called “herd-poisoning.” Like alcohol, herd-poison is an active, extraverted drug. The crowd-intoxicated individual escapes from responsibility, intelligence and morality into a kind of frantic, animal mindlessness.”
- The Union of Concerned Scientists in 2015 described the possibilities of an accidental nuclear war starting: “Close Calls with Nuclear Weapons”:
“Despite the most elaborate precautions, it is conceivable that technical malfunction or human failure, a misinterpreted incident or unauthorized action, could trigger a nuclear disaster or nuclear war.” — U.S. –Soviet Accident Measures Agreement, September 1971
“Since the beginning of the nuclear age, military and political leaders have faced the daunting challenge of controlling nuclear weapons. They want to ensure with high confidence that the weapons will detonate when their use is ordered, but that they will not do so by accident or without authorization.”
“Similarly, both the United States and Russia keep nuclear-armed missiles on high alert, primed for launch, to allow them to be launched within minutes on warning of an incoming attack. At the same time, they need to ensure that the missiles are not launched by mistake based on a false warning, without authorization, or by accident.”
“The good news is that so far there have been no unintended nuclear explosions. The bad news is that there is a long list of past incidents when accidents and errors increased the risk of a nuclear explosion. In some of these incidents, the high explosives surrounding the warhead’s plutonium center detonated without triggering a nuclear chain reaction, but contaminated the surrounding area with radioactive material.”
“Erroneous or ambiguous warnings from U.S. or Russian early warning sensors of an incoming nuclear attack are relatively common.”