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Imagining 2030 is a series in which PS21 writers describe the world as they see it in 14 years time.
Philip Thicknesse is the former head of Futures UK Defense Concepts and Doctrines Center. He is also part of the PS21 International Advisory Group.
‘Stop both engines.’
With a visible sigh of relief, Captain Hutchinson returned the conning microphone to its waterproofed box on the starboard bridge wing and took a moment to study the scenery around him. The last hour of the three week passage down the Atlantic had been quite tense as he had conned the converted livestock carrier ‘Marine Manger 1’, now renamed, with some irony, ‘Friendship’, after one of the original first fleet that sailed to Australia more than 200 years before, into the shallow natural harbour of Bright Island, on the western extremity of the Falklands. Now, secured stern to the makeshift ro-ro jetty, he could make out a series of large structures, like long low hangars, which had been hurriedly erected over the last couple of years. They sat in the lee of New Mountain and were sheltered from the prevailing westerlies but still looked bleak and, frankly, pretty unwelcoming. The island had the look, feel and smell of the Outer Hebrides, which he had known well in his younger days as a deck officer on the inter-island ferry service, but he had grown bored with home waters and wanted to stretch his wings across the seas of the world. Now, in the dying days of his long maritime career, he found himself Master of the ‘Friendship’ and custodian of a sorry cargo.
In the first two decades of the century a Pandora’s box had been opened in the Middle East by a number of ideologically motivated but naive western political leaders who espoused interventionist doctrines designed to impose western democratic systems and values on middle eastern autocracies. The removal of a series of brutally effective autocrats, each of whom had been containing massive internal dissent through violence, caused waves of increasingly abhorrent acts of terrorism to spread through the world, starting in Europe and Russia, but spreading rapidly to China and the USA.
For the first ten years of the violence, the West held to generally liberal beliefs, reckoning that their electorates generally favoured freedom over security, but quite soon it became apparent that this was no longer true. A wave of mass demonstrations swept across the democratic world with demands for security against terror, all of which suited the highly radicalised Islamist movements, who wanted nothing more than complete separation from western democratic norms and the imposition of sharia across the caliphate, though there was little, if any, sign that they were any closer to achieving their dream. All across the Middle East Sunni and Shia were locked in ugly, brutal, sectarian conflict, a grim reminder, for those with a historical bent, of the centuries long religious wars that plagued Europe.
Then came a renewed interest in the UN’s universal declaration of human rights – specifically article 29, which stated that ‘Everyone has duties to the community’ and went on to describe the duty to respect the rights and freedoms of others. In a series of high profile trials of captured terrorists and their fellow travellers, the case was successfully made that, through their actions they had surrendered their human rights though they themselves retained the right to life, despite their best efforts to kill not only the innocent, but themselves, in order to satisfy their perverse beliefs.
The UK and France, both of whom had suffered extensive terrorist violence, resorted to the history books for a solution and both settled on penal transportation. Where, though, to transport to? The colonies needed to be extremely remote, far from the usual maritime trade routes and easy to secure, as the risk of the felons escaping was deemed to be unacceptable.
Both nations looked to the Southern Ocean. France selected Kerguelen, which had hitherto been the home for scientific research. The UK selected Bright Island on the western extremity of the Falklands. The French government had directed the Ministry of Defence to develop a solution and within 6 months a basic camp had been constructed on the site of the scientific base at Port-aux-Francais on Grande Terre. Within a year the first convoy had delivered the colonists, as they were known.
In the UK, things were not so straightforward. The contract to build the camp and harbour and procure the necessary shipping had been outsourced to industry. In a nutshell, the usual suspects had all bid, a selection had been made and was immediately challenged. Month by month the price rose until, four years after France’s ‘colonisation’ programme had commenced, the government gave in and agreed to underwrite the project risks, giving the prime contractor carte blanche to fleece the Treasury. At least there was no requirement to staff the place with guards. Both France and the UK had agreed that the new ‘colonies’ should be self policing, allowing the navies of the two nations to concentrate on keeping intruders away from the islands, an easy task in such remote waters.
There was, inevitably, a huge outcry protesting against such barbaric treatment, but, perhaps not surprisingly, as peace slowly returned and the terrorist outrages declined, people soon settled for uncomfortable, but generally silent, assent. Better, the public reasoned, to be safe than free.
Now, some 6 years on, Captain Hutchinson watched as his distinctly subdued cargo was marched down the stern ramp of the ‘Friendship’ and onto their new home.
Was this really how he thought his world would turn out?
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