London Event November 6 – Imagining Geopolitics in 2030

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Wednesday, November 6th, from 06:30 p.m., Bush House (SE) room 2.12, King’s College London, Strand, WC2R 2LS.

In the latest of our ‘2030’ series, PS21 is assembling another great collection of experts in a variety of specialities to discuss the future of geopolitics, and how international affairs will evolve in the decade to come.

What will remain following President Trump? Who might replace Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping? What will happen to the remnants of British politics? In an increasingly interconnected era, will we see a total revolution in international politics? What role will climate change have on relations?

We’ll be talking East, West, evolving cultures, uncertain economics and much more.


Dr Richard Schofield – Leading academic on geopolitics at King’s College London

Dr Daanish Mustafa – Reader of Human Geography at King’s College London

Professor Andrew Preston – Professor of history of American foreign relations

Sign up here.


Doors open at 6pm, the event will begin at 6:30pm. Please bring photo ID.

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PS21 Event Writeup: ‘Imagining Crisis in 2030’


Peter Apps, Routers Global Affairs Columnist and Executive Director of PS21, opened the event by welcoming the audience and suggested the 21st Century had been defined by crises; 9/11, Leman Brothers and the global financial crash – as well as a broader crisis in global confidence and institutions.

John Basset, former senior GCHQ official and a co-founder of PS21, spoke first. Due to his connections to the UK intelligence services, he first stated that his views on contemporary crises in no way reflected that of the government or British institutions. He said that during his time at GCHQ, the organisation had an ‘unhealthy’ number of potential crises on its watch list. These included dangerous individuals, groups or volatile situations. Basset argued most crises included 3 common factors – fear, chaos and uncertainty.

He presented a model for crisis prediction that involves asking three questions, these being; ‘Who wants to create a crisis?’, ‘do they have the means to achieve their goals?’ and ‘how large of a crisis would their actions create?’. Basset argued that this methodology should help prevent terror and violence related crisis. Dealing with crises had essentially become the new normal for government, he said.

Mike Dolan, Investment Editor at Thomson Reuters said he vividly remembers covering his fair share of crises. He then spoke about crisis in the context of banking, explaining that it is a term used frequently in the financial world. Dolan argued that while crises were unpredictable by definition, the warning signs where often visible for years – often ignored, as with the 2008 financial crisis, because they do not fit the financial narrative of the era.

Financial crises often follow the old fashion definition ‘medial crises’, he said, being the turning point of a disease where a change takes place, either recovery or death. This was particularly true of the 2008 crisis, he said, when the global banking system came perilously close to collapse. The measures taken to avoid such collapse tended to themselves to create a new normal, he said – but that governments, companies and other institutions, would still often miss the next crisis brewing.

Abigail Watson, Senior Research Officer at Remote Warfare Programme, spoke third. Watson started by speaking about her time studying the phenomenon of ‘remote warfare’, a form of conflict that the west is engaging in places like Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. This type of engagement involves the West working alongside local and regional forces, deploying special forces, and relying on airpower instead of deploying large numbers of their own troops. She argued that this type of conflict, lacks parliamentary and public oversight and while such tactics had frequently proved effective – for example against ISIS – she warned they could also lead to the US and its allies sleepwalking into new crises, and conflicts.

Dr Colin Brown, Infectious disease specialist and consultant for Public Health England, followed. Dr Brown spoke about his experience with the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone in 2014. A largely unforeseen but deadly crisis. Dr Brown explained that the ferocity of the outbreak took experts by surprise. Ebola was previously considered too deadly to spread rapidly, as it often kills its host without providing many opportunities to infect others. Dr Brown pointed out that mass transport and interconnectivity has created an environment where Ebola could spread quickly, despite its lethality.

Dr Brown said political issues could prevent such epidemics from being quickly contained, and how during the Ebola outbreak Sierra Leone’s geopolitical situation with its neighbours prevented co-operation in solving the problem. A government’s bureaucratic nature can also delay immediate response to a medical crisis. Looking forward, Dr Brown predicted that a respiratory virus, such as flu, pose the biggest risk in the contemporary world. He also said that increasing immunity to antibiotics, was a pending crisis that needs to be addressed.

Samantha Asumadu, documentary filmmaker and founder of Media Diversified, spoke fifth. Asumadu started by highlighting the lack of panel conversation on a crisis which she believed was a amongst the world’s most pressing problem; the civil war in Yemen. Given the severity of the humanitarian situation (a crisis in which a reported 10 million Yemenis rist losing amenities such as food and water) Asumadu said the UK’s was heavily implicated in Saudi Arabia actions, which she stated has the goal of ‘turning Yemen into a carpark’. Samantha pointed to Western weapon sales to Yemen, trading which she claims is exacerbating the situation.

Asumadu then related her own experiences as a reporter covering conflict and atrocity in Africa, accusing mainstream Western media or minimising both crises and alternative voices. As well as reading from a memoir she was writing, she also talked of her broader experience pointed to a wider crisis of accountability and representation in the UK. She in particular sited her recent experience in working on a construction site, which highlighted a range of gender, race and class disparities.

Dr David Rubens MD of Deltar Training Services Ltd and expert in crisis management, spoke last. Rubens argued most crises were created by deficits in common amenities, such as food, housing and security. Rubens theorised that cities, due to complexity, are most susceptible to crisis – effectively only a few missed meals away from collapse. He continued by pointing out how the worlds largest cities are almost entirely costal, and as such are under direct threat from global warming and rising see levels – as well as infrastructure failing, such as water or power shortages.

Rubens then moved on to how one should manage crises in the contemporary world, as taken from his own experience. Rubens explained the difficultly of managing crises because of their unpredictable nature. Stating that as every crisis tends to be different, we do not have the luxury of leaning on past experiences. He also explored how communication failures are a hallmark of crises, explaining that there is no right answer for their management. Rubens concluded that bad management of crises are frequently because the managing party was ‘overwhelmed’ by the experience, a fault that Rubens placed on a ‘lack of imagination’ in crises management.

Photo Credit: Maja Schower

PS21 Event Writeup: “Sex, Identity and Society in 2030”

On the 17th of July 2018, PS21 held a panel discussion on Sex, Identity and Society in 2030. After an introduction and welcome by PS21’s Executive Director – Peter Apps, the panel’s speakers began their individual analysis.

Joana Ramiro, freelance writer and commentator on the sexual and romantic experiences of women began by pointing out that almost one half of women between the age of 25 and 34 do not find intercourse with their male partners enjoyable, as statistically documented by Public Health England. Ramiro placed the blame for this on multiple facets, including the fact that many men do not take their female partners enjoyment into consideration and the fact that women are reluctant to tell their male partners what they desire in the bedroom.

Ramiro then argued that the problem is a collective one, caused by the status of women in society and societal inequalities that exist between the sexes. Ramiro argues that women are inherently taught to put up with bad sex. Looking into the future, she believes that reduced power imbalance between men and women through equality will encourage women to pursue more enjoyable sex.

Tom Whipple, Science Correspondent for The Times and author of ‘X and Why The rules of attraction: Why gender still matters‘ speculated two opposing predictions of sex in 2030; the first being that ‘sex will be the same’ and the second being ‘lack of inter-human sex, will destroy humanity’. To support the first prediction, Whipple argued that the behaviour and trends of sexual demographics do not change with time and technology. The evidence he provided where the results of a 1970’s experiment, which demonstrated that two thirds of male participants where open to casual sex with a stranger of the opposing sex while 100% of female participants where not. Whipple compared this to similar contemporary levels of male – female reciprocation found in analytical data sourced from dating apps.

Whipple forewarned of the rise of sex robots by presenting the popularity of sex aids with female consumers, suggesting that continuation of sex aid proliferation could mean future sex toys will provide a preferable alternative to human partners. Whipple quoted a study that found that two thirds of men and women would have intercourse with a sex robot if the option was available, a statistic that Whipple claims could be an understatement. Whipple concluded that humanity could face a slow and anti-climactic extinction if robotic partners become more favourable than human ones.

Jemimah Steinfeld, author of ‘Little Emperors and Material Girls: Sex and Youth in Modern China‘ focused on China’s one child policy and the generational/social implications is it has had on dating and sex in china. Due to the preference for male children during its enforcement, Steinfeld pointed out that there are currently 116 men to every 100 women in China, thus many men in China could go their entire lives without having a serious relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

Steinfeld also explained how this problem affects women. Women in China are labelled with derogatory terms if they are unmarried by the age of 27. Steinfeld ended by warning that with growing worries over falling fertility rates, China could well become very regressive in terms of limiting women’s choices as well as access to contraception and abortion. The LGBT community also felt increasingly pressurised, she said, even though it was hard to tell how this would play out in the future.

Jacqui Gavin, civil servant and advocate of transgender rights, spoke about the complex nature of the transgender space and, as a result, the issues around developing policy for the transgender demographic. Gavin, a transgender woman, explained that the main concern is that there are many numerous different identities within the community, each with its own varied characteristics. This means that the political needs of each gender are specific, making the development of objective policy that applies to the entire space problematic. To conclude, Gavin reasoned that a consensus must be met within the space as to what its’ members want, one such example could be continued integration into social norms.

Freelance writer Amna Saleem, author of ‘Why Interracial Relationships aren’t a magical cure to racism’ commented on the contemporary nature of interracial relationship in the UK, using her own relationship as an example of problems faced by interracial couples. Saleem opened by offering statistics on ethnicity in the UK, stating that in general, ethnic groups are becoming progressively more affluent and integrated with other societal groups, resulting in a growing number interracial relationship.

Saleem explained that problems faced by interracial couples did not frequently take the form of overt racism, instead it is frequently pre-conception and stigma that lead to incorrect assumptions about interracial relationships. A white man in a relationship with a non-white woman is sometimes seen to have ‘traded down’ and vice versa, she said, while even within ethnic communities, certain attributes such as skin colour and hair become the basis for judgments on beauty and worth.

Peter Apps, Reuters Global Affairs Columnist and PS21 Executive Director commented on his own personal experience of relationships and sex as a quadriplegic person. Apps said that modern mass-market dating apps appeared to increasingly marginalise many disabled people, with users making snap judgements that often excluded them. However, he also said society – and individuals – simultaneously appeared evermore open to a variety of relationships, speaking frankly of his own experience of being rejected, fetishised and everything in between.


The following discussion, moderated by Daily Telegraph Assistant Comment Editor Laurence Dodds, ranged widely in scope and topic. One audience member asked whether we should become much broader in our expectation of what sex robots might look like, with suggestions ranging from gelatinous sleeping bags to some kind of ‘sexy mist’. There was also discussion of the increased use of smaller sex toys, with little clarity on where the divide might be.

There was discussion on the potential for authoritarian states using dating apps for social control, as well as how changing technology had affected the dating scene over the last decade. Traditionally, women were seen as having the privilege of refusal, while men had the privilege of choice, but experience from the panel suggested that might, in some respects at least, be changing.

Asked what it would take for people to have significantly better sex by 2030, the panel highlighted communication, social openness and, perhaps most important of all, an effective, supportive broader society that provides the opportunity for its citizens to live and express themselves as they wish.

Photo credit: Larrissa Penny


PS21 Event Writeup “Work in 2030”

 On May 15, the latest instalment of our ‘Imagining 2030’ series took place at Juju’s Bar and Stage, in conjunction with Wilton Park and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Reuters Global Affairs Columnist Peter Apps moderated the panel of experts on the world of work to take a look at how exactly the job market would change and how technological advances would impact our lives twelve years from now.

Kate Bell, Head of Economic and Social Policy from the Trade Union Congress, began by looking at the changes of the last twelve years: three million more people in work, but the worst pay stagnation in 200 years, falling productivity and the rise of so-called ‘false self-employment’. Those with power and responsibility, she said, were increasingly finding ways to dilute the social contract when it came to corporates paying tax, sick pay and other employee benefits.

Global Thematic Strategist Frances Hudson from Aberdeen Standard Life Investments was sceptical towards the change technology might bring, stating that even though robots might replace surgeons in the future, the element of care and empathy could not be replaced by technology. The kind of jobs most likely to see growth were often those at the bottom of the pay and social spectrum, she said, particularly care work – but this might lead to something of a reappraisal of what jobs society actually valued.

Joe Dromey, Senior Research Fellow at IPPR, called for three changes in the job market: the need for managed acceleration of automation, the transformation of skill systems and stronger unions. Comparing the present to past industrial revolutions, Dromey pointed out that the net demand for labour had always increased. This was the case now as well, given that automation created more jobs than it destroyed, however, these new jobs may not be accessible to those losing their jobs to greater mechanisation.

Artificial Intelligence specialist Luca Perletta said that AI allowed to identify patterns and trends much quicker than if carried out by humans and that in this case, technology replaced repetitive jobs. However, Perletta said, AI could not replace humans entirely. But they would create new industries and industrial dynamics that would change the job market forever.

Professional and personal coach Helen Gazzi said that despite technological change, many of the frustrations of the work environment – including boredom, lack of fulfilment and worries over career path – had always existed and were likely to continue. Tackling that required a rethinking of the paradigm of work, she said, and what individuals needed to feel fulfilled.

Alvin Carpio, Founder and Chief Executive of the Fourth Group, a global community established to respond to the challenges caused by the fourth industrial revolution, began by outlining the positive aspect of technology, such as the opportunity of emancipation through technology and the possibility to undertake online learning, as well as the formation of connections which can lead to new job opportunities through networks such as LinkedIn. Carpio also drew attention to the negative side of accelerated work environments, such as abysmal working conditions in factories, as well as the ‘blood iPhone’, assembled with parts that were mined by children in the DRC.

Many of the panellists expressed reservations on the concept of Universal Basic Income, questioning both the economic models behind it and whether it would genuinely leave people fulfilled. As with previous industrial revolutions, most believed new jobs would emerge to replace those lost with technological change, although the dramatic fall in productivity in recent years might be a sign that things could be somehow different this time around.

Photo credit: Thomas Hoare

PS21 Event Writeup “Power in 2030”

The latest instalment of our ‘Imagining 2030’ series took place at Juju’s Bar and Stage on April 10, 2018, on the future of political power.

John Raines, Head of Political Risk at IHS Markit, started by looking back 12 years to 2006, examining how much had changed and stayed the same. He pointed to the rise of populist leaders, new platforms, such as social media, as well as a growing economic shift away from the West. He expected cyber attacks to continue to rise, while US politics might increasingly oscillate from one extreme to another. This, he suggested, might be complimented by problems being solved ‘from the bottom up’, given examples of civil society movements, such as #metoo.

IHS Markit Russia Analyst Alex Kokcharov took the audience to Russia in 2030, where a ‘supreme arbiter’ Vladimir Putin could still be in power. Kokcharov spoke of a fundamental change in Putin’s core politics with a swing from the man of the middle classes to a more socially conservative agenda. Kokcharov voiced serious doubts over a possibility of Putin stepping down and suggested a change of the maximum of terms, as seen in Kazakhstan and Belarus, would be much more likely. The only way a handover of power would occur, so Kokcharov, was if Putin’s successor could guarantee he would not end up being tried for war crimes, corruption or anything else.

Professor Kerry Brown, Director of the Lau China Centre at King’s College London, noted that for the first time in modern history, the world was faced with a China that was strong rather than weak, and which had naval capacity which was now in terms of numbers at least rivalling the US. From a military perspective, however, it appeared difficult to project the country’s real fighting capabilities, given China’s last combat experience goes back to 1979 with Vietnam. According to Brown, the economic super power had been  effective instead in waging wars in the cyber sphere. Brown predicted that by 2021, China’s aim with the achievement of the first centenary goal (to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Communist Party’s foundation) would have won the battle of modernity on its own terms and would seek to act according to its own values, a hybrid mixture of traditional Chinese culture and signified Marxism Leninism. It was hard to predict how this would harmoniously co-exit with the enlightenment values still prevailing in the West. . His biggest worry was the exclusive  and excluding nature of Chinese values and the ways in which they did not seem fit for purpose in operating as a transferable world view that others could embrace, and see a space for themselves in.

Anthropologist Eleanor Beevor talked of a simultaneous desire for greater democracy coupled with a want for stronger leaders. The latter, said Beevor, stemmed from a desire to form personal bonds within politics and connect emotionally with leaders – even if that were often unrealistic. Politicians might increasingly be tempted to embrace overly simplistic messages, she said. Instead of single authoritarian figures emerging, she predicted it was also possible a range of such figures would come from a variety of local and globalised power structures.

Fiona Almond, Senior Lecturer at Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, stressed she was speaking as an individual rather than for her institution. She pointed to new communications technology creating new power structures as well as new ways of understanding people and communities. Harnessing this data was important to forming understanding, power, and the ability to influence people’s actions. Data, she said, was the new oil. As a result, it was important for people to gain a better understanding of the power they held through it.

Laurence Dodds, Assistant Comment Editor at the Daily Telegraph, said technology had changed the way power was felt, as well as the nature of truth and lies. Following on from Almond regarding the power of data, Dodds said the power of platforms such as Facebook could be nuanced: for example, Facebook marketing campaigns were more effective at increasing turnout rather than altering strongly held opinions. The companies themselves increasingly operated more like governments in their own right rather than firms – although this was open to a mounting challenge. At the same time, “algorithmic governance”, will offer a great deal of new power to repressive regimes, which we can already see being deployed against the Uighurs in western China. The same techniques would be used in the West in a more diffuse, subtle way – deployed by outsourcing companies on behalf of governments, or by platform-holders like Facebook. This will make power more opaque and diluted – held by systems more than people – while fuelling the desire and the ability for digitally-aided populists to rise.

PS21 Event Writeup “Imagining the World in 2030”

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


The newest event of PS21’s 2030 series saw a panel of experts in tech, policy, defence, economics and more to discuss what the world would look like by 2030. Hosted by Juju’s Bar and Stage and in cooperation with Young Professionals in Policy, the discussion ranged from the changing impact of technology to rise in extremism, economic and social divisions and the importance of diversity.

Paola Subacchi, Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House, stressed the importance of equality, as well as the need for sustainable and inclusive growth as part of a broader and progressive agenda. Subacchi saw the world today at a turning point, with the rise of emerging economies and technological revolution creating a range of new opportunities but also dangers.

Gurjinder Dhaliwal from Young Professionals in Foreign Policy reflected on YPFP’s mission statement, which saw a shift to amplify voices of the next generation, bringing with it more autonomy. Dhaliwal hoped to see a future of greater democratisation of information but saw obstacles in a lack of vision and ideas. Dhaliwal highlighted the reality that change does not happen automatically but that it requires practical policies to bring about social change and equality. He also reflected on the lack of big political ideas from the political mainstream.

Julia Ebner, Research Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, specialising in far right and Islamist extremism, took up Dhaliwal’s thought on “winning the battle of ideas”. According to Ebner, the current generation grew up after 9/11, amid talk of a war between the West and Islam. This idea was dangerous with far right counter-cultures exploiting it to take advantage of frustrations with mainstream ideas. Ebner warned fringe groups had the ability to create the impression online that they were more widespread than in reality, making the media more receptive towards their ideas and ultimately reaching more people.

Former British Army officer and cyber security specialist Harry Porteous saw warfare becoming increasingly technological, altering its character but not its fundamental nature. Recent examples included cheap, off-the-shelf drones employed by militants in Northern Iraq and Syria. These capabilities were no longer limited to states. Porteous predicted such ‘human-on tech’ conflict would be followed by ‘tech-on-tech’ combat, likely first in a maritime environment in the form of unmanned vehicles. Speaking on Russia, Porteous highlighted that Russia had the same means and accessibility to tech as the UK but was prepared to go further and faster.

Catalina Butnaru from Women in AI called for accuracy in understanding technology, particularly citing the need to distinguish between machine or automated intelligence and common-sense, self-aware intelligent systems. AI, she said, was not conscious and lacked both awareness and common sense, relying only on algorithms, data, and human intervention. The nature of jobs and employment would change drastically, she said, but existing levels of job automation suggests computers will not be able to take over entirely. Companies should slowly incorporate AI into current jobs, she said, using it to augment, not displace jobs. Two key components of this transition were building in user interface levers for adequate AI adoption amongst digitally literate workers, and helping the remaining workforce develop complex cognitive skills needed to make the most of AI-driven systems at work.

Hedge fund portfolio manager Subhajeet Parida saw democracies increasingly challenged through a range of hybrid structures within them. Access to opportunities across the world remained very varied, he said, creating its own economic and political strains. Reflecting on the adoption of technology in his own sector, Parida said banking had leapt ahead in some areas but more cautiously in others, sometimes without a coherent strategy. The emergence of Blockchain could bring about a further raft of changes in a large number of sectors, he said, potentially including news and publishing as the world sought new solutions to fake news and other problems.

PS21 Event Writeup – ‘Imagining Britain in 2030’

What will Britain look like by 2030? How will Brexit have played out or will the process be still ongoing? Will Great Britain’s map have changed or will greater devolution have resulted in a tweaking of borders? What kind of government might be in power?

A panel of experts gathered to discuss these questions and more at Juju’s Bar and Stage. The discussion, titled ‘Imagining Britain in 2030’ was moderated by Peter Apps, Reuters Global Affairs Columnist.

Paul Swinney, Head of Policy and Research at the Centre for Cities started off the discussion speaking on the reality of future changes to the world of work, such as the rise of the robots, will play out across the country. This threat of job losses is nothing new – technologies developed over the last century, such as electric street lamps and washing machines for example, have destroyed work for lamplighters and laundry workers. Despite this, new jobs and careers have emerged to replace these lost jobs. But there is a clear geography to these changes – cities further north are more vulnerable than southern cities to this latest wave of change, both in terms of being more exposed to job losses, and the likelihood is that new jobs created in northern cities will be lower skilled, reflecting recent history. And so Swinney’s predictions for 2030 were for the economic and political divides (signified by the Brexit vote) to get wider.

Kathryn Corrick, founder of Corrick, Wales & Partners, stressed the level of technological change over the century so far and the sense of dislocation it had sometimes created. She saw a clear need for policymakers to think about the future to prevent missteps, especially looking forward into data protection laws and augmented reality. She further saw an age in which experts might become trusted again and devolution strengthened, perhaps through new forms of digital democracy. Perceptions of ‘Britishness’ were in flux, she said, and policymakers needed to become better at listening to people across the country if it was to overcome its challenges.

Jonn Elledge, editor at the New Stateman’s Citimetric website said Britain was on the edge of becoming two nations with very different politics. One was multicultural, urbanised and attracting educated young people, while suffering social strains, particularly around the supply of housing. The other, based around both smaller towns and failing post-industrial cities, was losing jobs and people, and increasingly politically angry. The economic divide had become even more significant than Germany’s, where part of the country was under Communist rule up until 1989. Elledge’s proposal as a potential solution for this problem was a serious debate about the moving of the capital away from London – although he doubted it would ever happen. Furthermore, he saw stronger local government as a strategy to move forward.

Jade Azim, Young Labour blogger, shifted the conversation towards the emerging generation of young millennials. This group was struggling to find opportunities, but more importantly did not believe it would ever be able to afford their own major capital investments, particularly housing, risking becoming a permanent rentier class. Azim said that this would eventually break the correlation between property/wealth and conservatism, becoming the first median voter to rent rather than own properties and thus rewriting the political map. This demographic was also developing its very own tastes and wants, she said, prioritising experience over property. Azim saw a change in the meaning of working class – and that the way social stratifications are measured now needing to change if we want to understand class as a concept. In the future addressing of inequalities will be an essential step, Azim stated.

Rayhan Haque, Policy Adviser on future of work issues said by 2030 we will have abolished tuition fees in the UK, as the current system was unfair for students. He also predicted that by 2030 there will have been a Labour government which would have lowered the voting age to 16, making a no fees system permanent and substantially shifting the power of the electorate towards young people. More generally speaking, he argued education needs to ensure strong basic skills for students, and a more skills focused curriculum to allow young people to become emotionally intelligent and gain skills essential for the job market. Haque suggested lowering immigration heavily was a false economy that would do great damage to our economy and society and that by 2030 more people would be willing to support a more liberal system or freedom of movement.

Freelance writer Amna Saleem said Britain sometimes risked appearing like a country that ‘peaked in high school’ and whose hankering after the past made adapting to the future much harder. She said by 2030, inclusion and diversity should not be seen as extraordinary – and individuals should not find themselves so often defined by just one or two characteristics. The Brexit referendum, she said, risked narrowing nationalism in a potentially toxic way, with people turning against her as a Scottish-Pakistani woman. She further advocated for more empathy and the willingness to share power as needed measures for greater equality.

The discussion was fast-paced, lively and always entertaining. It presented many problems, but also offered up solutions. There was a lot to worry about, Peter Apps said in conclusion. But given the in many ways even more concerning political trends in the US and continental Europe, he suggested, the worst case scenarios for Britain in 2030 were at least marginally less bleak than for many other countries.

PS21’s ‘Imagining 2030’ series will reconvene on the 13th March at Juju’s Bar and Stage to imagine the World in 2030. Details here.

“Imagining war in 2030” PS21 event writeup

The future of warfare may be coming faster than we think.

That, at least, felt like the conclusion of Tuesday’s panel on “Imagining War in 2030”, organized by the Project for the Study of the 21st Century and the British Army Intrapreneurs’ Network [BrAIN]. With dozens of military and civilian attendees packed into a relatively airless conference room in Whitehall, a panel of leading experts sketched out what looks to be a period of massive technical, geopolitical and deeply unpredictable change.

Royal United Services Institute Futures and Technology fellow Elizabeth Quintana sketched out some of the technical breakthroughs coming down the line as nations invest in new cyber, electromagnetic and growing technologies as well as hypersonic and other weaponry. Russia, she told the audience, already had a semi-autonomous humanoid robot that could fire a gun and which they intend to send to space.

Former Director Special Forces and Commander Field Army Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb outlined how the pace of change was now proceeding much faster than anyone had anticipated. The year 2030 might be only 13 years away, but breakthroughs in quantum computing, artificial intelligence and other fields were all producing breakthroughs at considerable speed. They would produce potentially massive societal and other changes, and government and military institutions were not currently keeping pace.

Kings College London lecturer and former Foreign and Commonwealth Office official Samir Puri outlined how he had seen some of these changes in action as an OSCE observer in Ukraine. Different nations would demonstrate their geopolitical ambitions in different ways in the years to come, he suggested, pointing out that while a host of states including Britain, Iran, Russia and others have their own imperial memories, they were of very different empires and shaped very different regional and global aspirations.

But not everything would change, he cautioned – it was entirely possible the US and its allies would still be embroiled in the Afghanistan war at the end of the next decade.

Balancing technology, structures, career paths

Unsurprisingly, there were a range of different views on how the military and other institutions should and could adapt to such an unpredictable future. Some questioned to what extent traditional military “pyramid” shaped hierarchies could possibly adapt [although Lieutenant General Lamb argued that while flatter hierarchies have their strengths, outright conflict required much greater resilience than they could offer].

While traditional Western militaries concentrated on traditional war fighting [phase 1 operations and upwards, in UK military terminology], many of the West’s adversaries were becoming much more adept at operating below that threshold, within “phase zero” operations. That trend was only likely to intensify in the years to come, he argued.

Most attendees felt that keeping pace with current changes in cyber and other domains was proving challenging enough, but relatively near-future breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and machine learning was felt set to provide even greater changes. While current drone warfare has actually proved very “human intensive” given the number of intelligence and other individuals involved in targeting and assessment, there will be inevitable moves towards artificial intelligence performing some if not many of those tasks. Where lines are drawn – particularly on the decisions to take human life – will be highly contested, and non-Western potential foes may be much more willing than ourselves to take such steps. [”The Russians tend to trust machines more than they trust people,” said Elizabeth Quintana, pointing to a trend she traced back to Soviet times].

Integration and flexibility would be key to handling these new trends. Lamb said he expected a special forces team of the near future would also be integrated with robotic/artificial intelligence capabilities – although what exactly that would look like was another matter.

Some attendees questioned whether the modern British Military was truly flexible enough to keep track of such new trends – although there was clearly plenty of enthusiasm for doing so.

Building the systems and processes for that would be key. As US military historian Thomas Ricks [himself paraphrasing US General Omar Bradley] once said, while might talks tactics, professionals talk logistics, real insiders focus on career structures to determine what really gets done.

Taking the debate forward

This event was the first of several planned by PS21 to explore the world of 2030 [you can read a range of pieces exploring that world on the PS21 website here]. We will also be holding further events with BrAIN later this year and into 2018.

Check out upcoming PS21 events here.

FURTHER READING interviews US analyst Peter Singer on the future of warfare

Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs columnist and executive Director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century. He is also a reservist in the British Army and member of the UK Labour Party. You can follow him on Twitter here

Imagining 2030: the European Union 15 years after Brexit

An op-ed from the foreseeable future, by Peter Apps, PS21 executive director

As Lord Nigel Farage does the round of life-streaming chat shows in the run up to the fifteenth anniversary of the Brexit vote, it is hard to believe that the 67-year-old is still almost 4 years younger than Donald Trump was when he won the US presidential election that same year.

Both Brexit and the Trump victory were seen at the time very much as the revenge of an older generation that, younger liberals clearly hoped, would soon be gone again. That hasn’t quite happened – or at least, it hasn’t happened yet. Like so much else in politics, however, all sides of the political spectrum may well be reluctantly concluding that both defendants were both not quite as good and not quite as bad as they might initially have feared.

Trump may now have largely vanished from public life, aside from his occasional Twitter outbursts against the George Clooney presidency. Farage, however, is very much still with us. And as he has done his entire political life, he continues to preach that both the European Union and what is left of the European single currency remain on the brink of collapse. As he always has been, he is at least half-right – but the fact they have survived so long shows how simultaneously incorrect he has been as well.

For sure, the European Union is slightly smaller than it was in 2016. Britain’s departure might have taken longer than expected, but it is now – theoretically, at least – out, even if cynics might remark that the speed with which it keeps rejoining individual European projects means that barely matters.

The 2016 Brexit vote was, of course, considered as much a vote against the open borders of the European Union as anything else. The paradox, however, is that post-Brexit Britain now has a relatively more open immigration policy than many of those states still within the European bloc – at least if you have the money, skills or the willingness to do unpopular work that will get you through the UK’s now relatively streamlined border controls.

Indeed, you could argue that it is mainland Europe that has changed most since Brexit. Then, the UK was seen as a recalcitrant right-wing member state hitting back against the social democratic EU project. Now, the European Union is as much a club of center-right governments – indeed, some would say hard right – while Britain has been under a relatively liberal and surprisingly long-lived coalition for half a decade.

Much is still uncertain, however. It’s still entirely possible that Brexit may yet be seen as the beginning of the end of the European project – it just hasn’t happened yet.

The fact that the UK, Greece and – somewhat unexpectedly – Slovakia have been able to successfully leave parts of the project, however, has in part pointed to its somewhat unexpected strength. Greece was able to leave the euro in 2020 without leaving the European Union, in part because the development has been so widely expected for so long that its shock value was diminished.

The departure of Italy, in contrast, might well have trashed the European single currency forever. Its referendum on the subject in 2022, however, delivered a somewhat surprising vote to “remain”.

Nor, so far at least, have the truly far right parties of Europe – Alternative für Deutschland, France’s National Front – performed nearly as well as many had anticipated. A handful have briefly managed to get into government, but none have survived in the long run – although, not unlike Farage, they have,arguably been successful in changing the tone of the wider political environment,

The pendulum in Europe may nonetheless already be swinging back to the left. The popularity of Clooney on the continent, opinion polls suggest, far exceeds any of its own leaders. Of the next five elections, three or four look likely to deliver left-wing governments for the first time in more than a decade.

It’s this, perhaps, that helps explain as much as anything else why Farage himself – now in his fifth spell as leader of the perennially unsuccessful United Kingdom Independence Party – has never actually managed to be elected to political power.

His appointment to the House of Lords, some suspect, was only signed off by the current British government to make the second chamber easier to abolish.

Where Europe goes from here, frankly, is anyone’s guess. If nothing else, the ongoing threat from an increasingly unpredictable Russia continues to drive countries together, even as they try to tell themselves apart over a host of other disagreements. With Vladimir Putin now approaching his eighth decade, Moscow is unlikely to get any more predictable in the near future. NATO, like the EU, has therefore somehow held together – and seems likely still to do so.

Now, if only we knew what to do about all these robots who seem to be running everything.


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Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, non-ideological, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own. Furthermore, the story above does not reflect the views of any of the author’s affiliations.


Imagining 2030: Out of a desert

Imagining 2030 is a series in which PS21 writers describe the world as they see it in 14 years time. 

Jorge Vanstreels writes on the Middle East and Foreign Policy for a variety of publications and is based in Belgium. His regional travels have led him through the West Bank, the Syria-Jordan border, or Tunisia’s deep south. He is currently pursuing his Master of Law at the University of Antwerp. Follow him on Twitter @Jorgevs


In an unknown spot somewhere in the deserts of Arabia far away from any capital stood the tiny village of Ar-Rashid on a plateau surrounded by dunes. It was night and the village was covered in a type of darkness only found in remote places. The sky was vaguely lit up with all possible stars large and small. Seen from space, not even a minuscule light was visible to pinpoint the village in the grand, dark sea the desert formed.


On a plateau, a few houses had been built of cheap bricks and covered with thin metal roofing. Three unpaved roads gave the village some sense of orientation. In the evening, the call to prayer from the administrative town some distance away was heard. Ahmed stood at the entrance of his parent’s house. Indeed, tonight his decision was final. He looked nervously to the dunes at the horizon. Their rolling shapes stood out against the lighter night sky. His father came in and Ahmed asked if he wanted to go out for a walk. Sure, said his father, a tall man in his late 30’s with curly black hair that was starting to turn slightly grey.


“What’s up?” he asked his son. Ahmed just shrugged his shoulders. “Let’s go out,” the father said. They walked to the dunes at the end of the road. Their sharp forms stood out in dark-grey against the brighter night sky. After they had climbed the top of a dune they sat down. There was silence as both looked up at the sky.


“Look”, his father said, pointing to a bright light just above the horizon to their right. It moved slowly higher describing an arc. His father’s arm followed the object’s motion until it was above them.


“When I was young,” he said, “the movement would go so much slower. You could follow that plane through the sky for more than two minutes.” Now it had flown across their vast horizon in less than a minute. Ahmed thought of those inside, looking down into what would surely be nothing.  “The times of progress,” his father smiled, dreaming of a gleaming, supersonic object they knew only from images.


Ahmed looked to his father. He was nervous, unsure as to how he would react. “So, tell me. What is on your mind?” Ahmed stayed silent. He thought of his friends. Of all those hours, those infinite days spent in a spot you could not find on a map. He had the sense the rest of the world had a sure time and place while his had not. He bit tensely on his lip while looking up at the sky. “I am going to leave,” he said, “tomorrow morning.”


There was silence from his father.


“With the bus I will go to the capital; it is decided and I do not want to change my mind,” he said, trying to sound decisive. A multitude of stars large and small was scattered generously around; the combined glow gave the night sky a pale luminosity. In between the top of the dunes shadows formed and valleys could be seen. His father sighed heavily. Although his father knew why his son wanted to leave, he asked him why. Ahmed sensed his father knew very well, but he did not tell him that.


Their country had in the last few years slipped into violence. Although the remote provinces had been spared, all the major cities had witnessed serious riots by thousand youths. They would chant slogans for justice. It was not clear what they meant by that. Aggravating it, or perhaps fueling it, was the scarcity of jobs .The country was bankrupt, as petroleum was globally out of favor.


On the dunes, a breeze swept some sand away into the air. “Father, thirty years ago you left. You risked your life to reach Europe, leaving our grandparents behind, with them trembling for your life each night. Grandmother says it cut her life short ten years. Why did you go?” Ahmed said, almost with exasperation, “What was there to find that even death could not scare you?” There was a shrug of the shoulders.


“Look son, nothing has changed. Not here, nor in those place we dream of. If someone is young like you, there is still nothing you can call a future.” He paused. “Sure, there’s a roof. There’s a bed, there’s a meal. That is it. At my age, one learns to accept that.” His father continued, “When I was as young as you I went to Europe for something better, yes. I felt angry. My parents did not understand, begged me to stay. So I shut up until I left them as a thief in the night.”


A silence. “Why did you come back?”


“I worked two years; hard. Nothing there made me happy. All the money was sent back here; then I was sent out of the country, as I did not have papers. Not that I was bothered, I had grown indifferent. So I said: better poor at home, then work and sadness and no home soil.”


Ahmed grinned.  “Yeah, that makes some sense.”


Then his father asked, “You will go to the city to protest, yes? With the imam and all his followers, right? You want to join him. You want to fight. For justice.” He said the last word with a hint of cynicism. His son nodded, looking to the sand between his feet. “All my friends are there”, he said, “Everybody goes. We have to defend the honor of our future. I can’t explain father, but you should understand. You hated your world too.”


Indeed his father had. With age, the hate had transmuted into a peaceful bitterness. Their country was not the only one. The whole of the Middle East had seen order disappear. Monarchies had fallen, autocrats had gone, borders had been redrawn, countries broken apart, others stitched together. In the days of Ahmed’s father the frustrations of the young had been channeled into religious extremism; now a different kind of extremism had emerged in the region, carried by progressive imams in cities, a new political view that merged Islam with Marxist principles of class struggle. It called for the overthrow of the established order, by blood and force if necessary. Many youngsters had heeded the call of the new Revolution.


Ahmed asked in a sudden outburst of anger, “our country, this vast country full of people is only for those corrupt and maliciously rich. They as Gods and only they decide; high up on their thrones, treating us as cattle, against the very will of Islam. Not as humans. Do you think they care for even one single moment? They couldn’t care less than for a grain of sand.”


”They do not care,” his father said softly.


Ahmed continued, “Nothing has changed, father. You left to find something better, you did not get it. What will we do? Wait until what? Until the sand has run us over and everybody forgets about honor or dignity? No. What does our religion say? We have to fight against the forces of evil. They are fighting in the streets. That’s where history goes, that’s where we have to stand, even if blood flows.”


“Look, father, I understand you do not want me to go. But what is there for me, here? Emptiness,” he gestured impatiently to the horizon.


The state, as in all provinces, had given basic education in the nearest administrative town. In the times of his father, university was free when petroleum was still selling. After that, the crisis had hit hard. Now only the very rich or the connected could afford higher education. Ahmed knew the basics of mathematics, some English, a few centuries of history, too much religion, and that was it. On television, all saw the archetype of the successful Arab man in smart suit, fast car and next to him a beautiful woman. Ahmed said firmly. “They who rule against God have to go. It is not just. I will not stay here doing nothing.”


His father stayed silent, looking to the dark slopes and valleys in front of them. ”I cannot say and I will not say you are right; however I cannot stop you either, my son,” was the only thing he said.


It was uncertain whether the time ahead would bring a better future. Uncertain too was whether the anger of the young would once again transform the region, this time for good. What was sure was that the unknown would be reached through an inevitably violent upheaval.


It was still dark when Ahmed left the house. His father would tell his mother, later. On the road the bus came. The doors closed. The engine creaked. The sun rose, fast.


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Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, non-ideological, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

Imagining 2030: Hope Renewed

Imagining 2030 is a series in which PS21 writers describe the world as they see it in 14 years time.  

Scott Cheney-Peters is a civil servant at the State Department, founder of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), a Reserve surface warfare officer in the Navy’s strategy office, a Truman National Security Project fellow, and a CNAS Next-Gen National Security Leader fellow.

Richard Lum is the founder and chief executive of Vision Foresight Strategy. He is an academically trained futurist and holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Hawai‘i’s Alternative Futures Program.


“That’s it, right there,” said Ashik. Through beat-up VR goggles he saw an over-the-shoulder view of one unmanned underwater vehicle approaching another, larger, unmanned underwater tender. What he saw was only a simulated rendering based on inertial navigation data, but he knew that if he could see them, both machines would be visibly in need of overhauls – or retirement. The words “Operator – Take Manual Control” flashing across his lower field of vision piqued his curiosity.

“Uh, Rima…you still awake?” he called out through the goggles’ integrated microphone as an indicator ticked down the distance to the tender. “This chickadee is coming home to mother hen pretty quick.”

“Yep, sorry, almost there,” crackled the response through his headphones. A low monotonous tone began buzzing at more frequent intervals as the warning continued to flash on screen. It wasn’t like Rima to be away from her control console before an approach; she had a way of manufacturing enough anxiety without inducing real cause for concern.

The alarm silenced and the words “Manual Control Initiated” appeared briefly before fading from Ashik’s display.  

“Sorry, back!” she exclaimed, out of breath. The speed with which the UUV operator was handling the inbound vehicle told Ashik she was either supremely confident or completely impatient. Knowing his little sister, it was definitely the latter. “Careful now…. ease it in,” he said into the microphone. Had he been with her in the dimly lit control room he would have given her a squeeze on her shoulder, as he always had when reminding her to focus and relax. Even though she was over seven hundred nautical miles away on a different ship, his old home, practicing for her UUV/USV rating, he could clearly picture the thin line of perspiration that would be beading in the fold of her neck. As she successfully mated the UUV with the tender Ashik’s simulated feed dissolved as she powered down her machine.

“You know,” said Rima over the VOIP channel still feeding into Ashik’s earbuds, “better systems automate this part too so you can spend more time on maintenance.” Ashik detached the goggles from the headset and placed them on the console in front of him, careful to avoid the dark, congealed pools of recent beverage spills.  “Jess, my friend on that lashed-up refinery Kerama-way,” Rima continued, “she even has an on-mother printer so they can keep the tenders out for more than two weeks.”

“Is that where you were? Doing maintenance?” Ashik tried not to let his suspicion creep into his voice – he knew she already thought him protective to the point of overbearing.  

“Yeah, was installing a few software patches on the drones in the bay and lost track of time.”

Plausible. He wasn’t sure why he doubted her answer.

“Anyway, how do you know what “better systems” have? This from spending all your time gossiping on the net with your friends?”

“Uh, no,” she replied, her voice betraying no small amount of irritation. “From reading the professional notes, which is how you make me spend my time. Unfortunately, you’ll be far too busy soon with your new job to keep watching over my shoulder,” she said. Despite the clear sarcasm in her voice, Ashik thought he detected a faint note of sadness.  

“That’s what you think,” winked Ashik. “There’s always drones.”  He heard her bark a laugh on the other end of the line.  Once when they were younger, just after they had lost their parents, Ashik had rigged up two micro drones from scraps around their village and programmed them to follow her day and night. She had been furious at the time, but now it was a private joke between them. “Besides,” he said, “you’ll not be much further away than your little friend there, three days out on its mission into the Wop-Gop.”

“Ugh, the first thing I’m going to do is start calling things by their technical terms – mothership UUVs and their USVs, not ‘mother hens’ and their ‘chickadees.’ And don’t get me started on the Western Pacific Garbage Patch,” Rima said, crisply articulating each word. “Seriously, Wop-Gop?”

“Look,” Ashik sighed. “I know you’ve got the manuals, but you’ve got to focus on your training and studies, no …”

“I can’t have my whole life be this… this garbage,” Rima cut in. “You love it out here, but you know I’m going ashore when I can. Besides, I’m apparently going to be just the latest thing my big brother gets to remotely control, so why should I stress with studies if you’ll always be able to help me out of a jam.”

“Rima. That’s not fair. You know us coming out here to do these jobs wasn’t a choice. After the mercy ship picked us up it was either contribute here or go back to all that death and misery. No one ashore would have taken us and we’d already lost …” he dropped his gaze to the goggles on the console. “Well, you know all that. More important, it was the thought of giving you, my chickadee, a chance at something better.”

“Eeesh! Okay, this just got way too sappy,” Rima exclaimed in his ear just as Ashik exited through the hatch of the spare UUV control shack. He started towards the scuttle that would take him up to the common room and mess three decks above for a hot meal.

Ashik had left Hope Renewed, the waste-recycling vessel, or “waster,” where they had lived for five years after their initial ordeal. In those days, placement options by the refugee charities and governments that supported them in an attempt to stem the human tide had been limited. But the stateless, floating economy continued to develop and expand as more and more people tried their luck forging a life at sea, driven by libertarian ideology or—more commonly—by necessity. Now, after a year of specialized remote training, Ashik was just three weeks into work at a new aquaponics farm east of the Philippines to begin an apprenticeship. Grow and reuse, two stages in a larger cycle of material use. This, at least, was how Ashik had come to link the two jobs as he tried to draw connections between the disparate chapters of his own life.  

“Anyway, we don’t know how well this connection’s going to hold up,” Ashik said as he pulled himself up the metal hand bars of the scuttle. “So you might have your independence after all.”

As Ashik reached the common room he heard a commotion on the other end of the line.

“Rima, is that the ship’s intercom?”

“Yeah, not sure I can make it out any better than you though.”

Indecipherable as usual, thought Ashik as the sound bleed through his earbuds, a mix of static and the elongated consonants of Jamal, advisor to the mayor of Hope Renewed and muezzin. But even without looking at the clock he knew the call to prayer wasn’t due for another several hours.

“I think he’s trying to muster the ship’s militia?” Rima offered before the line went dead.




Commander Jeanne Collet stared at the vessel off Guépratte’s starboard bow, gripping the railing of the bridge wing even though aware the four feet closer from her bridge wing chair made no practical difference. With successive exaggerated winks she flicked through the optical enhancements and overlays of her glasses, trying to find useful information among the deluge of data. Eventually she came upon the QR code scanner.

“Lieutenant, try to raise them again,” she said.

No answer.

“Alright. Helm, all engines back one third. Let’s keep this distance until we know what we’re dealing with.”

Her naked eye could see that the vessel, dead in the water, was covered in running rust that bled streaks of orange into peeling white paint. The vessel’s name and IMO number had long since flaked off, but the laser-engraved QR code at the ship’s stern was still discernable. So, she thought, at least someone was concerned about keeping the vessel on the right side of the law. It had been what, a decade since the new U.N. Convention on Safety of Life at Sea mandated QR engraving on all vessels. Not that most complied, especially not those for whom such a mandate would require a retrofit. She guessed it had been many years since the vessel before her had felt the warm embrace of a dry dock for deep and thorough hull maintenance.

Her glasses and a panel on the captain’s chair in the pilothouse began beeping, half a beat out of synch. Stepping inside the pilothouse to investigate, Collet was enveloped in a sheen of information projected from the bridge’s jumble of overhead wiring and devices. As she turned and looked back towards the vessel, the data appeared to emanate from the gently bobbing hull, its heading shifting with the wind and unknown no more. Bright red, floating letters flashed “Critical Contact of Interest.”

Shit, she thought reading the CCOI report. So much for a speedy transit. The promise of a long weekend in port in New Caledonia for the crew had beckoned, payoff for extended upcoming illegal fishing operations.

She read on. The vessel, the Hope Renewed, was unflagged but had once been owned and registered by Citizens without Borders, an American NGO, in one of the ad hoc databases of refugee ships. She could tell from the welding job on the side of the hull that the drone bay was in frequent use and ostensibly for work in the Patch. Most likely a waster, collecting and breaking down the floating refuse that choked sea lanes into bricks of raw materials like plastic for use in the additive manufacturing plants that had sprung up throughout offshore Asia. Politicians back in France had been making a stink about the floating factories’ lack of effective labor laws allowing them to “steal” French jobs, as though the jobs hadn’t already been lost through decades of over-generous social benefits.  

But Collet had learned not to take appearances at face value. It wouldn’t be the first time the Chinese or Vietnamese had masked their activities among the refugees. Even if the intel about Hope Renewed was bad, without the protection of a state they were juicy targets, their kind helping fuel the boom in piracy throughout the world and stretching Collet’s navy that much further.

“Officer of the Deck, once more,” she said.

Still no answer.

“Alright, continue hailing them on bridge-to-bridge once every five minutes, and see if CIC can find someone on their vessel actively chatting on the net.”

“Ma’am, we’ve got a couple social media accounts that look likely to belong to Hope Renewed inhabitants but none responding to pings. Will let you know if that changes.”  

She hoped she could just have tea with the mayor or however the vessel’s leader styled themselves. If there wasn’t one, if it wasn’t a refugee ship or if she met resistance, she needed to be prepared. She knew a show of force might escalate the situation, but years spent trying to disrupt—ha, dent, the illicit maritime networks of Southeast Asia reinforced the need to balance prudence with the precept that it was better to be safe than sorry. She’d be balancing both today.

Collet picked up the microphone for the ship’s internal intercom. “Guépratte, this is the Captain. We have identified a vessel suspected in a series of attacks on merchant shipping. They have failed to respond to our hails. We are sending over a boarding team to investigate. It is critical that we determine who has been disrupting these sea lanes and, well, automated cargo ships don’t provide much details.”

In the past month, seven ships were taken in the same manner in waters stretching from the South China Sea to the Philippine Sea. Shipping insurance rates were rising with the sophisticated attacks subjecting their prey to all-systems jamming prior to the impact of what the post-incident analysis suspected were drone-based waterborne IEDs.

Guépratte’s XO, a lanky Algerian with a graying goatee, sidled up to Collet. “Ma’am, you think these attacks are fallout from Southwest Cay?”

“I don’t know. But if Hanoi wants to warn Beijing off from making another play for their last Spratly outpost, taking seven Chinese-owned vessels certainly got their attention. Of course, that’s a risky play to make. If the Chinese can make a link, the threat to additional shipping likely won’t reign in nationalist calls for blood for what’s already been hit. I don’t relish the spectre of full-scale hostilities but it looks like that’s where we might be headed.”

“So we need to find out the truth first, to be prepared for the consequences.”

“Exactly. A week ago an American UAV caught sight of a surface vessel returning to Hope Renewed from the general direction of an attack. Nothing conclusive, but the best lead so far.”  

Collet turned to the Officer of the Deck. “Muster the boarding team in full exo gear. And tell combat to throw up a POP. I want eyes on that vessel.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

While Collet often chafed at having to sift through the reams of information brought in by all the Navy’s new gadgets, the Perimeter Overwatch Package, or POP, was one system that had proved its worth. The sound of several small overhead drones taking flight filled the bridge. They didn’t provide great real-time interior views, just some infrared, but the enhanced external situational awareness and 3D rendering of Renewed Hope provided to CIC and the bridge was superb. They were also armed.

“Ma’am, POP is in place. There’s nothing topside but we’re also not reading anything below decks. Could just be an error with the sensors. Do you want us to drop an ICS-disable package?”

“Negative. Doesn’t look like they can get their engines up in a hurry, better not to scare the locals. But be ready at the first sign they’re warming them up.” Balancing again. The industrial control system-disable package was a small autonomous robot carried aboard one of the POP drones that sought out and shut down the computers running the ship’s engines by breaching the system’s air gap and directly installing malicious code.

A petty officer approached Collet with a radio in her outstretched hand. Taking the radio, she said, “Boarding officer, this is the captain, report.”

Ma’am, the boarding party is mustered on the flight deck. Two of the suits are malfunctioning, out of commission, and the back-ups are going through maintenance.”

“Sounds about right. Just send their owners in the rear during the initial insertion. And make sure the team’s focused on the mission—not New Caledonia. We don’t know what we’re dealing with here. I’ll make my way across to exchange pleasantries once we do.

“Aye ma’am. Preparing to launch the line over with your permission.”

“Launch when ready.”

Over the next half hour Collet watched as her boarding team launched over a magnetic line to a high point on Hope Renewed, secured the trolley system, and one-by-one rode up the powered zip-line-like device dozens of feet above the sparkling waters, gently arcing to the contact point. CIC reported visual on all members of the boarding party arriving safely aboard Hope Renewed, confirmed by the boarding officer moments later.

Now the waiting. Collet was a believer in letting her subordinates work without constant instruction, contenting herself to listen to the chatter between boarding team members as moved through the large vessel. But as she listened she developed a growing sense of dread. At last the boarding officer called for her.

Captain, this is the boarding officer. You’re going to want to see this.”

“What is it?”

Frankly, not sure what we’re dealing with. As far as we can tell it’s empty. There’s no one here.”

“Captain,” called CIC before Collet had time to react. “Vessel inbound off the port quarter, five miles out. It’s pretty small, no visible weapons. One man topside.”


As Ashik gripped the wheel of the solar boat, the running lights of a ship twinkled in the evening mist. They corresponded almost exactly with the AIS fix for Hope Renewed. But as he approached his radar indicated two vessels, both dead in the water. Apprehension mixed with anger and relief that one way or another his multi-day journey on the high seas was at an end. He’d seen few warships during his time in the Pacific, but they were enough to recognize the vessel alongside Hope, illuminating the onset of night with her growing superstructure. If they were responsible… he thought. Well, at least they might have answers.



Interested in contributing a piece to the series? E-mail us at


Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, non-ideological, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own. Furthermore, the story above does not reflect the views of any of the author’s affiliations.

Hope Renewed is a part of the #CrowdedSeas project led by the authors, delving into the future of the maritime domain. Over the course of several months this project will develop hypotheses about the future of life and death at sea, particularly in Asia, in the 2030-2050 timeframe. It will apply a series of different methodologies to conduct this exploration, including strategic forecasting, short fiction writing, and design thinking that will culminate in a written report.

Imagining 2030: Flashpoint Manama

Imagining 2030 is a series in which PS21 writers describe the world as they see it in 14 years time. 

Russell Waite is a current MA Student in War Studies at King’s College, London.  


The year is 2030. 10 years have passed since the third Gulf War, and the spectre of conflict again appears on the horizon. The cause of the war between a US-Saudi Coalition and an Iranian nuclear state, with surprisingly little Israeli involvement, is now well known. President Trump’s bellicose rhetoric in the lead up to his presidential nomination in 2016 was not all bluster. Thankfully, it was his only “serious” foreign policy venture.

The weak Jus ad bellum for the 2020 conflict – Iran’s “imminent” use of their nuclear arsenal on Israel – proved unfounded. Many analysts have since speculated that this was due to the Coalition concentrating on naval engagements, alongside limited strikes on Iranian coastal positions and military centres. Since the conflict, Iran has refrained from marking a red line in the sand for nuclear deployment. A source of both security and concern for the region.

As in the last war, the fate of Bahrain remains central to power projection in the Gulf. Manama, the capital of Bahrain, has recovered since the war and returned to become a thriving city of nearly three million people. Coalition presence has also expanded, and Manama now hosts one of the largest concentrations of US-UK military force abroad. This is only surpassed by permanent garrisons in Europe and the US commitment towards the now 77 year old Korean conflict.

The recent militarisation of Bahrain can actually be traced to the re-construction of HMS Jufair at the Mina Salam port, all the way back in 2015. This heralded a return of UK naval interests beyond the Suez Canal. The Prince of Wales, one of the UK’s two aircraft carriers, has been on permanent station just offshore.  Since 2017, the port was expanded significantly to accommodate large elements of the US 5th fleet, the basing of which proved pivotal in the shaping of the 2020 conflict.

Since the 2020 Damascus peace deal – made possible with the stabilisation of Syria – Iran and Saudi Arabia have both made commendable efforts to foster better relations. Two notable examples include the re-opening of the Iranian embassy in Riyadh and the proposed Saud-Khomeini highway linking Saudi Arabia and Iran through Kuwait and Iraq.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have developed the warmest relations within living memory. So why is the Gulf now more unstable in 2030? Persistent underlying suspicion is certainly a factor. Even the smallest of issues – for example, what Saudi Arabia calls the Arabian Gulf, Iran calls the Persian Gulf – remain fiercely contested. Nevertheless, the driving elephant in the room is the Saudi Arabian nuclear weapons programme. Despite coming under intense international criticism, Saudi Arabia persists in pursuing nuclear weapons. The reasoning, some have argued, is latent unease with Iran’s nuclear monopoly and increasing economic strains in the region since the move away from fossil fuels. Arguably, control of trade routes in the Gulf, escalated by fears of nuclear competition, is the rationale behind the Iranian Supreme Leader’s increasingly aggressive statements. Of the claims, the UAE’s reclamation of the islands of Abu Musa, and greater and lesser Tunb have received the most attention. Of more concern for escalation is Iran’s claim to Bahrain (which it calls Mishmahig), which had originally been dropped in 1971. This may merely be sabre-rattling, but Iranian concerns over a nuclear Saudi Arabia are very real and shouldn’t be taken lightly. This concern is arguably why the planned drawdown of the US-UK military presence in Manama has been quietly shelved, with further commitment expected.

The Saudi Kingdom also faces another security concern that cannot be ignored. The now decade old chaos in Yemen and now Oman threatens to spill-over into Saudi Arabia itself. If Saudi gained the bomb, they would face very similar security concerns in their hinterland as a nuclear armed Pakistan in the mid-2010s.

Interested in contributing a piece to the series? E-mail us at

Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, non-ideological, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.