Imagining 2030: Sobering Thoughts from Latin America


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

Helen Mason is a Scot now living in London, having lived and worked in Washington DC.  She is the Deputy Director of Membership for YPFP London.


It is the year 2030 and Latin America is hungover.  Not from too many Pisco sours but from binge drinking on a lethal cocktail of home-grown terrorism, drug trafficking, gang violence and total economic collapse. It has now awoken, and its “hair of the dog” is beginning to take effect.

History has been made in Colombia! With a 50-year-war with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) over, Colombia is now a major player on the world stage participating in international organisations such as NATO (having recently become a Partnership for Peace member) and, at the United Nations, where Colombia has a number of UN peacekeeping and training missions in Africa under its command. Colombia also remains at the forefront of medical science leading the way in developing a vaccine for the Zika Virus which blighted Latin America in early 2016.

Brazil meanwhile is continuing to grow economically having left Mercosur in favour of closer ties with the European Union.  This desire to be closer to Europe was first apparent back in 2014 when a lucrative defence deal with Saab was signed for a total of 108 Gripen Fighter jets. This was symbolic as Brazil pivoted away from its usual procurement source the Americans – a few presidential phone hacks and a chap named Edward Snowden arguably put paid to that!  Brazil, like Colombia, has increased its cooperation with the UN and is also commanding a number of peacekeeping missions in Africa as well as recently becoming a NATO Partnership for Peace member. The Chinese Development Bank bolstered its shares in Petrobras the state owned Brazilian Oil Company adding to the $10 billion loaned in 2016. This is seen by many analysts as an attempt to rid Petrobras of its latest partner in crime – Iran.  The Chinese Dragon is breathing fire at Iran (but to little effect it seems) because Iran’s National Oil Company recently purchased a large portion of Petrobras’s “Pre-Salt” oil business at its Libra oilfield off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. This oilfield is currently producing around 10 million barrels a day which means that from a Chinese point of view, they got caught napping!

Cuba is now open for business, but despite President Obama’s best efforts in 2016 Cubans are trading with everyone else, but the Americans!  During his two terms in office President Trump effectively shut down any prospect of doing business in America’s so-called back yard.  His isolationist stance affected American companies greatly with many of the big players losing out to local companies, or by having to set up subsidiaries simply to get a foot in the door, let alone a seat at the lunch table. However, with President Michelle Obama now in office America has now dusted herself down and is slowly picking through the wreckage of this rather costly “FUBAR” that was the Trump presidency.

Despite the hangover coming to an end for some, there are still a couple who drank more of this cocktail than others and are still drunk – Peru and Venezuela.  In Peru with political campaigns still fuelled by drug money and individuals in key positions associated with cartels, this country is flailing and blighted with terrorism in the form of the Sendero Luminoso whose membership numbers have increased back to Fujimori-era levels. Even with the help of Russian helicopters and British drones, the VRAEM region remains ideal for the creation and smuggling of cocaine. Its location and terrain are perfect for these activities: difficult to access and away from the gaze of more populated areas, it has become a large distribution hub for the illicit deeds of this merry band of criminals.  Although security forces continue to thwart their activities by bombing air strips, spraying crops and shooting down narco planes – this group have become ever more inventive. By providing security and protection to shipments leaving the region, even sometimes by way of drug mules on foot, as well as taxing any cocaine being exported, this area of Peru has been turned into a narco super state.  If this isn’t enough of a headache for security forces, another cocktail is on the menu – the lawless Port of Callao. Security forces along with US SOUTHCOM assistance are railing against the “Caracol Cartel” (Peru’s first official cartel) run by notorious criminal and presidential candidate Gerson Galvez Calle. Taking advantage of a lack of detection equipment like mobile scanners, traffickers are easily penetrating the major seaport by paying off port workers who are cartel members themselves and moving their bounty through with considerable ease.

The other not-yet-sober regional actor is Venezuela. Venezuela, or more aptly called the “Zimbabwe of Latin America”, has inflation running now at 3.5 million per cent!! Many companies have pulled out as corruption plagues business practices and market entry is untenable.  Maduro’s son Nicolas Maduro Guerra is beginning his second term as president and is sticking fast to his father’s and Chavez’s vision of a socialist state. Only last week he delivered his inauguration address to a rapturous crowd of believers chanting the well-known campaign slogan “Chavez, te juro, voto por Maduro!” and setting forth his agenda for a better tomorrow. However, when a table napkin is worth more than the paper used to print money, tomorrow is not coming anytime soon! Despite this, Venezuela continues to court the Russians and indeed Iran. Russian war ships are now stationed at Puerto Cabello the country’s largest port in order to carry out MRO as well as delivering food aid to Venezuela. Iran, now free from the shackles of western imposed sanctions, is intent on continuing to grow Shiite cultural centres and set up diplomatic ties in the region by opening countless embassies. This little foray may be short lived however because Iran has been accused recently, by the Drug Enforcement Agency and others for operating large money laundering scams to further bolster Hezbollah in Syria (which at the time of writing is again out of control with ceasefire, after ceasefire failing to hold up). In addition to this, the Chinese are at it again, with Chinese-led, Venezuelan-based, illicit groups of traffickers moving precursor chemicals and counterfeit pharmaceuticals in and out of Venezuela’s porous borders.  The Brazilian Navy has recently set up patrol boats, equipped with Embraer’s latest radar technology, in the region to intercept this threat.

Despite this, Latin America has promise. Countries such as Colombia and Brazil are proof of this by participating on the world stage they are slowly making their mark as independent actors. However, the next decade towards 2040 is crucial. Can the drunkards sober up, go on the wagon, and turn their fortunes around? Or will the lure of another cocktail just be too much………….?

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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: Merkel’s Kinder

berlin skyline

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

Caitlin Vito currently works at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and has also held positions with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.


Meine Damen und Herren, today’s lecture is on Syria.”

The university lecture hall is packed. I sit up. I can see the professor clearly from my spot in the back of the room. This lecture hits home, a little too close.

Almost two decades of fighting has left this region traumatized. Over 50% of the population who used to live in the area of former Syria have either fled or been killed in the conflict…”

Syria was unravelling as my family fled 14 years ago. Part of a great exodus, for my parents getting out of our beloved, but disintegrating, country was worth almost anything – including the risk of death.  When we arrived in Europe I was 6, my two brothers 4 and 2. We finally reached the ‘Promised Land’ – Germany – when I was 7. In fact, sometimes you can still catch a glimpse in the old newscasts covering the arrival of the beleaguered masses in Munich of my father holding my youngest brother, walking out of the train station.

“Almost one million Syrian refugees still languish in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, while another two million returned or were expelled back to the region, dividing themselves among the three new territories…”

I know I’m one of the lucky ones. We made it out just before the German government put a lid on their intake of refugees and migrants. Going from a stream to a trickle, Germany joined the rest of Europe and the West who had thrown up their hands in resignation. The große Grenzschließung – border closure – ensued. A “Berlin wall” for the 21st century.

The Western-funded refugee camps in Turkey were initially hailed as a ‘solution’ to the fleeing multitudes and a ‘great example of cooperation’ between the EU and Turkey. My father’s brother and his family still live in one of these camps. They cannot afford to come here through underground channels, and know that the likelihood of getting caught and deported is very high. I haven’t been to any of the camps but it sounds like a miserable place, one where people get in but never get out. It still beats being forced to return to what’s left of Syria, as many of those seeking refuge in other countries had to do.

The ‘truce’ between the warring parties, signed in 2017, has left the territories with a shaky ceasefire. Its signing had more to do with the sheer exhaustion of all sides involved, than with a workable solution. It’s no wonder then that there are still displaced Syrians trying to enter Europe, only to be deported, and then try again.

The children of the Syrian refugees who settled in Germany before the große Grenzschließung are now referred to as “Merkel’s Kinder”…”

I am one of those children. And although my life has been unusual, it is by no means unique. I am one among the 3% of Germany’s population who are Middle Eastern refugees – many of them Syrians. My story has been told over the past decade and a half through statistics, UN special reports and countless debates. Our lives are part of the ‘lessons learned’ cropping up in government reports and in university course lectures – much like Rwanda.

The Syrian refugee crisis changed Germany and Europe forever and integration remains a major challenge…”

These reports try to explain how the tragedy of Syria came to break a European community that had survived the Cold War and global financial crisis. It marked the end of an era. And while on a personal level most people have been kind, many still look at me and those like me as foreigners, and tensions persist.

The ongoing deportations of those who do not make it past Germany’s stringent migration and asylum laws has added further fuel to existing tensions. A few small doors remain open to come to Germany and other western countries: if you are either a) highly skilled or b) among a very select group of asylum seekers. Most are neither and have to try their luck coming illegally. Sinking ships full of people don’t shock the way they once did and the media doesn’t cover such frequent tragedies as much anymore. The only thing that separates me from those on the boats today is that my family came over when Europe was still clinging to the notion of living up to its own values and laws. At least there is no pretense anymore.  The 1951 Refugee Convention now seems less like an international law for signatories and more like a light suggestion.

What we find in the region today is the partition of Syria into three territories: one built from the remnants of Assad’s Syria; a Kurdish state in the north; and a Sunni dominated territory, closely linked to the neighbouring caliphate…”

I leave the lecture hall and walk down the street and into one of the many Syrian-owned Shawarma shops in Berlin. Now there is something that wasn’t foreseen – the peaceful coexistence of Syrian Shawarma and Turkish doner kebab shops. At least on a culinary level, we can all agree on good food.

Both my parents work just outside of the city, my mother at a senior’s home and my father on a construction site. These are tough jobs, but my parents are proud to make a living and be able to put me through university – even though fourteen years after their arrival, they are still paid less than their German colleagues. For me, I consider myself lucky. It has not always been easy but I’m attending university and I’m hopeful that my generation won’t be prisoners to the scars left by the tragedy that unfolded in our homeland. The fear driven barriers erected by governments and peoples are not set in stone. We, the next generation, have the opportunity to change them.

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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: The Middle East

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

Hayat Alvi, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the US Naval War College and a PS21 Global Fellow.



It’s 2030, and I’m reflecting on compelling predictions that the U.S. National Security Strategy made in early 2015:

“A struggle for power is underway among and within many states of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).  This is a generational struggle in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq war and 2011 Arab uprisings, which will redefine the region as well as relationships among communities and between citizens and their governments.  This process will continue to be combustible, especially in societies where religious extremists take root, or rulers reject democratic reforms, exploit their economies, and crush civil society” – U.S. National Security Strategy, February 2015 (page 5).

“Combustible” was the key word. Since those predictions were made in 2015 we have, and are continuing to witness simultaneous shifts in the fault-lines in regional politics, economics, ideologies, territorial fights, and resource-demographics dynamics that are exacerbating the humanitarian crises in the region.  The increasingly violent Sunni-Shiite sectarian rivalry is worsening; reflecting a “Thirty-Years War” cloaked in geopolitics. The MENA region, as predicted fifteen years ago, has experienced vicious cycles of conflict, poverty, resource scarcity, regime repression, terrorism, and demographic and cartographical transformations.

Climate change has not being kind to the MENA region. Just today the headline in the news is that Yemen has run out of water. Yemen’s environmental situation, exacerbated by a continuing war, is unleashing a humanitarian catastrophe worse than ever before. Regional demographic trends are compounding the crises. The youth bulge, increasing urbanization and population density, and high unemployment (things that triggered the first uprisings in 2011) are continuing to put an unbearable stress on energy resources. Not to mention that over the last decade and a half we have seen several more “Arab Spring”-like uprisings that have challenged autocratic regimes and monarchies alike.

Countries that were once dependent on tourism and oil have seen their economies continue to deteriorate since oil prices started fluctuating violently in 2015 and unrelenting terrorist attacks, carried out primarily by Al Qaeda and its affiliates and the Islamic State (IS) and their mutations, failed to slow down.  Meanwhile, the Sunni-Shiite sectarian rivalry has intensified, manifesting itself in many conflicts, terrorist attacks and regional agendas.

We are witnessing Islam’s “Thirty-Years War,” and no one can say how long it will last.  One of the entities that has benefited greatly from this increasing Sunni-Shiite rift is IS.  Despite losing territory over the years, IS has taken advantage of humanitarian crises that were triggered and perpetuated by the Saudi-Iran proxy wars, the youth bulge, and water and food insecurity in the region. For the last 15 years IS has systematically sowed the seeds for a terrorist army and has ensured its ideology for future generations by indoctrinating and training young boys in jihadism and its own warped interpretation of Islam.  The IS demon has plagued the MENA region for the last 15 years and there is no sign it’s stopping.

The fighting continues in Syria, now a failed state.  The Lebanese Hezbollah is overstretched in both Syria and Iraq, where, in the latter, some stability exists, but only in a few regions.  Iraq, like a roller coaster, isn’t much better. When one area is stabilizing, another one is being challenged by remnants of IS and other Sunni and Shiite extremist groups.

Despite Erdogan’s campaign, Turkey is still struggling with PKK terrorism and IS attacks inside its borders. Meanwhile, Libya’s attempts at stabilization have failed miserably. The influx of foreign fighters into Syria and Libya after the “Arab Spring” was unprecedented and exacerbated the conflict within each country. The youth bulge and high unemployment, things that helped trigger protests around the region back in 2011 are still bringing people to the streets today. Regimes, unable to soothe their populations, are locking their countries in vicious cycles of harsh crackdowns, repression, and restrictions on civil rights and liberties, which result in provoking more uprisings and protests. Economic stagnation is compounding the situation across the region.  Intellectuals, leaving in droves, are triggering a brain drain similar to Afghanistan and Iraq a few decades earlier. The migrant crisis is affecting Europe, Canada, the U.S., and Australia in ways far worse than fifteen years ago.

Adding fire to the flame, the region has experienced a perpetual arms race, which Western powers and Russia and China, have fueled due to its profitability and their false assumptions that throwing more weapons at problems will help resolve them.  The specter of WMD threats are haunting governments in the region, as well as in the West, as Iran reconsiders a nuclear deterrence agenda to counter the existential threat from IS and other Sunni extremists.  We’re back to square one.

Today in 2030, not much has changed in the MENA region. All the issues the U.S. National Security Strategy touched upon and predicted back in 2015, are still here. We are locked in a vicious endless circle.

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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: Protecting Lima; Peru’s Mega City

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

W. Alejandro Sanchez is an international security analyst who focuses on defense and security issues in the Western Hemisphere. He is a regular contributor for IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, the Center for International Maritime Security, Blouin News, Living in Peru, among others. He is a member of the Forum on the Arms Trade. His Twitter is: @W_Alex_Sanchez


Caramba, I forget how to turn this on again,” I said aloud to no one in particular.

Sitting next to me, a smirking Pablo said, “click the button by your right ear… sí, that one.”

After the Great Unification War, China promptly rewarded countries that recognized its regained sovereignty over Taiwan. For Peru, this meant not only some fancy trade deals, but also free security and defense equipment, including training aircraft for the Air Force, tanks and trucks for the Army and smart-armored uniforms and smart-helmets for us, the Policía Nacional del Peru (PNP – Peruvian National Police).

Alas, even after several training sessions with a Chinese security officer, it still took me more than a minute to remember how to turn on the damn helmet and connect it to the police headquarters.

I shouldn’t complain though. The units up in the Andes and those in the Amazon -what’s left of it anyway- still don’t have these helmets. The capital always gets the fancier equipment.

I looked out the window trying to get a sense of where the armored vehicle was taking us. Lima, the capital, has always been one big city that just kept growing.

We’ll take the right side of the shopping center, looters are concentrated in that area,” the lieutenant said through the helmet’s intercom.

How many?” Pablo asked.

The Condor counts 500.” The Condor was Peru’s newest domestically manufactured UAV. Our domestic drone program started in the early 2010s with the Air Force, but now the PNP had its own manufacturing facilities for surveillance drones. They’re not as fancy as the UAVs that the Americans, the Russians, or even the Brazilians, produced, but they were helpful. A little display screen on the corner of the helmet’s visor showed me the drone’s view from 500 meters in the air.

I looked down to check that my gear was all in place and my (Chinese) rifle was loaded. Meanwhile, the smart-helmet made itself useful by displaying the laws that were being broken as well as the default sentences.

For petty criminals like this, we do not bother with trials anymore. Two decades ago, police arrests were considered step A; a trial was step B and prison was step C. Now A and B were one step while C was optional. It was all part of the “mano justa y dura” program (“just and hard hand”). El Presidente, in all his wisdom, pushed for a harsher internal security program, where we police, did not just arrest people, we judged them.

And yes, we were executioners if necessary.

I did not mind the change. Our harsh security programs meant that I regularly travelled abroad for training courses; particularly to Mexico, as a similar program was the only thing that saved that place from breaking apart due to the cartels back in the late 2010s. I even went to the gringos once to train at that new counter-insurgency training program Southern Command had created in Florida.

Those ugly buildings keep collapsing,” Mario observed through the window. “Why don’t these people just go live someplace else.”

And where would that be, genius?” someone said.

Well, they can build another pueblo joven [a shantytown] outside the city,” Pablo offered.

Doubt so,” the lieutenant said in all our heads through the helmets’ intercom. “People can’t build farther east because the Andes keep falling down, remember that massive landslide last month? And if you build too far north or south, you’ll be in a desert. So they just build vertically nowadays.”

SEDAPAL [that water agency] says the Rímac River does not have enough water again, even with the Lurín and the other tributaries, for this summer,” I remarked neutrally as I uncrossed my legs.

What do you expect? This city now has thirteen million people. Thirteen! That’s one third of the whole country. How are you supposed to give so many people water?” Maria exclaimed.

I wanted to say that maybe if the lieutenant stopped having so many kids, it could help with the overpopulation of the city. But that would start a heated religious debate. Peru still remained a deeply catholic nation.

In any case, the alarm went off and all conversation stopped. The vehicle screeched to a halt a minute later and the back doors opened.

Lince is a nice district mind you, pretty safe by the city’s standards, but the district’s shopping mall was a prime target for looters as it was close to a fútbol stadium. On this occasion, a Peruvian team had beaten a Chilean team, and since tensions between the two countries were still high after the Second War of the Pacific two years ago, people wanted to celebrate extra whenever our teams won.

I tried to have some sympathy for these people, victims of mob mentality and all that, but the helmet’s display of my unit’s orders would not allow me.  The presidente and the mayor wanted the capital to be nice and safe, particularly as next month Lima’s mega-convention center would host an APEC summit, the gringo and Chinese presidents would attend, which would be their first meeting since the Unification War. The presidente wanted the city safe for our illustrious guests and whatever great power-issues they would discuss.

I could see a young man running through the parking lot, he had stolen a bunch of iPhone 13XLs. That new free trade deal with the gringos (Apple really wanted Peruvian money as, for the past two decades, we had been Latin America’s most developed and pro-free trade economy) meant that we would continue to be inundated with all their goods.

I yelled “stop!” but, unsurprisingly, he did not. I cringed as the helmet displayed that not following an officer’s orders adds one year to the prison sentence.

Sigh. I started running through the parking lot, full of modern Hondas and the occasional vintage VW beetle, chasing the unarmed man, his hands full of smart-phones. My visor showed how his sentence increased the more he ran. Very soon, even though he posed no threat to me, deadly force would be authorized.

Such is the life of being judge and executioner.

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Imagining 2030: The Year of the Dog

Gaya Street during Chinese New Year

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

Shannon Tiezzi is managing editor at The Diplomat magazine.

Meiyan’s smartwatch vibrated, and she winced. Lately, most of her messages had been from her parents – and they had all been variations on a theme. She looked down, and sure enough, it was from her mother: “Still alone?!”

In their last exchange, her mother had not-so-subtly asked if Meiyan was bringing someone home to meet the family at Spring Festival this year. Meiyan’s answer had been curt (“No”) but not curt enough to dissuade some light paternal nagging.

It wasn’t enough that she had her parents clamoring for her to marry – she also got bombarded with the targeted government messages that filled her social media pages. Every time she logged in, she was treated with a picture of a lonely-looking man or a happy, smiling couple doting on a baby and a reminder that her country was counting on her to “help rejuvenate China.” As though it was her fault that a quarter of Chinese men couldn’t find wives. Still, the ads seemed to think it was her duty to help rectify the problem. All her single, 30-ish female friends reported getting them too – while men usually just saw ads for the latest sales on Taobao (her married female friends got even more targeted ads suggesting they have children).

How ironic that it was her patriotic duty to marry and have children, Meiyan thought testily, given that the government had effectively sabotaged her best chance at it. Back in 2022, when she’d still been in college, Meiyan had followed stories of the Nansha Crisis with a bit too much interest – at least, that’s what she assumed, as the next month her social credit rating had dropped by 20 points. She’d been mortified – the score, tied to her government ID, appeared at the top of every social media profile she had (which, of course, were all registered using the same ID). Her boyfriend at the time, who was applying for membership in the Chinese Communist Party, had broken up with her over it.

“Sorry,” he’d said, “but it’s so difficult to get in, I can’t take any chances.” Party membership was, after all, the only sure-fire way to move up through the ranks, no matter what career you chose.

Looking back, Meiyan still kicked herself over it. She’d been young and careless, and clicked on one too many overseas websites hosting conspiracy theories. What really did the damage, Meiyan thought, was probably not her vague sense that the media narrative – that a Filipino patrol ship had attacked a Chinese fishing vessel – didn’t hold water. Plenty of her friends at the time had openly repeated rumors that the fishing boat had in fact sought out the conflict, to provide an impetus for the Chinese takeover of the other Philippine-held features. In fact, many people had been supportive of the move, praising the fishing captain for his bravery and patriotism. About time we got our stolen land back, many said. The freeze on the disputes, reached at an ASEAN meeting in 2020, had never been popular in China.

Plus, the whole thing had ended well, viewed from hindsight. At the time, there’d been a lot of bluster and talk of economic sanctions – and she remembered having a hard time finding a job after graduating thanks to the lingering recession (and, she though sourly, that stupid social credit rating). But ultimately China had gotten what it wanted – it had occupied a few more reefs after some minor skirmishes, and the Philippines had more or less accepted the move. Not that Manila had had much choice, she thought, with a flare of pride – facing the mighty Chinese Navy, and the threat of a trade stoppage from the 14 countries that had signed the Silk Road Economic Agreement with China, the Philippines really wasn’t up to facing off against China in a conflict — even with backing from the United States.

Thinking that China might have purposefully started the Nansha Crisis wasn’t what set Meiyan apart. No, what had damaged her social credit rating had to have been her interest in the wild theory that President Xi Jinping himself had orchestrated the event in order to stay in power. Of course he couldn’t be expected to step down in 2022, when China was facing a potential war with the United States – although the U.S. showed little inclination of stepping in, being absorbed at the time with the war in Syria.

Eight years later, in 2030, Xi was still China’s Core Leader.

The timing had all seemed a bit too convenient to Meiyan’s younger self, and she’d read all the rumors – and taken the hit for it. Even today, after eight years of avoiding any political controversy online (and un-friending those who didn’t), her score was still five points lower than the peers she was competing with – for jobs or for desirable boyfriends.

Her smartwatch vibrated again, but Meiyan sighed and avoided the temptation to look this time. She settled back into her train seat, wishing they hadn’t upgraded the route to her hometown to an ultra-high-speed train. She was going to get home far too soon.

At least there was one thing to look forward to: this year’s CCTV Spring Festival Gala would include a special greeting from Mars, where five Chinese taikonauts had landed a few days earlier. A thought occurred: maybe sharing her excitement and pride over the landing on Wechat and Tencent yet again would help make up another point on her social credit rating.

With that, she turned back to her watch.

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Imagining 2030: Looking Back at President Trump

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

Peter Apps is Reuters global defence correspondent. He is currently on sabbatical as executive director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century (PS21).


It is a truth universally acknowledged that time flies faster as you get older. Even now in 2030, however, it’s hard to comprehend that it’s already more than a decade since President Donald Trump — by far the most idiosyncratic president in recent American history — left the White House following his first, only and still phenomenally divisive term in office.

With hindsight, historians and political scientists say his narrow victory in 2016 should not have been as unexpected as it seemed at the time. Trump wasn’t just taking advantage of the inevitable turn of the political cycle after eight years of Obama, he was also riding a much broader trend of anti-establishment feeling. He had been the Republican front runner for more than half a year before even that party’s establishment accepted what he was.

The Democrats, for their part, try to avoid talking about the 2016 election. The increasingly brutal fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders ran all the way to the convention, sapping enthusiasm on both sides. When it came to the general election, the turnout just wasn’t there.

For the rest of the world, the wave of shock and popular ridicule verging on revulsion that greeted the Trump victory was almost the polar opposite of the reaction to Obama’s eight years earlier. The new president found it almost impossible to get an invitation to any other capital at all. Indeed, it looked as if a half a dozen or more liberal global leaders would boycott his first G20, but in the end most of them ultimately made it.

After his first never-to-be-forgotten major foreign trip to Japan, Trump largely avoided other ventures abroad.

Whether Trump himself ever expected to win is still hotly debated. Only after the election did he begin to show any serious efforts towards considering who would receive some of the top presidential appointments. Again, the ideological balance of his White House sometimes seemed to shift wildly unpredictably. Initially, there was widespread speculation he would appoint neoconservative John Bolton as his Secretary of State — indeed, the former Bush-era ambassador still clearly believes he had been offered the job.

Then, much to everyone’s surprise, came the announcement that Trump had asked John Kerry to remain for another two years. Kerry lasted barely 3 months, resigning in a hugely public spectacle after what he called the “most egregiously racist speech by the president too far.”

By the end of the first year, both critics and supporters were describing the Trump presidency “as much spectacle as substance”, although there was considerable disagreement on whether or not that was a good thing.

The man himself, some insiders complained, never showed much enthusiasm for governing. “We already have a wall to keep Mexicans out,” he announced in his first major post-inauguration comments on migration. “All we need to do is electrify it. And I mean really electrify it.” The comments prompted outrage — but nothing had actually been done before the 2018 midterms which were swept by the Democrats, who took control of both the House and Senate and made it even more difficult for the White House to push what agenda it had forward.

The same was true of his talk of banning Muslims from entering the U.S. Barriers to entry for those with joint Iranian nationality or recent travel experience to conflict affected countries were already on the rise before Trump’s unexpected victory. They would be tightened, albeit less widely than many had expected.

The optics of Trump rhetoric in the Middle East were predictably catastrophic. The expected propaganda victory for the jihadists, however, was less than many had feared — in part because his perceived xenophobia received  such a rigorous response from so many other quarters. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular was so irritated by the U.S. president, he chose to ignore the issues of Iran altogether in his 2017 UN General Assembly address, instead castigating Trump for using rhetoric against Muslims that the Israeli leader compared to that of the Nazis.

On the economic front, Trump was noticeably less controversial. It was noted, however, that his administration appeared unusually focused on what would normally have been perceived as relatively minor real estate-related legislation.

Compared to 2016, however, his 2020 campaign seemed lacking in energy and some wondered whether he really wanted the role. That was, inevitably, widespread speculation Hillary Clinton might run again, but she ultimately chose not to.

As we move into 2030, however, the 83-year-old Clinton is now finally back residing in the White House — but now, of course, as the mother of the president.

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Imagining 2030: Taking the Trans-Siberian to Moscow

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

Mark Galeotti is Professor of Global Affairs at New York University and a Visiting Fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.


The Trans-Siberian Express isn’t just a train, it’s a metaphor. Once, a metaphor for the Tsarist empire’s determination to claim Siberia and the Russian Far East. And now? The double-headed eagle proudly glitters on the bullet-nose of the new, high-speed trains, and the conductors on the Moskovskaya strelka, the ‘Moscow Arrow,’ wear uniforms derived from those of their imperial forebears. But the CRH-49 locomotives are a Chinese design, built in the now Chinese-owned Uralvagonzavod works with a loan from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, running along a new track built by a Russo-Chinese consortium, and largely by Uighur labourers.

That said, the proud and pricklish days when Moscow thought it could pivot east yet remain the ‘elder brother’ are long gone. When Putin’s stroke delivered power into the laps of kleptocrats who had never had any real enthusiasm for his imperial project, they eagerly looked to rebuild relations in Asia and the West alike. This was just the last hurrah of Russian ‘wild capitalism’—lenders were too canny, opportunities elsewhere were more appealing, and the oligarchs and bureaucrat-entrepreneurs behind President Shuvalov’s figurehead government soon fell to feuding amongst themselves.

It is telling that the new Trans-Siberian bypasses the old Russian imperial stronghold of Vladivostok. Instead the line from Beijing crosses the border at Zabaikalsk. There travellers from deeper in the Russian Far East who have taken the old Trans-Sib and then changed trains again, can finally relax into the new carriages which will whisk them to Moscow in just four days. The Russian flag flies over Zabaikalsk station, and Russian border guards walk down the train, scanning passports and fingerprints with their cloud-linked terminals, but the town outside is a monument to Chinese money and Chinese migration.

The liberal Preobrazhensky government that picked up the pieces after the collapse of Shuvalov’s self-serving regime has made a virtue of bowing to necessity. Moscow could afford neither to subsidise nor to neglect an under-capitalised, under-populated east. Free Economic Zones and Preferential Residence Zones have helped address both needs. With climate change opening up new regions to agriculture, albeit neither quickly nor easily, the so-called ‘Greening of Siberia’ depends on labour and investment. While the nationalists continue to grumble about the ‘yellowing of Russia,’ no one east of the Urals is going to deny China’s capacity to supply both.

On the evening of the second day out of Zabaikalsk, the train pulls into Novosibirsk. Its Akademgorodok university town is now one of the most dynamic innovation incubator hubs in Eurasia, and suddenly the complexion of the train changes, Chinese students, scientists and businesspeople boil out of the station to the waiting ranks of taxis and busses ready to take them to hotels, universities and meetings, to be replaced by Russians heading west.

Just past Omsk, the train acquires two unexpected and unsettling shadows, Ka-78 helicopter gunships flitting back and forth along the track. Pilots on a training exercise, or a precaution against terrorists infiltrating across the Kazakh border? There haven’t been any attacks on the line since the bomb that very nearly derailed the Arrow’s sister train, the Eastern Dawn, two years ago. That was claimed by the Martyrs’ Army of the Central Asian Caliphate, a group hitherto-unknown and, indeed, suspiciously unknown since. The general assumption was that, rather than a pyrotechnic by-product of the messy insurgency in Kazakhstan, this might have been a warning by Astana that Moscow should avoid meddling in its affairs.

Those passengers who recall that Patriarch Konstantin only last week called on the Kremlin to protect Russian-speakers and Orthodox Christians across the border keep their thoughts to themselves and quietly note with relief that those pods and canisters clustered on the gunships’ stub wings do look very business-like.

A night and a day later, the Arrow reaches Kazan, capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, and another stop that Beijing has added to the route. Passengers looking to make a quick exit are disappointed, though. The station is closed for half an hour, blocked off by police officers, bug-eyed in their augmented-awareness goggles. High above, hiss Federal Security Service quad-copter drones, their cameras capturing faces for the image recognition software engines back at headquarters to crunch.

Then suddenly an arrow-head of police motorbikes, and a thunder of run-flat tyres as a dozen black limousines and vans streak past. A phalanx of police cars, and as quickly the square and the station are opened.

President Preobrazhensky is visiting for what is meant to be one of the final stops on his exhausting mission to negotiate a revised constitutional basis for the Russian Federation. Tatarstan, as one of the richest republics, is making a point. Tatar President Bakayev is welcoming Preobrazhensky lavishly, hospitably, even opulently—but with all the trappings of a foreign guest rather than his own head of state. The talks are likely to be difficult.

But no matter, the Trans-Siberian’s timetable is a relentless one. Passengers finally unleashed by security scurry to the train; a moment of chaos that quickly resolves itself, the whistles blow and the station master salutes (no other train gets the same treatment, but there is a tradition to be observed) and the Arrow slides out of Kazan, on the last leg of its journey.

Through Cheboksary, Nizhny Novgorod, Vladimir, the train nears the capital. In its near-thousand year history, Moscow has been burned, conquered, shelled and rebuilt. The speculative property bubble that followed Putin’s fall and whose bursting helped bring Shuvalov down has left the city ringed by the rusting skeletons of mikrorayon apartment suburbs and prestige orbital retail parks for which there was neither real money nor real demand. Yet once through what Prime Minister Navalny called Moscow’s ‘crown of thorns,’ the signs of renewed prosperity are evident, coexisting with its rich history. The Stalinist ‘Seven Sisters’ still spike their towers into the skies alongside the Bladerunner futurism of the ‘Moscow-Siti’ financial centre. But now a more sympathetic modernisation is the fashion, traditional buildings gutted and restored as cloud-connected ‘smarpartments,’ roofs once pitched to shed snow now glittering with solar panels.

Yaroslavsky Station still has its early twentieth-century charm, and the crowds converging on the underground travelator to Krasnoselskaya metro remind you that Moscow is a metropolis of 12 million souls. But step outside, past the serried stops for the computerised trolley busses that—along with swingeing congestion charges—have helped tame the city’s notorious traffic, and it feels like a calmer, less demanding city.

The Moskovsky Univermag department store over the road exemplifies the way the new government’s commitment to a Nordic-style social economy and consequent luxury taxes went with the grain of the public backlash against the get-rich-quick Shuvalov years. It morphed from a low-rent collection of cheap shops to, briefly, a temple to conspicuous consumption, where platinum Yota cellphones nestled on acres of black velvet. Now, it is a stronghold of the ‘novy gipster’—“new hipster”—movement, a constellation of coffices, coworking spaces, workshops and boutiques for everything from bespoke data mining to craft beer.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Russia has finally shed its age-old imperial dreams that locked it into cycles of conquest abroad fuelled by oppression at home, followed by crisis, collapse and cultural cannibalism.

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

Imagining 2030: Living with Pandemic

virus-163471_960_720A printer-friendly version is available here.

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

Christine Nikol works in FX trading in London and New York and has a background in politics, journalism and management consulting.


Date of first infection?” asks the nurse, not looking up from his electronic chart.

May 2026” I answer, and he taps the screen. He rummages through his trolley, finds a pack of pills with a green cover and hands it to me without saying a word: he can tell from my chart I know what to do — I’ve taken AniFlu before.

While I swallow the pills, the nurse pulls an iTrack from his hip holster and holds the device against my shoulder. The chip under my skin blinks green a few times, sending him my data.

It’s been five years since the outbreak of Vyborg Flu – a new flu so serious it kills the frail in a matter of weeks and debilitates the healthy for months. 20% of the infected die if they aren’t administered a treatment. No government was able to produce enough vaccines to inoculate everyone, and the virus keeps mutating. Eventually, they gave up on large-scale vaccination and focused on coming out with the right cures.  Now the labs are able to crank out enough of the latest AniFlu to cover most new infections: the key is getting it to people who’ve been exposed in time.

My chip flashes red: “Four people” says the nurse, “that’s a lot”. The data is right. I’ve been within one meter of four people since my chip detected this latest infection: my sister, a date and a delivery man. Everyone uses drones for deliveries, but AmazDrone messed up the delivery of a confidential work document and my law firm had dispatched a rare human courier so I’d sign a deposition in time. Limiting human contact is a Key Health Objective at Caswell, Xia & Co: the office even uses the latest iHolo to project a hologram of the senior partner from New York. Country quarantines were lifted last year, but international travel for business purposes is still banned. On the bright side, CO2 emissions have never been lower.

The nurse puts on a new pair of gloves and asks me to open wide: he has to check that I’ve swallowed the cure and log it in iHealth. “Aaaaah” I groan, as he moves my tongue from right to left. “Right. Good to go” he says, “Remember to call your exposures,” he reminds me. “That might be awkward” I say under my breath: the Skype dates with Albert had been promising, but there was no chemistry when we met in person and I was hoping to avoid him. But I know the moment my iTrack data came through to the nurse, the RingPo was dispatched to find the four people I’d exposed and make them take the AniFlu. It was only polite to give them a head’s up.

Yes, I’ll let them know” I reply. The nurse ticks a box on his screen.

The RingPo are the medical police that execute Europe’s Ring Prophylaxis strategy. Identify the infected, trace who was exposed, track them down and administer the cure so the virus doesn’t spread. It’s what they did when Ebola struck in 2015, but back then they had to figure out your exposures manually and interview the sick, who could barely tell one day from the next, and then call and knock on doors to find everyone. They tried that when Vybord began, but governments were quickly overwhelmed and peoples’ memories couldn’t be trusted. Tech firms tried using social media and complex algorithms to do the job, but tracking every person-to-person contact was just too difficult. That’s when the chips came in: now any time you come within coughing distance of another chip, its owner and the date are logged. If you get sick, information on each person you exposed during your contagious period is given to the RingPo.

Apple and Google developed the process together, but even though Apple gave iTrack away for free, its trillion dollar Health & Technology division was taken over by the US government and the WHO. It’s not unprecedented: Merck was nationalized during World War I. Google somehow stayed private, with a “public-private partnership” to support the RingPo.

As I leave the clinic I start feeling drowsy: the pills work fast. I exit through the corner of the old Harvey Nichols store that’s been converted to a hospital. There’s no need or desire for physical stores anymore. Knightsbridge is empty except for a few people waiting outside the clinic and the drones buzzing away above. I check my nose for any bleeding, but it hasn’t started yet. I know I won’t sleep well for weeks. Since I’m not too drowsy to speak yet, I pull out my phone to call my exposures and decide to start with my sister. She’ll be upset because she’s pregnant, which makes her a much higher risk if she gets sick.

I’m lucky. I’m a healthy 37 year old, I’m not pregnant and I was able to freeze my eggs after they managed to develop gene therapy that gives embryos immunity against Vyborg. It cost me 40,000GBP, but at least my hypothetical child won’t need a chip in her arm. I’d like a little girl: the EU made maternity and paternity leaves mandatory to help the reproduction effort and women now make up a slim majority at the head of universities and businesses. Too bad it took an epidemic to put the policy in place. But since women like me are still scared of getting pregnant as long as the flu rages, governments decided there can’t be any other deterrents to rebuilding the population. It’s hard enough to create a relationship when human interaction is discouraged.

Maybe when the RingPo have finished with him, I should try again with Albert.

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

Showcasing PS21’s “Imagining 2030” Series


At the start of the year, the Project for the Study of the 21st Century [PS21] began its creative writing series “Imagining 2030”. These pieces explore various potential worlds and fields as they might exist 14 years in the future. They are written by PS21 Global Fellows and other experts and aim to give PS21 another tool for exploring the major trends of an increasingly fascinating era.

Reading the pieces so far has been a really fascinating experience. All are very creative and we hope they will inspire both more examples, as well as new thinking about the future. Some are optimistic, some rather dystopian. Needless to say, we are very grateful to all the writers so far — as well as PS21 editor Tatianna Duran for pulling all of this together.

Want to write one? E-mail

A reminder that you can check out our latest and upcoming events here, including some great discussions in New York City and London. More in Washington DC to follow shortly.

Below are the pieces published so far

US Elections and Technology– “Thanks for What You Do”

PS21 Global Fellow and US Democratic political strategist Frank Spring imagines the future of political campaigning in a world where data on political views and personal product tastes can lead to some uncomfortably well-focused political advertising and outreach.

Social Media and Violence — New Forms of Protest

As “Occupy — The Musical” opens in London’s West End, a rising wealth gap and new forms of technology are producing new forms of unrest, policing and social control. Tim Hardy, activist and PS21 Global Fellow, sketches out what might happen next.

A New Botany Bay? Deportation and Terror

As Europe struggles to manage a wave of new militant attacks, former Royal Navy Commodore and PS21 International Advisor Philip Thicknesse imagines Britain taking some disconcerting steps.

Shifting Power Structures, Changing Geopolitics

An isolationist US, a collapsing European Union? US Naval war College professor and PS21 International Advisor Nikolas Gvosdev imagines the geopolitics of 2030.

Changing Social Media in China

CCTV journalist and PS21 Global Fellow Martina Fuchs sketches out the future media scene in smog-bound China that has now supplanted the United States as the world’s largest economy.

Imagining 2030 — A Walk through Heathrow

In the first of PS21’s “Imagining 2030” series, executive director Peter Apps imagines a walk through London’s preeminent airport in the not so distant future.



Imagining 2030: Elections and Tech — “Thanks For All You Do”

black-and-white-person-woman-nightA printer-friendly version is available here.

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

Frank Spring is the Political Affairs Director for the Truman National Security Project and is a PS21 Global Fellow. 

3.12pm: hey. college buddy of mine might join us this evening if that’s ok.

3.16pm: more the merrier

3.17pm: great. you’ll like her.


Sophie blew out the office door, anxiously surveying the road, left ring finger pressing her PalmPad to call a cab. She should have done this before she left but she got caught up and now it was rush hour and they’d all be taken – ah, no, thank god. Here was one now, sleek, almost silent, driving up the office park’s driveway.

“Hi there!” Smiling woman’s face on the screen as Sophie got in. “You wanna drive?”

“No,” Sophie exhaled, appending weakly, “thank you.”

“No problem! Where to?” said the screen, as the steering column gently slid into the firewall.

Sophie tapped her PalmPad.

“Got it! We’ll be there in fourteen minutes!” Sophie sat back as the screen went dark and the cab accelerated.

“Evenin’, Sophia.” From the cab’s speakers, deep voice with a country western twang. The voice made her want to listen – she loved Westerns, and this was straight out of Deadwood – but it called her ‘Sophia’, so whoever was trying to sell her something didn’t know her very well. She found the volume control. “This is important. The values we cherish are under att…”


5:41pm: sorry soph but i’m running late. hope it won’t be more than 20m. so sorry.

5:42pm: no problem. think i can entertain myself in a bar.

5:43pm: i know you can. my friend’s already there. this is the most embarrassing pic of her i have.


Out of the cab, the smiling woman’s benediction “Thanks! Have a great weekend!” in her ears, the bar in sight.

“Hey, Sophie.”

This from a gently smiling man standing in front of the plexiglass wall of a bus stop. No, he was on the plexiglass wall of a bus stop. Still smiling, leaning in as if to tell a secret.

“There’s something you don’t know about”, naming one of the taller of the presidential candidates currently battling it out. “He’s not with us on preventing gun violence. In fact – well, you’re not gonna like it. I sure didn’t.”

She felt a little ridiculous, standing there listening to a bus stop’s pitch, but this mattered. She waited as the bus stop told her how the tall candidate was against what they believed in, and then held up his PalmPad.

“We can fight back. Chip in $6 – that’s how much most people pitch in at first – and send him a message about how committed we are to stopping gun violence and saving lives. It’s this easy.”

Holding up his PalmPad, flexing his left middle finger, the device buzzing happily. Her own PalmPad buzzed. Sure, why not? She flexed her middle finger, felt the grateful buzzing response. The man on the bus stop smiled.

“Wonderful. Enjoy your weekend, and thanks for all you do!”


The bar. Dim. Hum of conversation. There she was.


“You’re Sophie.”

Hands shaken, drink ordered, Diana putting away a small screen, looking up.

“How was your day?”

“I gave money to a bus stop.”

Diana, huge smile.

“What was the issue?”

“Gun violence.”

“Good for you.”

“It was weird,” Sophie said.

“Yeah, they kind of are, aren’t they?”

“Well, it called me ‘Sophie’. How did it know it was me?”

“It picked up your PalmPad, read your data. Have you ever signed a petition about gun violence?”

Sophie thought back. Social media posts, calls to action forwarded to her network. An angry, futile exchange in the comments section.

“That’d do it,” Diana said.

“Those ads usually call me ‘Sophia’.”

“But your friends call you Sophie? Then it was definitely social media; there’s a tool that searches for – what the hell do you call them, not abbreviations, pet names?”


“Sure – that searches for them on people’s public posts mentioning you.”

“Or my text chats?”

“Not unless they’re doing it illegally. Any text chats after 2024 can’t be mined for commercial data.”

“I’m sorry, Diana. What do you do?”

Small smile. Self-deprecating, or maybe just avoidant.
“I work in data.”

“For a marketing company, or…?”

Leaning in.

“For” the happy presidential candidate.

“Oh, wow,” Sophie said, “I love her!”

“Thank god!” Diana, leaning back. “Not everyone reacts like that.”

They talk about how great the happy candidate is, how she really is like that.


6.28pm: sorry ladies i swear i’ll be over there in no time

6.32pm: don’t rush, i like her better than you anyway

6.33pm: tough but fair


“I think I was about to hear one of the other guy’s ads in the cab over here.”

“What did it say?”

“I don’t know, I turned it down. ‘Our values are under attack’, something.”

“Why are they targeting you? Did they get your name right?”

“Called me ‘Sophia’.”

“What kind of voice?”

“Kind of a cowboy one.”

“You like Westerns? When did you last watch one?”

“Last night. I watched Tombstone, because it’s awesome.”

“’I’m your huckleberry.’”


“What did they go after you for? I mean, you’re registered –“


Diana in mock celebration.

“I found one! I found one!”


Diana up to get another round.

“Excuse me?”

Sophie turned to the smiling young woman.

“Hi! I’m Clarissa. I think you and I might be neighbors? I live near” a pleasant street, modest homes, nice apartments. Sophie nodded – sure, not exactly neighbors, but close enough.

“So, I’m a volunteer for” the happy candidate “and there’s a really important election coming up and I wanted to ask if you support” the happy candidate “too?”

Sophie, agog, but smiling, nodding, sure, happy candidate all the way. Clarissa with a huge smile.

“Great! Listen, I am so glad you’re with us. Listen, we have a wonderful team working to get her elected – could you come help us out, say, this Sunday morning at 11am?”

Sophie was dimly aware that Diana had returned, putting their drinks down, beaming at both of them. “Please don’t let me interrupt.”

Clarissa smiling, nodding back to Sophie. “So, can we count on you to join us at 11am this Sunday?”

Sophie, sure why not. “Sure, I can do that.”

Clarissa. “That’s wonderful! Thank you so much. I’ll send you a text chat to remind you and…”

Sophie’s PalmPad buzzed.

“…can you just….?” Clarissa looking at the PalmPad, watching Sophie press down with her finger and confirm Sunday at 11am on her calendar.

“Great!” Clarissa turned to Diana. “I’m sorry, I’m Clarissa, I’m –“

“I’m Diana. I work for the campaign. Great job. Thanks for all you do!”

Smiles, goodbyes, Clarissa rejoining her friends.

Sophie shook her head. “How…?”

“Your data must have gotten you tagged as a potential strong supporter. Some of our vols have a PalmPad app that alerts them when an un-IDed target voter is nearby. They get a picture from your social media and a script sent to them, and then, well –“


“Yeah. She made a great volunteer ask.”

“Evidently. I wonder what I’ll be doing with them.”

“Oh, you’ll canvass. Knock on doors.”

“What? Even with all this tech –“

“Still the most effective way to get out the vote.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Not at all. Thanks for all you do!”


6.51pm: finally out of here. there in ten. so sorry.

6.53pm: it’s okay because you’re coming canvassing on sunday morning

6.57pm: ok

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

Imagining 2030: New Forms of Protest


A printer-friendly version is available here.

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

Tim Hardy is a writer, facilitator and sometime activist with a special interest in the political and cultural consequences of new technology. He is a PS21 Global Fellow. 

A doorway opens to my left and with the certainty that comes in the state of flow, I take it, catching a barely perceptible smile from the man who held it open and begins sliding it closed as I tear through. I feel the shift, like the sensation of breaking through a curtain of water as the flock coalesces around my initiative. I am now in the lead.

To follow is easy, the confidence to take the initiative when danger looms comes with experience. An unlucky first run will be your last.

I am rushing through a corridor, a service passage for the parallel arcade, functionally grey and dim. Is this just an act of spontaneous solidarity or is my unknown assistant a silent watcher? I do not even have time to consider if this is a trap. Another figure at the end of the corridor is slowly opening a door for me as I hammer closer and I burst into the light without time for thanks. I am between police lines now.

A fierce battle rages to my right. A former department store, now a private home, is obscured in clouds of tear gas. Truncheons loom in the fog, raised high more in symbolic threat than from genuine intent while dissent is silenced methodically in the obscure depths of the cloud by drone. I rush past, inexorably drawn towards what is redundantly still a restricted protest zone. All protest is illegal now which is why – legally – I am merely running. I catch other runners in my peripheral vision bursting from other doorways, from the main arcade, from a parallel street, from a shop. Our formation is loose, our unity algorithmic.

When the lead runner is taken out and dominance shifts automatically to another, it rips through you as a change in the texture of the patterns as subtle and distinct as the switch from mud to tarmac or from uphill to down. As an experienced runner, you shift speed and direction almost without thought, always keeping time to the pattern the haptics beat out. Survive long enough you come to recognise individual running signatures. I do not need to see her confident long-legged stride to know it is Jaime.

She passes behind a mobile billboard for Occupy the Musical (“Now in Its Tenth Triumphant Year!“) and the lead shifts. I never see her again. The fear of what that shift might signify can cut through even the deepest running trance but something in the growing desperation of today’s run keeps the fear pushed down. I adjust my rhythm to the new lead.

We’re strictly nonhierarchical of course. We have no fixed leaders, no explicit orders, no formal organisation.

I run. We do not call it protest because protest is illegal. Others prefer to fight. Others build defenses. Others engage is acts subtler still. When our activities overlap like today our combined acts more closely resemble the heroic precedent of the long proscribed antiwar, environmental, anti-austerity and pro-democracy mass protest movements of the last century and first decade of this but our movement of movements is even less tangible.

Individuals chose the algorithms that suit their temperaments. Greater algorithms determine when these come into play.

We are dark mesh. The public networks have been under total state control for close to a decade. The Internet Licensing Fee gives you access to all-you-can-eat, 247365 light entertainment, propaganda and drone-to-door impulse consumption. Our networks are ad hoc, encrypted and deniable.

The equipment that allows us to join in what in earlier iteration might have been called a smart mob is off-the-shelf, consumer fitness trackers with haptic feedback. Strapped to wrists or ankles or thighs and meshed, they allow us to feel the movement and direction of the other runners. Each of us makes constant, tiny course corrections based on our position relative to the runners on either side: out of these constant corrections, a pattern emerges with one runner setting the general direction and the pace until another takes the lead.

There is no centre of gravity on which the state can focus its force. There is no weak spot. The only way to stop us is to stop us all, one by one.

A police for every citizen! An impossible dream even for the totalitarians who let democracy die to fight terror and created the nightmare in which we run.

The lead shifts again. The pace increases. There are sirens and clouds of smoke and gas and screams and shouts and the sound of breaking glass. I run harder.

Those who design the algorithms are unknown. They do not engage in the playful posturing and acts of provocation early hacker groups liked to adopt. They release quietly and regularly without fanfare, without explanation, without notes or manifestos, just the source.

Some even say it is a biological intelligence that guides our moves.

There is despair in the mesh today. Desperation. The flock feels lighter. How many of us are left? I hear the almost gentle whoosh as a police van catches fire in a nearby alleyway and keep running. Is that gunfire? An explosion? This is no ordinary run.

The boards are always full of chatter. Are these algorithms designed or evolutionary? Is there a guiding intelligence to the patterns we carve, the disruption we cause? Are our tactics the results of a strategy or will our purpose merely emerge? There are those who argue that there is no goal, that the path is the way. Running is freedom.

Others, more cynical, suggest that the forces that make the decisions are too far beyond the reach of influence, that we are left with only this, an extreme urban sport like base jumping, a hobby for the angry, the bored, the over-educated, the misfits, the over-empathic, the —.

I do not see the trap. The faraday mesh enfolds me and I fall, physically and electronically blind, suddenly immobilised in a moment of shock that cushions me from the pain of the truncheon blows. I hear but do not feel my arm break. My body high from hours of running does not sense the pain as a boot cracks my ribs. Pulls back. Kicks again.

They say there are those who slow walk with the certainty of common cause, even less visible than us runners, the silent watchers. Stand in a crowd and watch the citizens milling aimlessly under the trigger happy eye of the military police stationed at every junction, at every transport point, by every infrastructure element. Who knows how many of them are with us. How many window shopping calmly under the unsleeping eternal vigilance of the surveillance drones are actually following untrackable cues that carry them into an invisible dance with other shoppers? How many benignly enduring identification by the facial trackers that scan us thousands of times a day and cross-reference us with data from the May database are secretly with us, biding their time patiently, loyally, waiting for the end game signal we all believe will come.

Do they calmly now watch me being beaten in a London street by the police in the middle of a bright afternoon?

As the blows continue, indiscriminate, savagely free, two things enter my mind with a clarity that I register as shocking without being shocked – the unthinkable truth that I may actually die right here right now and the realisation that the cascading disaster movie I glimpsed while running down Regent’s Street just ten minutes before, the full screen demo of the latest must-have audiovisual tech may not have been a film. The police usually keep their violence sheathed at least until night falls. They are acting as if they have nothing to lose. Were those special effects? The blows continue. My mouth is full of blood and teeth. Smoke gathers over Westminster.

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

Imagining 2030: Deportations and Terror

Grand_Jason_-_Falkland_IslandsA printer-friendly version is available here.

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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