Review of Andrew F.
Krepinevich, 7 Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores
War in the 21st Century. New
York: Bantam Dell, 2009. Pp
xvii, 334. ISBN 978-0-553-80539-0.
Andrew Krepinevich, a proponent of "futurism,"
begins by explaining and validating his methodology.
First, he reminds us of military disasters--for example, Pearl Harbor
and the Blitzkrieg inflicted by the Germans in 1940--which could have
been avoided, had futurists' advice been heeded. Then, he offers
us "The Streetfighter State"--a futurist vision he first
published after exploring a possible U.S.-Iranian conflict.
He also draws
attention to the inertia of bureaucratic, often cliquey,
change-resistant military establishments; but he does not explore are
the outcome when futurist views gain overwhelming support. The now
discredited "domino theory," which predicted the inexorable
spread of communism, authenticated wars in Korea and Vietnam, but
bequeathed a strange legacy: defeated North Korea remains a problem;
triumphant Vietnam does not.
The ghost of Vietnam--which haunts Americans today,
just as the
War between the States did a century earlier--appears fleetingly
in this book. There
are only two Vietnam references in the index: pages 17 (blame
falling on politicians) and 18 (delay in training adaptation).
the widening division between the older, reactionary generation of
military futurists (including Krepinevich), and today's
history-conscious thinkers, who more readily espouse crisis avoidance
strategies. Despite their differing philosophies, both groups must address
the same problem, which Krepinevich has clearly defined:
Today the United
States confronts a very different set of enemies--radical Islamists
and hostile nuclear rogue states like North Korea (and prospectively
Iran)--than it did during the Cold War. And China's rise to great
status, which some view as a positive sign, raises eyebrows in the
Pentagon, where Beijing's ongoing military build up is a source of
growing concern. How do these new rivals, who culturally are quite
distinct from the Cold War-era Soviets, see themselves advancing their
agenda? What means will they use to achieve their goals? And when will
they make their move? (13)
The core of the
book--as the title suggests--is the seven deadly scenarios that may
challenge the U.S. government in the next decade, but it is misleading
to say that it "explores war in the 21st
century." Broadly speaking, the
seven scenarios coalesce in the
years 2012 to 2016, and none features the "surprise inherent in war" to
which Krepinevich often refers; each examines a familiar
worry. That said, the author has woven an impressive body of fact and
opinion in each scenario and produced sharp moments of crisis.
The author is a West Point graduate and a Harvard
Ph.D. with twenty-one years of military service. A prominent
academic, journalist, and government adviser, he has recently focused
his thoughts on threat assessment. Consequently, his meticulously detailed scenarios
include credible personalities, careful national mood assessments, and
broader social and economic
influences. Each scenario presents a logical sequence of events--but
are they realistic? And what will we gain from them?
* * *
Scenario 1: The Collapse of Pakistan.
Krepinevich outlines a
process of political and socioeconomic breakdown in Pakistan that
loosens the country's control of its nuclear weapons, which might
then fall into the hands of terrorists who seek to destroy the
United States or one of its allies. He sensibly concludes that, were this to
occur, a U.N.-led force should intervene to secure the
Scenario 2: War Comes to America.
Krepinevich offers a miscellany of science, opinions, possibilities,
fears, and panics which lead us to the blinding flashes of nuclear
bombs; and then further
from several directions: all part of a seemingly Muslim-inspired "Wall
of Fire." The scenario is confusing rather than convincing. It is a
daunting mix of quotations, bits of science, buzzword block titles,
and ubiquitous (foreign power-assisted?) Islamic terrorists. The
painstaking detail only adds to the confusion--but then, war is confusing.
Scenario 3: Pandemic.
In this scenario, Krepinevich
a view of humanity seldom seen outside a Hollywood disaster movie:
viruses everywhere; mass panic; overwhelmed medical services; and,
finally, tens of thousands of deaths, as desperately determined hordes
of the world's poor batter against America's hurriedly slammed doors.
While I cannot comment competently on the medical science, I
do question the behavioral aspect of this scenario.
Scenario 4: Armageddon: The Assault on Israel.
Delicate crafting was required here to produce a scenario that would
be acceptable to Americans and plausible to others. Instead, the author
presents half-truths that undermine his credibility. Consider his
description of the Israel-Lebanon conflict in 2006:
During the span of little more than a month Hezbollah fired some 4000
rockets of various types into Israel. Of them, over 900 rockets hit
near or on buildings,
civilian infrastructure, and industrial plants. The ferocity of the
attack, which averaged some 130 rockets per day, far exceeded anything
suffered by Israel up to that time…. Some 2000 homes were destroyed,
more than fifty Israelis died, with several thousand being injured….
Over 25% of the 114 IDF personnel killed were tank crew-men; out of
the 400 tanks involved in the fighting in Southern Lebanon 48 were hit
and 40 damaged (129-30).
No mention here of the almost total
destruction of southern
Lebanon by Israeli aircraft and artillery; of the more than 1000 men,
women, and children killed; or of the legacy of dangerous munitions that
Israel's bombing left behind. Krepinevich
disregards, too, the anger this lethal destruction provoked in the
region--particularly in Turkey, which has the second largest army in
Furthermore, Krepinevich sees
America's bête noire, Iran, behind every sinister action. He
fails to appreciate how the disproportionate casualties and
the whole of Islam. At present, America and its allies are training
citizen armies and police forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The
loyalty of these forces is not guaranteed; a serious incident in
Israel could provoke widespread revolt in both countries, akin to the
Indian Mutiny of 1857, even without Iranian influence.
Scenario 5: China's "Assassin's Mace."
Krepinevich reviews Chinese history, stressing negative outcomes in
order to fashion a malevolent image--even, perhaps, an "evil" one.
For example, he
"To encourage U.S. consumption--and the purchase of Chinese
goods--Beijing was, for the longest time, willing to allow the United
States to run up huge annual trade deficits, at one point exceeding
$300 billion" (175). He implies that Beijing has been negligent, but
common sense puts the blame on Washington. The author then predicts
the embarrassing consequences of this trade imbalance as interest
rates rise; concomitant tensions both within China and externally;
and, finally, the resultant battle of wills between China (on one
side) and the United States and Japan (on the other) over the status of
Scenario 6: Just Not-on-Time: The War on the Global Economy.
devotes some thirty pages to the adverse impact on America, if
terrorists were to "[turn] off the taps" of oil, international trade, energy,
etc. all at once. The gloomy and rather paranoid vision of the future
offered here strains both credulity and the notional resources of
Scenario 7: Who Lost Iraq?
Here Krepinevich foresees the final withdrawal of the U.S.-led
coalition from Iraq between 2012 and 2014. Chaos ensues as Iraq
fragments into warring factions and Americans seek to assign blame for
a war which cost so much money and so many lives, but achieved so
Angst (reminiscent of the aftermath of
the Vietnam War) weakens America's resolve. To prevent war cascading out of Iraq, Russia and China offer to assume
responsibility for stabilizing the Middle East. In 2015, the U.N. and
a now-powerless U.S. government accept this proposal.
* * *
writes clearly and succinctly, placing individual topics within
finite sub-headed text blocks, grouped into an introduction ("A
Glimpse of the Future"), the
scenario chapters, and a conclusion ("Lighting the Path Ahead"). The
book is not a smooth read: the reader has to absorb successive,
often unrelated information blocks, with minimal guidance from the
author. It would have helped had he prefaced each chapter with a
"road map" rather than a quotation. (The geographical maps
at the front of the book are useful.)
In his final chapter,
Krepinevich offers over thirty pages of advice, both broad ranging
and specific, on a diversity of subjects including asset evaluation,
strategy update, paths to the future, operational concepts, and
training, to name a few. A broad ranging example: "Strategy also involves
'identifying or creating asymmetric advantages in competition in
competitive situations that can then be exploited to help one
achieve one's ultimate objective, despite the active, opposing
efforts of one's adversaries or competitors to achieve theirs'"
(290); a specific example: "To begin, the President and the senior defense
department civilian and military leaders must be convinced of the
need for strategic planning" (294).
These two quotations show the
limitations of Krepinevich's all-embracing, scatter-gun advice.
While his advice is often sensible and scenario-based,
Krepinevich does not emphasize his basic assumptions. Basic assumptions
are vitally important. If they are wrong, strategy is
inept. For example, America assumed it was fighting communism in Vietnam, but
the issue was far more complex, as Truong Tran, a former South Vietnamese draftee, explained:
When the United States
decided to land foot soldiers in Vietnam, with all good will, it put
the South Vietnamese at a disadvantage. The North was able to mobilize
southerners as well as northerners to fight what they called the
American invasion. All our history has taught children that
you have to be courageous enough to fight foreign aggressors. We could
not tell our brothers and sisters that we were fighting for ourselves
as long as American soldiers were in our country fighting for us. We
said that we were fighting to save the country from Communism, but
that was too abstract and people could say that at least Communism was
What drives the
anti-U.S. bomb makers in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is it religion, culture,
or simply a desire to eject an invader? Why were the Twin Towers
attacked on 9/11? Was it because everyone hated America itself (as
many Americans opine) or America's unpopular policies in the Middle
East (the view of many outsiders)?
leaps confidently from scenarios to advice without first reviewing
his scenarios and clarifying his key assumptions.
Government is already addressing some of the challenges evoked by
Krepinevich. For example, the Obama administration has sought to
retire the term "war on terror" and others in the West speak of a
clash of ideologies: "The global disorder is what it has always
been: one of conflict over interest and values. It may be peaceful or
violent, but it will always involve struggle."
To reduce tensions,
might have sought ways to stifle that clash. A host of (mostly
intractable) factors contributes to terrorist motivation, but we can
address specific Islamic grievances. We might hasten orderly
withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and strive harder to resolve the
situation within Israel's borders. With regard to the latter, the
2008 Nobel Peace Laureate and former President of Finland, Martti
Ahtisaari, recently reiterated the European view: "We have to help
them (the Israelis and the Palestinians) before they destroy each
other; the present situation in Israel destabilises the whole region."
produced a valuable book which deserves the attention of a wide audience.
Most importantly, he has exposed worrying "thought strands,"
which, if widely espoused by the military establishment, could lead
America and its allies into an ever-expanding vortex of conflict,
centered on either (or both) of two small countries: Israel (population
less than 10 million) and Taiwan (population less than 25 million). We
can only hope that, before this happens, the ghost of Vietnam rises up
and saves us.