The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war
Just another morning at a corporation playing a war game. While jets are roaring overhead, the lighting starts to dim. The tension rises. The hotline rings. After bombing Taipei, the Chinese army has launched an amphibious assault on Taiwan. The first vehicles are already on Taiwanese beaches. Taiwanese troops are ready to defend their independence while international tensions mount. The US, Japan, and other allies have all promised their support. But will they truly join the fight? Financial markets are on the brink of collapse as the China-Taiwan conflict will have major implications for the global economy. Citizens try to buy emergency supplies en masse. It is up to the various teams of the company to come up with solutions minimizing the impact of the conflict on the business and to, however counterintuitive, spot the opportunities a war can present. “We need to protect and secure our assets!” “Repatriate our personnel!” “Lower our export dependence!” The speed with which the situation escalated took everybody by surprise. Facing tremendous pressure, the teams try to make the right strategic choices.
A distant memory, right?
Strategy and war have always been interwoven. As a strategist, and international relations graduate, I know the classics. Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Carl Von Clausewitz. All generals that fathered influential political theories. Books on the history of strategy always start with a chapter on military strategy as the foundation for later schools of strategy. Since the dawn of man war has been an element in effective strategy execution. And it still is. Whether it is Vladimir Putin’s aspirations of a Great Russian Empire or African warlords. And although war nowadays might manifest itself in many new forms (cyber warfare, election interference, economic sanctions) different from the battlefields of old, their disruptive effects can still be dire.
But, hang on. War, you say? Who nowadays still thinks about that?! That’s the sole domain of soldiers and security experts, right? Of course, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine early 2022, we contemplate war more often than in the previous thirty years. But still, mostly because of empathy with the people living in a war zone. Far away. Ukraine is far away. We seldomly think about war in relation to our direct environment, our personal circumstances. We seldomly wonder how long our defenses would last if a foreign adversary would try to invade. We cannot picture bombs hitting Amsterdam or Rotterdam. That all seems so, well, archaic. For us as European citizens this might hold true but there are plenty of locations in the world where war is still a daily reality. Or at least the specter of it looming large enough to merit governments and companies to earnestly prepare for it. We tend to ignore or forget that in our modern, interdependent world, a distant war can have immediate and real effects on our daily lives. If Ukraine would have been a NATO member, then the situation would have been quite different here in the Netherlands… And it certainly is naïve to think that Europe, and the Netherlands, will not face any negative consequences from an armed conflict between major powers on distant shores.
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Linda Kaput is strategist at Jester Strategy. She facilitates private and public sector organizations in their strategic conversations about the future. Using various foresight instruments she empowers organizations in making futureproof choices.