Here follows an article from a fellow masters graduate, Kenny Macfadyen, from The University of Manchester.  Enjoy.


Apocalypse Soon-ish: Col. Tim Collins on Security and Conflict in 2020. In a public lecture Col. Tim Collins (retired) gave a doom-laden view of the future of global security for the remainder of the decade.

Are we overdue a seismically catastrophic war on the scale of World Wars 1 and 2? Tim Collins seems to think so. Twenty years from now the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may seem like the Boer Wars (1880 – 1881 & 1899 – 1902); seemingly important at the time, but paling in comparison to what came next. This was the main conclusion of Col. Tim Collins’ talk, ‘Security and Conflict: What Does 2020 Look Like?’ in Liverpool on April 26th, the day after the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

The eve of the invasion was the occasion of a famous speech made by Collins to his troops the day before they crossed the border into Iraq. He’s since moved into the private sector and is the CEO of the intelligence-based counter insurgency consulting company New Century. He regularly visits Iraq and Afghanistan in that capacity after swapping the camouflage uniform for a suit and tie.

The talk focused on security concerns for the next decade. No, we won’t be fighting off the machines or chasing replicants through futuristic mega-cities. Collins instead portrays a totally human vision of an apocalypse scenario that he sees as being quite likely to happen in the next seven years. How does he think it will come about and what other security concerns does he suggest Britain will have by 2020? First a closer look at how Tim Collins’ career has evolved in the ten years leading up to the anniversary of the Iraq War.

Going into Iraq turned out to be the beginning of the end of Collins’ career with the British Army. Over a 23-year army career he served in the SAS and the 1st Royal Irish Regiment in, among other theatres, Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Northern Ireland. Iraq was his last combat mission as an enlisted man. Soon after delivering the speech that made him famous (1) and taking the south-eastern Iraqi town of Al-Amara, Collins left Iraq facing war crime accusations, of which he was acquitted. He subsequently won two libel cases against the Sunday Express and Sunday Mirror after clearing his name. Disillusioned with the Army at what he felt were trumped up accusations made directly in response to his speech he spent the remainder of his time in the armed services as Project Director of the Peace Support Training Centre in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He retired from the Army in August 2004. In 2005 he was offered the opportunity to run to become an MP by the Ulster Unionist Party, which he turned down. In 2006 his book Rules of Engagement: A Life in Conflict was published. October 2011 saw Collins enter the race to become the Police and Crime Commissioner of Kent as the Conservative party candidate but he abandoned the race in June 2012. He now focuses on his role as CEO of the private security consulting company New Century, which he established in 2007 (2). In addition Collins is a sought after speaker on leadership and as an authority on British military matters. He has written articles for the Daily Mail, The Sun, The Guardian and The Telegraph since January alone in the lead up to the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, an intervention which he has described as a, ‘perfect example of blundering military incompetence’ (3). It was this man that came to the St. George Hall in Liverpool to convince us that the outbreak of global conflict was nigh.

Collins put forward five possible scenarios for how security concerns might unfold over the coming decade. They are: Scenario one: ‘World Without the West’, whereby the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) all overtake The West economically and become the new superpowers with Britain’s foreign policy changing to match her quickly declining importance. Two: ‘Bust up Among the BRICS,’ a view of the future that sees war between these states erupting over resources, most significantly water. Scenario three: ‘An October Surprise’ refers to a sudden onset climatic disaster on a global scale, think: an asteroid hit. Scenario four: A total collapse of the Westphalia system of nation states, for which we have the British Empire’s fondness of using straight lines for drawing national borders, thus unnecessarily dividing cultures and communities the world over, to thank.

Finally came Scenario Five: A war on a scale equal to or greater than the First and Second World Wars combined erupting in the region of the fastest emerging nations: Southeast Asia, sometime in the next decade. On what assumptions is this fifth scenario based? The theory goes that current conditions in Southeast Asia, of emerging nation states eager to establish themselves within the region as developed economic and military powers, is mimetic of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century. If you think that eruption of a huge conflict on the scale of a World War One originating in South East Asia by 2020 seems quite unlikely that’s actually part of the argument. Collins asserts that a diplomat in Vienna 1913 might have said the same thing about the likeliness of the Great War erupting in Europe, and just look what happened next. It’s what we’re unaware of that poses the greatest threat, so Collins argues. While using the past to predict the future is notoriously inaccurate, let’s look into Collins’ assertion that we won’t see World War Three coming because we didn’t see World War One coming. Well, did we?

In 2006 historian Niall Ferguson made a revision of the long held consensus that World War One was seen coming years before it broke out. Ferguson’s argument uses in part the actions of the financial markets as a barometer for predicting the war and finds they were almost blissfully uninterested in the idea of a major European war, ‘until the very last weeks of July 1914’ (4). He asserts in War of the World that:

The reality is that the First World War was a shock, not a long–anticipated crisis.  Only retrospectively did men decide they had seen it coming all along. Precisely for    that reason the consequences of the war were so world-shaking. It is the unforeseen    that causes the greatest disturbances, not the expected. (5)

One of those contemporary, retrospectively observant men was Arthur Conan Doyle (yes the very same) who’s five volume history The British Campaign in France and Flanders, the first volume of which was published in 1916 whilst the war still raged, begins the first chapter by quoting and agreeing with a certain General Bernhadi’s view that, ‘no one in Great Britain thought seriously of a war with Germany before the year 1902’ (6). Thus suggesting that as early as 1902 war with Germany was thought of seriously, was on the cards, and with good reason.

Conan Doyle’s reasons for using 1902 as the turning point are two fold. First, it is the end of the second Boer War (1899 – 1902). Once the South African ‘preoccupation’ as Doyle describes it, mirroring how Collins frames our presence in Afghanistan, was finished Britain could focus on the danger accumulating on her doorstep in the form of, ‘the famous German law [passed in 1900] regulating the increase of their navy.’ (7). The law he refers two is the second of two Navy Laws passed in 1898 and 1900 that started a Naval arms race between Britain and Germany. Historian John C. Lambett called it the ‘Anglo-German Dreadnought Race’ (8). So here in the Navy Laws and the following arms race is evidence that Germany was pursuing power on the imperial stage, for what else would she want such a large navy?

Whether or not the start of war itself was a shock, as wars go it proved to be most shocking in the way it was fought. The technology of modern warfare: the machine guns, gas attacks and en masse artillery strikes proved to be a game changer which, when met with conventional infantry and cavalry tactics, resulted in tragedy on the industrial scale. If we can’t tell how a future war might be fought in terms of weapons and technology do we have a better idea of how such a crisis will be triggered? This is the question to which the second half of the talk turned its attention and as it turned out there are many possibilities.

One immediate answer to the question might be the nightmare scenario of Iran using an atomic weapon. Another idea Collins introduced us to was virtual vulnerabilities, the high level of damage that could be done to a society / economy by taking advantage of its information technology infrastructure. Examples included the software running the take offs and landings at Heathrow airport and the virtual credit information holding up modern capitalist society. Virtual vulnerabilities are clearly a real concern of the British intelligence service; the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is the center of our efforts at countering cyber threats and the building resembles The Pentagon in size. Non-virtual vulnerabilities / weak points also remain a concern for Collins. For example the Suez Canal is just as integral to Britain’s economy now if not more so than it was in the 1950s. In the current maelstrom of the Arab Spring in Egypt and the region, the canal could conceivably be under threat of closure, which would wreak economic havoc on Europe.

Other scary thoughts given to us by Collins included the fact that in China, thanks to the one child policy and the traditional preference for boys over girls, there is a national disaster in the making. By 2020 there will be 200 million young, single, Chinese men with no where near that number of women to match, making China the world’s largest lonely hearts club; yet more food for thought. It’s not unimaginable that their young blooded frustration could boil over en masse into nation wide violence of the kind seen in the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. Neither would it be unthinkable that such aggression might spill over boarders via the rapidly expanding Chinese Diaspora in South East Asia or be channeled for the sake of domestic stability into a vast expansion of the People’s Liberation Army.

So there are at least a few possibilities of how the world might be turned upside down by 2020. What’s worse is that these conflicts are more than likely, especially in Southeast Asia and China, to be compounded or triggered by a natural catastrophe similar to the Boxing Day Tsunami. We can be sure that in twenty years time if Collins has survived the apocalypse he will be proving his own theory wrong when he asserts he saw it coming all along.

Coming away from Tim Collins’ talk for the lecture series ‘Global Security: What Does 2020 look Like?’ the lasting impression is of more than a few serious security concerns on the horizon, but where does British Foreign Policy feature in this picture? In a time that calls for less military spending it seems our national interest will in future be delivered partly via contract, as it is the private sector, with its economies of specialisation, that looks set to play an increasing role in matters of global security. Collins is the CEO of a private security consulting firm, New Century, and judging by his talk tonight it seems that come 2020 business will be booming for his industry.

Tim Collins is a man who has direct experience of some of the failures of spreading Western democracy through military intervention, of the effects of sectarianism on community, of intelligence based counter-terrorism and of the importance of mapping the human terrain in any conflict situation. Yet his view of the future is seen through a much wider lens with a darker tint. He spoke in terms of resource war, new age vulnerabilities, rising economic powers, and of a coming conflict comparable to World War One and Two combined. Overall there was a lack of depth from Collins’ talk with too many geopolitical broad strokes and very little based on his real expertise: intelligence-based counter insurgency. The evening’s postulating on the future of global security, though very interesting and at times funny, was essentially an exercise in predicting 21st century realpolitik. By stark contrast Britain’s actual concerns in the current security crises in Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Pakistan are mired in ideology and religious factionalism and fanaticism. It seems wishful thinking to imagine 2020 will look much different.

Kenny Macfadyen


(1)     Kenneth Branagh recreates Col. Tim Collins’ speech, excerpt from 10 Days to War http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpdeNcH1H8A

(2)     New Century website: http://www.newcentcorp.com/

(3)     Tim Collins’ interviewed by John Harris: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/video/2011/nov/21/tim-collins-iraq-john-harris

(4)     Niall Ferguson. War of the World: History’s Age of Hatred (London, 2006) p. 90

(5)     Ferguson, (2006) pp. 80 – 81

(6)     Arthur C. Doyle, The British Campaign in France and Flanders: 1914 (London, 1916) p. 1

(7)     Doyle, (1916) p. 4

(8)     John C. Lambett ‘The Anglo-German Dreadnought Race’, The Papers of the Peace Science Society, Volume 22 (1974) URL: http://www.hec.unil.ch/jlambelet/Jps3.pdf


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