Andrew F. Krepinevich’s SEVEN DEADLY SCENARIOS: A MILITARY FUTURIST EXPLORES WAR IN THE 21ST CENTURY is one of the scariest non-fiction books I have ever read. Krepinevich is a military planner — a real job, mind you — and takes this seriously; his job is to try to plan for things that no one else in the military wants to think about, talk about, or do anything about. As he was trained at West Point, then served on the staff of three previous Secretaries of Defense, Krepinevich definitely knows all of this cold, and lays it out there with little elaboration, as it needs none.
Now, if you’ve ever read any alternate history, you know that with an alternate history the author builds upon what was known at a certain point, then diverges from those known historical events. (For example, in Eric Flint’s monumental 1632, Flint built up the known history of the period, then added in a bunch of contemporary folks from a little town in West Virginia, and watched the results play out.) This is also what Krepinevich does here with his SEVEN DEADLY SCENARIOS, first building upon what is known right now, then projecting this several years into the future. Note that in order to show the most realistic scenario, Krepinevich has drawn from as many contemporary sources as he possibly can.
The scenarios include a pandemic (think something along the line of a combination of the 1976 “Swine Flu” and the worst projections of the Avian Flu in the early 2000s), the collapse of Pakistan, an economic calamity started by terrorists (our world economy now being so fragile and interconnected, this is more likely than it has ever been), and worst of all, a bunch of low-level nukes and “dirty bombs” taking out several major American cities. These are all scenarios, not full-fledged stories, and they do not end, per se. Instead, they are put out there, and the reader must try to answer the questions as if the reader is, for the moment, the President of the United States (or at minimum, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff); this if nothing else gives real clout to the gravity of the job Krepinevich has done for most of his adult life, as these scenarios are nothing to mess around with.
Note that while all of these scenarios are drawn from realistic sources, at times Krepinevich has to make things up (anything from mid-2008 on is a made-up quote or from a made-up story, so keep this in mind) in order to project far enough out into the future to make his scenario work. And because the solution to the scenario is not given, this does not always read easily or well at times.
However, that one drawback can also be seen as a strength, because refusing to resolve these scenarios adds teeth to what Krepinevich is talking about — in this case, scary, demoralizing, and depressing “teeth,” but that’s the nature of what we’re discussing.
SEVEN DEADLY SCENARIOS points out how many things most people never even think about must be taken into account by the Secretaries of State and Defense, those at the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff . . . all of these things are obviously well-known to the current United States military or they never would’ve been allowed to be put into a nonfiction book, which begs the question of how many more of these terrifying, ghastly scenarios are being drafted by military “futurists” like Krepinevich right now.
Mind, the depressing nature of these scenarios may explain why so many others in the active duty military don’t want anything to do with stuff like this because most people would prefer to keep nasty thoughts — no matter how realistic they may be — away in a primitive “see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil” sort of thing. (I point this out not to say it’s right to push these scenarios away — it isn’t — but to make the nature of this otherwise inexplicable belief comprehensible.)
Krepinevich wrote these scenarios to prove a point, which is something he discusses in the introduction — just because many terrorists tend to come from Third World countries does not make them stupid. Our capabilities are known, and that means someone out there is trying to figure out how to get around our capabilities, just as we’d do if we were in their position. And if we fail to learn from the folks who do find solutions — as we did in 1932, when war games proved that Pearl Harbor was vulnerable (and nothing was done, so Japan was able to exploit these known vulnerabilities in 1941), or as the French failed to learn from Germany’s 1937 war games (where the blitzkrieg manuever that later became famous was first shown), or as the early 2000s military refused to believe that anyone from a Third World country could touch us (until the World Trade Center bombing happened — note this particular thing was not discussed by Krepinevich, merely implied) — we surely are giving up the advantage right away.
Because if SEVEN DEADLY SCENARIOS is right — and I have no reason to believe it’s wrong — the most important thing for any type of warfare is simple: you must use your head. Then, you must learn from history. And finally, you must prepare for all you know to be obviated quickly . . . and it’s the last that tends to get the military in trouble, because most high-ranking military men in any age have always prepared us for the last war. Not the next one, which is why it’s so important that people like Krepinevich keep doing what they are even though none of these particular scenarios are likely to happen precisely because they are known.
In other words, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Then ask yourself why questions like these aren’t asked of Presidential candidates . . . because if they want to “sit in the big chair,” these are the exact types of things they’ll have to deal with, and they’d better have some idea of how bad it could be before they ever take a seat at the table.
–Reviewed by Barb