Mexico's foreign minister objects -- and she's right.
"Mexico is not a failed state," Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa said this week, responding to sensationalized headlines that suggested the "The Joint Operating Environment (JOE)" study (published in November 2008) by U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) was predicting Mexico's collapse.
The study was not a prediction. JFCOM made that explicit: "This document is speculative in nature and does not suppose to predict what will happen ... "
But fear sells. Sensationalists latched onto the comments in the document that cited Pakistan and Mexico worst-case "rapid collapse" scenarios, which -- if they occurred -- would damage U.S. interests. Fearmongers missed (or ignored) the scenarios, which were "what ifs?" designed to spur creative planning and policies that would avoid them altogether.
JFCOM's planners were merely doing their job. "Worst-case scenarios" provide fodder for war-gaming and planning "excursions." This intellectual preparation may or may not have organizational and technological consequences, but the intellectual exploration has value. Classicists understand.
In Chapter 14 of "The Prince," Machiavelli writes of "Philopoemen, the leader of the Achaeans" who was "praised by the historians for ... having in peacetime never thought of anything else except military strategy." As he traveled he would "invite discussion" from his friends -- likely the men who would be his subordinate commanders in wartime. They would speculate on how they might defend a hill they were passing, maneuver in the terrain for advantage or even retreat. Machiavelli writes: "Because of these continuous speculations," Philopoemen "knew how to cope with all and every emergency."
Philopoemen, however, didn't have to deal with instantaneous, global selective quotation and hype.
No doubt a Mexican collapse would have huge effects on the U.S.; so would a collapse of Canada, which has also been war-gamed. In the latest edition of "A Quick and Dirty Guide to War" (fourth edition, Paladin Press), James F. Dunnigan and I revisit a "Canadian collapse" scenario first war-gamed in 1990. It is an analytic exercise speculating on the consequences of Quebec separating from the rest of Canada.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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