After the war is over

27 Oct 2023

The New York Times this week had an interesting piece with the headline, “Israel says it will destroy Hamas. But who will govern Gaza?” NYT

What I found interesting is the focus on what happens next, after the war. Asking “what comes next after the war” is interesting given that there are a lot of ‘wars and rumors of wars’ going on right now. Some of them have been going on for years (Ukraine). Some, for months (Sudan). Some, it’s hard to define exactly when they started or whether they are a real war or not (Sahel, Nigeria, DR Congo, the coup belt). Some were very quick (Azerbaijan/Armenia). Some are very cold (N Korea). Some threaten to be very hot and global (China/Taiwan or China/South China Sea/USA/etc).

The active fighting—even the cold ones, or the threat of hot ones—are changing the nations, and the regions in which those nations are found, and often by extension the world. The Sudan war seems pretty contained, but the refugees are spilling over, and that war threatens to destabilize the whole region, for example. The conflict in Israel obviously has a number of paths to escalation. The Ukraine war has no end in sight. And yet the end will come.

On the one hand, predicting the future is something of a fools’ errand. A month ago, no one thought we’d be sitting on the edge of a knife for Israel-Gaza. But here we are. On the other hand, if you were to ask ChatGPT (even 3.0, with its cut off in January 2022), “can you list 10 to 20 countries that might go to war (either with neighbors or themselves) in the next decade, based on observable events, historical trends, etc?” it’s top 10 answers include Ukraine-Russia, China-Taiwan, North Korea, South China Sea, India-Pakistan, Israel-Palestine, Russia-Nato, Iran-Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia-Tigray, and Nigeria. Four of those conflicts are hot right now. Even for a simplistic LLM, it’s not rocket science to look around and predict some of these. (It missed the Sudan Civil War but predicted one between Sudan & South Sudan, and #18 was the Sahel region).

If thinking about where wars might crop up is one order of difficulty, thinking about what comes after it is another order of magnitude more complicated (and not something I’d trust to an LLM, necessarily, although I might use it to brainstorm). But we, as agencies, ought to give at least some thought to the paths forward and how the wars might end, and what the aftermath might be. How nations change in a war will determine Gospel access for those countries—for example, what happens if Sudan ends up in a defacto partition? What happens if the RSF wins?

A loss in a war could mean a much wider structural change. For example, one of the easiest paths to think about Ukraine is, “Russia loses.” But what does that mean? How might Russia lose, what might happen, and what does that mean for the Gospel in that country? How might the Ukraine war end? Go back to status quo ante, with Russian withdrawal? Or, what if Ukraine capitulated/was conquered/was struck with a WMD? What if there were a change in government in one or both of the countries? What does all of that mean for gospel access and Kingdom work in the area? And further down the line, what will the resolution of the war in Russia/Ukraine do for the calculus being worked in Beijing?

Contingency planning isn’t just about where wars are presently being fought or where they might be fought next, and what we would do if a war began. We need to think about contingencies for after the war concludes. Some of this obviously has to be broad strokes, but at least we ought to be thinking about those ‘what ifs’ and be preparing our supporters, intercessors, security folks, and the like for them.