With unprecedented global inflation, a war between Russia and Ukraine, and a slow recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, few people realize that a worldwide systematic world war is looming in the background. Dutch political scientist Ingo Piepers (Ph.D.) expects a new frequent war to erupt shortly: “It has not yet started, but that it is only a matter of time.”
By Arthur Blok
In 2016, the Dutch scientist published his thesis ‘2020: WARning’, which elaborates on the phenomenon of wars. He asserts that the global system produced, and still produces, two types of battles: systemic and non-systemic. He qualifies the latter as small wars, for example, between two nations with limited effects. On the other hand, systemic wars could be allowed as ‘world wars’ and have a ‘rebalance’ of the global system.
In his thesis, Piepers states that systemic wars are periodically necessary in anarchistic systems to rebalance relationships among states and to implement upgraded international orders that provide, at least temporarily, relative stability to the world system. Not necessarily a conventional war where tanks and soldiers are on the frontline, but a war of information and psychological control.
Piepers elaborated on the current global events exclusively for The Levant.
If you analyze what is currently happening on the world stage with Covid-19 and the US-China crisis in the background, made the systematic war that you predicted in 2016 start?
“To answer this question, it is also essential to know how the next systemic war - that is, a world war - will manifest itself. It will be fundamentally different from the last systemic war, the Second World War. Another technology is now available, such as the Internet, which allows for other forms of warfare, such as cyber war.
Another factor determining the form and shape of the following systemic war is how social systems, including the international system and societies, are structured. The subsequent systemic war will be a mixture of traditional warfare between states involving 'armies' and populations and communities. That is my guess.
My research suggests that the international system will become critical this year plus or minus two years. I think that at this point, it has not yet started, but that it is only a matter of time.”
Piepers has studied all the major wars and global conflicts from 1495 until now. He elaborated on the Cold War period after the last systematic war (the Second World War: 1940 – 1945) up until present-day, a chaotic time in which the number of unresolved issues grew and tensions accumulated in our global system.
Unhappy with how the WHO handled the Corona crisis, US President Donald Trump cut most US funds to the World Health Organization (WHO) in his last months in office. In addition, many western countries were not amused with the dealings of the WHO.
What does this mean for international cooperation?
“The pandemic further sharpens all kinds of issues and negatively affects international cooperation. Because communication and coordination structures are also affected, the risk of misunderstandings has increased further.
Irrespective of the question if WHO has reacted adequately or not, Trump hoped to kill two birds with one stone with this controversial decision: (1) shifting the responsibility of his own inadequate and late response to the pandemic to the WHO and China, and (2) shifting attention away from issues in the US to rivalries with China, he could then exploit.
It was all meant to control and manipulate the narrative. Trump was an expert in making enemies for political purposes and using them for his advantage.”
The Ph.D. research of Piepers focuses on improving the overall understanding of war, the complicated dynamics, and the element of social evolution in the global system. Piepers uses complexity, network science, and modern thermodynamics to identify patterns in war dynamics produced by dissipating structures.
Will there be any significant shift of power on the world stage post-corona?
“The purpose of a systemic war - that is, a world war - is to 'interactively' design and implement an upgraded international order that reflects the balance of power and spheres of influence in the global system. This interactive process includes the formation of alliances, war-fighting, and negotiations.
The current international order is obsolete, which explains its dysfunctionality and accumulated (unresolved) issues and tensions. A systemic war is also a lengthy process. That a shift of power occurs at the world stage is without a doubt (that is what a systemic war is about).”
Who will be the main actors?
“That is, of course, the United States and China, but countries like India and Russia also play a decisive role in choosing sides. Although the US has overwhelming military capabilities and assumes they have utility in the next systemic war, it does not automatically mean that the US is destined to become the next superpower that can dictate the rules of the following international order.
They are challenging power matters and the ability to form alliances and deploy soft power. The WHO matters, maybe not for every nation, but it does for numerous other countries. Thus, a significant shift of power is only a matter of time, and of which the pandemic can be a trigger, but the outcome of this shift cannot be predicted at this time.
Is Pax China a likely outcome?
“That can be an outcome, but it cannot be predicted at this stage.”
The IMF called the current economic crisis caused by the so-called ‘Great Lockdown’ the worst economic downturn since the great depression.
Is China to be held responsible for that?
“No, that is not an accurate state of affairs. Although China could have contributed to the wide spread of the coronavirus by withholding information, as is stated by some, the economic downturn is, above all, the result of numerous interacting variables in the international system.
You can also argue that the economic downturn is a consequence of the (initially) ineffective response of European countries and the US when disturbing information became available from China. In essence, the US response to the spread of the virus in January and February 2020 was not much different from China's response in November and December 2019: one of underestimation and denial, and overestimation of the ability to control the spreading virus. Both Xi and Trump should have known better.
The fact that the virus is as economically and politically destructive as it reflects the state of the international system at this point. Typically, systemic wars are preceded by increased rivalries and tensions undermining international cooperation. This condition of the system makes that the pandemic causes so much economic and political damage. Whereas during the financial crisis in 2007-2008, international cooperation was still possible globally and in Europe, that is no longer the case.”
This article was initially published in April 2020.
A change is definitely on its way. But would it be a systemic war or a mutiny on the bounty? I see it more coming from within, from the disappointed citizens of the world, who have seen with their own eyes, on their own cremated parents, the incapacity of their governments and leaders: and I say all countries... (excluding maybe Germany who handled the crisis better: or just hid the real numbers ?).
In any case, political systems are a failure.
Economical systems are a failure: just look at the EU and how when it came to actually act as one entity retracted and failed Italy unwilling to help with the Covid bound.
Health systems are a failure.
The systemic war coming upon us will be a war on the systems, who only proved to be there only to take never to give back.
Identifying patterns of shifting hegemony is quite common in the study of international relations, including the wars that indicate shifts between superpowers. Eg. around 1800, 1914-1945, but also earlier. Piepers elaborates on that and projects that into the near future.
China - US tensions have been noticeable for a long time. They did not start with Trump, already Obama pledged a ‘pivot to Asia’ in response to what was seen as challenges by China of US supremacy in the region.
By saying that he does not know what such a systemic war will look like, Piepers leaves an important question open. But the main characteristic of these systemic wars in the recent past have been the mobilization of a large part of the economy and population.
More recent trends seem to be a number of smaller-scale actions and provocations: the Russian annexation of the Crimea, cyber operations by Russia, China, the US, but also Iran, Israel, trade wars. These actions are disturbing, often dangerous, but with these kinds of actions the balance of power will not be overturned. Whether the shifts in power will take the form of systemic war, is far from certain. A long time many people believed that US and the Soviet-Union would go to war one day. That situation changed without war.
In response to your comment: Typically, in systemic wars all Great Powers in the internationale system get actively involved. At stake is a next internationale order, and the values that will underpin it. Systemic wars involve: alliance dynamics, war-fighting and negotiations. It will affect all domains.
How such a war will fought 'in detail', can not be predicted at this stage.
I think the current situation is much more fluid and unpredictable (chaotic) than was the case when the Soviet-Union collapsed, and was (at least for some time) preoccupied with consolidating its crumbling sphere of influence. See also global4cast.org for more background and context.