(Notice: These predictions were written in the end of 2019, before the attack on General Suleymani or the occurrence of the 2020 pandemic)
In 1945 the United States of America had decided to use their first nuclear bomb on Japan, and thus compiled a list of potential targets. On top of that list was the historical city of Kyoto, Japan’s previous capital. Kyoto was the ideal target strategic wise, size wise and symbolically. Much of Japan’s identity lies in Kyoto, and back then that was a driving factor for it’s choice. Considerations towards world cultural heritage was non-existent at that time, specially for Japan, as the anti-Japanese sentiment and propaganda was on it’s highest in USA. Official slogans like: “Kill japs, kill japs, kill more japs!” made 13 % of the American population in favor of a complete genocide on the Japanese people in that year.
One person did not share this idea though. Henry L. Stimson was appointed Secretary of War, and he was in charge of choosing two cities to throw the nuclear bombs at. Luckily for the people of Kyoto, Stimson had traveled there as young and even brought his wife on a honeymoon to this city. He enjoyed it so much and made such a strong connection with the locals, that he could not bear the idea of wiping it all out. Even though he supported nuking Japan, he ordered Kyoto removed from the list of potential targets with a series of official arguments, that only makes sense to a traveler.
This story shows, how much travelling and tourism can change the course of history and even save entire nations. This will be the focus point of this article, where I try to predict coming events of the decade of 2020 based on my experience travelling around the world, specifically to places in conflict zones or places that, by the western world, is seen as “off the beaten path”. It is also based on tonnes of travel blogs and travel magazines that I read continuously while having a watchful eye on political news stories.
So why read a prediction by a travel nerd? Well, last decade I predicted the war in Syria and the french invasion of Mali. And I was just a kid back then.
Everything will depend on the enemy
Every beginning of a decade we are presented with one enemy, and every end of a decade we are presented with a victory on that same enemy – lately in the form of a dead body. In the 00’s it was Al-Qaeda and the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. In the 10’s it was ISIS and the death of their leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, in 2019.
The 90’s was kind of exception, as the decade started with the fall of the Berlin wall and communism, and the 10 years was used to see if capitalism could stand it’s own without an opponent. Maybe the only thing we had to enemize in the 90’s was Saddam Hussein after the Second Gulf War to prepare for an invasion of Iraq in the following decade.
The 80’s had several East European communist dictators as enemy as well as Ayatollah Khomeini. The 70’s had many far-left militant organizations and individuals like Red Armee Fraktion and Carlos the Jackal. The 1960’s had the Soviet Union and the Cuba Crisis and so on and so on.
So who is going to run away with the title of Enemy of the Decade in the 2020’s? Everything will depend on it. One possibility could be an entity of the Iranian military called the Basij. In case of war in Iran, get ready to learn this new group, that will be labelled as the terror organization of the decade, that we all must learn to hate.
(UPDATE: As the 2020 has progressed, we saw two confirmed assassination attacks on top Iranian leaders carried out by USA. One killed several top military generals, including General Qasim Suleymani , the other killed top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Meanwhile the world has been busy with the actual new enemy: Corona-virus, which I did not see coming. Is it a coincidence that the decade started like that? The occurrence of the virus has put a stopper for tourism, a vital problem towards world safety in my opinion. Meanwhile, what we in 2019 saw as far fetched is surprising no one in 2020. This means that world leaders can allow themselves to take drastic actions to change the world situation. Nothing is far fetched anymore. And with Trumpism: Nothing needs sane arguments to be carried out. This suddenly makes my predictions a little more plausible than I thought in the end of 2019.)
1. A nuclear attack on Iran
Okay, I admit it, the likelihood of this bold prediction might be very small as I write this. And let us hope it never happens, but there is a serious risk of this being the event, that will divide the 20’s from the 30’s. So here is why I think this is a risk:
What most people do not know about Iran is, that it is one of the safest countries in the region although it is portrayed as a closed country, it is actually very accessible and easy to travel in. While the vast majority of people would be scared to visit it, the travelling influencers have visited it for many years, recognizing how safe and welcoming it is, while it can boost any travel blog’s reputation for daring to go “off the beaten path”.
The truth is, the streets of Isfahan, Tehran and Shiraz have been beaten down by western male and female traveler’s boots during the late 00’s and 10’s. Not to mention the streets of the holy city Mashhad, that draws religious tourists from all over the rest of the world and European and American Muslims.
Back in time, all these influencers had one thing in common: They portrayed a strongly positive view on Iran. Iran has now made it even easier for western tourists to visit, by giving visa on arrival to most European tourists and in addition ensuring a removable visa, so they won’t be affected by Trump’s Muslim ban.
I have noticed in the last year, that the positivism has changed a lot. Many so called influencers have increasingly been using their travels to Iran as an opportunity to criticize the government. Some of this criticism is even sponsored by foreign powers like Saudi Arabia or Israel.
State sponsoring propaganda from travel influencers has become a real trend in the late 10’s. This has been seen in countless of example by many countries in the Middle East.
Many influencers, who have collected a large number of Iranian followers specially, have turned against the Iranian government and played a role in several attempts on creating an uprising against the government.
So all this propaganda, might finally lead to an opening for USA to finally invade. You can speculate, that the hope was to create a massive uprising, that would be met with massive violence, and thus giving an excuse for an American intervention, as it happened in Syria. This has not materialized, however a decision to invade the country might still be on the agenda, as it has been on the agenda of several prominent leader’s in the Republican party since before Trump came to power.
1.1 From an invasion to a nuclear attack
Russia and USA are currently working hard on developing a new type of weapon, that will make the Fat Man launched on Nagazaki in 1945 look like New Year’s fireworks. This new nuclear weapon will be able to travel 27 times the speed of sound by utilizing the nuclear energy for thrust as well as detonation. This means, a country like Russia can hit any target in the world with a nuclear missile after less than one second after the push of a button. This is simply unstoppable.
Now, the technicality of this technology is much more detailed, but once either country succeed in producing a maneuverable missile of this caliber, it most likely got to be showed off and tested in action. If USA decide to show off, as they did in 1945, meanwhile being at war with Iran, they might want to use it on a city named Qom.
Qom was were the Islamic Revolution of 1979 started. It houses one of the largest islamic universities that has produced many prominent Ayatollahs (a title given to highest rank of Shia muslim scholars), many of whom work for the government of Iran. The city is not a major tourist hub for western tourists, but attracts millions of muslim pilgrims to the tomb of a holy saint there.
If this becomes the last stronghold of the Basij, it might be portrayed in the media as the cradle of terrorism, and thus justifying wiping it out with assurance on trying to keep the holy site intact. Strategic wise, the bomb will have epicenter around 10-20 km away from the city center of Qom. In this way, arguments will be made that it intended to spare civilians and holy sites, well knowing that even the smallest A-bomb from this distance will wipe out most of the city. In the same time, it will be along the Qom River to ensure contamination and dysfunction. In a war, it is important that the civilian locals are dependent on the invading troops.
I predict, that this will happen in the end of the 2020’s or beginning of the 2030’s.
2. Russian-Chinese conflict
First let us start in the neighboring region: Central Asia. The Uzbek and Kazakh authorities have made it exceptionally easy for travelers to enter their countries, now with visa free access for most Western countries and some Asian countries as well. This has created a huge boom in tourism in a region, that no one dared to visit in the 00’s. I myself visited Uzbekistan in 2019, and I have to say, that the country will be a tourist magnet very soon.
But why is it coming now? While tourism strengthens the economy, it is also a dangerous game for a dictatorship. Both countries have carefully prepared for tourism in the past 10 years, and both have now changed their president and revived their industries. For example, Uzbekistan went from exporting half of the world’s cotton production to only produce 3% of the world demand today. The production was no longer lucrative, as travellers discovered the inhumane slave-like conditions for the Uzbek people.
Tourism turned out to be more lucrative. Kazakhstan however, might be facing a problem due to this. The country has a large Russian minority from the Soviet time, and they have been marginalized (relatively), while the country is (and continuously will be) flooded with refugees with Kazakh background, fleeing the genocide of Muslims in China.
Kazakhstan has got along with Russia by being a strong ally politically and economically. With the rise of tourism 2 things will happen: More Russian’s will visit and hear the word of discriminated Russians in Kazakhstan, and their story of how Kazakhstan got a much larger piece of land after the fall of the Soviet Union, than they were entitled to.
The second thing that will happen is the westernization of the general public. Already now, the country is changing it’s alphabet from the Russian Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet we use in English.
Futhermore, economically, Kazakhstan is getting more and more independent from Russia and allowing neighboring China to invest, make projects and buy land in Kazakhstan.
Seen in the light of USA’s rivalry with both Russia and China, a conflict between the two countries over Kazakhstan might be very welcomed.
3. Russian victory in Syria
You can claim, that this has already happened. Russia has by far been more successful than USA in Syria, supporting Bashar Al Assad. Ten years back, Assad was supposed to be the “villain of the decade”, but Russia was not on board with this plan. Thus ISIS was conveniently introduced, but let us not dwell in the past.
In latest years, parts of Syria has been stabile enough to see a rise in tourism. Specially Damascus receives plenty of Arabic tourists from the Gulf, but also western tourists have been fascinated by this broken country. Many have realized, that Assad is not the large dictator, that he was portrayed as in the beginning of the decade. Sure, many travelers in Syria have been posting pictures of huge Syrian flags indicating regime propaganda, but very few of them have spoken directly against Assad. Furthermore, all interviews with locals have been more towards rebuilding the country.
An international demand for rebuilding Syria will lead to USA retreating from it. They will hand it over to Russia and Assad, while focusing on their more important wars in Iran and Iraq. Syria will also lose it’s strategic importance, as long as the alliance between Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran can be broken somewhere else.
4. The Kurds will fall into a trap (again)
There is one problem with leaving Syria: The Kurdish people, who have allied themselves with USA were betrayed in 2019, where American troops retreated to allow a Turkish invasion of their area.
Leaving the country to Russia and Assad, will make an end to the dream they had of creating their own country in the area. This is a necessity, because there is no way Turkey will allow a Kurdish state at it’s borders.
Turkey has been a tourist magnet the past 25 years, and they know very well how to deal with Europeans and even Americans. President Erdogan is probably the smartest politician in this century. Never has anyone played his cards better. He owns the immigration politics of Europe, he owns the nationalistic Turks, he owns the religious Turks, and he even owns the westernized Turks, whom he has granted freedom in the European side of Istanbul to pursue whatever lifestyle they want. In addition, he owns social media. He is the only leader of a Muslim majority country, who is seen addressing popular topics like the genocide in Burma and China and even criticizing Israel. Of course followed by absolutely no action, but he already won the hearts of the Muslims worldwide. If not by social media, then by the various pro-Turkey TV-shows like Ertuğrul that has become popular in the muslim world.
Another area which surprisingly has become a tourist magnet in recent years is Northern Iraq, also known as Iraqi Kurdistan. This region has more or less been acting like it’s own country, and issuing visa-on-arrival for western tourists, despite the rest of Iraq being almost impossible to enter. This has made the city of Irbil a huge magnet for travel bloggers on their quest to visit every official country in the world.
In many cases, these bloggers have been directly invited and sponsored by the Kurdish authorities. In addition, anyone who goes there will be meeting a Kurd, who will present the country to them as Kurdistan, and insist on using this name instead of Iraq when blogging on Instagram or making a YouTube video.
If you search for videos on YouTube, you will easily see how the videos from the early part of the previous decade had “Iraq” as the main title, then became “Iraqi Kurdistan”, and finally now any title will say “Kurdistan (Iraq)”, with emphasis on the parenthesis.
USA might persuade the Kurdish forces in Iraq to enter Iran and “liberate” the Kurdish part of Iran. For helping USA, they will be promised an independent country once the war is over.
5. Qatar will rise from the ashes and the fall of the Saudi regime
2022 will be the year of Qatar. The world cut it’s tie to Qatar after Saudi Arabia banished them from the Arabic family. Since then Qatar has been holding a low profile, but this is to be changed after the World Cup Tournament will be held in Qatar in 2022. After this very prestigious event, Qatar will start to seek power once again.
Like the UAE, Qatar’s royal family is immensely popular in the country, also among westerners. They also hold the famous TV News channel Aljazeera, where most people get their news from. Saudi Arabia has forced all neighboring countries to stop dealing with Qatar because of political disagreements.
Saudi Arabia, however, has been reported to run out of money in the end of the 20’s due to the low demand on oil. They of course have known this for a while, and they have been trying to diversify their industries away from oil production. One of which is tourism.
Saudi Arabia came way too late into the tourism game. First they had to come up with a bunch of positive stories to frame their country for western tourists. One was making it legal for women to drive, which most likely only had tourists in mind. Now Bahraini women can drive over the bridge themselves on a visit, and western female travelers will be able to rent a car, and post a picture in it with a caption like: “Progression for women in Saudi Arabia!” or “I am surprised, women can walk without a scarf here unlike in Iran!”.
Because of the late entry into the game, the Saudis have been trying to boost tourism by allowing online visa applications and making professional video production on social media to promote their historical places and desert. Often with an oriental styled white woman posing without a scarf in front of a monument like the one in Madain Saleh.
If they got involved in a war with Iran however, it will be even sooner that they will lose this investment. They have spent 10 years buying military equipment from USA, who will be using these exact weapons on the same target: Iran. It is a huge waste of money for them, as they basically have financed the whole war.
Saudi Arabia’s power comes from Mecca. Being the protector of the holy city has given them power over the Muslim world, but few events in the past years have created distrust between them and the Muslim world: Their destruction of Islamic heritage to build huge buildings, their ill handling of the pilgrimage, their war on Yemen, the killing of Khashoggi, and their continues support of Israel.
Not to mention all the conservative Muslims, who do not want Saudi Arabia to modernize and allow it to become a tourist hub. In addition, the poor countries of the Arabic world (specifically in North Africa), have seen an undeniable increase in Saudi sex-tourism. A habit so obvious on the streets of for example Marrakesh, that it has made many North Africans despise Saudi Arabians in general.
All in all, Saudi Arabia’s dominance will not survive. This will open up for Qatari dominance. A country that has transported Westerners all over the world with Qatari Airlines for decades.
6. Pakistan: A new superpower
Anyone who have been slightly interested in travel blogging will know, that the biggest hot topic of the past 3 years has been Pakistan. Every professional travel blogger have already been here. Either on his own or on state sponsored trips. And the positive reviews can never end.
The hospitality of the people. The warmth of their welcoming. The taste of their food. The views of their mountains. The vibe of their cities. It is a new undiscovered ground for westerners, who have been going to India for ages and ages, but never dared to visit the Muslim counterpart.
While India is becoming a more and more problematic country with lots of bad stories about rape, racism, killing, discrimination of Kashmiris and worst of all: Litter everywhere. Pakistan has got a new “true” democratic president, who is very popular not just at home, but all over the world.
The two countries might get into confrontation, but Pakistan needs time to prepare. India has already been provoking with the deployment of 1 million soldiers in Kashmir and a discriminating citizenship law against muslims. Air strikes have been conducted between the two nuclear powers already.
It is indeed a larger threat to world peace, even though no one is talking about it. Pakistan will try to delay any confrontation to get time to prepare its infrastructure and open more up for the world. Invite more tourists who will spread the good word of the country.
For them, a much better strategy is to support the “muslim” side of an uprising, if things get out of hand for India.
7. Many new members of the EU
While many might believe, that EU needs to hold low profile until the dust has set from Brexit, they also need to show the world, that the idea of EU is still strong and attractive.
Whether you like it or not, Europeans have become one family. More than three out of five EU residents made tourism trips in 2017. With low budget airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, Wizz Air and many many others, it has never been more attractive to visit the classics like Paris, London or Prague. Tourism is flourishing like never before, and for every trip one make, the European feeling strengthens.
Scotland might very well get their independence soon. Specially if a nuclear war is pressing, as Scotland unwillingly has stored large number of the UK’s nuclear arsenal. Most political analysts agree, that Scotland will be going independent sooner or later. It might be tactical to allow them to vote sooner, specially if a Brexit turns out to be successful. I believe they will want independence, and afterwards join the EU easily
7.2 North Macedonia
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) recently changed it’s name to North Macedonia after a long dispute about the name with Greece. Finally both countries are happy. Macedonia is an interesting experiment for the EU. It’s population is small and very mixed religiously and ethnically. It will be the perfect country to include in the European family to learn a little about how to integrate the rest of the Orthodox and Muslim-majority Balkan countries in the future.
7.3 Another Norwegian referendum
Norway is changing. From Europe’s most oil-producing country to one of the worlds pioneers in sustainability. It is said, that Statoil has more or less pumped up all the oil there is in the North Sea and stored it during the 10’s. In the 20’s they will sell it and spend the money to transform their business to sustainable energy by building offshore wind farms. The oil-production (although many Norwegians might disagree) were a large reason why they have not joined the EU yet. Meanwhile EU has specific climate targets it needs to live up to. Persuading Norway to join the family will both help it reach it’s goal, be beneficial for Norwegians (now that their oil-production is over) and send a strong signal to the world, that the EU is very much alive. Whether Norwegians will vote yes, I am not sure about.
8. Colonial confrontations causing economical crisis in France and the USA
In 2019 I visited the beautiful country of Cape Verde after being on a small vacation in the Canary Islands. Here the ultimate prove of the cruelty of the early Spanish and Portuguese colonizers were right in your face. In the same time, when you walk down the streets of Praia, you can’t help but noticing the various art decos around the city calling for African unity. The symbols can be found all over Africa.
Previously, Africa has been held in poverty and every time a governmental change happens, that might threaten the interests of the colonial countries like France, USA the UK and so on, a military coup is sponsored or in worst case, direct war is initiated to uphold status quo. While most western colonial countries try to do this under the table, France in particular have been very visible in controlling its former colonies.
Luckily, this is very apparent to travellers in the African continent. While during the 00’s tourism in Africa was mostly restricted to large tour groups arranging safari expeditions, now more and more travellers and descendents of African immigrants in the Western World has been visible in their promotion of the continent and in exposing the truth about those neo-colonial policies that keep Africa in poverty, and how this poverty is funding the wealth and welfare of the Western World.
The more travellers, historians and progressive immigrants and politicians expose, the more likely things will change. The Africans are more educated now and in particularly they are more aware of how the world is exploiting them. The fact that at least 14 African nations still pay colonial tax to France in one way or the other is going to be well known in the 20’s, and a fact that will cause a shit-storm on particular France, but also USA’s direct and indirect involvement in the continent. A political demand for decolonization of Africa will be negotiated between the African Union and colonial powers. The question is, how much Africa will sell out for an official apology for slavery.
In the same time, we have China that is investing in (and also exploting) Africa in large quantities. There is a big chance, that the western colonial powers will lose their grip on Africa, and that will cause big problems in the industry of natural resources in Europe and USA. The dollar might lose value, specially considered that it is mostly backed up by oil, which has seen decreasing demands and decreasing prices due to a worldwide green transition.
These were 8 predictions of the 2020’s. I have more predictions that I did not get to write down before the decade began. I might follow up on this article when new events occur. These predictions are based on an analysis of the travel- and tourism industry’s effect on global politics and public opinion. Although tourism have played a larger and larger role in global politics, it is of course not the only factor that world leaders base their decisions upon. It is still undeniably true, that tourism has a strong political effect on bilateral relations. It is also undeniable, that tourism and travel-blogging has a strong effect on normal people’s opinion on each other. This view should have an effect on the countries politics in a democracy.
Finally, it is undeniably important for a traveller to have an eye out for peoples political views and feelings and opinions when travelling. If you feel safe, you can ask locals directly about certain hot topics concerning their country. But have in mind, this is only one side of the story. If you inquire about domestic policy issues from one group, make sure that you meet locals from the opposing group as well to really understand the topic. Eventually, our travels are meant to teach us, not confirm us in what we already believe.