ArrowArtboardCreated with Sketch.Title ChevronTitle ChevronIcon FacebookIcon LinkedinIcon Mail ContactPath LayerIcon MailPositive ArrowIcon PrintIcon Twitter
Opinion

When an event is almost certain, history speeds up

Anticipation is the key to survival

| U.S.
A Marine provides assistance during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug 22: any event generally occurs much sooner than expected, surprising those who live in the comfort of the present.   © U.S. Marine Corps/AP

Jacques Attali is a writer and the president of Positive Planet. He served as a counselor to French President Francois Mitterrand and was the first head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

What is happening in Afghanistan should remind us of an obvious fact that is too often forgotten: any event, whether positive or negative, whose dynamic materialization is certain or very likely, generally occurs much sooner than expected, surprising those who live in the comfort of the present.

Thus, it was obvious that the very announcement of the departure of American troops would lead to the capture of provincial cities, and then of Kabul, by the Taliban. There was only talk of how long it would take, usually more than a year, and few people understood that, since this was a certain event, it would happen very quickly. Much quicker. In a few days. Even before the Americans left.

I experienced a similar event a long time ago: in the autumn of 1988, because of Gorbachev's choices to stop shooting at demonstrators in the Eastern countries, first in Poland and then in East Germany, it became clear that the Eastern bloc would break up, that the regimes would collapse and that, in particular, German reunification would take place "one day." For many, "one day" was a long way off.

As late as December 1989, I heard in a private conversation the then U.S. President George Bush Sr., one of the most sophisticated and competent U.S. Presidents of recent decades, state his certainty that this reunification would not take place for at least 10 years. It was concluded in less than six months. Just as, at the same time, I heard Gorbachev say privately in Kyiv that the Soviet Union was an irreversible achievement of history, even though it would disappear two years later.

These examples show that when an event is almost certain, history speeds up, and that this is true not only for bad news, but also for good news.

Of course, this was not always the case: the predictable decline of the Roman Empire lasted five centuries. The French Revolution, also entirely predictable, came long after the predictions of some Enlightenment men. However, things have changed. History is accelerating. For a thousand reasons: it is more difficult to hold back larger human masses. The contradictions are quickly less sustainable. And today we are faced with such a situation on many fronts.

Firstly, climate change. We know that it will happen. It has been announced, demonstrated, documented and dated. But every day, we see that their advent was much earlier than announced even five years ago. And it is clear that this will accelerate: what is announced for 2050 will take place in 2025. Unless we act.

Secondly, COVID-19. We know that, in order to avoid the emergence of even more dangerous variants, it will soon be necessary to require a vaccination pass to enter all public places, including public transport, which will mean imposing compulsory vaccination on everyone. We know this, and yet, everywhere, we procrastinate, we refuse to admit it, we pretend that it is not really being imposed. And then, one day, suddenly, it will be done. Unless we do something else as quickly as possible. Which we do not do either.

Similarly, we know that the Chinese regime will one day encounter very serious problems, both social, demographic and political, and that it could choose to delay them by embarking on a military adventure over Taiwan. We know this, and yet we pretend we do not really know. And that it would not happen. And yet it will happen, and more than we think.

The audience stand and applaud during Xi Jinping's speech at the ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party at Tiananmen Square on July 1: we know that the Chinese regime will one day encounter very serious problems.   © Getty Images

Similarly, it is easy to foresee that one day the Palestinians, who dominate the region demographically, will give up their claim to a state of their own and simply ask for full citizenship rights in a state of Israel extended to the occupied territories. This event, too, will take place much sooner than expected, and will change the face of the Middle East.

Similarly, we know that the United States will no longer be in a position to defend its current allies, and that it will withdraw its troops from the rest of the world, particularly from Europe. This situation, which everyone knows is inevitable, will happen much sooner than expected, but nobody is doing anything to prepare for it. Yet this should lead everyone, especially the European Union, to ask existential questions and to take its defense in hand.

What is more, if we want to think about it, everyone knows situations of the same kind in their company, in their work, in their circle of friends or lovers, in their family: we know that such and such an event is very likely to happen, that it will happen, but not right away, and maybe not at all, so we do not worry about it. And then, very often, those events that we didn't want to see happen sooner than we expected: a bankruptcy, a death, an argument, a breakup, a meeting, an escape. And when this happens, many of those who did not see it say that they had foreseen it. Many more suffer from this unpreparedness.

Please take a look at these events. And ask yourself if you want them to happen, and if you do, then do not wait any longer; hasten their coming. And if, on the contrary, you fear them, ask yourself what you are really doing to avoid them or at least to prepare for them.

And there is much to do, both geopolitically and personally. Climate change is not yet inevitable. War in the China Sea is not yet certain. Europe's military vulnerability is not unanswered. And so many other situations, private or public, where anticipation is the key to survival.

Sponsored Content

About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this monthThis is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia;
the most dynamic market in the world.

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia

Get trusted insights from experts within Asia itself.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 1 month for $0.99

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this month

This is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia; the most
dynamic market in the world
.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 3 months for $9

Offer ends October 31st

Your trial period has expired

You need a subscription to...

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers and subscribe

Your full access to Nikkei Asia has expired

You need a subscription to:

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers
NAR on print phone, device, and tablet media

Nikkei Asian Review, now known as Nikkei Asia, will be the voice of the Asian Century.

Celebrate our next chapter
Free access for everyone - Sep. 30

Find out more