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Centre for Geopolitics

Providing historically-grounded solutions to enduring geopolitical problems
Paul Kennedy 'Nightmare Series' lecture at St John's College - "The Day 1.5 Billion People Lost Their Water"

On Friday 15 May 2015, Prof. Paul Kennedy delivered the inaugural Forum on Geopolitics 'Nightmare Series' lecture at St John's College, Cambridge. This event was kindly supported by Absolute Strategy Research.

Prof. Kennedy spoke on the topic of water security, in a talk entitled 'The Day 1.5 Billion People Lost Their Water'.

He began by painting a picture of an accidental and cataclysmic contamination event on the Tibetan Plateau: the crash of a covert military flight delivering highly toxic nuclear waste to a treatment facility in China, and the scattering of this waste over a region that is the source of the great waterways of south, southeast and east Asia, including the Ganges, Irrawaddy, Mekong and Yang-Tse-Kiang rivers.

Prof. Kennedy emphasised that one of the most powerful geopolitical forces unleashed by such a 'nightmare' circumstance would be the mass panic of up to 1.5 billion people, and a disruption of economic activities sufficient to topple multiple governments. He also discussed the probability of any state or international organisation possessing the means or willingness to prepare for geopolitical risks of this magnitude.

The lecture was followed by a lively Q&A session, chaired by Prof. Robert Tombs.

About the Nightmare Series

In this series, the Forum on Geopolitics invites leading geopolitical thinkers and practitioners to reflect upon their own personal 'nightmare' scenarios: the greatest potential disasters they see on the horizon of the next five to ten years. Speakers outline the precipitating event, or series of coincident circumstances that they dread, because of the cascade of political, military, economic and social consequences that would follow. They then reflect on ideal strategies and mindsets that could prepare governments and other key stakeholders to prevent, mitigate or cope with the anticipated consequences.

The Forum on Geopolitics will run three more in this series of public lectures in 2015, and in parallel, will offer a series of private, subscription-only lunches for senior political figures, military experts and executive-level representative of key private sector interests. The overall objective of the series is to demonstrate the need for building capabilities in innovative, strategic thinking at the highest levels of policy-making and decision-making, and to showcase to practitioners, the private sector and public opinion the value of using cutting-edge academic thinking to prepare for the 'real world' geopolitical events that may well be just around the corner.

About Prof. Kennedy

Professor Kennedy is director of International Security Studies at Yale University. He obtained his BA at Newcastle University and his DPhil at the University of Oxford. He is a former Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton University, and of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, Bonn. He holds many honorary degrees, and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 2000 for services to History and elected a Fellow of the British Academy in June 2003.

He is the author or editor of nineteen books, including The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, The War Plans of the Great Powers, The Realities Behind Diplomacy, Preparing for the Twenty-First Century and The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present and Future of the United Nations. His best-known work is The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Random House), which provoked an intense debate on its publication in 1988 and has been translated into over twenty languages. He is on the editorial board of numerous scholarly journals and writes for The New York Times, The Atlantic, and many foreign-language newspapers and magazines. His monthly column on current global issues is distributed worldwide by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate/Tribune Media Services.

His latest book, published by Random House in 2013, examined mid-level problem-solvers during the Second World War and was entitled Engineers of Victory. He is now preparing the revised edition of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers and beginning a new study entitled Victory at Sea.