We also know that the war you were planning for does show up, but it quickly evolves in to something completely different in either location, alliance arrangements, or scale.
Sometimes on Tuesday, I like to bring out little vignettes from by little flock of Black Swans. When a couple variations of the entering arguments come up in my news feed I figure, why not throw it out there.
What Black Swan came out of the bag this week? In a very short period of time, Russia could destroy NATO and dismember Turkey by taking all of European Turkey including the Dardanelles, and most of northwest Turkey from a line running roughly from Zonguldak on the Black Sea Coast, through Bozüyük in the interior to Izmir on the Aegean Sea.
This all happens rather quickly, as at the same time, most of eastern and southeastern Turkey falls under the control of the Kurds.
When the combatants come at last to the table in Beijing, the Turkish Republic has shrunk to almost 40% of its pre-war size. The call for a peace conference comes following a military coup and civil war between the humiliated remnants of the Turkish military and the discredited Islamic fundamentalists of the civilian government.
Millions of ethnic Turks are starving as they flee the Russians in the northwest, and in the south from Russians and their Syrian allies. The Kurds in the southeast are pushing ethnic Turks to the closed Georgian and Armenian borders in the east.
The Turkish Mediterranean coast is teeming with refugee camps with no external outlet. Tightly sealed Europe is already in disarray from previous refugee waves. Off the coast, a Greek and Cypriot maritime units in partnership with Russia in the Aegean keep the Turks ashore. Further at sea, tight patrols by the Israeli and Italian navies to keep all refugee boats bottled in except for those bringing Turks out of Cyprus escaping that renewed conflict there full of "little green men." The scene outside British bases in Cyprus is one out of a horror movie.
The Baltic republics, Scandinavian nations, and the former Warsaw Pact nations of Central and Eastern Europe are playing diplomatic catch-up to find a new accommodation with Russia, as it becomes clear that NATO is no longer a true alliance.
Let's see what signals came up through the ambient noise this week that triggered this Black Swan.
We know about the Russians:
Russia is building a military base in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s heartland, according to American intelligence officials, in the clearest indication yet of deepening Russian support for the embattled regime of Bashar al-Assad.With enough political problems at home and a souring attitude towards its European powers, from the department of tone deafness, it seems like we want to put pressure on Greece;
The anonymous officials say Russia has set up an air traffic control tower and transported prefabricated housing units for up to 1,000 personnel to an airfield serving the Syrian port city of Latakia.
Russia has also requested the rights to fly over neighbouring countries with military cargo aircraft during September, according to the reports.
The claims, which will raise fears that Russia is planning to expand its role in the country’s civil war, will ratchet up tensions between Moscow and Washington over the future of Syria and its brutal ruler.
The Greek Foreign Ministry has confirmed receipt of a request from Washington, asking that Russia be denied use of Greek airspace for aid flights to Syria, Reuters reported.In an unrelated side-note, don't ask me to explain our policy towards Syria. I seriously do not think we have one. We are just making things up as we go along.
The announcement came from the Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman, who added the US request was being considered.
On Sunday, a diplomatic source in Athens told RIA Novosti that Greece had refused to close its airspace to Russian planes carrying humanitarian aid to Syria.
OK, how are the Kurds doing?
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has pledged to "wipe out" Kurdish PKK rebels in their strongholds after a deadly bomb attack on the Turkish army.How does this all play together?
"The mountains of this country, the plains, highlands, cities will be not abandoned to terrorists," he said.
At least 16 Turkish soldiers died in Sunday's attack in the south-eastern Hakkari province, the army said.
In retaliation, Turkey carried out several air strikes on PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) targets on Monday.
Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Mr Davutoglu said: "You cannot discourage us from our war on terror. Those mountains will be cleared of these terrorists. Whatever it takes, they will be cleared."
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier said he was saddened by the attack and promised a "decisive" response.
"The pain of our security forces who were martyred in the treacherous attack by the separatist terrorist organisation sears our hearts," he said.
1. It is clear that Europe and the USA are not going to do anything serious in Syria.
2. Assad's Syria is not just an Iranian proxy, but a Russian one as well. Iran has been emboldened by Western weakness, and so has Russia. They have the wind at their back. They also cannot afford internally to have a loss.
3. The West is being turned against itself due to the flood of refugees from the Middle East. This is good for Russia.
4. For personal and national reasons, Russia wants NATO gone.
The commander of the US army in Europe has spoken out in support of the military relationship with Britain, amid concerns it could be damaged by defence cuts.5. Forget ancient history of Rome-Constantinople-Moscow mythology or the Fatima Prophecy if you are looking for larger national reasons why Moscow would move on Istanbul; look just a century ago;
“The US-UK relationship is as important as ever,” Lt-Gen Frederick “Ben” Hodges said. “The UK is our oldest ally and still a leader in Nato. I think the UK will live up to its leadership position.”
He accused Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, of seeking to destroy Nato, and warned that Russia could seek to use the sort of “hybrid warfare” seen in eastern Ukraine against a Nato member to test the alliance.
“I am sure Putin wants to destroy our alliance, not by attacking it but by splintering it,” he said in a speech to military and political leaders in Berlin.
Constantinople Agreement, (March 18, 1915), secret World War I agreement between Russia, Britain, and France for the postwar partition of the Ottoman Empire. It promised to satisfy Russia’s long-standing designs on the Turkish Straits by giving Russia Constantinople (Istanbul), together with a portion of the hinterland on either coast in Thrace and Asia Minor. Constantinople, however, was to be a free port.6. Will an alliance that requires all members to agree to go war on behalf of one of its member states if it appears that that member started a war? Would Spain, France and Belgium go to war in Asia Minor to defend either a Turkish Junta or Islamist Dictatorship that initiated a ground conflict with Russia?
7. What will the USA do? Nothing. Lame duck President who has no desire to get in a war with Russia as his legacy. China? They are smart. They win regardless of what happens.
8. Would Russia want a war to cover economic problems? No. That is too easy. This has deeper roots than that.
In very broad strokes, here is how it happens.
1. Russia builds its support for Assad including significant air support, special forces, and limited ground forces. At the same time, it arms and encourages the Kurds.
2. Consolidating their positions to defensible lines in Iraq and eastern Syria, the Kurds proclaim a republic. The Kurdish Republic is immediately recognized by Russia, Belarus, NORK, Cuba, a handful of African nations, and surprisingly, Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria. Assad will permit Syrian Kurds to join the Kurdish Republic, and declares an alliance with the new Kurdish Republic against the Islamic State.
3. The PKK expands terrorist operations inside Turkey. Turkey responds as expected, and violence spirals.
4. Inside Russia proper, a large-casualty terrorist attack linked to the Islamic State takes place. Russia moves significant maneuver forces in to Syria in order to punish the Islamic State.
5. Combined Russian, Syrian, and Kurdish forces invest Raqqa.
6. In what appears to be a move to ... well no one knows for sure, the Turks say they were pursuing PKK formations ... significant Turkish ground forces move south down the E99 through the Syrian frontier town of Tell Abiad. Russian forces are mostly arrayed north of Raqqa with logistic support along the M4. For some reason, the Turkish air force bombed a meeting between Russian and Kurdish officials in Maaroûda. After that, Russian forces originally destined for the final push on Raqqa coming down the M4, instead wheeled north and the rest, as they say, is history.
7. Turkey finds itself under attack from Russian ground forces in the south, Georgia has allowed free passage of Russian forces to reinforce Armenia. The Kurdish areas on Turkey are in the midst of a full uprising.
8. Turkey invoked Article 5 of the NATO treaty ... and ... there is nothing but turmoil in Brussels.
9. Turkey moved its best forces south against Russian and Kurdish forces, its second line forces to the east against what it thought would be a threat from the Armenian border, but nothing happened in what ended up just being a message to the Azeri to behave.
European Turkey, the Dardanelles, and Istanbul was defended by third line garrison forces and undermanned mainline units in a huge strategic error in light of the rather conventional Russian invasion that followed.
Its navy largely sunk pierside and after two days of respectful fighting, the Turkish airforce ran short of enough serviceable aircraft to defend its airspace from Russian strike aircraft, not to mention the cruise missile and conventional ballistic missile strikes that took out what little remaining TACAIR could be made serviceable.
All that remained from then is to try to manage the millions of people in greater Istanbul who took the Russian advice that they needed to gather what they could and leave.
NATO does nothing as Turkey, beset by internal divisions between their military and Islamists with a full Kurdish uprising folds.
That part of the world has seen and survived mass migration before.
Nothing is written.
Standard Black Swan disclaimer: I am not predicting anything. I am simply playing out the possible but improbable ... because that is how history happens.