Protests over J&K's altered status
Activists in Bengaluru display placards during a protest against the Modi government's move to revoke Article 370 pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir | Photo: Shailendra Bhojak | PTI
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Stability is being rolled back globally.

There is no point hoping it is not. It is the new reality. For every corporate and political leader, this must now underpin every judgement, however uncomfortable and counter-intuitive.

The way you have assumed things will be is no longer guaranteed. Worse still, unthinkables and unpalatables mean you must now turn most of your assumptions on their head. If you move too slowly or cautiously, then you are out.

Look at the language from HSBC chairman Mark Tucker confirming the shock removal of CEO John Flint after just 18 months. Overseeing a 16 per cent increase in profits was not enough. HSBC needs new leadership to respond to “an increasingly complex and challenging global environment”. One banking analyst quoted in the London Financial Times said: “you almost need a Marvel superhero to run the bank”.

Do not delude yourself that this is a temporary blip. The default reassurance that comes from constancy is fast being rolled back. Those that don’t get this fact should assume they confront a likely similar fate.

Worse still, there is a disturbing truth.

For an increasing number of top global leaders with autocratic instincts, destabilising what we take for the norm is their explicit intention. Donald Trump openly set this goal when running for president. He promised he would ‘drain the swamp’. Few realised the radical nature of what he intended, even if details were sparse on how he would do it. Now we know.

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Trump is the most brazen of the domineering leaders, many of them democratically elected. They want to create new irreversible realities and power for themselves and their ideas. More worryingly, others who think the same way are watching. They realise that they too can do similar and get away with it.

Having reported and analysed global affairs for forty years I declare that I am scared. Look at what has happened in recent days alone.

Also read: Islamic Republic or Islamic Emirate? Trump’s Taliban deal has Afghanistan at a crossroads

Without open debate, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly deployed his radical Home Minister to surprise parliament by unilaterally removing the 70 years’ special constitutional status of Indian administered Kashmir.  India tore up an international agreement. Vladimir Putin’s Russia had faced only international condemnation for seizing Crimea in 2014. He got away with it.

Does Modi assume that he can do the same at negligible political risk? The rage and accusations in Pakistan’s parliament were inevitable. India is planning “ethnic cleansing” of Moslems. Does a third war between two nuclear-capable states now threaten? That has long seemed unlikely, despite previous nerve-wracking moments. But now? Worryingly, there is conspicuous lack of international condemnation from big global powers.

Another hugely worrying trend has been the sudden collapse of nuclear détente. The US has just withdrawn from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty signed with the Soviet Union in 1987. Washington says Russia is building new missiles that knowingly violate the INF deal. NATO says the same. In response to Washington’s decision, President Putin withdrew Russia immediately too.

In the 1980’s I reported the years of deployment of US cruise missiles in Europe designed to counter Russia’s SS-20s, along with often violent public protests. Then came the intense arms control negotiations in Geneva, the extraordinary Gorbachev-Reagan Summit in 1986 in Reykjavik, Iceland, and remarkably, their signing of the treaty a year later.

At a stroke in recent days that huge symbol of ambitions for superpower stability has vaporised. The distinguished American ‘Foreign Affairs’ journal this week even goes as far as to label this ‘The Return of Doomsday’ in its lead article. All the extraordinary achievements of intrusive verification plus destruction of nuclear warheads and missiles have suddenly gone.

The world is a less transparent, more covert and far more suspicious place. The arms race is back. Assumptions of stability are being unravelled. This “could lead to global destruction” warns the Foreign Affairs analysis… Yet – I assume with irony – the publishers then urge their subscribers like me to “enjoy reading” their analysis, then “discussing with family, friends and colleagues”! Just what’s needed for a fun chat over the beer and juice at a summer picnic!

Also read: How the Budget session has cemented Amit Shah’s position as No. 2 in Modi govt

And then another unthinkable: Hong Kong.

The gloves are almost fully off. Beijing’s official voice there publicly warns that “those who play with fire will perish by it”. There is simultaneous China TV transmission of a chilling video showing the People’s Liberation Army’s exercising to suppress dissent. The warning is unambiguous.

Ten weeks of huge demonstrations by up to two million people in black Tee-shirts have been extraordinary enough. But the physical attacks on symbols of power, especially the LegCo ‘parliament’ building plus Beijing’s offices and security headquarters turned this more sinister.

I write having accompanied UK Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe on his mission to finalise the Basic Law in Beijing in 1984. I was also a witness reporting inside Tiananmen Square for several weeks between April and June 1989. In the Square, there was nothing like the Hong Kong scale of attacks on symbols of one-party communist power. Through tight self-discipline of the demonstrators, there were no violent attacks on the authorities. There was disdain of communist rule in an extraordinary atmosphere of celebration.

But given my years of previous experience eluding the secret police in Eastern Europe during the ’80s, you could sense in Tiananmen Square the invisible role of agents and plain clothes police provocateurs. They were both monitoring and disguising themselves as protesters. It was unthinkable that the PLA army would be ordered to intervene and kill huge numbers of protestors. It was not unthinkable. It was inevitable. Unknown to outsiders t was top of the agenda of the highest level leadership within the secretive Zhongnanhai communist party compound. With no outward signs of what was planned, the Chinese premier Li Peng had decided that political necessity must prevail. He ordered the brutal, bloody suppression and until his death just a few weeks ago was known as the “butcher of Beijing”.

This was part of the PRC’s playbook then. We have no option but to assume that has to be the case in Hong Kong today.

Do we really know enough about the “angry protesters” in Hong Kong battering official doors while the police stood by and did not intervene? Or those daubing graffiti in high profile locations with such self-confidence and impunity? And we must ask: who encouraged the vicious assault by “gangland triads” at several metro stations? Were they spontaneously angry members of Hong Kong’s underworld, willing to do it publicly and be identified? Or were they paid and under instructions? If so by who and for whom?

Also read: The ‘oh shit’ moment that corporates and politicians had in Davos 2019

Surely that’s enough. No! This is far from all.

As I write, the unravelling of global stability continues. The weekly Proliferation Bulletin tells me: “Iran Says It Will Further Breach Nuclear Deal In One Month Unless Europeans act.” Tehran is moving towards resuming the enrichment of nuclear fuel to closer to weapons grade again. Another treaty achieved against huge odds is being unravelled. This is as retaliation against Trump’s unilateral economic sanctions which are designed and energised by his hardline National Security Adviser John Bolton to punish Tehran.

In my London Times I then read another sinister unravelling of stability. Using the same strategy as it deployed to fill the vacuum left by the US on Syria, Russia will now start military cooperation with Iran on naval exercises. It will counter the growing US and British naval presence to protect shipping in the Gulf. Result of this opportunism? Tension further ratcheted up in the Gulf.

And oh I forgot (how could I?): There is Brexit. Two weeks into Boris Johnson’s new leadership, we must fear the deepening impact of huge public and political divisions on the stability of the United (yes still in name) Kingdom. Boris has already been warned by the Cabinet Secretary that he faces civil unrest. That has been repeated by Sir Malcolm Rifkind a former defence and foreign secretary, and a former chair of the intelligence and security committee. The PM, he warns, risks leading the UK into a “civil-war level constitutional crisis.” There is also the backlash in the European Union and the overarching imperative for the remaining 27 EU members to keep it together.

These dark developments are evidence of why everywhere there is no time for wishful thinking. And on the slingshot principle, one unravelling of stability rebounds even more sharply. It then creates others, each of more dramatic scale. The destabilising momentum of the rebounds becomes unstoppable.

Accuse me of being over dramatic. But we look at data and reality, then relate it to history.

These must be regarded as dark times for leaders, as our five years of Thinking the Unthinkable work has highlighted. Many leaders have confidentially told us they are “scared”, “overwhelmed” and “fearful”.

Do please take a moment to share any further examples, or your reasons for optimism. Our project always strives to be balanced and fact based. At least there is word from Qatar as I write that a peace deal between the US and the Taliban is – quite remarkably – almost complete. But scepticism is in order. Look at what has not happened after what seemed to be the extraordinary agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels in Havana.  The instincts of war, conflict and suspicion remain the default.

Check out much more of what we have warned about and the implications for the highest level leaders. There is much more detail in our book.

Ignore the evidence and this trend at your peril. Do please feel able to help us on this worrying journey as stability keeps unravelling.

The author is a British television journalist and founder of the Thinking The Unthinkable. Views are personal.

The article was originally published on

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19 Comments Share Your Views


  1. The only thing this British coward needs to worry about is the Pakistani rape gangs raping and seeding under age British girls to spread islam with their penis.

  2. This moron, so called journalist has no idea about kashmir issue as is evident by him comparing dilution of art. 370 to accession of Crimea by russia. The Print has a big pool of such crooked idiots.

  3. Unnecessarily melodramatic. Putin has been ruling Russia since late 90’s nothing has changed, his approach to geopolitics has remained ‘real politik’ since about ’04. China’s moves in hongkong are not outside the script either. They have followed the same template of slow but continuous spread communist main lan rule in Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang. India on Kashmir is also following the historic script of a government in majority taking some bold new step to maneuver on the issue. Brexit is also in line with the history of Britain viewing itself distinct from the continent.
    The only thing that is currently weighing on the world is Trump’s trade war as it goes against America’s traditional free trade missionary role. If that pressure on the world economy continues then we might be in for some realignments but i don’t foresee any conflicts. It is just a multipolar world doing what is should.

  4. HaHa. The world is unraveling because things are not going the way the writer wishes them to. If after 40 years of observational experience, this is what the writer produces, doesn’t speak much for either his experience or sense. Luckily for much of mankind, the world is a better place. But yes with Brexit looming, maybe the writer does have cause for concern. So best that he focuses on that. The White Man no longer needs to bear the burden of the rest of the world.

  5. Nik is absolutely wrong on Kashmir and his argument shows he does not know the issue at all. Once this is out of the way, rest of his article may be of highest standard in journalism since The Print has bothered to publish it! It would however, be much more worthwhile for him as a Brit to worry about Brexit rather than any other part of the world.

  6. I confess to being dwarfed by the huge canvas of this article. Yet, I make bold to say that I do not share Mr Gowing’s panic but on the contrary, reiterate the accusation that he is being ‘over dramatic’
    I thank The Print for introducing plebeians like myself to the inhabitant of the stratosphere and allow us to make acquaintance with his views. Thanks. But no thanks.
    I take exception to the claim by Mr Gowing that India is planning “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims. His worrying, that ‘there is conspicuous lack of international condemnation from big global powers.’ is an indication of his superficial understanding of the recent events here.

    • Sir I take objection to your objection to this writer’s view. Didn’t you notice he clearly placed himself on pedestal before even writing a single word? “I have reported for 40 years” therefore I am be all and know all. I am GOD’s own word or rather GOD personified.

      This journalist is poor in history of mankind. The world survived the excesses of the Roman Empire. It survived the slavery boom initiated by his own country; it survived the ethnic cleansing of native Americans and natives of Australia and NZ; It survived the illegitimate use of nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.

    • If Gowing is superficial, I will say you are prejudiced or even bigoted.How can you say with Amit Sha and Modi India is not planing ethnic cleansing of Muslims.. But one thing I notice is that Gowing is missing the elephant in the room. Israel and the Palestinian conflict, which I believe is the biggest tinder box in the world today. I am certain that Modi is drawing inspiration or even guidance from Netinyahu., Perhaps, may be so, Gowing like other counterparts in the West is afraid to mention it. Hubris Ate and Nemesis. who if this Kashmir adventure will not turn out to be Modi’s nemisis

  7. dear Author
    You have proved in your article that humans are not fit to rule each other whether it is democracy or any other form.
    So you leave us with two options, we will either kill each other or we will and should be ruled by GOD who has to descend on the planet.

    Latter looks like more of a possibility and that is how we will acheive the Doomsday. Why worry when we know the end result, only thing we do not know how it will start and when will it happen? By your article we now know it has started. The beginning of the end.

    thank you

  8. Ethnic cleansing in Kashmir happened in 1990s when Hindus were driven out from Kashmir. If this reporter doesn’t know the facts, he shd keep quiet rather than accusing India of ethnic cleansing now. Malicious report and Poor journalism.

  9. This article is amazing. It says “India is planning “ethnic cleansing” of Moslems.”
    Is this author completely out of his mind?

  10. Small piece of good news from Turkey, where the Erdogan juggernaut was halted in Istanbul. As more of the populist leaders fail to deliver, expect the revenge of voters to catch up with them. President Trump’s trade war is tipping the world into recession, even as a President Obama, inheriting the crisis of 2008 worked diligently to launch the US economy on its longest spell of expansion.


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