The limit of prediction

The problem with trying to predict future events is that all interested parties also make their own predictions, they assess outcomes of possible moves and use all of their power to avoid the most undesirable outcomes.

Basically, this means that I can, for instance, see the predicament of the American economy, but so do the American analysts, and their willingness to make even the most drastic moves in order to prolong the status quo should never be underestimated. If they know that something will doom them, they will do literally anything to prevent it. “Anything” can range from printing trillions of dollars, spoofing the entire economy, creating a civil war, to cooking up a nuclear war. One can think that nothing can be as bad as nuclear war, but if you’re in a position of someone who knows they will be doomed without it, and with a nuclear war they can arrange everybody else to be doomed worse, the picture changes.

Also, it’s easy to speculate what the Russians could do, if they so wanted, but it’s almost impossible to know the exact thinking of the people who are actually in charge. They might have an internal red line they will never make known, and if that red line is crossed, they might activate a pre-arranged plan that is also not known outside their inner circle; for instance, if the Americans escalate past a certain point, for instance by starting to hit deep targets within the Russian Federation with carriers that can be modified to carry nuclear warheads, and it can’t be known in advance whether the warheads are conventional or nuclear, they might activate something ranging from a deep tactical response to a full nuclear first strike. You see, they really want to avoid a nuclear confrontation, but they are aware that they are in fact encouraging escalation by being too restrained, and this will inevitably encourage the West to perform a sneak nuclear attack. They are torn between really not wanting things to escalate, and realisation that their restraint might cause exactly that. So, it’s reasonably easy to understand what they might do by analysing the options that are available to them and making a cross-section between that and the analysis of their behaviour and thinking. Basically, you see what they can do and then eliminate the options that cause outcomes that are highly unfavourable to them, and then plot a tree of possible desirable courses. For instance, it is quite obvious to me that the Russians can take the entire Ukraine within a month. They could also cut off their gas, oil, food, water and electricity during winter and kill off the entire population. They could cut off all supply and communication between NATO and Ukraine. However, when you make a cross-section between that and the desire to de-escalate and decrease the probability of making the conflict threatening enough for NATO that really bad options start looking probable, you are left with options that look like “winning by not losing while the enemy is drained of resources and demotivated”.

In essence, I can plot out a tree of options, but you need to be aware that all the parties involved are doing the same thing, and what makes sense to me doesn’t necessarily have to make sense to them; for instance, if I calculate that the best outcome would be a nuclear first strike, and Russian leadership already decided that they would never use that option, it would be very hard for me to assess what the second most favourable option would be, because they might be betting on something I see as exceedingly unlikely.