According to a recent poll by the National Geographic Channel, 64% of Americans believe Barack Obama would be better able than Mitt Romney at handling an alien invasion of Earth. No doubt there are moments when the President feels that inter-planetary visitors have already occupied the world around him. Certainly the recent G8 meeting bore more than a passing resemblance to the bar scene from the movie Star Wars.
As far as I am aware Control Risks has not yet opened an office on Mars. I hesitate about being too unequivocal on this subject as my colleagues have an unflagging zeal to extend Control Risks real estate footprint ever further afield. This has been a deliberate strategy: to provide our clients with comprehensive geographical support in both the head office locations where they own risk and the more frontier spots where they are at risk.
But the turbo-charged enthusiasm with which this strategy has been enacted makes me wonder how much longer it will be before I find an invoice from NASA on my desk and learn that a Control Risks advanced reconnaissance team has already headed out to seek new opportunities on Mars and beyond.
On the basis I have learned not to be surprised by anything in this job, I thought it might be useful to sketch out the sort of advice we might give a Martian new business development director looking to evaluate where best to start the take-over of Earth.
United States of America. Any successful invasion is going to lead at some stage to a showdown with the USA so there is an argument to tackle the lone superpower straight away and head-on. But I am not so sure – it might be advisable to wait. The USA is bruised by its forays into Iraq and Afghanistan and not so keen as it was to take up arms but it has the most formidable and experienced military since imperial Rome, or perhaps ever. It might be a good idea not to disturb the giant too soon. In a few months time we will know who will be President for the next four years and we will have a better read on the state of the economy; always tricky to gauge in an election year through the statistic-mangling prism of campaign politics.
Europe. The place is a mess. Invade now and you will probably be welcomed with open arms. The problem is you will be expected to shoulder the responsibility to bail out the continent. If Chancellor Merkel is reluctant to take on the task, then so should you be. Leave Europe for now but do not write the old place off altogether. This is the home of so much that has shaped the genius of humanity: Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, The Rolling Stones, Plato, Goethe, Voltaire, Wallace and Gromit, Einstein, the try that Gareth Edwards scored for the Barbarians against New Zealand in 1973 – the list is endless.
Middle East. Not an obvious choice given the fault lines running through the region. You will not want to get embroiled in civil war in Syria, nuclear standoff in Iran or nursing fragile embryonic democracies in North Africa. But equally do not be misled by the tales of woe in the news headlines, this is a neighborhood that is changing. Societies here are shifting much faster than the sclerotic political systems can accommodate and the economic performance can keep pace with. This misalignment of expectation with capability will ensure there will be many more bumps along the way. But do not dismiss the Middle East too easily; the bulging youth population poses a big problem but it is also the engine that will transform the region.
Asia. You will have been told countless times that we are living in the Asian century. There is a near universal consensus that in the past two hundred years power has shifted form Europe to America and is now heading east. All quite possibly true but don’t be beguiled by Asia-mania into thinking that this process is anywhere near complete. Asia without a fast-growing and prosperous China is a different proposition all together. So I would advise you to covertly take a poke around not just in Beijing and Shanghai but also in the mega-cities that nobody has ever heard of and then make your decision. And do not forget India. Any nation that plays test cricket – a game that takes five days, often ends in a draw but is utterly absorbing – deserves a look.
Africa. This is where it all began, man’s ambition to be the dominant life on earth. Like the Middle East, Africa is good at advertising its own shortcomings and much less good at drawing attention to how much of that perception has now changed and the transformation that is underway. This might be the place. But be warned: Africa attracts romantics. So if you find yourself standing at a bar all misty-eyed, wearing an ill-advised safari suit and nursing your seventh drink of the evening, then the chances are that you are barking up the wrong tree.
The conclusion: stay at home. That blue dot you can see in the distance out of the space ship window might just be more trouble than it is worth. Please stop by for a visit and if you have any good ideas on intra-planetary cooperation, they will be gratefully received.
And on reflection I am not sure we have that much to offer you in exchange. Until we do, I will tell my colleagues to change out of their Buzz Lightyear outfits and concentrate on challenges nearer to home.