A post at Uncouth Reflections about the history of nomadic empires from the Steppe got me thinking about whether we've heard the last of the land that gave us the Huns and the Mongols.
A general weakness of arguments that say "X happened in the past, but cannot happen again" is that sometimes the average interval between occurrences of X are so long that you just might be in that waiting-around time. That's why it seems so unlikely. But project forward the interval length, from the last known occurrence, and suddenly you may not feel so secure.
Nassim Taleb reminds us that we can't rule out another World War I because wars on that scale show up around once every 100 years -- the last one before that being the Napoleonic Wars. For most of the 19th century, Europeans believed they'd moved beyond that level of warfare. Somewhat like how complacent they feel today about the prospect of another such war. And yet we're just coming up on 100 years after WWI, not to mention that there is always random variation in the length between occurrences -- somewhat longer, somewhat shorter.
The same applies to nomadic warfare that destroys / subjugates multiple civilizations across the Eurasian continent. Smaller cases of nomads sacking a nearby civilization are more common, but I'm talking about nomadic empires that span a good part of Eurasia, seriously destabilizing many different settled civilizations in their wake.
The last one was the Mongols, who conquered during the 13th C. If you want to count off-shoots of nomadic horse warriors from the Steppe, you can count the Ottoman Turks (descended from the Oghuz Turks), who conquered during the 14th C.
Before that was the Huns, who conquered during the 5th C. That was 800 to 900 years before the most recent wave of the Mongols / Turks.
Before even that was the Scythians, who conquered during the 7th C. BC. That was 1100 years before the Hun wave.
That suggests an interval of roughly a millennium, give or take a century, between these episodes.
Adding 1000 years to 1200 means we could see another Genghiz Khan or Attila the Hun by 2200, although maybe it'll be closer to 2100, or maybe closer to 2300. In any event, heading down the pike.
If it sounds alarmist, just think what someone would have said in 1000 or 1100 about a second coming of a band like the Huns.
"Seriously? A Steppe nomad invasion throughout Eurasia, in the current millennium? I mean, literally? The 5th century called, they want their fear-mongering back."
God help Eurasia if the Central Asians take up Salafi Islam like the Arabian nomads have. (That's a separate cycle -- Arabian nomads laying waste to the Crescent of Civilization and beyond).
The obvious targets would be the civilizations of the Middle and Near East, Eastern Europe, and China, just like always. But now there's a ripe civilizational target in America, as well as easier ways to travel over oceans. Who's to say that they wouldn't show up here and start wreaking havoc, like the Arabians have?
This is the kind of mindset we need to have when planning for our long-term national security and immigration policies. Certainly we need to respond to the current threats, for example the Arabians. But we ought to plan for the next coming of Attila the Hun -- just to be on the safe side, since we know they have re-appeared throughout history at certain intervals. And the window to prepare for the reincarnation of Genghiz Khan is closing faster than we think -- that army could show up as soon as the end of this century.
Given how slowly we prepare for long-term uncertainties, rather than pressing immediacies, we'd better start thinking about it now.