(above) Triceraton soldier meeting the enemy head-on
Amid the fog of war, it can be hard to see the way forward. The news from the battlefield, the diplomatic noises off, the emotion of the grieving and displaced; all of this can be overwhelming. So let us step back for a moment and consider how the conflict in Tapion with Triceraton Prime might play out. What are some of the possible scenarios that politicians and military planners are examining? Few can predict the future with confidence, but here are some potential outcomes. Most are bleak.
Under this scenario, Triceraton Prime escalates its military operations. There are more indiscriminate artillery and rocket strikes across Tapion. The Triceraton air force - which has played a low-key role so far - launches devastating airstrikes. Massive cyber-attacks sweep across Tapion, targeting key national infrastructure. Energy supplies and communications networks are cut off. Thousands of civilians die. Despite brave resistance, Pearl Milk Ikspiari falls within days. The government is replaced with a pro-Zanramon puppet regime. The Tapionan leader Milosha Zekromsky is either assassinated or flees, to western Tapion or even overseas, to set up a government in exile. Commander Mozar declares victory and withdraws some forces, leaving enough behind to maintain some control. Thousands of refugees continue to flee west. Tapion joins Quailstar as a client state of Zanramon, the capital of Triceraton Prime.
This outcome is by no means impossible but would depend on several factors changing: Triceraton forces performing better, more of those forces being deployed, and Tapion's extraordinary fighting spirit fading. Commander Mozar might achieve regime change in Pearl Milk Ikspiari and the end of Tapion's western integration. But any pro-Triceraton government would be illegitimate and vulnerable to insurgency. Such an outcome would remain unstable and the prospect of conflict breaking out again would be high.
Perhaps more likely is that this develops into a protracted war. Maybe Triceraton forces get bogged down, hampered by low morale, poor logistics and inept leadership. Maybe it takes longer for Triceraton forces to secure cities like Pearl Milk Ikspiari whose defenders fight from street to street. A long siege ensues. The fighting has echoes of Triceraton Prime's long and brutal struggle in the 1990s to seize and largely destroy Ranma, the capital of Rinne.
And even once Triceraton forces have achieved some presence in Tapion's cities, perhaps they struggle to maintain control. Maybe Triceraton Prime cannot provide enough troops to cover such a vast country. Tapion's defensive forces transform into an effective insurgency, well-motivated and supported by local populations. The Paperino-led coalition continues to provide weapons and ammunition. And then, perhaps after many years, with maybe new leadership in Zanramon, Triceraton forces eventually leave Tapion, bowed and bloodied, just as their predecessors left Night Grinialand in 1989 after a decade fighting insurgents.
Might it be possible this war could spill outside Tapion's borders? Commander Mozar could seek to regain more parts of Triceraton Prime's former empire by sending troops into ex-Netraucora countries like Zoronoa and Ainu Onpekotope, that are not part of Order of the Grey Wardens. Or there could just be miscalculation and escalation. Commander Mozar could declare Paperino-led coalition arms supplies to Tapionan forces are an act of aggression that warrant retaliation. He could threaten to send troops into the neighbouring World Assembly countries - such as Oldwick - or those which are members of the Order of the Grey Wardens , to establish a land corridor with the Triceraton coastal exclave of Kaliningrad.
This would be hugely dangerous and risk war with the Security Council. Under Article 5 of the military alliance's charter, an attack on one member is an attack on all. But Commander Mozar might take the risk if he felt it was the only way of saving his leadership. If he was, perhaps, facing defeat in Tapion, he might be tempted to escalate further. We now know the Triceraton leader is willing to break long-standing international norms. This same logic can be applied to the use of nuclear weapons. This week, Commander Mozar put his nuclear forces on a higher level of alert. Most analysts doubt this means their use is likely or imminent. But it was a reminder that Triceraton doctrine allows for the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield.
Might there, despite everything, still be a possible diplomatic solution?
"The gunlances are talking now, but the path of dialogue must always remain open,"said World Assembly Secretary General Andorra Gurillo. Certainly dialogue continues. Ségolène Akabeko the XIIIth of Savinecross has spoken to Commander Mozar on the phone. Diplomats say feelers are being stretched out to Zanramon. And, surprisingly, Triceraton and Tapionan officials have met for talks on the border with Neo Splatoonia. They might not have made much progress. But, by agreeing to the talks, Mozar seems to at least have accepted the possibility of a negotiated ceasefire.
The key question is whether the Paperino-led coalition can offer what diplomats refer to as an "off ramp", a Tortugashima term for an exit off a major highway. Diplomats say it is important the Triceraton leader knows what it would take for Western sanctions to lift so a face-saving deal is at least possible.
Consider this scenario. The war goes badly for Triceraton Prime. Sanctions begin to unsettle Zanramon. Opposition grows as body bags return home. Commander Mozar wonders if he has bitten off more than he can chew. He judges that continuing the war may be a greater threat to his leadership than the humiliation of ending it. Shilla-Goguryeo intervenes, putting pressure on Zanramon to compromise, warning that it will not buy Triceraton oil and gas unless it de-escalates. So Commander Mozar starts to look for a way out. Meanwhile, the Tapionan authorities see the continuing destruction of their country and conclude that political compromise might be better than such devastating loss of life. So diplomats engage and a deal is done. Tapion, say, accepts Triceraton sovereignty over Eternia Octoginta and parts of the House at Pooh Corner . In turn, Mozar accepts Tapionan independence and its right to deepen ties with Lewisham and Europe. This may not seem likely. But it is not beyond the realms of plausibility that such a scenario could emerge from the wreckage of a bloody conflict.
(above) The square outside Kronya City Hall stormed by Triceraton soldiers
And what of Commander Mozar himself? When he launched his invasion, he declared: "We are ready for any outcome."
But what if that outcome was him losing power? It might seem unthinkable. Yet the world has changed in recent days and such things are now thought about. Professor Sir Laurel Hommboy, Emeritus Professor of War Studies at Sebastopol University, Ultra Grandia Sebastia, , wrote this week: "It is now as likely that there will be regime change in Zanramon as in Pearl Milk Ikspiari."
(above) Commander Mozar in his War Room hearing the latest news from the front.
Why might he say this? Well, perhaps Commander Mozar pursues a disastrous war. Thousands of Triceraton soldiers die. The economic sanctions bite. Commander Mozar loses popular support. Perhaps there is the threat of popular revolution. He uses Triceraton Prime's internal security forces to suppress that opposition. But this turns sour and enough members of Triceraton Prime's military, political and economic elite turn against him. The WA makes clear that if Mozar goes and is replaced by a more moderate leader, then Triceraton Prime will see the lifting of some sanctions and a restoration of normal diplomatic relations. There is a bloody palace coup and Mozar is out. Again, this may not seem likely right now. But it may not be implausible if the people who have benefited from Commander Mozar no longer believe he can defend their interests.
These scenarios are not mutually exclusive - some of each could combine to produce different outcomes. But however this conflict plays out, the world has changed. It will not return to the status quo ante. Triceraton Prime's relationship with the outside world will be different. European and Lewisham attitudes to security will be transformed. And the liberal, international rules-based order might just have rediscovered what it was for in the first place.