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Book: “The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century”, George Friedman

March 19, 2012

“The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century”, George Friedman

America ever stronger, China and Russia slowly fragmenting, but watch out for Poland and Turkey…

This is a very bold and thought-provoking attempt to predict the next one hundred years.  It is refreshing – in the sense that jumping into a cold shower is refreshing – to be confronted with a narrative of the future in which Afghanistan and, in fact, the whole “US-Jihadist War” barely gets any real mention (neither does NATO or the UN, for that matter).  We learn that these are very, very minor speed bumps in a century that, I am sure you will comforted to hear, will remain dominated by the US as the only real “super power”.

America still dominant...

Mr Friedman focuses on big picture geo-politics and the key strategic drivers for nations.  He points out several times that, historically, there are only ever really a small handful of viable options; the US need to control the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and stop prevent coalitions forming against it, Eastern Europe as a buffer/battleground for example.

“…history as a chess game in which there are many fewer moves available than appears to be the case”

He dips into technology – computers, robotics, alternative energy and military hardware – as necessary.  Of particular interest, he homes in on the shifting make-up of most world populations – the slowing down of the population growth rate; more ageing and less youth.  From here, he pushes one of his key themes for conflict.  Soon, most First World nations are going to have to reverse their reluctance to allow immigration and be actively trying to attract young, foreign, workforces into their countries.  A few decades after this, technological improvements will once again reverse this demand

A 100 years in eight bulletpoints:

I’m sure you are dying to know “who wins” in this coming century.  If I could summarise some of the key points of Mr Friedman’s vision of the coming 90 – 100 years for you:

  • America remains the dominant – and sole – superpower
  • Military forces get smaller and more effective – and more dependent upon electrical power than oil.  Space becomes a battleground and “all-seeing” satellites crucial.  Large-scale military expeditionary forces become much less necessary – hypersonic missiles and airpower do most of the work
  • Over the next 10 – 20 years, both Russia and China will have, mainly non-violently, slowly fragmented under the weight of their own political, military and economic contradictions
  • Eastern Europe, headed by Poland make political and economic inroads east
  • Resource-hungry Japan does similar westwards into China
  • Turkey re-emerges in a role not entirely dissimilar to its Ottoman Empire days, but a more dynamic and expanding rallying point for a dissatisfied and still fragmented Islamic audience
  • Stand by for a Turko-Japanese major military conflict with the US, mid-century!
  • Mexico slowly (i.e. over the next 60 – 80 years) expands into the southern states of the US through migration (which for a long period will have be keenly encouraged by the US government), ultimately sparking a US-Mexico conflict

If Mr Friedman gets even half of his predictions correct, he will of course be a genius.  His reach back through history is useful to show the continuity of the geo-political themes he is presenting.  But you only really get the best out of the book if you are disagreeing with it and, in the best possible way, there is plenty to disagree with.  I was really enjoying the broadbrush strategic themes about the need to control sea lanes, resource-hungry nations needing to secure raw materials and shifting demographics.  Then I found I was being asked to entertain the notion of a Turko-Japanese replication of a “Pearl Harbour” strike launched from the Moon against US “Battle Star” space stations (!).  After this, the notion of the Baltic states expanding to bring Saint Petersburg into an Eastern European sphere of influence was quite an easy mental leap to take.  Mr Friedman himself seems a little uncomfortable with some of these space-based implications, realising it was all starting to sound a bit too much like “Star Wars”.  After an impressive start, Mr Friedman seems to run out of steam a little into the second fifty years of his prediction.  Crudely, only approximately the last 10% of the book takes on this timeframe and most of this is about Mexico expanding north into the US.  This is perhaps understandable.

It is a very US-centric book, but this is permissible if you are arguing that the US is poised to expand its super-power status even further in the coming century.  I particularly liked the characterisation of the US as still in an immature adolescent phase as a power – everything it does is excessively violent and clumsy but it can get away with it because no-one can challenge its power.

“Geopolitics teaches us that there few things that are unprecedented and few opportunities for changing the game…At the beginning of the 21st century, I will argue that there are again three things to take seriously: the rise of American power, the end of the population explosion, and the development of technologies to deal with a declining population…Presidents and recessions come and go.  But the long processes that truly change our lives are still there, and they are not always the things that people are expecting or discussing…”

Very refreshing to rethink your perspectives.  In hindsight, maybe Bin Laden won’t be such a big deal…

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