Sunday, July 14, 2013

Book Review: "The Next 100 Years"

BookThe Next 100 Years -- A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman (Amazon link here).

Overview: George Friedman, who is a Stratfor analyst, attempts to predict the general international political trends during the next 100 years. His conclusion is that the United States will remain the single most powerful nation during the next 100 years, notwithstanding challenges from various regional powers. The United States' goal, during that time, will be to keep regional powers from becoming world powers. This will require the United States to maintain control of the seas and to dominate space.

Impressions and Thoughts: Friedman published his book in 2009, which suggests that it was probably mostly written in 2007 and 2008. Thus, it has now been 5 years from its publication, and  can provide some sense if the author correctly identified critical forces and trends. Friedman is careful to be upfront that he has invented certain details--a future history, if you will--to make a more readable narrative. He is also uncertain of specific dates, relying on a basic framework of 20 year periods, which he believes constitute the historical time period for significant events. While perhaps true for the late 19th and the duration of the 20th century, I actually believe that trends will actually accelerate, so his conclusions may actually occur within the next 60 to 80 years, rather than 100 years.

Friedman begins his book by predicting that, rather than declining in power, the United States will actually grow in power, and certainly remain the preeminent world power during the 21st Century.  He notes that geography has played an important role in the power and wealth of nations. The nation that occupies the "hub" of trade has the greatest opportunities to prosper. From the 16th Century onward, the most important trade routes were with Europe, and therefore, the nation(s) that controlled the North Atlantic had the greatest power. Now, however, Asian trade has increased, while the importance of European trades has fallen proportionately. Thus, the nation that can dominate Pacific and North Atlantic trade will be in the greatest position to prosper in the 21st Century. That nation is the United States, which sits astride the Pacific and Atlantic, and already has an economy that, by a degree of magnitude, is larger than its nearest rival.

Friedman spends the next few chapters of his book discussing current forces that are work, His belief is that the U.S.-Jihaddist war is "a passing phase" and "less a coherent movement than a regional spasm." Although fighting and counter-terrorism actions may continue for some time, "the strategic challenge to American power is coming to an end." "The United States has succeeded, not so much in winning the war as preventing the Islamists from winning, and, from a geopolitical perspective, that is good enough." That basic comment--that the United States need only keep some other nation or alliance from winning--is important.

Friedman also believes that much of the cultural conflict in the world is rooted in a fight over the nature and structure of the family--traditionalists versus progressive/feminist/liberal. He suggests that this the upsetting of the traditional family is the root of conflict between the West and Islam. Unfortunately, I think, he lumps all "conservative" family forces together, not distinguishing between Al Qaeda and evangelical Christians. He doesn't seem to understand that the unrest in the Middle East is the consequence of the collapse of Islamic civilization; that the cultural war between Al Qaeda and the West is different from the "Cultural War" within the West. In any event, Friedman writes: "All societies are being torn between traditionalists and those who are attempting to redefine the family, women, and sexuality. ... This conflict is going to intensify in the twenty-first century, but the traditionalists are fighting a defensive and ultimately losing battle. The reason is that over the past hundred years the very fabric of human life--and particularly the life of women--has been transformed, and with it the structure of the family." However, he also notes that "the most meaningful statistic in the world is an overall decline in birthrates." Although Friedman spends some time discussing the concept and implications of demographic winter, it doesn't factor into many of his predictions--except concerning the relationship between the United States and Mexico.

I won't go much into most of Friedman's other predictions in much detail. He believes that the 2020's will see two potential adversaries go down in flames. Russia will lose a second cold war much like it lost the first, and will collapse even further than the Soviet Union did. China, he believes, will be torn apart by internal division, as historically has happened when China opens itself up to foreign trade. The problem is that the coastal regions become rich, while the interior regions remain poor; and that the coastal regions increasingly identify with foreign powers. Thus, Friedman does not see China or Russia as long term rivals of the United States.

Instead, he believes that the most serious rivals to United States power will be from Turkey and Japan, which he believes will become regional economic and military powers. In fact, he believes that there will eventually be a war between the United States and Japan for control of space and the Moon, with a subsidiary war in Europe between Turkey and the U.S.'s ally, Poland (which he sees as a dominant, if not the dominant, European power in 20 or 30 years). Friedman believes that this war will be mid-century.

He sees the war as advancing critical technologies, including space launch and energy production from solar satellites, and propelling the United States into a second golden age, much as WWII gave rise to the economic prosperity of the 1950's and 60's.

His final chapter focuses on divisions in North America. Friedman predicts that, late in the 21st Century "Mexico, after two hundred years, will be in a position to challenge the territorial integrity of the United States, and the entire balance of power of North America." He believes that in response to demographic pressure, the United States will be forced to not only relax immigration restrictions, but eventually, companies  and/or the government will be providing incentives in order to attract immigrants, including from Mexico. But there is more than just this. Friedman notes that, unlike other immigrant groups that are geographically isolated from their home countries, Mexicans retain closer ties to Mexico and, therefore, are less likely to assimilate into American culture. He writes:
But unlike other immigrant groups, Mexicans are not separated from their homelands by oceans and many thousands of miles. They can move across the border a few miles into the United States but still maintain their social and economic links to their homeland. Proximity to the homeland creates a very different dynamic. Rather than a diaspora, at least part of Mexican migration is simply a movement into a borderland between two nations, like Alsace-Lorraine between France and Germany--a place where two cultures intermingle even when the border is stable.
He also notes the concentration of Mexican expatriates and descendants in areas once held by Mexico. "In many ways they represent an extension of their homeland into the United States." By 2060, he believes, "[t]he borderland, extending far into the United States, will become predominantly Mexican. Mexico will have solved its final phase of population growth by extending its nonpolitical boundaries into the Mexican Cession...." "In every sense but legally, the border will have moved north."

He also believes that by 2060, unemployment will begin to rise due to advances in robotics that will displace workers and eliminate the need for attracting immigrants. America will have a surplus population. Yet Mexico will have developed into an important economic power. Friedman believes that this economic prosperity will fuel Mexican nationalism and anti-Americanism at a time that Mexican population along the border region reaches critical mass, and Mexicans in that region see themselves increasingly as Mexican rather than American. He believes that this will exacerbate relations between the two peoples, leading to border and immigration restrictions and internal dispute. He believes that it will lead to the doorstep of civil war, with large protests, terrorism, and with border states resisting the United States government and many supporting succession and/or annexation by Mexico. Friedman predicts that a war will be averted, but it will be by the Mexican president intervening and arguing on behalf of Mexican-Americans. Going into the 2090s, Friedman sees the basic question as which city will be the capital of North America--Washington or Mexico City. Friedman does not attempt to predict this outcome--he believes that is an issue for the 22nd Century, and thus beyond the scope of his book.

I have certain criticisms of the book, some that could have been addressed by the author and some that could not. First, as noted above, I'm disappointed with Friedman lumping conservative Christians with Islamic militants (his "traditionalists"). However, Friedman's views seem to mirror the views of the Federal government--thus the equating of many Christian and libertarian groups with terrorists as disclosed by Homeland Security memos.

Second, and Friedman can't do anything about this, he ignores the prospect of the charismatic leader that shapes, delays, accelerates, or redirects geopolitical forces. I took a class at university that covered European diplomatic history from approximately 1860 through 1945. The professor's premise for the class is that, notwithstanding historical analysis emphasizing geopolitical forces and trends, and intercultural conflict, there was still the place for the individual shaping history. This is the same premise underlying Asimov's character of the Mule in the Foundation trilogy. Reading Friedman's book, I sometimes had the sense of being the people walking into the Foundation's oracle expecting assistance on counteracting the invading tyrant, and instead getting answers to problems that don't exist. Perhaps individuals cannot stop the forces of history, but they can impact these forces, and change the dynamics at critical times. While Friedman describes the United States' grand strategy, I suppose in 2008 that he could not have foreseen an American President that would undermine this grand strategy, or create such deep divisions within the United States.

Third, other than the final chapter on Mexico and Mexican immigration, Friedman does not address any of the forces at work in the United States. He predicts that growing disparity in wealth and power in China will ultimately unbalance that country, but doesn't address some of the same factors in the United States. Perhaps he sees the Federal government as too powerful for regional differences to assert themselves (other than the Mexican problem).

Fourth, Friedman seems to ignore India. He may have good reason to do so, but they are not explained in the book.

Finally, although Friedman discusses declining population, and even cites it as one of the factors leading to the Mexican-American confrontation, he seems to ignore it in other aspects of his book. For instance, he asserts that Japan, Turkey and Poland will arise as regional powers, even though those nations will be dealing with declining populations. Japan and Poland, in particular, have some of the lowest fertility rates in the world. Japan is further facing a marriage crises and a sex crises--the Japanese simply don't want to reproduce. If Japan becomes militarily aggressive in the mid-21st Century, it, too, will be merely a spasm.

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