The Next Hundred Years
New - 20 March 2009
In his book,The Next 100 Years; A Forecast for the 21st Century, the author, George Friedman does an admirable job of painting in broad strokes the fundamentals of geopolitics for the next century.  In many respects, Mr. Friedman's book might well be required reading for anyone claiming knowledge of current or world events. While it may be true that most if not all of us may not be around to see all of the predicted events -- the wars, the conflicts, the rise and fall of nations and regional powers -- this fact does not in any way lessen the potential impact of the book. If nothing else, Mr. Friedman's book, his analysis and predictions, puts much of our current conflicts in historical (past and future) perspective. For example, the current United States--Islamic struggle may well, according to Mr. Friedman, be viewed in the future as having no more significant than the Spanish American War of 1898. [And if you didn't know there was one, try to recall the battleship Maine and the charge of the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill.]
[Mr. Friedman's qualifications to make such claims, incidentally, are best summarized at Stratfor.com.]
One of the more fascinating aspects of Mr. Friedman's book is the potential for discussion, analysis, and of course, argument. This in fact is the primary reason to devote a webpage to the book... i.e., generate thought and discussion. Consider just for the moment the issues raised by the front flap of the book:
Frankly, the dust jacket simply does not do justice to the book. It's much better. And in some respects, much more outrageous and stunning in its intellectual impact.
We should be quick to point out, however, that Halexandria.org does not sell products and services (and thus the purchase of Mr. Friedman's book will have to be done by other means... the ones the avid reader typically uses when they actually purchase reading material!). Meanwhile, Halexandria does spend a lot of time thinking, analyzing, and discussing a host of similar (and wholly dissimilar) topics. The Next 100 Years... is in fact prime fodder for such discussions, and has been included herein for analysis, and via the Halexandria Forums for discussion. For these purposes, the various suggested threads of discussion are separately identified below and in the Forums.
These threads include:
Among many other things, The Next 100 Years... includes in its discussion (and in considerably more detail) the following:
The idea of an "end of the population explosion" is not a slam dunk in terms of convincing a lot of people that were raised on Paul R. Ehrlich's prognostications of immiment doom due to The Population Bomb, that there are not in fact already too many humans on the planet, and that worse yet, things are not getting worse at an ever increasing rate. Exponential increases in population does in fact sell a lot more doomsday extracts.
Reality, and statistics of reality, however, must be occasionally reviewed with an open mind. Because of this, the reality of greatly reduced birth rates does strongly suggest that things are indeed getting worse, but at a slower rate. Instead of the world going to hell next month... we're more likely going to be able to postpone population armageddon until next year. And if in fact we are rapidly moving toward a time when there will be fewer people on the planet one year than there were the previous year... this does not mean necessarily that we will no longer be overpopulated.
On the one hand, one can make an excellent argument that the world is currently very seriously over-populated... at least it is from the perspective of the average member of the human race (as well as all the other species of life -- endangered or otherwise -- who are in competition with humans and who are for the most part are losing the battle*). In fact, most of the world's problems -- poverty, conflict, racism, lack of space, and so forth and so on -- are aggravated by too many people now... and in fact overpopulation pretty much assures us that no solutions to any of these problems are likely or even possible.
On the other hand, from the perspective of people, groups, governments, and corporations looking for cheap and expendable labor... the only over-population problem is the increasing or existing numbers of non or marginal workers -- i.e., those that can not contribute to the wealth of the employers and their associates... or to put it another way, those who will not be working for the powers that be. This includes a LOT of untrained indigenous people, elderly people who are longer physically able to put in the hours to justify their space on the planet (or there consumption habits: eating and so forth), and any children or other dependents who are unlikely to constitute the future labor force. In essence, anyone who currently does not, and in the future can and/or will not contribute... are from the viewpoint of the powers that be: expendable (and in fact should be expended as soon as possible).
From the perspective of geopolitics, the key to power among nations consists of a large enough population and a big enough economy to support a strong military... the latter which can then be used to ensure a bigger economay and a thriving population. Just as slaves in the past were a sign of wealth and power, so today are the economic slaves and worker bees that power the machines of industry. Part of the cleverness of the current United States economy is that it has a huge number of people doing service related jobs... in effect, non essential work whose main purpose is to keep millions of people employed and content -- until such time as they are needed as manpower for a war or major industrial expansion effort (the latter which almost always occurs in the midst of the former). There's just nothing like a war to expand industry, and in fact war is almost an essential ingredient. Consequently, most service related workers are a bit like petroleum reserves... buried underground for later use should be need arise.
Note: Having a large population is not in and of itself the key to geopolitical power. It may be a necessary, but is not a sufficient condition. Coinciding with a large population is the critical factor of a comparable economy. Geopolitical power still rests largely on having a powerful military, which in turn must be supported by an economy of comparable size... which in turn requires the population to man both.
Finally, the fifth prediction above sounds, curiously, like very good news... except of course for the orthodox traditionalists, whose view of change is pretty much cast in stone. In effect, the grand strategy of the United States -- that includes prevention of coalitions of nations to oppose its proclivities -- would also include making efforts to destroy religions, traditions, and ideologies that might bring diverse people together in a common cause (ostensibly against the United States). "The Great Satan" does in fact do better when all of these same religions, traditions, and ideologies are at odds with one another.
When it comes to Survival of the Fittest -- geopolitically speaking -- there are no internationally sanctioned rules that cannot be ignored, nor or there any tools that cannot be imployed. For example:
The Next 100 Years... makes much of the critical geopolitical importance of Sea Power. Ground Pounders and Junior Airmen might argue to the contrary, but they, I believe, would be wholly wrong. In all respects, the adage "Who controls the seas, controls the world" has long been (for oh say a couple of thousand years) fundamentally correct, and sea power continues to be the strongest geopolitical factor in the world today. Part of the reason is that the key to economic strength is in international trade, and the seas are far and away the easiest, most economical means of shipping raw materials and products. Control of international trade is in turn controlling by sea power. Sea power also has the convenient aspect of allowing a world power to move its power around the globe.
Note that Mexico and several Central American Countries do not have access to the Atlantic Ocean, and could theoretically be bottled up in the Gulf of Mexico and/or the Caribbean. Furthermore, the economies of these other countries are not sufficient to currently pose a threat. Only Mexico has the population and the real potential for becoming economically powerful. Meanwhile, Canada doesn't have the population... and if I had my druthers, I'd be looking to invite the provinces of Canada to join the union. All of course with the exception of French Quebec... who can't even make peace with their fellow Canadians.
Sea power provides the United States (or any other nation) with the power to ensure a profitable and viable international trade (of resources, manufactured products, and thus its economy), while at the same time denying the same economic and military benefits to its enemies... or merely those of its allies currently in the dog house with the sea power nation. Accordingly, item 2) above follows directly from item 1). Furthermore, item 3) derives directly from item 2).
Item 4) on the other hand, is due to the Atlantic European nations losing control of the seas to the United States during World War II... where incidentally the Eurasian continents were devastated, while at the same time, the United States had its economy, citizenry, and military energized. The reason that England, Spain, Portugal, France, and the Netherlands were so successful in the 19th century was due to their power on the seas. Not quite control, but enough to prevent any other nation from controlling the seas.
True worldwide sea power has been realized for the first time in history by the United States. This was due in large part to World War II when all its potential rivals were deccimated, and additionally, when the U. S. acquired leases on ports and bases throughout the world. Ever heard of Diego Garcia? It's in the Indian Ocean, is a key location for supporting sea power and controlling shipping lands, and is currently under the power of the United Kingdom... and based upon a 1971 agreement is effectively controlled by the United States Navy. Thus, the control of the seas is extended to its logical conclusion.
One point worth noting in sea power is that while the United States controls the seas, other nations can always challenge the United States for control in selected regions. Even pirates (from Indonesia to Somalia... to the shores of Tripoli) can be something of a pain. They may have no chance of ever replacing the United States in controlling the seas, but challenges can always be made. For the most part, however, no other nation is really spending that much money on naval power; it's just not worth it. And it takes decades to man, train, and develop a really substantial navy. And even when the United Kingdom went to war with Argentina over control of the Falkland Islands in 1982, the British fleet made its way south to engage the newly minted enemy... effectively with permission from the United States. The facts that Argentina's light cruiser ARA General Belgrano (formerly the USS Phoenix, a survivor of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor), and the British Type 42 destroyer HMS Sheffield were both sunk during this war makes it clear that others can host a naval service that tries to enforce its will upon others... but only if the U. S. is willing to allow such geopolitical skirmishes. And of course, whenever two opposing navies go at it, sinking each other's ships and aircraft, so much the better for the United States. Neither the Belgrano nor the Sheffield will ever challenge the United States.
There is the perception that China's spectacular rise in industrial strength, and its ownership of a large portion of United States' assets (currently about a trillion dollars or so) makes it a power with which to contend in the future. And yet, The Next 100 Years... makes an excellent case for:
The current debt of the United States to China and Japan (about 1.5 trillion in U. S. treasury bonds alone) should not be construed necessarily as the ability of the bondholders to radically influence the debtor. An old adage in banking circles is that if you borrow money from the bank, the bank owns you. But if you borrow enough money (i.e., enough such that the bank's collapse would deccimate the bondholders), then you own the bank. Thus, the United States, the debtor... owns the "banks" of China and Japan. Sorry about that fellows... but where in the world would you invest otherwise? Farmland in Tibet?
The current Great Recession of 2008/9 will likely to result in fewer products being purchased worldwide, including those products "Made in China" (and/or "Made in Japan"). When one considers those nations most impacted by the collapsing economies... most of whom are not exactly on the United States' list of most favorite things... one has to wonder if the current recession in the United States does not have its own silver lining in terms of the nation's grand strategy. Take for example, the case of Russian resources;
The Next 100 Years'... prediction of a second cold war has got to send chills up most everyone's spine [forgive the pun... but it was irresistable].
The fascinating part is that Russia really has no choice. Its geopolitical necessity is to accumulate bumper states between Mother Russia and the rest of the Big Bad World. This is not to suggest paranoia... because for the most part, they really are out to get them. It's not like the country has never been invaded before (or taken actions calculated to initiate an invasion) -- just think Napoleon and Hitler in comparatively recent times. And while Russia has beaten back many such efforts, the fact remains that their phyrric victories have cost millions of Russian lives. The Battle of Stalingrad alone is considered to have resulted in a combined total of more than 1.5 million dead.
Accordingly, The Next 100 Years... assumes that:
Japan, Turkey, Poland
The decline of Russia during the period from 2020 to 2040 will result in major incursions being made in mid-century by (from the east) Japan, (from the south) Turkey and (from the west) a "Polish Bloc" composed of Poland, and perhaps Slovakia, Hungary, and/or Romania.
Sigh. There's just nothing like a war to set up for a golden age... e.g. the 1940s leading to the 1950s. And isn't it amazing how "national security" and "buffers zones to prevent invasion by other countries" can so easily lead to pre-emptive warfare by nations? Someone just might invade us from that direction, so let's invade our neighbors before that happens. It's fundamentally important to always keep the battles in someone else's back yard... which allows one to use one's own backyard to prosecute the war.
Obviously, the further one goes into the future, the greater the difficulty of making accurate predictions. The Next 100 Years... is clearly cognizant of this fact. For example, who in 1900 would have predicted, a mere fifty years later, blitzkriegs of heavy armor and the collapse of nations such as Poland and France in a matter of days. Similarly, I strongly suspect, The Next 100 Years... tends to underestimate the scientific and technological improvements of the immediate future, if not the next fifty years. There is certainly the honest attempt to consider such NASA approved innovations as solar space power systems. For example, with respect to space-based solar power:
Nevertheless, any attempts to predict the future of technological innovations are fraught with difficulty. Mr. Friedman ignores, for example, the potential of Zero-Point-Energy, Connective Physics, and a whole raft of possibilities that have not even thus far generated a consensus identification tag.
Furthermore, any rational use of the logic in making predictions is also based on certain assumptions. In The Next 100 Years... these include such gems as: 1) Control of Space will aid in the Control of the Seas, 2) challenges in space will not necessarily result in the solar space power systems being the first targets of opportunity, 3) the best route to invade, for example, Russia from the west is via Poland, the Baltic states, and Belarus, and 4) the historical tradition of economics will continue to be heavily dependent upon labor.
My perspective is that the first assumption is probably correct... even if with respect to assumption number two, the control of space may be nip and tuck for some time yet (and may not be an accomplished fact by mid-Century). Still... the control of the seas by the United States can and probably will continue essentially unabated... provided of course that control of space is not imposed by anyone other than the United States. Or as The Next 100 Years... relates:
Assumption three, on the other hand, is in my mind even weaker. Modern armies may be using propulsion and transportation systems to move battle forces into position that make the distinction between flat land, marsh land, and mountain land almost irrelevant. In a manner of speaking, technology may... ready... level the playing field. This is not to give too much credence to Air Power, but in the process of going from projectile style mass bombardment to precision destruction of targets, the role of ground troops will become one based upon increasing rapid and quick mobility... and thus very likely a whole lot less mud, mountains, and rivers with which to contend.
Note, for example, the observation (primarily from The Next 100 Years...):
With the advent of precision guided weaponry (in the late 1960s and 1970s), there was no longer any need to devastate whole cities, countries, and populations. (Unfortunately, this does not mean that some forces might prefer or enjoy devastating others.)
Finally, robotics may create much less need for massive armies, massive economies to support massive armies, and masses in general. Soldiers, workers, cannon fodder, and economic slaves may instead be replaced with much more highly trained, far less expendable soldiers and/or workers -- if only because of the education and financial investment in them -- and thus not as likely to be used as just so much grist for the mill. We may not need large populations as much (even if growing food and so forth may be somewhat labor intensive... at least until they develop the robotics for that.).
Nevertheless, the logic employed in The Next 100 Years... is excellent... once the assumptions are proven and/or established. It's just that some assumptions tend to fail in the longer term. Sorry, George.
There may be other assumptions that the clever reader may want to discuss. Feel free to do so.
One of the basic premises of The Next 100 Years... is the prediction that in the last twenty years of the century (2080-2100) there will be serious conflict with Mexico. This will be due in large part to the number of Mexican Americans in the southwest (i.e., that part of the United States originally belonging to Mexico -- before Texas Independence, the Mexican-American War and the Gadsden Purchase). These Mexican derived populations will become dominant in the region, and more importantly with their loyalties to Mexico greater than to the United States. This premise might suggest some interesting possibilities.
For example, if the United States were to cordially invite the Canadian provinces to join the union (and the make over was appearing to be successful), why not extend a similar invitation to Mexico? There might be a need for some intensive language training, and the process would probably be one involving one or more decades (and/or generations?)... but the appeal of a United States of North America could become enormous. A lot of problems could be solved (and a lot of solvable problems could also be created), but in terms of geopolitics and ultimately the control of the world... this plan has some intriguing possibilities. The curious part is that is might even happen almost without effort... with the southwestern United States becoming the lead facillitator. Fait accompli can be an irresitable force.
Particularly important and worthy of discussion are several possible truisms (axioms) proposed by Mr. Friedman in The Next 100 Years...:
Of particular interest is The Next 100 Years... division of Culture into three states:
Obviously, we're living in an age that is fully stocked with all of the above. And of course, there is likely to be a whole lot of fighting between all if not most of the participants in the first and third states... including obviously a lot of intra-barbarian fighting. Curiously, the potential peacemakers may also include in large measure some of the Decadents. It's a very perplexing world.
America's Jubilee Cycle
Then there is The Next 100 Years'... observation of America's jubilee, 50-year cycle (one that "usually begins with a defining presidency and ends in a failed one"). "The crises are defined by the struggle between a declining dominant class linked to an established economic model and the emergence of a new class and a new economic model. Each faction represents a radically different way of viewing the world and a different definition of what it means to be a good citizen, and reflects the changing ways of making a living."
This lengthy but incomplete summation of George Friedman's The Next 100 Years... hardly does it justice. The entirety of the book must in fact be considered to be essential reading material. Equally essential is the need for a lot of discussion and consideration of the ideas propounded therein. [Just don't ask me for a copy, because I have only one and it's been lent to a friend!]
Obviously, Mr. Friedman's predictions will find room for error, including the possibility of his missing revolutionary new concepts, technologies, and long-term changes in social behavior and the manner in which diverse cultures interact (as possibly illustrated by the rather unique Internet). There is also the example alluded to above, which asks the question: what in the next sixty or seventy years is to prevent the United States combining with (adding to the union) the provinces of Canada (with the possible exception of French Quebec... and for obvious reasons)... and THEN, joining with Mexico (and ultimately Central America) as well? In some respects this recognizes the decidedly friendly relations with Canada (where millions of American retirees go each year to buy their prescription drugs at world reduced prices), as well as the current occupation [pardon the pun] of the southwestern United States by individuals with a greater loyalty to Mexico than their nominal hosts. In fact, if the United States were to establish a truly laudatory national health care system (with a program for prescription drugs that would prevent wholesale theft by the pharmaceutical industey), the appeal of being part of the United States might be extremely enticing for all those "other" Americans. Meanwhile, the language barrier could be -- except for the French one -- addressed and corrected over the next one or two generations.
Another bone of contention with the predictions of The Next 100 Years... might be the development of new forms of energy and/or propulsion. This was mentioned above in that Mr. Friedman uses as a prime but unstated assumption that the traditional means of invading another country is via the land route... and indirectly that "air power" cannot be relied upon to constitute an adequate invasion. However, if as was Mr. Friedman's argument that the United States never has to win a war... i.e., if a 'grand strategy' invasion is less taking control of an area or nation, and instead, simply fouling that area or nation's ability to attack the United States, then an advanced air/space power might not need any strong presence on the ground. It might even argue strongly against it. Accordingly, any significant scientific breakthroughs in energy and/or propulsion... such as that described in Connective Physics... could allow the country with the superior technology to bring the impact of its weaponry to virtually any spot on earth. Distances may not vanish entirely, but having to transit 500 miles along the ground to apply one's power could be a relic of the past... while sending a precision weapon at hypersonic speeds over large distances could become the new modus operandi.
The Jubilee cycles discussed above might appear to be in the process of being short-circuited by the possible cultural
The Jubilee cycles discussed above might appear to be in the process of being short-circuited by the possible culturalsea change [pardon the pun], beginning in the fall of 2008 (and continuing into the foreseeable future). However, while the economic meltdown caused by banks and mortgage companies in 2008 might be comparable to 1929 (that was preceded by one four-year presidency the next cycle), it is unlikely that President Obama will get to use his name on the next cycle. To a very large degree, his advisors are from the old school of Republican/Democrat chronyism, and thus a radical departure from the past is probably not in the cards. The "32 year" turning point theory, on the other hand might be slightly more on track. Economically, the world is in fact undergoing some incredible happenings in terms of taking money from monied sources and completely rerouting it. One might also note in this regard Lindsey Williams' take on this issue (you will have to scroll down see his message at the Great Awakening). When coupled with the Geopolitics of the next hundred years.. it becomes all the more intriguing.
This is particularly evident in the collapse of oil, gas, and mineral prices in the last year, where oll and gas are now selling for roughly 1/4 of their previous prices, and such precious metals as Rhodium have fallen in price (over a period of a week or so) from $10,000 an ounce to $1,000 an ounce. With this and similar collapse in prices, how is this hurting exactly who? Russia (where the collapse in prices of oil, gas, and Rhodium are especially devastating)? Venezuela? The Middle East? And are any of those places currently on good terms with the United States or NATO Europe? No? Gee, whatever could that imply?
Just maybe... just possibly... CWII is already in progress. August 2008 in Georgia might have been the kick off event. As might have been heard in the circles of power: 'Kick around my friends with the golden fleece and let's see how much hard currency you can buy with rhodium at one tenth its former price!'
 George Friedman, The Next 100 Years; A Forecast for the 21st Century, Doubleday, New York, 2009.
 "Global Warming: Has it stopped?", The Week, March 20, 2009.
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