Saturday, February 04, 2012

Reading :: The Next 100 Years

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century
By George Friedman

As I mentioned in a recent review, Friedman is CEO of Stratfor, an Austin-based provider of geostrategic analysis. In this book, Friedman attempts to forecast the geostrategic challenges of the next century. Given the tremendous changes of the last 100 years, one might consider this undertaking to be well beyond the ability of even a foremost geostrategic analyst. Friedman acknowledges the point and emphasizes that he can't predict the details of the future - just the broad outlines. For instance, Friedman predicts that the US will continue to be the dominant global power, despite predicted challenges from Russia (2020s), an alliance between Turkey and Japan (2050s), and Mexico (2080).

Those challenges may seem oddly specific, but Friedman argues that they flow from the geostrategic implications of each country. Russia has become a net commodities exporter, meaning that it has a limited window to achieve security by reclaiming a buffer region via satellite countries, including Poland - which will not want to go back into the fold. Japan is a net importer and must guarantee the steady flow of imports for its own strategic security, and that need will clash with US interests in the Pacific. And Mexico, Friedman says, will pose a challenge late in the century not just because it will be a first-world nation at the US border but also because the US border region will become culturally much more similar to Mexico. So Friedman confidently predicts that these issues, involving these entities, in roughly this timeframe, will come to pass.

Friedman does also speculate in greater detail about these conflicts, though he marks these as speculation. This speculation reaches its height in Chapter 11, where Friedman plots out a war in which Japan and Turkey join to attack US' ally Poland in the 2050s. The war begins when Japan's moon base launches missiles to disable the US' orbiting battle stations, providing cover for Turkey to invade Poland in super-soldier exoskeletons - well, you get the idea. Chapter 11 would make a great plot for a science fiction story.

Reading this book is like reading vintage Toffler. As a thought experiment, it's intriguing, and the timeline helps us to consider how geostrategic issues such as borders and imports may lead to conflicts later in the century. But for every prediction Toffler got right, he had at least one that went wildly wrong. Yes, we have adhocracies all over the place, but we don't have undersea villages. Similarly, this book's value is more in how it helps us to consider geostrategic issues and their implications than it is in providing specific predictions. If that's something you're interested in doing, certainly take a look.

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