Predicting the future has been a lively pastime for centuries. When opportunists discovered that forecasting mankind’s future could lead to lucrative careers as pundits or consultants, nebulous gaps of uncertainty were paved over with concrete conviction. George Friedman, chief intelligence officer and founder of Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor), a private-intelligence agency based in Austin, has made a very successful career as a prognosticator of international events and outcomes. In his latest book, The Next 100 Years, Friedman claims to apply geopolitics as the tool for which the future may be reasonably predicted by identifying major tendencies – technological, demographic, cultural, military– in their broadest sense, and to define the major events that might take place.
From the book’s outset, Friedman makes clear that his writing bears no promise to what the future will actually hold, but will consider the work a success if in the year 2100 one of his grandchildren glances at his predictions and remarks, “Not half bad.”
The striking and refreshing difference between this book and many others, is the projection of world events on a much longer timescale than the 24-hour news cycle that dominates most media and our understanding of the world. Simply put, the book is to daily world news as climate is to weather. Friedman's look into the future has all indicators pointing to continued U.S. domination, arguments made because the American heartland is surrounded by two large oceans and its U.S. Navy has supreme control over the world's seas. The greatest game change will take form in the transition to space domination later this century, but rest assured, the U.S. will lead that as well, Friedman argues.
Conflict will continue, but not on the scale of the U.S. - Islamist war (I have trouble with this phrase as other countries are involved, but I’m not sure what to replace it with—Islam’s war with the West?) and not nearly as destructive as the two world wars. Friedman argues that the United States is less concerned with decisively winning wars than ensuring that coalitions of nations are prevented from being able to raise a challenge. Successes illustrate that the U.S. is very good at that.
Friedman's prognostications -- and I should mention that this is not a spoiler, as these are the events on the book cover -- put the U.S. - Islamist war as nearly over, with al-Qaida all but broken and prevented from creating a new Islamic Caliphate. A new cold war with Russia is on the horizon in the 2020s, but not of the same magnitude as that of the past. Also in the '20s, China will fragment as the coastal provinces get rich on world trade, leaving the interior, geographically-isolated provinces to fall into poverty.
In the '30s, America will suffer a massive financial crisis exacerbated by the retirement of the baby boomers and a worldwide population shortage. Friedman also predicts that the Unites States will begin to pay people to immigrate to America, rather than restrict immigration, and will emerge from the crisis financially stronger as it always does after such crises.
The emergence of three new great powers in the '40s - Japan Turkey and Poland - will restructure the geopolitical framework by allowing Japan to take control of the Pacific, Turkey to dominate the Islamic countries and Poland to scoop up the remnant of Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Russian Federation. The resurgence of Japan and Turkey will threaten American interests, and will be the harbingers of the next great global war in the '50s.
At the book’s grandest predictive denouement, Friedman envisions a Third World War that won't be fought as the first two were, but rather will begin with sneak attacks on what will be America's crown of military supremacy: geosynchronous orbiting space stations, nicknamed Battle Stars. If that sounds like science fiction, well, it is; some of the ideas mentioned in the book can literally be found in the works of science fiction writers Robert A. Heinlein and Lee Corey. America's retaliation with hypersonic weapons on Japanese and Turkish forces will give way to victory for America and its ally Poland.
Post war, America will enter another major technological surge, similar to that of the 1950s, and remain? the central, dominant actor in the world, touting revolutionary benefits such as the creation of space-based energy-collection facilities and advanced robotics.
There is little doubt that Friedman is good at predicting, but as even the author notes, "the closer one gets to details, the more likely one is to be wrong." There's a certain entertainment value to some of Friedman's wilder prognostications, but as he makes abundantly clear, the details are likely to be inaccurate but fun to compose regardless. With that understood, The Next 100 Years stands as a great foundation on which to build an understanding of the future based on patterns of history and is a recommended read to anyone seeking insight from a man whose guesses are recognized as much better than most.