No one proclaims more vehemently that they can’t predict the future than a futurist and they will then pontificate from some point of view just what the future will be like. This futurist, George Friedman, in his book The Next 100 Years stands on the century old shoulders of geo-politician strategists like Alfred Thayer Mahan and Sir Halford Mackinder who wrote the two guiding principles for geographic control of the world for the 20th century. Mahan’s point of view was that whoever controls the world’s oceans controls the world’s ports and thereby the world’s continents. This theory was a riposte to a slightly earlier one by Mackinder who posited that whoever controlled the heartland of Eurasia controlled the world continent and thereby the world. Hitler was influenced by that theory and tried to capture the heartland of Poland and the USSR but was defeated eventually by the United States who controlled the world’s oceans.
Friedman maintains that the US unquestionably controls all the world’s oceans at present and thereby controls all the world’s trade. The US is the only major power to have native ports central to world trade on both the major oceans, the Pacific and the Atlantic, while Russia has only remote ports in the Arctic and Pacific. China and Japan presently have only small navies on a single ocean and everyone is dependent upon the good graces of the US to maintain their vibrant economies. So any attempt to forecast the 21st century must begin with the acknowledgement of America’s naval power and its ability to project that power inland from the sea for decades to come. Mackinder’s theory would be stronger if his postulated heartland had a good transport system to the world’s oceans where transport of giant quantities of materials is easy, but it doesn’t.
The first several chapters set the stage for the future with an analysis of the various problem areas of the world and how these nations and ethnic groups were influenced by geography. Countries like Japan and England are likely to become maritime powers because they must if they are going to maintain sovereignty whereas Poland, Germany and Russia must maintain an army. These geopolitical facts influence the whole texture and trajectory of these societies for the next 100 years. Power is created by fundamentals of geography, demographics, technology and culture.
At present we worry about al Qaeda and its terrorist threats but Friedman maintains that until they have political control of a major country they have little real power. Furthermore he maintains that it is in all of the Islamic states’ self-interest to prevent them from gaining power. He maintains that there are too many inherent divisions in the Islamic world for them to be a unified threat before their oil runs low and then they have no power. Almost every region of the world has political fault lines where quakes can easily occur and it has been American policy to leave these faults in place. It isn’t to create trouble between the various factions but to prevent these factions from unifying and forming effective coalitions which would attack American self-interests. The policy is to create a benign chaos.
Europe is attempting to organize into a single entity and so far the US hasn’t objected because it has been a buffer against the old USSR but since that has collapsed and Russia isn’t so threatening it will be in US interests not to let Europe go too far with its unification. But, Friedman mentions several times, things change and the unexpected should be expected.
Japan draws great unity from its racist policies which have made it ethnically a nation of clones. They are easy to rule because they are individually very conforming to a national ethic; however, the country has aged greatly during their age of prosperity and the population is actually shrinking quickly which will soon leave a lack of young workers. So they may try to export their industries which require labor to where labor is cheap while maintaining ownership of the factories. That will be risky for the Japanese because the cheap labor is nearby in China but there has been a lot of friction between these countries and that may make things even worse. At present Japan is also rich but not very strong militarily and therefore dependent upon the US. The US will probably prevent the Chinese from attacking Japan but it is unlikely that the US would go to war to recover Japanese factories nationalized by the Chinese.
The book maintains that China will not become a major threat to US power soon even though they are growing very rapidly. That is because there are too many fault lines within Chinese culture which will easily crack open when the government weakens its grip. This is currently manifest in their tight control of information on the internet which is intended to limit dissension by preventing access to liberal ideas of self-determination.
Turkey is in an excellent position to reassert its one time great power in the Mediterranean Sea. It has a long coastline with good access to seaborne transportation advantages. It’s like a miniature US with seaports all around. That is a good position to be in if one has a strong navy but a very poor one if it doesn’t.
The book postulates a world war at 5 p.m on November 24, 2050 when a coalition between Japan and Turkey based on the back side of the Moon attacks three American Battle Star spaceships parked in geosynchronous orbits. This chapter was so silly, even for a science fiction story, as to ruin the rest of the book for me. I very much liked Friedman’s approach and analysis most of the time but he really stubbed his toe on this one. That chapter makes the soon to follow one of Mexico taking over North America much harder to read. Much of the struggle for the Global Heartland (North America in this case) is real and it is already in progress with the great number of Mexican heritage babies being born both in Mexico and the US. These biological things are geometric in their growth patterns and with European women going to college and having very few children while Mexican women are staying home and raising lots of children the population balance will shift very quickly and permanently. The brief epilogue is about the population explosion and CO2 induced global warming but he thinks they will take care of themselves.
People will stop having sex and the sun will shine on solar panels and power the world.