The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century
by George Friedman
From the book: THE NEXT 100 YEARS by George Friedman. Copyright © 2009 by George Friedman. Used by arrangement with The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
- Geopolitics and geography shape international affairs so much they enable long-range predictions.
- Geopolitical forces position the U.S. to dominate much of the 21st century.
- American politics follow 50-year cycles. Each cycle has a different focus and features a defining clash between political forces.
- China’s growth will slow; the nation may splinter in the 2020s due to differences between inland and coastal populations, rich and poor, and other internal divisions.
- Russia will re-emerge as a regional force due to the same geopolitical factors that governed the Cold War. It will not be as great a challenge to America as in the past.
- Aging labor forces will impel a shift in immigration: Nations will court new workers.
- New powers, especially Japan and Turkey, will rise, fueled by geopolitical forces. In the 2040s, these two nations will fight the U.S. and its allies – notably Poland.
- The American victory will make the 2060s a wealthy decade for the U.S.
- By 2080, space-based energy will power the planet.
- The rise of Mexico will present the central conflict of the late 21st century.
What You Will Learn
In this Abstract, you will learn: 1) What the next 100 years may be like, 2) What trends and conflicts could change the world, and 3) How geopolitics may shape international affairs.
In this bold, lively and entertaining book, political strategy researcher and analyst George Friedman makes highly specific predications about the 21st century. His discussion of the globe’s changing face educates readers about the forces shaping international politics. Friedman is committed to a wide geopolitical perspective, and his predictions rest on broad, detailed historical knowledge. Even if you think some predictions are farfetched (or too specific for such long time frames), the parallels he draws between what happened historically and what he believes will happen in the future are quite educational. getAbstract recommends Friedman’s book to professionals involved in international business or long-term strategic planning, and to any reader interested in pragmatic, interesting and, of course, theoretical, assertions about the future.
Welcome to “the American Age”
In 1900, it seemed to Europeans as if Europe would always dominate the world. By 1920, that was a lost dream. World War I had killed millions. Empires had vanished. Germany had fallen. Communism ruled Russia. Jump to 1940: Germany had recovered and had started a terrifying war. Jump to 1960: Germany had lost and ended up split in two. The U.S. and the Soviet Union maneuvered for domination. The possibility of nuclear war rumbled in the background. Jump to 1980: The U.S. had lost a war to tiny North Vietnam. America wanted so badly to thwart Soviet ambition that it allied with Communist China. Now, jump 20 more years: By 2000, the Soviet Union was gone. China said it was Communist, but capitalism spread across the country. On September 11, 2001, the world changed again when Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S.
In 1900, you would not have been able to predict the details of any of these world-changing events. However, if you had examined the situation from a geopolitical perspective, you would have been able to predict major trends, as is done here. “Geopolitical forecasting” makes two assumptions. First, it sees that people gather into organized social groups “larger than families.” Politics then emerge. People feel loyal to these social organizations, and are motivated by “national identity,” which includes history. This shapes a nation- state’s character and its “grand strategy.” Geopolitics treats the players in any situation as rational, and assumes that they always act in pursuit of their own interests.
The second understanding is that geography determines a nation’s resources and options. This includes its physical location – a land-locked state behaves differently from a state with a fine port – and other defining factors such as mountains and mineral deposits. It includes factors beyond a nation’s control, such as its neighbors’ political and religious beliefs, and the presence or absence of rivals. If you let these two major categories guide your reasoning as you review how economic and demographic trends intersect with emerging technology, you will be able to make solid, and even specific, predictions about the future. Geographic and geopolitical reality “constrains” countries, so their free will isn’t that free. Most leaders must choose from limited options. Only the greatest leaders generate new or unexpected moves, like chess grand masters.
The 1991 collapse of the USSR, the major geopolitical event shaping the 21st century, positioned the U.S. as the sole superpower. No nation can match its might or its technology. Geopolitically, it benefits from its location and from a shift in shipping patterns. For 500 years, Europe was the international political hub, with the Atlantic as its shipping highway. In the 1980s, “transpacific trade” came to equal “transatlantic trade,” a major global economic shift. The U.S. is positioned to dominate both oceans’ shipping. Its satellites and its Navy watch “every ship in the world.”
The “American Age” dates from the USSR’s fall, but took on its sustaining tone when Al Qaeda’s terrorism mounted the nation’s “first real test” on 9/11. Some predict a 100-year war between the two civilizations, but it will be much shorter. To win geopolitical power, Al Qaeda would have had to destabilize the U.S. and spark a new radical Islamic state. The U.S. had only to survive and block Al Qaeda from forming a regime. That it did. Al Qaeda’s region is unstable and its movement is incoherent, but it ignited America’s surge into the next stage of its “grand strategy.”
Grand strategies are woven into every country’s “national character.” America’s grand strategy consists of “five geopolitical goals” which stem from its historical conflicts. Its first goal, born at its founding and pursued into the early 19th century, was to dominate its continent militarily. Its second goal was to remove all threats against it from the
Western Hemisphere. That fuses with its third goal, protecting all “marine approaches” to its land. This leads to its fourth and fifth goals, dominating the oceans, and keeping any other state from challenging its naval superiority. Because the U.S. did not set these goals consciously, but generated them through a series of wars, its culture combines a feeling that the nation’s destiny is to dominate the world with a counterbalancing sense that things are about to fall apart. Historically and geopolitically, America is poised to dominate the 21st century, not because of innate superiority – it is an adolescent nation whose culture is still young enough to be barbaric in many ways – but due to its location and its economic, military and political power.
China and Russia in 2020
Because China is so large (25% of the world’s population) and has grown so explosively in the past 30 years, predictions must take it into account. China will contend for dominance, but it will not become “a major world power,” and may not even survive as a single country. Its location is its first limiting factor, in that mountains and steppes confine its expansion.
Add population distribution as a factor, since the bulk of its people live in the east, “within 1,000 miles of the coast.” Inland and coastal regions have different needs and interests, and the tension between them will increase. These areas were divided before Mao and may even split again. China’s economic growth will slow due to systemic weaknesses. Its people qualify for bank loans based on social connections, not the quality of their proposals or finances. Thus, China generates too many bad loans, “between $600 billion and $900 billion,” or 25% to 33% of its gross domestic product. “The open question is whether the internal forces building up in China can be managed.”
Countries refight the same wars because their geopolitical forces, needs and weaknesses don’t change. Take Russia, which has two major strengths, its land and natural resources, and a single massive vulnerability, borders that expose it to invasion. Russia tried to compete in the 20th century by industrializing. In the early 2000s, it shifted to exporting raw materials, notably oil. This increased its wealth and power, but made it more vulnerable to outsiders seeking resources. Russia will deal with this by expanding its influence in former USSR and Eastern bloc states, notably Belarus, Ukraine and the Caucasus. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) efforts to enter these areas will threaten Russia, which will push back by rebuilding its army by 2015.
Through most of the 20th century, U.S. immigration policy focused on coping with excess labor. The government worried that admitting too many immigrants would drive down wages. Now, as the world’s population ages, nations will need immigrant labor. This issue will come to a head in the 2028 or 2032 presidential elections, which will unfold within a larger cycle defining U.S. politics. Such defining cycles emerge every 50 years:
- “First cycle” – In the mid-1820’s, the U.S. population was still largely English. A small group of highly educated men provided unifying leadership. They eventually clashed with the more diverse, less educated pioneers who settled the countryside.
- “Second cycle” – The 1870s brought conflicts between farms and small towns. The power shift to towns led to new national financial policies and a stable currency.
- “Third cycle” – The shift in the 1920s from villages to urban manufacturing centersdominated this cycle, which saw fiscal mistakes that culminated in the Depression. Responsive economic policies, augmented with wartime spending, generated massive government expenditures. The New Deal drove taxes and interest rates up as boomers began having families.
- “Fourth cycle” – In the 1970s, the U.S. population shift from “industrial cities” to the suburbs led to an economic crisis.
- “Fifth cycle” – This cycle will crystallize in the 2020s with a clash between the “service suburb” population and a “permanent migrant class” of workers. Severalfactors will intersect, including the 2030s’ presidential elections, an aging population, declining returns on late 20th-century technology, and new real estate and stock market pressures. The labor supply will shrink for the first time, increasing inflation and forcing retirees to sell assets or fall into poverty. Nations will compete for laborers and eldercare workers.
From 2020 to 2050
Leading up to the 2020s, Russia will want the U.S. out of Afghanistan. America will counteract by sharing technology with Russia’s opponents and supporting the rise of Poland and the Baltic states. Russia will try to break up NATO, and will clash with the U.S. by 2020. Neither will “risk war,” but both will “maneuver” into another cold war. In the 2030s, Russia will become a regional power, but its conflict with the U.S. will have the same outcome as the Cold War.
While the U.S. will prosper in the decade starting in 2040, its global relationships may be tense. The U.S. will be powerful, but it may become myopic and “careless.” In each period, particular regions are conflict flashpoints; in this period, “the Pacific Basin” will be turbulent, notably Japan’s relationships with China and Siberia. Seeking dominance of nearby waters, Japan will strengthen its naval and space-based forces. U.S. concerns over keeping China powerful (to pressure Russia) will skew its response to Japan.
Turkey’s power will spread north and Poland will push west. Turkey will boost Russia, Iraq and Syria by giving them some control of area oil reserves. Turkey will seek control
of the Suez passage, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Its Indian Ocean activities will disturb India, a solid regional power supporting the U.S. Germany, having blocked Poland’s westward expansion until now, will find that its aging population sidelines it in world politics. Poland’s efforts to cure its “relatively landlocked” state by acquiring a Turkish port will cause conflict with Turkey. Positioning itself for a slow, defensive conflict, the U.S. will block both powers but not fight. The U.S. will support nationalist movements that interfere with Turkish goals – and will do the same in Japan.
The U.S. will increase its militarization of space. Its orbiting “space-based command centers,” or “Battle Stars,” will enable it to send missiles anywhere quickly and easily. The U.S. will build this system slowly but deploy it quickly to surprise other nations. America will demand that Turkey and Japan withdraw from their spheres of influence. It won’t expect full capitulation, but will lean toward Poland and try to trim Turkey’s influence to pre-2020 levels. Instead, tensions will build; Turkey and Japan will join to influence Asia from each side. If it can lure a European ally, the Turkey-Japan “Coalition” eventually will challenge the U.S. This will be “a replay of World War II” in that a sneak attack will provoke armed conflict and “weaker countries” will try to shift the balance of power. A Coalition sneak attack will feature low-tech hits on high-tech assets, such as car bombs at U.S. launch sites. Anticipating a gap in U.S. support, Turkey will attack Poland.
Japan will build a secret moon base to launch multiple attacks, overwhelming the Battle Stars’ defense systems. These attacks will signal technology’s impact on the nature of war. Extensive surveillance, computer technology and robotics will enable new precision warfare, outdating the idea of total war. Armies will shrink. Warring countries won’t need nuclear weapons to leverage their power. The attack on the Battle Stars will cripple the U.S. militarily, but not economically. It will overestimate Coalition forces and launch massive counterattacks. It will rebuild its space fleet, bomb Japan’s space operations and destroy the Japan-Turkey Coalition’s space-based forces. Turkey and Japan will expect to overwhelm Polish and U.S. ground forces by destroying their power systems, but, instead, the U.S. will form a counter alliance (perhaps with Britain and China). Its forces will keep going with new power technology until they defeat the Coalition.
2060, 2080 and Beyond
After defeating Japan and Turkey, America will be the geopolitical “center of gravity.” Defeat won’t destroy Japan, but it will diminish its power – and Turkey’s. China and Korea will block Japan’s resurgence. Poland will lead a confederacy of nations to block Turkey. War will turbo-charge the U.S. economy. Having been attacked, the U.S. will pour money into dominating space. New technologies will flow freely, including robotics, genetic advances to expand life spans and extensive solar power systems.
No nation’s dominance lasts forever. By 2080, other nations will confront America. Mexico, a surprising challenger, will prosper as a result of the 2030 shift in immigration policies. Mexicans still live next to their home country. They will dominate 200 miles of
“bicultural” U.S. territory north of the border. Mexico City and Washington will tug at the area’s inhabitants to secure their loyalty. Urban areas with many Mexicans will face destructive demonstrations. Expect military clashes between the two nations by 2080.
About the Author
George Friedman, author of America’s Secret War, is founder and CEO of STRATFOR, a private intelligence and forecasting company.