The Next 100 Years, George Friedman, New York: Doubleday, 2009, 253 pages. ISBN 978-0-385-51705-8. Review by the Rev. Dr. Dallas Clarnette, 2013, Australia
Are we seeing the demise of Western leadership? Does the rise of China threaten America’s supremacy of the Pacific? Is resurgent Islam a time-bomb promising decades of international terrorism, jeopardizing world peace?
According to George Friedman, many Americans have “a deep seated belief that the United States is approaching the eve of its destruction.” He rejects that assessment. The Next 100 Years shows why optimism and excitement is a more appropriate world view. While Friedman admits he has no crystal ball and his projections may be wrong, he believes his organization’s access to intelligence data, and his analyses are credible reasons for Westerners to discard any worrying pessimism.
As founder of Stratfor, a major private intelligence and forecasting company, he believes America’s supremacy in world affairs will continue throughout the twenty-first century. He sees America maintaining a balance between the competing interests of various, but weaker powers. In the distant future he sees the countries best able to compete with USA are China, Japan, Turkey and Poland. This view may surprise some, but he documents his view with good supporting evidence.
For 500 years Europe was the centre of the international system, but America has that status today. In fact, he says the twenty-first century marks the dawn of the American Age. Friedman says “The American economy is so huge that it is larger than the economies of the next four countries combined: Japan, Germany, China and the United Kingdom.” As for Germany and Russia, they will become increasingly unimportant, internationally speaking, over time.
Americans “constitute about 4% of the world’s population but produce about 26% of all goods and services. In 2007, U.S. gross domestic product was about $14 trillion compared to the world GDP of $54 trillion—about 26% of the world’s economic activity takes places in the United States.”
While some may point to USA’s declining auto and steel industries, the country’s $2.8 trillion production (2007 figures) is still the largest in the world, and much more than the combined industrial production of China and Japan.
Economics are however only part of the secret of America’s ongoing prospects. More importantly, USA is the only power that is able to control all of the oceans of the world. Every ship in the world moves under the eyes of American satellites in space and its movement is guaranteed―or denied at will―by the US Navy. This is unprecedented in history. There have been regional navies, and strong ones in the past. But never before has there been one nation able to control all seas at one time. That is the key to America’s continuing dominance of international affairs.
While some predict that China is a rising challenge to American supremacy, he does not agree. China, he says, is inherently unstable economically, isolated physically, and demographically. In fact, despite its vast land mass, it is actually an island! To the east it faces the Pacific Ocean, where US power restricts the ability of the Chinese (and anyone else) to deploy its navy at will. To the west lie the Gobi desert, the mighty Himalayas, and the nations of S.E. To the northwest is Russia’s vast spread and Mongolia in the North. Thus China is hemmed in.
But Friedman’s optimism is also tempered by realism. He predicts a crisis facing America around 2030. He notes a pattern built into American history, whereby “every fifty years or so, the US has been confronted with a defining economic and social crisis.” He says the next crisis will come with the presidential election of either 2028 or 2032. “In its history so far, the United States has had four such complete cycles and is currently about half-way through its fifth. The cycles usually begin with a defining presidency and end in a failed one.” The past cycles ended with the failed leadership of Adams, Grant, Hoover, and Jimmy Carter. Is Obama the end of the present cycle? He doesn’t say. But Obama certainly seems to be defining US politics at present.
Yet says Friedman, whereas America’s air supremacy and global naval presence have always insulated it from hostile threats, Mexico may prove to be its Achilles heel. Mexico’s economy is ranked fifteenth in the world, and it is bound to improve in time. There are four reasons for this. First, its oil, a major export. Second, its proximity to the United States, giving it easy access to the world’s largest market for its developing exports. Third, enormous cash flows remitted back to Mexico from the US from legal and illegal immigrants, currently its second largest source of foreign income. Fourth, organized crime and the drug trade, an unwelcome but important source of funds.
Friedman’s sweeping analyses penetrate much of the complexities surrounding our understanding of contemporary affairs, and leaves the reader with a new spring in his step.