The Next Hundred Years Forecast

Subject: The Next 100 Years: Forecast 21st Century Review
Amazon Best of the Month, January 2009: “Be Practical, Expect the Impossible.” So declares George Friedman, chief intelligence officer and founder of Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor), a private intelligence agency whose clients include foreign government agencies and Fortune 500 companies. Gathering information from its global network of operatives and analysts (drawing the nickname “the Shadow CIA”), Stratfor produces thoughtful and genuinely engrossing analysis of international events daily, from possible outcomes of the latest Pakistan/India tensions to the hierarchy of Mexican drug cartels to challenges to Obama’s nascent administration. In The Next 100 Years, Friedman undertakes the impossible (or improbable) challenge of forecasting world events through the 21st century. Starting with the premises that “conventional political analysis suffers from a profound failure of imagination” and “common sense will be wrong,” Friedman maps what he sees as the likeliest developments of the future, some intuitive, some surprising: more (but less catastrophic) wars; Russia’s re-emergence as an aggressive hegemonic power; China’s diminished influence in international affairs due to traditional social and economic imbalances; and the dawn of an American “Golden Age” in the second half of the century. Friedman is well aware that much of what he predicts will be wrong–unforeseeable events are, of course, unforeseen–but through his interpretation of geopolitics, one gets the sense that Friedman’s guess is better than most. –Jon Foro

From Publishers Weekly
With a unique combination of cold-eyed realism and boldly confident fortune-telling, Friedman (Americas Secret War) offers a global tour of war and peace in the upcoming century. The author asserts that the United States power is so extraordinarily overwhelming that it will dominate the coming century, brushing aside Islamic terrorist threats now, overcoming a resurgent Russia in the 2010s and 20s and eventually gaining influence over space-based missile systems that Friedman names battle stars. Friedman is the founder of Stratfor, an independent geopolitical forecasting company, and his authoritative-sounding predictions are based on such factors as natural resources and population cycles. While these concrete measures lend his short-term forecasts credence, the later years of Friedmans 100-year cycle will provoke some serious eyebrow raising. The armed border clashes between Mexico and the United States in the 2080s seem relatively plausible, but the space war pitting Japan and Turkey against the United States and allies, prognosticated to begin precisely on Thanksgiving Day 2050, reads as fantastic (and terrifying) science fiction. Whether all of the visions in Friedmans crystal ball actually materialize, they certainly make for engrossing entertainment. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Predictio ad Absurdum , February 26, 2009
By Dianne Roberts (Los Angeles, California United States) – See all my reviews
Although I am a large fan of America’s Secret War and respect Mr. Friedman’s logical thinking and intelligence, this book is an undertaking so far beyond the capability of man -trying to outline how the next 100 years of history will look- that even though it started off captivating it ultimately left me feeling like the whole thing was a fool’s errand. It’s not that the author is illogical or a nutcase as some of the negative reviewers have suggested, it’s just that there’s no way to meaningfully try to predict the simply unpredictable, regardless of the complexity of your analysis. And as the author stretches his future history farther and farther away from the present it simply becomes an implausibility on top of an implausibility on top of another implausibility to the point that any value the reader could derive nearly evaporates and I wish I had spent my time reading actual history.

Of course the author believes some rough prediction of the future is possible based on trends analysis, an understanding of strategic nature, and other such information. I immediately concede that trying to predict the future is not only necessary as a basis for security planning but can be done profitably over maybe 10 years, 20 at the extreme, but only if you build in a huge amount of risk management / “reserve” into your planning results to account for the inevitable unexpected. Thus my critique is simply with the overly ambitious timeline of the author rather than the endeavor itself.

There are some positives of the book which were informative and argue in favor of reading perhaps the first half for pertinent information and analysis. This information revolves around such things as brief overviews of European history and it’s rise to power, a brief and plausible (though not necessarily entirely convincing) theory of a cyclical nature of American politics/economics/history, explanations of Russia’s geostrategic challenge and how it has historically approached it, global demographics (birth rates declining, the reasons why they are declining and the possible results) and some highlights of the Chinese economy and political system in addition to some other fascinating minor topics. Frankly these topics could have easily formed the basis for an excellent book that tries to project what they could mean over a more modest timeframe, which coupled with Mr. Friedman’s direct and straight to the point writing style would have been well worth it. But beyond this the book is more interesting as a work of science fiction than a source of illumination or fuel for strategic analysis.

Even over the relatively strong first half of the book or so there were some things that struck me as cautionary flags with regards to the author’s conclusions. Mr. Friedman is Bismarckian to a very high degree, and pretty much limits his assumptions of state behavior to each state trying to enforce a balance of power amongst all other states within its means. There is seemingly no consideration of moral factors, such as alignment of like minded cultures or political/economic systems because they are like minded, in his analysis. His explanation of US grand strategy culminates in what strikes me, as an active duty US Navy Officer, as incongruous. (Which I can’t figure since he has close military ties and his son is also in the military.) He essentially claims that US grand strategy is to ensure dominance of the oceans, which is correct but only a single facet of a much more variegated and complex animal. But in his analysis of how this grand strategy has influenced American action he tries to explain that this has motivated America to intervene in Kosovo and Iraq, i.e. to forestall an eventual Eurasian power from building a Navy that can challenge ours! Serbia and Al-Qaeda seemed pretty far from that goal to provide the clarifying rational of American behavior, and this explanation fails to account why we are doing nothing to forestall Chinese and Indian naval developments, and why the previous CNO and current CJCS, Adm. Mike Mullen, launched the “1,000 ship Navy” designed to reduce the need for enlarging the US Navy size by leveraging closer ties with allied nations’ navies and developing their naval capabilities synergistically. He also claims that as part of our strategy of preventing a dominant Eurasian continental power we went into Iraq to intentionally de-stabilize central Asia. Again, this flies completely in the face of my entire personal experience in the military, as so many of our forces are working themselves to the bone to try to re-stabilize the region away from weak and antagonistic states that allowed the growth of radical Islam to stronger, more functioning entities that can integrate better with the world and root out Islamic fundamentalism on its home territory. Such a change requires a period of instability to go from a “bad” regime to a “good” one, but that necessary instability is a daunting obstacle being actively tackled and not a goal. (Whether what we are doing is a pipe dream or not is an entirely different matter, but I personally find his explanation of our current strategy simply false, if not quixotic.) Instead it is the overtly stated belief of the US strategic community that it is exactly instability and/or weak autocratic based regimes that causes groups like Al-Qaeda to operate. Other concerns I have with his analysis are that Iran, especially a nuclear Iran, makes virtually no appearance, nor does India. Also, in my subjective opinion, he completely under-rates the strength and staying power of radical Islam essentially claiming that is already defeated and won’t even be a factor beyond the mid 2010’s, and thus he more or less ignores it.

And although it is probably ridiculous to critique an absurdity, there were some issues I had with his analysis of the period of the 2040’s and beyond. He envisions an American space based strategy with three very large (i.e. hundreds to thousands of crewmembers) space stations he calls “battle stars” forming its core. Each would be a command and control node as well as being armed with directed energy and kinetic weapons, and he claims that they will be built under the assumption that they are invulnerable. Yet given the delicate nature of lightweight space structures (in order to be able to get them into space at an affordable cost) and the relative ease of anti-satellite weapons to wreak massive damage on such a system cheaply, his assumption that the US will think they are invulnerable flies completely in the face of a technological reality that is already widely recognized in the US space community. Last, he also envisions hypersonic aircraft providing close air support for ground forces, which is frankly ridiculous. There is more I could quibble with his far out year predictions, but honestly what would be the point?

An odd book. Mr. Friedman has some formidable strengths that shone brilliantly in America’s Secret War, and glimmer here and there in the Next 100 Years, but beyond the midway point the book sadly devolves into the absurd.
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81 of 98 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Is This How It Will Go?, January 27, 2009
By Eric Mayforth (Houston, Texas) – See all my reviews
When one takes into account the staggering advances that took place in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it is a brave forecaster who would even attempt to predict the course of our (still relatively) new century. George Friedman undertakes this task in “The Next 100 Years”.

Friedman opens by taking the reader through the twentieth century at twenty-year intervals, showing how the concerns in any given time period are quickly forgotten and replaced by new concerns. This prepares the reader to see that the twenty-first century will also be anything but static, either, as America will not be facing the same set of challenges by 2020 as we did on September 11, 2001, and will be dealing with many different issues as the century progresses.

The author is a very incisive thinker, relaying stunning insight after stunning insight in demonstrating how we arrived at where we are now, with Europe having been supplanted by America as the world’s focal point.

Friedman contends that, far from declining (as many fear), America is just beginning its rise. The century will be characterized, he predicts, by regional powers attempting to form coalitions to limit American power, and America attempting to prevent the formation of such coalitions. This will ultimately result at mid-century in a war that will have many similarities with World War II–the war will begin with a surprise attack on a key American military target, will be fought against a familiar foe, will result in the development of stunning new technologies, and will be followed by a new golden age redolent of the one following World War II.

This book also takes a look at the worldwide population bust–policy debates in American politics will be driven in part by debates about the number of immigrants needed as a result of the bust. The author asserts that our politics operates in fifty-year cycles, and that both transition points of American politics in the twenty-first century will be driven by immigration. One of the predictions in the book is almost made as an aside–the author is really hanging his neck out on the line, since we will be able to see in not 20 or 50 years, but within the next two years whether the author is correct in his prediction about how much President Obama will be able to roll back the basic policies that President Reagan put in place in the early 1980s.

The book closes by examining some of the technological breakthroughs such as robots and space-based energy that will transform life later in the century, and asserts that the end of the century will be characterized by increasing disharmony with Mexico over the American Southwest.

Anyone interested in what the future might hold (that is, just about everyone) would enjoy reading “The Next 100 Years”. The only regret you will have when you have finished reading it is the realization that you will not be around in 2100 to see if all of the predictions in this supremely fascinating book come to pass.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening exercise in Machiavellian realpolitik, February 4, 2009
By S. Pflyuk (Kansas, USA) – See all my reviews
Staying true to famed Stratfor’s reputation for free from moralizing righteousness view of world events, its CEO George Friedman’s book considers a plausible future scenario through a prism of almost certain US superiority in this century and efforts to impose a simple reality that would serve its national interests – no united Eurasian power. Those interests are nothing new to anybody who is familiar with British continental foreign policy of last several centuries, which US has adopted upon taking over the mantle of the dominant world power. A number of other commentators (S. Huntington, Z. Brzezinski) espoused that principle as the prerogative for maintaining long term preeminence. But, unlike the aforementioned ideologically driven works, Friedman’s general position toward confrontation between US and contending countries is one of the expected defense of each power’s national interests.

The scenario of Russia’s collapse, however unlikely it might seem now, is certainly within the realm of something plausible (think of a very powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire at the start of previous century). The uncertainty of actual realization of that scenario does not diminish the value of the book or its insights. The world with one superpower is by default not a stable arrangement in the long run (short of outright world unification – something left for other centuries), thus dynamic powers of the next 30-40 years will have to deal with a direct threat to their resource lifelines posed by US Navy and space dominance. Ensuring frictions are guaranteed. With mostly land power (USSR/Russia) another Cold War is a likely scenario, but with naturally maritime powers (chosen to be Turkey and Japan) a scenario for direct confrontation is already provided by recent history.

In my view the book should not be treated as prophetic. It is an illuminating exercise in application of basic Machiavellian principal of statecraft – keeping your potential competitors from becoming too powerful. US did it superbly during Cold War of yesterday. It will follow the same trodden path in the world of tomorrow, while the assortment of rising powers might be different, just as Germany was even more heterogeneous in 1860ies compared to China and India of today, but became the main challenger of the world order 50 years later. The choice of Poland, Turkey and Japan as rising regional powers is not arbitrary, since those are the countries that would stand to benefit directly from the considered scenario of Russian collapse and chaos in China. To those living in the not too distant future the struggle on all sides will be sugar coated as a struggle for something with the pretense for high moral grounds as it happened abundantly during Cold War (from spread of democracy to spread of social equality). One of the book’s themes is that the underlying motivations for all the events are and will be driven by nothing else, but conflicting self preservation interests of all the parties involved.


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