BOOK REVIEW News Weekly
Reasons to be cheerful
, February 2, 2013
THE NEXT 100 YEARS:
A Forecast for the 21st Century
by George Friedman
(New York: Random House)
Paperback: 253 pages
Reviewed by Dallas Clarnette
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, jeopardising world peace?
According to George Friedman, many Americans have “a deep-seated belief… that the United States is approaching the eve of its destruction”.
However, he rejects that assessment. The Next 100 Years shows why optimism and excitement are a more appropriate worldview.
Hungarian-born Dr Friedman is founder and CEO of Strategic Forecasting, Inc. — more commonly known as Stratfor — a Texas-based global intelligence and security think-tank, which sells its security assessments to US and overseas clients.
While Friedman admits he has no crystal ball and his projections may be wrong, he believes his organisation’s access to intelligence data and his analyses are a credible reason for Westerners to discard any undue pessimism.
He believes America’s supremacy in world affairs will continue throughout the 21st 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 the US as being 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 enjoys that status today. In fact, Friedman says the 21st century marks the dawn of the American Age. Friedman writes: “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, US 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 the US’s declining auto and steel industries, the country’s $2.8 trillion production (2007 figures) is still largest in the world, and much more than the combined industrial production of China and Japan.
Economics is, however, only part of the secret of America’s ongoing prospects. More importantly, the US 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 the one time. That is the key to America’s continuing dominance of international affairs.
While some predict that China is a looming challenge to American supremacy, Friedman does not agree. China, he says, is inherently unstable economically and isolated both physically and demographically.
In fact, despite its vast landmass, it is actually an island! To the east it faces the Pacific Ocean, where US power restricts the ability of the Chinese (or anyone else) to deploy its navy at will. To the west lie the Gobi desert, the mighty Himalayas and the jungles of Southeast Asia. To the north-west 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.
He writes: “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 15th 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, organised crime and the drug trade, an unwelcome but important source of funds.
Friedman’s sweeping analyses penetrate many of the complexities surrounding our understanding of contemporary affairs, and leave the reader with a new spring in his step.
The Revd Dr Dallas Clarnette is a Presbyterian minister, journalist and former college lecturer, who lives in Victoria.