“In this book, I am trying to transmit a sense of the future. I will, of course, get many details wrong. But the goal is to identify the major tendencies—geopolitical, technological, demographic, cultural, military—in their broadest sense, and to define the major events that might take place. I will be satisfied if I explain something about how the world works today, and how that, in turn, defines how it will work in the future." (from Author’s Note)
Overture: An introduction to the American Age
“At a certain level, when it comes to the future, the only thing one can be sure of is that common sense will be wrong. There is no magic twenty-year cycle; there is not simplistic force governing this pattern. It is simply that the things that appear to be so permanent and dominant at any given moment in history can change with stunning rapidity. Eras come and go. In international relations, the way the world looks right now is not at all how it will look in twenty years….or even less. The fall of the Soviet Union was hard to imagine, and that is exactly the point. Conventional political analysis suffers from a profound failure of imagination. It imagines passing clouds to be permanent and is blind to powerful, long-term, shifts taking place in full view of the world.”
(published in 2009)
Summaries of Important Forecasts
On population decline and technology
“But underlying all of this will be the single most important fact of the twenty-first century: the end of the population explosion. By 2050, advanced industrial countries will be losing population at a dramatic rate. By 2100, even the most underdeveloped countries will have reached birthrates that will stabilize their populations. The entire global system has been built since 1750 on the expectation of continually expanding populations. More workers, more consumers, more soldiers—this was always the expectation. In the twenty-first century, however, that will cease to be true. The entire system of production will shift. The shift will force the world into a greater dependence on technology—particularly robots that will substitute for human labor, and intensified genetic research (not so much for the purpose of extending life but to make people productive longer).”
On Iraq and Afghanistan wars (chapter 2)
“…In fact, the region is more fragmented than ever, and that is the likely to close the book on this era. U.S. defeat or stalemate in Iraq and Afghanistan is the likely outcome, and both wars will appear to have ended badly for the United States. There is no question that American execution of the war in Iraq had been clumsy, graceless and in many ways unsophisticated.”
The Pacific Basin (chapter 4)
“The western shore of the Pacific has been the fastest growing region in the world for the past half century. It contains two of the world’s largest economies, those of Japan and China. Along with other East Asian economies they are heavily dependent on maritime trade, shipping goods to the United States and Europe and importing raw material from the Persian Gulf and the rest of the Pacific Basin. Any interruption in the flow of commodities would be damaging. An extended interruption would be catastrophic….The Pacific now has two major Asian powers that are heavily dependent on imports to fuel their economy and on exports to grow their economy. Japan and China, along with South Korea and Taiwan, all depend on access to the Pacific in order to transport their goods and commodities. Since the U.S. Navy controls the Pacific Ocean, they rely on the United States for their economic well-being. That is a huge bet for any nation to make on another.”
Poland (Chapter 8)
“The most enthusiastic participants in the American confrontation with the Russians will be the former Soviet satellites, particularly Poland. In a sense, they will be leading the Americans as much as being led. Poland has everything to lose from Russia’s reemergence and little to protect it from the Russians. As the Russians come back to its frontier, Poland will look to the rest of Europe to support it through NATO. There will be little enthusiasm in Germany or France for any confrontation, so Poland will do what it historically did when confronted by Russia or Germany – it will seek an outside power to protect it. …..To Poland’s pleasant surprise, the United States will be strong enough to block the Russians.”
“Eastern Europe will become the most dynamic region of Europe. As Russia collapses, the Eastern European countries will extend their influence and power to the east. The Slovaks, Hungarians and Romanians have been the least vulnerable to the Russians because the Carpathians formed a natural barrier. The Poles, on the northern European plain, will be the most vulnerable, yet at the same time the largest and most important Eastern European nation…”
“… Eastern European countries might not surpass Western European countries in absolute size of their economies, but certainly Eastern Europe will surpass Western Europe in terms of dynamism.”
China & Trade (Chapter 4)
“The United States consumes massive amounts of Asia’s industrial products, which benefits the United States as a whole by providing consumers with cheap goods. At the same time, this trade pattern devastates certain American economic sectors and regions by undermining domestic industry. What benefits consumers can simultaneously increase unemployment and decrease wages, creating complex political cross-currents within the United States. One of the characteristics of the United States is that it tends to be oversensitive to domestic political concerns because it has a great deal of room to maneuver in foreign policy. Therefore, regardless of the overall benefits of trade with Asia, the United States could wind up in a situation where domestic political considerations force it to change its policy toward Asian imports. That possibility, however remote, represents a serious threat to the interests of East Asia.
China sends almost one-quarter of all its exports to the United States. If the United States barred Chinese products, or imposed tariffs that made Chinese goods uncompetitive, China would face a massive economic crisis. The same would be true for Japan and other Asian countries. Countries facing economic disaster become unpredictable. They can become aggressive in trying to open up other markets, sometimes through political or military pressure.”
“The United States is also susceptible to internal political pressures from those groups disproportionately affected by cheaper Asian imports. It is possible that the United States, responding to domestic pressures, might try to reshape economic relations in the Pacific Basin. One of the tools it can use is protectionist legislation, backed up by its military strength. So East Asia has no real effective counter to an American military or economic move.
Subjectively, the last thing any nation in the region wants is conflict. Objectively, however, there is a massive imbalance of power. Any shift in America’s policies could wreak havoc on East Asia, and a shift in American policy is far from unimaginable. The threat of American sanctions on China, for example, through which the United States might seek to limit Chinese importation of oil, strikes at the very heart of the Chinese national interest. Therefore, the Chinese must use their growing economic strength to develop military options against the United States. They will simply be acting in accordance with the fundamental principle of strategic planning: hope for the best, plan for the worst….China and Japan will therefore have no choice but to try to increase their military power in the coming century, which the United States will see as a potential threat to US control of the western Pacific. It will interpret a defensive move as aggressive, which objectively it is, whatever their subjective intent. Add to this the ever-evolving nations of South Korea and Taiwan, and the region is certain to be a powder keg during the twenty-first century.”
“China’s economic crisis will kick off a regional phase in Chinese history that, during the 2020s, will intensify…
…A second possible path is the recentralization of China, where the conflicting interests that will emerge and compete following an economic slowdown are controlled by a strong central government that imposes order and restricts the regions’ room to maneuver. That scenario is more probably than the first, but the fact that the apparatus of the central government is filled with people whose own interests oppose centralization would make this difficult to pull off. The government can’t necessarily rely on its own people to enforce the rules. Nationalism is the only tool they have to hold things together.”
“The Orange Revolution in Ukraine from December 2004-January 2005, was the moment when the post-Cold War world genuinely ended for Russia. The Russians saw the events in Ukraine as an attempt by the United States to draw Ukraine into NATO and thereby set the stage for Russian disintegration.”
“After what Russia regarded as an American attempt to further damage it, Moscow reverted to a strategy of reasserting its sphere of influence in the areas of the former Soviet Union. The great retreat of Russian power ended in Ukraine. Russian influence is now increasing in three directions: toward Central Asia, toward the Caucasus, and, inevitably, toward the West, the Baltics and Eastern Europe. For the next generation until roughly 2020, Russia’s primary concern will be reconstructing the Russian state and reasserting Russian power in the region.
The former Soviet satellites – particularly Poland, Hungary and Romania – understand that the return of Russian forces to their frontiers would represent a threat to their security. And since these countries are now part of NATO, their interests necessarily affect the interests of Europe and the United States. The open question is where the line will be drawn in the west. This has been a historical question, and it was a key challenge in Europe over the past hundred years.
Russia will not become a global power in the next decade, but it has no choice but to become a major regional power. And that means it will clash with Europe. The Russian-European frontier remains a fault line.”
“…The Russians must dominate Belarus and Ukraine for their basic national security. The Baltics are secondary but still important. Eastern Europe is not critical, so long as the Russians are anchored in the Carpathian Mountains in the south and have strong forces on the northern European plain. But of course, all of this can get complicated.
Ukraine and Belarus are everything to the Russians. If they were to fall into an enemy’s hands –for example, join NATO- Russia would be in mortal danger. Moscow is only a bit over two hundred miles from the Russian border with Belarus, Ukraine less that two hundred miles from Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad. Russia defended against Napoleon and Hitler with depth. Without Belarus and Ukraine, there is no depth, no land to trade for an enemy’s blood. It is, of course, absurd to imagine NATO posing a threat to Russia. But the Russians think in terms of twenty-year cycles, and they know how quickly the absurd becomes possible.”
Turkey (Chapter 8)
“By 2020, Turkey will have emerged as one of the top ten economies in the world. Already ranked seventeenth in 2007, and growing steadily, Turkey is not only an economically viable country but a strategically crucial one. In fact, Turkey enjoys one of the strongest geographic locations of any Eurasian country. Turkey has easy access to the Arab world, Iran, Europe, the former Soviet Union, and above all the Mediterranean. The Turkish economy grows in part because Turkey is the center of regional trade as well as a productive economic power in its own right.
By 2020 Turkey will be a surging, fairly stable economic and military power in a sea of chaos. Apart from the instability to its north, it will face challenges in every other direction as well. Iran, which has not been economically or militarily significant for centuries but whose internal affairs are historically unpredictable, lies to the southeast. To the south, there is the permanent instability and lack of economic development of the Arab world. To the northwest, there is the perpetual chaos of the Balkan Peninsula, which includes Turkey’s historic enemy, Greece.”
“The broader issue, though, will be the extreme fragmentation of the entire Islamic world. Historically divided, it has been badly destabilized by the US-Jihadist war. During the US-Russian confrontation of the late 2010s the Middle East will be further destabilized by Russian attempts to create problems for the United States to the south of Turkey. The Islamic world in general, and the Arab world in particular, will be divided along every line imaginable in the 2020s.”
“Just as the Russians will work to contain Turkey (through the Arab countries to Turkey’s south) so they will attempt to contain Hungary and Romania by trying to turn Bulgaria, Serbia and Croatia against them. …”
“The Islamic world is incapable of uniting voluntarily. It is, however, capable of being dominated by a Muslim power. Throughout history, Turkey has been the Muslim power most often able to create an empire out of part of the Islamic world—certainly since the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century. The century between 1917 and 2020 has been an anomaly, because Turkey has ruled only over Asia Minor. But Turkish power- the Ottoman Empire or a Turkic power ruling out of Iran – has been a long-term reality in the Islamic world. In fact, Turkey once dominated the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Arabian Peninsula, and North Africa.
During the 2020s, that power will begin to reemerge. Even more than Japan, Turkey will be critical in the confrontation with the Russians. The Bosporus, the strait connecting the Aegean and the Black Sea, blocks Russian access to the Mediterranean. Turkey historically controlled the Bosporus, and therefore Russia historically saw Turkey as a power that was blocking its interests. It will be no different in the 2010s and 2020s. The Russians will need access to the Bosporus to counter the Americans in the Balkans. The Turks know that if the Russians are given such access and succeed in achieving their geopolitical goals, Turkish autonomy will be threatened. The Turks, therefore, will be committed to their alliance with the United States against Russia.
As a result, the Turks will be instrumental in America’s anti-Russian strategy. The United States will encourage Turkey to press north in the Caucasus and will want Turkish influence in Muslim areas of the Balkans, as well as in the Arab states to the south, to increase. It will help Turkey increase its maritime capabilities – naval, air and space—to challenge the Russians in the Black Sea. It will ask the Turkish navy to share the naval burden in the Mediterranean and use its power to block Russian adventures in North Africa. The United States also will do everything it can to encourage Turkish economic development, which will further stimulate its already surging economy.
When the Russians finally collapse, the Turks will be left in a position they haven’t been in for a century. Surrounded by chaos and weakness, the Turks will have an economic presence throughout the region. They also will have a substantial military presence. When the Russians collapse, the regional geopolitics will reorganize – without real effort on their part- around the Turks, who will become the dominant power in the region, projecting influence in all directions. Turkey will not be a formal empire yet, but it will be, without a doubt, the center of gravity of the Islamic world.”