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Appraisal: The Next 100 Years

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century is a brilliant book by George Friedman that is not only intellectually stimulating, but also making future predictions about the world of geopolitics. Friedman analyzes how technology, economics, and geopolitical dynamics and trends will shape the 21st century. The U.S. is economically, politically, and militarily the most powerful nation in the world, and there is no country that seems to pose eminent danger to its position at the moment.[1] The author presents some of the main changes that can be expected in the future as a result of cultural trends and new technologies that will occur on the geopolitical stage. This paper critically analyzes five main points of significance made by the author and will provide the reasons of agreeing with them.

Unpredictability of the Future

The first main point made by Freidman is about the unpredictability of the future and the importance of being practical and expecting the impossible. He begins by summarizing the history and events that occurred in the last century in groups of 20 years. Globalization started in the 1900, and it was followed by a period of chaos and world wars in the 1920s. The 1960s was marked with the American dominance, as the country received little or no challenge from any other country in terms of economic power. The challenge was experienced in the 1980s when the Soviet’s economic and political power grew in prominence, and this culminated in 2000 when the modern form of globalization was renewed.[2] Excellent futuristic thinkers tend to analyze issues in terms of exponents, differentials, and tipping points. Friedman, however, argues that while some trends are predictable due to fact that they are dominant in nature, others are not that apparent. In my opinion, this point of view is worth accepting. For instance, European wars were easily predictable due to the creation of a newly powerful and united Germany, which occupied an unsecure position between Russia and France. On the contrary, it would have been difficult to imagine the severity of these wars, the devastation they would have caused, as well as their ability to cause dissolution of certain European empires.

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Dominance of the U.S

Another important issue mentioned by the author is that the United States has been used as the main pivot of the 21st century due to its unrivalled military, economic and political power. The U.S. is known for its significant naval power, as well as its strategic position that enables it to sit between Pacific and Atlantic trade. Considering its wealth and huge amount of resources that are required to create comparable blue-water fleet, Friedman argues that the dominance of the U.S. will continue to be assured. The dominance of the U.S. as a global superpower will remain in the 21st century, but this period will also experience several other countries attempting to challenge this dominance. Although the book focuses on the geopolitics of the century, the author has crucial predictions about the economics, technological and social trends of the 21st century. Since 2002, war games have intensified with aircraft battles such as the 9/11 terrorism in the U.S., bringing to the light the powers of unsophisticated enemies.[3] Taking into account this evidence, I agree that inherent power will, therefore, involve two opposing struggles. The first will involve secondary powers that seek to form coalitions in order to control and contain the U.S, while the second will involve the U.S. attempting to prevent the formation of an effective coalition.

Declinism

Another crucial point is concern with “declinism”, and this has been a common attribute in the history of the U.S. Declinism can be described as situation where a country finds itself in economic and social problems and has a difficult time dealing with volatile nations. As lately as 1970s and 1980s, issues to do with oil shocks, stagflation, increasing influence of the Soviet Union, increasing crime rates, deindustrialization, and perceived social and moral collapse made a few people feel despaired about the future trends of the American empire. Although above trends slightly slowed down in the 1990s, they spiked again in the 2000s. In the meantime, the national influence of Russia and China has increased, and it is expected to continue expanding in the medium term.[4] Over the next few years, it has been predicted that the U.S. faces the risk of being exposed to another debt-and-currency crisis, as the attractiveness of the dollar as a global currency continues to decline. In case such event takes place, it will become politically and economically unbearable for the U.S. to maintain a global military presence.

An important point made by Friedman is the significance of an Islamic uprising that would attempt to bring down the U.S. and recreate the Caliphate, which is the great Islamic empire. At the start of the 21st century, the U.S. was struck with the intention of forcing the world’s primary power into war.[5] The intention was to demonstrate the weakness of the U.S. andthus trigger an Islamic uprising. The response of the U.S. was to invade the Islamic nations responsible for harboring terror activities. The intention was not to achieve a victory, but to disrupt the Islamic region against itself in order to prevent the emergence of an Islamic empire. The intention of the U.S. is not to win wars but to basically cause disruption so that the enemy cannot regroup and create sufficient power to challenge America. The 21st century will see several confrontations that involve lesser powers aiming at developing coalitions in order to control the behavior of the U.S. and disrupt its military operations.[6] There will also be more wars in the 21st century than in the 20th century, although they will be less catastrophic due to technological development and geopolitical challenge. Overall, I find a comprehensive approach that Freidman utilizes quite relevant here, as it embraces not only the internal situation about the U.S., but also its role in interaction with other countries. It leads me to a point that America’s influential geographical location that may be described as practically invulnerable, underpopulated and economically optimal region compared to Europe and Asia, provides the U.S. with the opportunity of remaining a superpower unlike countries like Britain, and makes me totally agree with the author’s predictions in this aspect.

Russia Rebuilds Its Economic Empire

Freidman also predicted that in the 2010s, Russia will manage to rebuild its economic empire, but this will not last long since it will collapse in 2020s. As it has been proven, the changes are usually unpredictable, and the ones that are expected to occur in the first quarter of the century will not be different. This is an important observation of argument made by Friedman, which is why I also suppose that it may take place in the near future. The war between the U.S. and Islamist groups is almost ending, and the next conflict is expected to occur soon.[7] The initial sphere of influence is currently being developed by Russia, and it expected that this influence will be used to challenge the U.S. As the Russians move towards the westward region on the North European Plain, they will encounter three Baltic nations that are dominated by U.S.-led NATO, which include Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

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In the early years of the 21st century, it is expected that there will be friction, and the new signs of Cold War will offer flash points after the decline of the U.S.-Islamist wars. The Russians will attempt to reassert its powers while the U.S. will continue to resist. However, internal problems in Russia will prevent it from winning.[8] This also includes a declining population as well as poor infrastructure that will affect its long-term survival. It is expected that although the second Cold War will be less global and frightening as the first, it will end just like the first, with the collapse of Russia. Friedman provides theories that explain the geostrategic influences of Russia and how it intends to utilize its position to influence Ukraine and Central Asia and expand to far west in the North European Plain. Nevertheless, such an imperial stretch alarms the Oceanic and European powers who consider it as a threatening and aggressive action to their national interests. The West must ensure that Russia is contained and that it pays for its occupational costs of maintaining an extended military base.[9] When things are viewed from such a perspective, they start to make sense, such as the conflict in Georgia, and pursuing security relations with countries that are unfriendly with the U.S.

However, one argument made by Friedman that can be disputed is the issue of internal problems facing Russia that may prevent its ability to gain a global influence. For instance, arguing that Russia may collapse due to deep internal problems, decline in population, and lack of good infrastructure can be too ambiguous and lack validity. Decline in population may not be very significant and it can even occur at a moderate pace. Furthermore, it is expected that Russia will continue investing in its infrastructure in order to be at par with countries such as China and India.[10][11] Furthermore, infrastructure and demographic factors cannot lead to the collapse of a country such as Russia. This can only occur when events such as violent wars, ethnic discontent, economic decline, military and social burdens, and collapse of energy and oil prices take place for an extended period of time.

Fragmentation of China

Friedman also predicts that China will fragment as a result of political pressure and economic strain. Since the 1980s, huge rate of economic growth and development will lead to inequalities and internal pressures in China. The author also asserts that there will be regional tensions caused by the poor interior regions and the prosperous and rich coastal regions. Two possible scenarios have been provided by Friedman. The first one is for authorities to expel external interests and introduce dictatorship in order to prevent the country from fragmenting. The second situation is where the country fragments and the government losees its real power as individual provinces become autonomous.[12] He concludes this point by arguing that the most possible scenario is the fragmentation of the country. In case China fragments and Russia collapses, other powers will come to establish sphere of influence in the 2020s making regional leaders to secede. Japan, the U.S. and other European powers are expected to recreate the regional spheres that will make the mainland Chain to have a high level of influence.

I agree with this argument made by Friedman since it is true that China is facing some real challenges. Some analysts have predicted that China and not Russia will be the main nation that will challenge the U.S. To start with, China as a country is geographically isolated and it can be very challenging for it to easily expand. Furthermore, for China, developing a naval force requires years of investment that entails more than building ships – for example, creating an experienced and well-trained team.[13] Friedman also argues that here are several reasons why people should not worry about the influence that will be exerted by China due to the fact that it is inherently unstable. For instance, when it opens its borders to international trade, the coastal region is the only place that prospers while the interior continues to remain economically impoverished. It is expected that such an event would create conflict, tension, and instability.

Further, most economic decisions are made as a result of political reasons, and this creates a culture of corruption and inefficiencies. Friedman argues that it is not the first or the last time that China will engage in international trade and not the last time that it will end up being unstable. Some analysts believe that the trends that have occurred in the past 30 years will go on uninterrupted. However, the U.S. will play an instrumental role in trying to hold together and bolster China so that it can act as a counterweight and opposition to Russia.[14] Nevertheless, the current economic situation in China is not considered as dynamic as expected, and it does not translate to an influential long-term success.

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However, a counter-argument that can be used to oppose the fact that China is not economically viable is that China has been having an industrial production that has been improving over the years. Its technological development has also been enhanced to supplement its reduced per capita income. It is also expected that Chinese authorities will create a more “harmonious society” by expanding domestic consumption and improving social services. Back in the 19th century, China was psychologically demoralized and backward, but the era passed and this does not imply that the same situation will be experienced in the 21st century.[15] The most important issue is for the government to address the challenges that the country is facing. This includes environmental degradation, resource depletion, and climate change. Huge environmental pressures as a result of rapid urbanization and desertification that eat on agricultural land are the issues that need to be addressed urgently. For instance, although China has the biggest population, a very small percentage of its land is arable.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this paper has critically analyzed five main arguments presented by Friedman in his book which tends to make future predictions that are likely to occur in the next one hundred years. The book mainly concentrates on geopolitical issues that face the U.S. and the changes that are expected in the 21 century. For instance, the strong economic, military and political powers of the U.S. have enabled it to withstand the challenges posed by countries such as China and Russia. America has managed to dominate that position due to effective policies and the changes facing other nations. Furthermore, it is expected that Russia and China will go through a period of internal turmoil and will thus pose little threat to the U.S.  This is associated with a period of declinism where there U.S. is under both social and economic pressures. However, the U.S. has also actively tried to prevent the emergence of Islamist organizations that would pose threats to interests across the world. Although studies have shown that the future can be highly unpredictable, there are dominant events that appear to naturally take place. Friedman believes that political and economic power of a nation such as the U.S. takes place after years of investment and it take more than 20 years for a nation to acquire such a position. Furthermore, countries such as China and Russia which have shown great opportunities of progress within the next two decades are also exposed to the risks of fragmentation. Opposing opinions have been presented with evidence showing that both countries have made significant progress both politically and economically. Essentially, Friedman has managed to make a comprehensive analysis of the future predictions that are likely to take place in the geopolitics of the next a hundred years, and it is expected that superpowers and new entrants will play an essential role in shaping the global scene.

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