The next 100 years

Tom James @ 31-08-2009

Pivot_areaGeorge Friedman, writing in The New Statesman magazine, has an article up on the next 100 years, as seen through the theoretical prism of geopolitics. This is a doctrine that emphasises the importance of the permanently operating factors of geography in determining global dominance:

Thus, the question is how these geopolitical and strategic realities shape the rest of the century. Eurasia, broadly understood, is being hollowed out. China is far weaker than it appears and is threatened with internal instability. The Europeans are divided by old national patterns that prevent them from moving in a uniform direction. Russia is using the window of opportunity presented by the US absorption in disrupting the Islamic world to reclaim its sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union, but its underlying weakness will reassert itself over the next generation.

New powers will emerge. In the 19th century, Germany, Italy and Japan began to emerge as great powers, while in the 20th century global powers such as Britain and France declined to secondary status. Each century, a new constellation of powers forms that might strike observers at the beginning of the century as unthinkable. Let us therefore think about the unthinkable.

Friedman paints a rather pessimistic picture of a future of exactly the same kind of nationalistic war that took up most of the 20th century.

I’ve never been comfortable with tub-thumping nationalism/patriotism as something to dictate beliefs and action. To me the future of the people living on Earth is as much about cultures, attitudes, and society as it is about the fight for power between specific nation states [1].

But states will remain the single most powerful entity on Earth over the next few decades, and as such it is worth thinking about which of them might gain greater influence in the future.

The central conclusion of Friedman’s article is that “they that control the North American continent, control the world” as they will have access to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans as well as the vast wealth of the North American continent. As such he posits Mexico as a potential rival to US power. He also suggests that Japan might engage on further military ventures. Turkey may become the core of an Islamic sphere of influence in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

[1]: Inasmuch as particular states have particular cultures and attitudes (e.g. pluralism, rule of law, liberalism, democracy, individual freedom) I think that it is a mistake to support a nation state because of the attitudes it purports to value, rather than the reality of its actions. You support the people and the ideals first, the countries second.

[from the New Statesman][image from here on Wikimedia]


Cold war getting hotter scenario from 1987

Tom James @ 19-06-2009

DD-ST-87-08751Alternate-history fans will appreciate these US Department of Defense maps of a projected Soviet invasion of Western Europe, heralding as they would have done the beginning of WWIII:

This map is a really a picture in macro-scale of the epic tank battle for the plains of Germany, that entire generations of Western and Soviet officers built careers around planning and preparing for. In the history of human civilization, the Soviet Western TVD invasion was probably the most researched, contemplated, and gamed out battle that was never actually to take place. Fifty years of voluminous strategic studies were compiled by both sides on this very subject, as both sides searched for advantages in a truly enormous field chess game.

I don’t know enough about the history to say if this is paranoiac or just horrific.

[via the Exile][image and article from TechConex]


Geithner kinda backs world reserve currency

Tom James @ 27-03-2009

euro_coinsHighlighted because I have a penchant for old school technocracy that can only be assuaged by stories of mass graves and pyramids of skulls.

Here we have news of US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner hinting support for a global reserve currency run by the IMF:

The Chinese proposal, outlined this week by central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, calls for a “super-sovereign reserve currency” under IMF management, turning the Fund into a sort of world central bank.

The idea is that the IMF should activate its dormant powers to issue Special Drawing Rights. These SDRs would expand their role over time, becoming a “widely-accepted means of payments”.

Mr Geithner’s friendly comments about the SDR plan seem intended to soothe Chinese feelings after a spat in January over alleged currency manipulation by Beijing, but he will now have to explain his own categorical assurance to Congress on Tuesday that he would not countenance any moves towards a world currency.

New World Order anyone?

[image from helmet13 on flickr]


In the year 2025… will US military dominance survive?

Tom James @ 22-11-2008

The US National Intelligence Council has published their quadrennial Global Trends Review, from The Guardian:

While emerging economies like China, India and Brazil are likely to grow in influence at America’s expense, the same cannot be said of the European Union. The NIC appears relatively certain the EU will be “losing clout” by 2025. Internal bickering and a “democracy gap” separating Brussels from European voters will leave the EU “a hobbled giant”, unable to translate its economic clout into global influence.

There’s some other interesting stuff in there. The Guardian points out that the tone is different from the last time the NIC report was published in 2004:

It was called Mapping the Global Future, and looked forward as far as 2020 when it projected “continued US dominance, positing that most major powers have forsaken the idea of balancing the US”.

That confidence is entirely lacking from this far more sober assessment. Also gone is the belief that oil and gas supplies “in the ground” were “sufficient to meet global demand”.

It’s interesting how quickly perspectives can change – and reaffirms how difficult it is to create near future science fiction.

[from The Guardian][image from Army.mil on flickr]


The Fourth Republic and the future of America

Tom James @ 08-11-2008

A fascinating article at Salon.com on whether the election of Barack Obama represents the beginning of a new segment of American history, within the context of the Three Republics model:

George W. Bush was not only the final president of the Jeffersonian backlash period of Roosevelt’s Third Republic, but the last president of the 1932-2004 Third Republic itself. The final president of a republic tends to be a failed, despised figure.

The First Republic, which began with George Washington, ended with James Buchanan, a hapless president who refused to act as the South seceded after Lincoln’s election.

The Second Republic, which began with Abraham Lincoln, ended with the well-meaning but reviled and ineffectual Herbert Hoover.

The Third Republic, founded by Franklin Roosevelt, came to a miserable end under the pathetic George W. Bush.

Unlike most of the hyperbolic editorials I’ve read on Obama’s victory this one gives a technological and economic historical context:

…what causes these cycles of reform and backlash in American politics? I believe they are linked indirectly to stages of technological and economic development.

Lincoln’s Second American Republic marked a transition from an agrarian economy to one based on the technologies of the first industrial revolution — coal-fired steam engines and railroads.

Roosevelt’s Third American Republic was built with the tools of the second industrial revolution — electricity and internal combustion engines. It remains to be seen what energy sources — nuclear? Solar? Clean coal? — and what technologies — nanotechnology? Photonics? Biotech– will be the basis of the next American economy.

This presents an interesting historical framework to the United States. As to whether it’s true, only time will tell.

[via Boing Boing][image from zaphodsotherhead on flickr]


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