I picked up Peter Zeihan’s The Accidental Superpower because I thought the title was interesting. I did not expect it to be as excellent a book as it is. I actually expected a dry dissertation on geopolitics. It is a dissertation on geopolitics but it is anything but dry.
The book itself is 354 pages of text including appendices and includes an introduction, epilogue, and index. It is separated into 15 thematic chapters. The first eight chapters describe the impact of geography on the human settlement and political organization. They also go over how that impact has determined which modern countries and peoples are winners and which are losers. The last seven chapters look at the present and to the future in light of energy developments in the US.
The basic premise of the book is that because of the oil shale boom in the US America will shortly abandon the Bretton Woods international trade and monetary system that has been the international order since the end of World War II. America can do that because they no longer require a secure Middle East for strategic reasons of energy supply. He does not predict, in fact he specifically refuses to predict, whether that turn will be rapid or gradual. He just claims that the turn away from Bretton Woods is inevitable for a whole host of reasons. The contention is that since America has no strategic need to maintain Bretton Woods, hey will abandon it. The consequences for the rest of the world will be many, and almost all will be significant.
The main predictions are that the EU is unsustainable in the long-term because of inherent inequalities and difference between the northern and southern tier of EU countries. Europe, China, Japan, and Russia have doomed themselves to demographic suicide because of low birth rates. China better enjoy the boom while it lasts because their current prosperity is built on an economic house of cards that must collapse sooner or later. Russia is an unstable power that must wage aggressive wars for security sooner rather than later or face national and ethnic oblivion.
All of these predictions are made within a framework composed of the unalterable facts of demography, available resources, and geography. It is an interesting argument, to say the least, and one that has much going for it. As to whether the predictions for what is coming are true, only time will tell. One of the best lines from the book is that “history is about to start up again” and that the abandonment of Bretton Woods will expose much of the present international order for the artificially forced construct that it is. Based on my own thinking I would guess that Zeihan will be at least 50% accurate in his reading of the tea leaves if not more so. I would actually guess he is closer to 75% right. We are entering interesting times indeed and the next 15-20 years are going to be a bumpy ride.
The Accidental Superpower is one of the most interesting books I have read dealing with geopolitics in a long time and even if it turns out entirely wrong provides plenty of food for thought. I recommend this book for anyone interested in geopolitics or the way in which geography and population has shaped history and the forms and identities of nations. An excellent book.