Book Review: The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman is a very interesting book. Not least because the author does something that very few academics or political scientists are willing to do; he attempts to predict the future. Of course he lays out several caveats about accuracy but the fact that such a distinguished thinker as Friedman is willing to go out on a limb is remarkable in itself.

The book itself is 254 pages of text and unfortunately it does not include a bibliography or index. It is broken down into chronological chapters that start from the present and work the way forward to 2100.

The basic premise of the book is that the 21st Century will be even more of an American century than was the 20th. The United States is in a position of power right now from which it cannot easily be upset. There are several powers or potential powers that will seek to do so but none have a realistic chance of doing so until the end of the century.

The flow of the predictions is that the current Jihadist war will essentially peter out over the course of the teens at which point the US and Europe will face a resurgent Russia in new Cold War and that China will collapse into irrelevance in the 2020’s. The United States and developed world will face a financial crisis in the 2030’s driven by new technology, the retirement of the Boomer Generation, and fading demographics that will see the US embrace immigration from Latin America to weather the storm. The 2040’s will see the rise of a Turko-Japanese bloc opposed to the US. The 2050’s will see a high tech global war waged between a US/Polish coalition against Turkey, Japan, and later Germany that the US will win through its control of the high orbitals and space-based power generation. US victory will solidify American control of space. The 2060’s and 2070’s will see the US enjoy another golden age analogous to that experienced post World War II. Finally, the 2080’s and 90’s will see the beginning of a confrontation between the US and a resurgent and developed Mexico about the US southwest. The idea here is that a revanchist Mexico will take advantage of migration patterns to try and regain the territories it lost in the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War although that confrontation will not spill over into conflict until after 2100. That is the quick and dirty rundown of Friedman’s predictions.

He musters data and thinking from several disciplines to support his case and although I don’t agree with all of his predictions I think he has grasped the general outlines of the next century quite well according to my own understanding. The use of demographics and trend analysis is very interesting. I found the geopolitical analysis and the way in which historical trends interact to be extremely thought provoking.

I personally think China is likely to get extremely froggy in the 2020’s as demographic collapse hits them. I also think that South Africa is a country to watch, South Africa is increasingly getting their act together and they have the potential to dominate most or all of sub-Saharan Africa if they choose to do so. I agree with him to the extent that oil will become less of a strategic requirement as research on alternative energy finally begins to bear fruit. I also think that Friedman is a little too generous with his assessment of who will control space. The lessons of the past 15 years have shown that the US is retreating from space on the government side as evidenced by the dwindling NASA budgets and loss of American manned launch capability. It is possible that American commercial space ventures will spur government space investment but I am not certain. I am uncomfortable gazing into a crystal ball further than 20 years as beyond that time the view is so cloudy that it is really impossible to make any decent predictions.

While this book may not be accurate in its details, a point Friedman makes repeatedly, it is probably pretty close in its broad outline. This book is not meant as a blueprint or roadmap. It is an exposition of one possible future with an explanation of the likelihood of its happening. At that it is worth reading. Even if nothing happens as described the processes at work are the same and while the script may not be followed exactly, it is likely that Friedman has captured the broad outlines of what the 21st century will look like.

An outstanding book and one that I highly recommend.