This Wacky Century 21

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st CenturyBy George FriedmanDoubleday, 253 pages, $25.95 The destruction of the three

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century
By George Friedman
Doubleday, 253 pages, $25.95

The destruction of the three Battle Stars will be planned for November 24, 2050, at 5 P.M. At this time on Thanksgiving Day most people in the United States would be watching football and napping after digesting a massive meal. … That is the moment that the Japanese will intend to strike.”

The kind of reader who delights in this sort of swaggering, hyper-specific prognostication might pause suspiciously before flipping open George Friedman’s new book, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. The next 100 years? Surely, Mr. Friedman must know that the 21st century, and the world, will be coming to an end on Dec. 21, 2012. The Mayan calendar predicts it, as do some hermeneutically ambiguous passages in the Book of Revelation. The Web Bot Project, said to have predicted 9/11 (or rather, a world-markets-shaking event around that date), concurs. And, of course, Nostradamus.

As it happens, Mr. Friedman invokes with an epigraph a European seer generally considered more reputable—Hegel: “To him who looks upon the world rationally, the world in turn presents a rational aspect. The relation is mutual.”

The spirits of Hegel and Nostradamus do a curious dance in the person of George Friedman, founder of STRATFOR, apparently the world’s foremost “private intelligence agency.” Like most self-respecting Americans, Mr. Friedman imagines himself more the Teutonic dialectician than the Gallic mystic—not for nothing, he begins The Next 100 Years with the observation that it should have been clear by 1871 that 20th-century history would be driven by the rise of a unified Germany, uncommonly ambitious but territorially pinned between France and Russia. The STRATFOR method, he intimates, would have synthesized this geopolitical insight with technological trends (dynamite had recently been invented)—consequently, his agency would have predicted the unprecedented cataclysm of the two World Wars. 


THAT THE FUTURE unfolds reasonably is, obviously, not an unreasonable proposition. But the dictates of the consultancy business require more than a theory of history—the forecasts must be both unconventional and narrowly falsifiable. Mr. Friedman’s boldest claim, hitherto, was made in The Coming War With Japan, written with his wife and published in 1991. So our latter-day prophet, who deals in lucrative white papers over lunatic Web sites, also faces 2012 as something of a year of truth: The U.S.–Japanese war he predicted 18 years ago was to detonate within two decades.

I suppose the stars and statistics have realigned. The aforementioned war is nowhere to be found in The Next 100 Years, which is, rather amazingly, exactly what it sounds like: a textbook survey of 21st-century history, with tongue well sequestered from cheek. Its proximate predictions are persuasive, if quietly iconoclastic. Far from waning, Mr. Friedman foresees, American dominance over world affairs is just beginning, and will shape this century as decisively as Hegel’s Germany did the last. China, as several of our less hysterical analysts have also insisted, turns out to be a “paper tiger”: “[A]n Asian state that values social relations above economic discipline,” it’s reaching the “structural limits” to its growth. Geographical disparities are accelerating, and by 2020, central government control will “fragment along traditional regional lines. … Traditionally, this is a more plausible scenario in China.”

In the coming decade, Russia will prove a more worrying challenger to U.S. hegemony. In response, American dollars will be funneled around 2015 to “a new bloc of nations, primarily the old Soviet satellites coupled with the Baltic states,” which, “[f]ar more energetic than the Western Europeans, with far more to lose … will develop a surprising dynamism.” But this confrontation will be even colder than the last one—“Russia broke in 1917, and again in 1991. And the country’s military will collapse once more shortly after 2020.”

At mid-century, the true threats will be a neo-Caliphate Turkey and, finally, Japan. United in a bid for Eurasian supremacy, they will start a world war with the United States and its strongest ally, Greater Poland. The American military apparatus will by then have shifted to space-based “Battle Star management platforms,” which “command swarms of satellites and their own onboard systems, as well as orbiting pods that will be able to fire missiles at the ground and at other satellites.” To have a chance in a shooting war, upstart powers will have to take out these systems. So, of course, the Japanese will target them in a surprise Thanksgiving Day assault in 2050—using rockets fired from the dark side of the moon.

This Wacky Century 21