Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Through a dark glass sideways ...

Looking into the future is a fun exercise. Afterall, those in 1909, or 1959 for that matter, would find the world of 2009 unbelievable. A lot of that has to do with "technology quickening" of that time, but from a POL/MIL point of view, the change was just as great.

With that in mind, the founder of STRATFOR, George Friedman, has an article out in the New Statesman pimping his book,
The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century.

His guess is as good as any informed guess, and George is someone who has earned the right to be taken seriously. I like the direction he takes on average, but in spite of my initial "coolio" desire to absorb what he sees in the distance, I couldn't help but be bothered by what I think he misses the mark on. Just to join in with the fun, here are a few areas that I think need to be addressed. Let's take some one bite at a time.

Just as important, perhaps, is that while the population density of Japan is about 365 people per square kilometre and that of most European states between 100 and 300 per square kilometre, the US population density, excluding Alaska, is about 34 people per square kilometre. The US has room to grow and it manages immigration well. Its population is not expected to decline. It is the pre-eminent power not because of the morality of the regime, the virtue of its people or the esteem in which it is held, but because of Europe's failures and changes in global trade patterns.
If you just read the article, you would think that George is down on the USA - but in the video linked below you see a different, more positive view. However, if he takes the USA as simply on the receiving end of everyone elses failures or geographical luck, I think he is missing what has made the USA the success it has been.

Having the longest running Representative Republic's Constitution, nothing to add to the mix? Rule of Law and free market liberalism, neutral? Nothing exceptional in the American system that would bring about what it has to was once an area as blank as Siberia? Interesting view, but a little blinkered.

As mentioned, at the bottom of this post there is a link to the author speaking where he fleshes out his view of the USA that is a little more positive on the future. However, he blends it with a "North America" concept that I think has merit in a macro sense - but not quite as he thinks WRT Mexico - that we will cover later.

Back to the USA.
Opinion and reputation have little to do with national power. Whether the US president is loathed or admired is of some minor immediate import, but the fundamentals of power are overarching. Nor do passing events have much to do with national power, no matter how significant they appear at that moment. The recent financial crisis mattered, but it did not change the basic geometry of international power. The concept of American decline is casually tossed about, but for America to decline, some other power must surpass it. There are no candidates.
I agree with the last statement, but America can degrade itself though economic malpractice inline with what Argentina did to herself in the 1900s - but on a much larger scale. You cannot be the world's greatest debtor and continue to run the world. It is unsustainable. Do not discount relative decline.

There is good relative decline; the USA % of global GDP decreases as other nations leave the 3rd to progress towards the 1st World. There is bad relative decline; the USA % of global GDP falls due to real falling national GDP and degrading internal economic factors and external competitiveness.

As for external challenges, here is George's overview;

Consider China, most often mentioned as the challenger to the US. Han China is surrounded by four buffer states, Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet. Without these buffers, the borders of China move inward and China becomes vulnerable. With these four buffers in place, China is secure - but as a landlocked island, bounded by mountainous jungle, the Himalayas, the steppes of central Asia and the Siberian wasteland. China is blocked in all directions but the sea.

The vast majority of China's population lives within a thousand miles of the Pacific coast. Beyond this line, water supply will not support large populations. Most industrial development has taken place within a hundred miles of the coast. Consider the following numbers, culled from official Chinese statistics. About 65 million Chinese people live in households with more than $20,000 a year in income. Around 165 million make between $2,000 and $20,000 a year. Most of these live within 100 miles of the coast. About 400 million Chinese have household incomes between $1,000 and $2,000 a year, while about 670 million have household incomes of less than $1,000 a year. China is a land of extra­ordinary poverty. Mao made the Long March to raise an army of desperate peasants to rectify this sort of extreme imbalance. The imbalance is there again, a volcano beneath the current regime.

China would have to triple the size of its economy - and the US would have to stand still - if China were to pull even with the US in GDP. Militarily, China is impotent. Its army is a domestic security force, its ability to project power blocked by natural barriers. Its navy exists mostly on paper and could not possibly pose a serious threat to the US. Casual assertions of China surpassing the US geopolitically ignore fundamental, overwhelming realities. China could conceivably overcome its problems, but it would require most of the century to overcome problems of this magnitude.
Missing in the discussion is the demographic time-bomb in China - but that fact reinforces his premise that China is little threat.

Threat is relative though - Taiwan is still an option for a Chinese
Galtieri, and from a Chinese perspective, Russian Far Eastern Siberia is still Chinese. You think Mexico wants the USA SW back - talk to the Chinese about Far Eastern Siberia. Oh, never underestimate China. Talk to a Korean War vet if you need to.

Europe, if it ever coalesced into a unified economic and military power, could certainly challenge the US. However, as we have seen during the recent financial crisis, nationalism continues to divide the continent, even if exhaustion has made that nationalism less virulent. The idea of Europe becoming a multinational state with a truly integrated economic decision-making system - and with a global military force under joint command - is as distant a dream as that of China becoming a global power.
About right - though he really needs to mention European demographics. Depending on where the Muslim world trends - the majority Muslim areas of Western Europe may be Europe's Kosovos x 10 in 100 years. Again, who has the demographics chair at STRATFOR? Whoever that is, he should be fired as he isn't giving the boss the info he needs.

George then focuses on three emerging "powers;" Japan, Turkey, and Poland.

Japan is already a great power. It is the world's second-largest economy, with a far more stable distribution of income and social structure than China. It has east Asia's largest navy - one that China would like to have - and an army larger than Britain's (since the Second World War, both Japan's "army" and "navy" have officially been non-aggressive "self-defence forces"). It has not been a dynamic country, militarily or economically, but dynamism comes and goes. It is the fundamentals of national power, relative to other countries, that matter in the long run.
Not bad, but again - their demographics are a horror show. No front page mention here is just professional malpractice IMAO.

Turkey is now the world's 17th-largest economy and the largest Islamic economy. Its military is the most capable in the region and is also probably the strongest in Europe, apart from the British armed forces. Its influence is already felt in the Caucasus, the Balkans, central Asia and the Arab world. Most important, it is historically the leader in the Muslim world, and its bridge to the rest of the world. Over the centuries, when the Muslim world has been united, this has happened under Turkish power; the past century has been the aberration. If Russia weakens, Turkey emerges as the dominant power in the region, including the eastern Mediterranean; Turkey is an established naval power. It has also been historically pragmatic in its foreign policies.
Their military is big, but has almost no institutional combat experience to draw on and their COIN efforts against the Kurds has not been impressive. Its Army is horribly intellectually hide-bound. With the right leader, perhaps, but on balance they remain the "Sick Man of Europe." Economically - much work to do. Culturally, the argument can be made that Turkey is entering a regressive stage.

The most important aspect for the next 100 years will be how it leverages its significant Turk expat community in Western Europe. Initial indications are not good. Their attitude towards non-Turks and non-Muslims is not getting better. That is what will be interesting about Turkey over the next 100 years, not cooperation with Arabs (who hate Turks BTW, and will never form up behind a Turk more than for show). Turkish interest in Central Asia ... now that might be interesting.

Poland has the 18th-largest economy in the world, the largest among the former Soviet satellites and the eighth-largest in Europe. It is a vital strategic asset for the US. In the emerging competition between the US and Russia, Poland represents the geographical frontier between Europe and Russia and the geographical foundation of any attempt to defend the Baltics. Given the US strategic imperative to block Eurasian hegemons and Europe's unease with the US, the US-Polish relationship becomes critical. In 2008 the US signed a deal with Poland to instal missiles in the Baltic Sea as part of Washington's European missile defence shield, ostensibly to protect against "rogue states". The shield is not about Iran, but about Poland as a US ally - from the American and the Russian points of view.
This is spot on methinks. However, Poland is only a medium-small country population wise; a little under 39 million, and shrinking. Nice location and all - but not a global player outside their back yard. A good friend and important friend, but not like pictured here.

This is where things get interesting.
US strategy considers any great power with significant maritime capabilities a threat; it will have solved one problem - the Russian problem - by generating another. Imagining a Japanese-Turkish alliance is strange but no stranger than a Japanese-German alliance in 1939. Both countries will be under tremendous pressure from the established power. Both will have an interest in overthrowing the global regime the US has imposed. The risk of not acting will be greater than the risk of acting. That is the basis of war.

Imagining the war requires that we extrapolate technology. For the US, space is already the enabler of its military machine. Communications, navigation and intelligence are already space-based. Any great power challenging the US must destroy US space-based assets. That means that, by the middle of the century, the US will have created substantial defences for those assets. But if the US can be rendered deaf, dumb and blind, a coalition of Turkey and Japan could force the US to make strategic concessions.
Japan is not going to go to war against the USA again. That I will bet a case of scotch on. I do like what he states about a strategic risk for the USA; the transformationalists love of satellites that I flail against at every chance I get. He is exactly right about this risk --- and I would argue that this warning is the most valuable part of the article.

...demographic shifts in the US will place a premium on encouraging Mexican migration northward. It will be after the mid-century systemic war that the new reality will emerge. Mexico will be a prosperous, powerful nation with a substantial part of its population living in the American south-west, in territory that Mexicans regard as their own.
Ummmm, no. I think here, after a brief comment about Russian demographics, we have another demographics comment at last, but one that is incomplete.

Mexican demographics in Mexico are trending to USA levels fast - and they have a problem with their southern border that will only get worse as their economy gets better. No, by mid-century WRT Mexico things will be different - but not in a way we can see clearly right now.

Also, Mexico has a lot of work to go on its economic, rule of law, drug lords, business climate, environment, and oil industry infrastructure to go before it gets even close to being a "prosperous, powerful nation." It is just as likely to go down as up. Swing and a miss - but if you had to make a call, this is as fair as any I guess.

Let's look at the end.
The 500 years of European domination of the international system did not guarantee who would be the dominant European power. Nor is there any guarantee who will be the dominant power in North America. One can imagine scenarios in which the US fragments, in which Mexico becomes an equal power, or in which the US retains primacy for centuries, or an outside power makes a play. North America is the prize.

In due course, the geopolitical order will shift again, and the American epoch will end. Perhaps even sooner, the power of the US will wane. But not yet, and not in this century.
The only way the USA will lose its position over this century will be if we follow the Argentine model and economically destroy ourselves - something the present administration is doing very well from a debt-load POV.

On thing our system has though is a byproduct of its exceptional design is a nice system of checks and balances and it is self correcting. We are 14 months from the next election. There is still plenty of time to fix this problem if the American people want to. If they don't, then yes -- I can see a USA breakup and very bloody civil conflict.

Let's have some fun with that concept while we are at it.

A USA breakup would see at least four nations come out the other end if a unifying leader can't, Lincoln like, glue it back together (NE, NW, California+, old-CSA+/-). If you want to make it even more interesting - have Canada and the EU deploy a "Stabilization Force" in the NE and upper mid-West. China one in California+, Japan witih Korea and a token Canadian force in the NW, and Mexico with some South American help in NM, AZ, and parts of Texas.

Someone (probably the EU with Brazil and a few other helpers) may try a STABFOR in the old-CSA, but that wouldn't last long methinks. Assuming the remnants of the USN were not an opposing factor, their forces would never make it out of the major port cities of Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, and Miami - as they wouldn't have the stomach for the bloody nose they would get from the locals.

Imagine a Belgian convoy trying to make its way from Charleston through the I-26 corridor to the South Carolina capital of Columbia. They would be lucky to make it to the I-95 interchange before the redeployed cadets from The Citadel and "irregulars" augmenting SC National Guard destroyed them to a man.

I think the NE and upper MW wouldn't mind their new overlords too much, Japan and friends might have some problems outside major population centers of Washington State and Oregon, and may never make it to Idaho besides Boise, but that would be about it after an economic collapse and internal conflict. No one would challenge China in California - no, they would set a nice example early in San Diego.

The world would suffer immeasurably. China and Japan will lose much of their foreign reserves that would have huge internal impact for them. Europe will lose a huge market for its goods - and a huge disruption in its food supply. Ditto SW Asia and Africa. The STABFOR would be here to restart global trade more than stop internal conflict.

That is a more likely future than Japan and Turkey going to war against USA and Poland --- IMAO --- and would make one h3ll of a book.

Anyway, looking ahead 50-100 years, or 10 for that matter, is simply a fun what-if exercise from a POL/MIL POV. I like the 5-10 year future look myself. More accurate as the standard deviation from trend-lines are much smaller. Anyway, when it comes to most things in this fallen world the best thing to do is: follow the money.

I don't think I will read his book, but you may find it of interest.
Here is the author talking about it.

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