One of the main elements of the science fiction genre is the future. Looking to the future extends far beyond just the world of Science Fiction, but to speculative fiction, religion, the business and military worlds, and indeed, is a question that everyone inevitably asks, can we predict what will happen next? George Friedman’s latest book, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century purports to just that. While Friedman makes a number of interesting, and at times, good points, the resulting work is deeply flawed in its reasoning. I’ve since reviewed this book for io9 – much of the summary for the book can be found here.
There are three major points that I took issue with when it came to this book, which are instrumental to the book’s findings: lack of sources, an overemphasis and reliance on history and the assumption that the world will return to similar political connections that characterized the Cold War. However, while this is the case, Friedman imparts a very important lesson through this book, reminding the reader that history and nations work with a sort of cause and effect mentality, where x event causes y reaction over z time. Major events take years to build and grow, and an essential thing for the reader to keep in mind is that the world and political structure can change over the course of twenty to thirty years.
This book has no index, notes or sources anywhere in the book, which is odd, considering the number of places that there should be some sort of citation, such as a UN report citing declines in birthrates, or historical information on the political stance of a country. The result of this is a lengthy opinion piece that gets stranger and stranger as the decades pile up. Unfortunately for the book, this does nothing to help with the book’s credibility, despite the author’s credentials, and essentially turns it into an extended op-ed. With no scholarly information to back up the author’s assertions, the book rests on the idea that the author knows just what he is talking about, and given some of the things that he comes up with, I am more inclined to file this under fiction, rather than non-fiction.
Much of the book’s reasoning seem fairly flawed to me. Friedman, right off the bat, suggests that what he terms the US-Jihadist war (This should probably be Western-Jihadist war, in all actuality) is merely a small problem that will go away within a couple of years. I’m not well versed in the intelligence community or up on the current information, but I would imagine that that’s as far from the truth as you can get. The conflict that’s ongoing in the Middle East is one that has been brewing for years, even decades. Israel, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and others close by have long-seated issues with the United States and the Western world, fueled by extremists who believe that our way of life is detrimental to theirs, and have literally been killing themselves to try and stop us. This is not a problem that will vanish without many of those underlying problems being corrected, which I don’t see happening. Furthermore, Friedman fails to take into account how things will change with time – the importance of petroleum, for example, which is not a sure thing. What will the effects of climate change legislation have on nations, and how will changes in these resources affect countries. Furthermore, South America, Oceania and Africa are barely mentioned throughout the book.
Friedman hangs his hat on this one assumption – that the global war on fundamentalist terrorists will go away, and that the world will resume tensions that were in existence during the Cold War. He predicts that Russia will consolidate its power and a Russian bloc in Europe. While there are indications that this is happening, I don’t believe that it will be anything like what happened before, and that the US will essentially enter another Cold War. Furthermore, down the road, he predicts that the eventual demise of Russia will lead to the rise of Japan, Turkey and Poland, which I find somewhat more unlikely, at least with Poland and Japan.
Much of his reasoning in these instances depends upon historical record and what has gone on before with these countries. He notes that Japan, despite its recent pacifism, will return to warlike routes and eventually challenge the United States. Turkey will do the same. I find Turkey’s case slightly more reasonable, because of its diplomatic ties, stability and economy. In addition to these two countries, he also cites German and Russian tendencies to war. This to me is a particularly dangerous assumption, because countries and cultures are redeemable, as seen with Japan. Countries will not go to war or suddenly become aggressive simply because they have done so in the past. Japan has become incredibly tame, with a culture and multiple generations of people to support that. Germany similarly. Warfare, as Clausewitz notes, is an extension of political policy, and with a culture that is largely against war and conflict supporting a political structure, a highly militant Japan rising again seems unlikely. Friedman’s assertions that by the middle of the century, with lunar bases and ‘Battle Stars’ operated by the United States, are on the face ridiculous. (The cost alone of creating the International Space Station, which houses 6 scientists is in the trillions – the prices for stations that house people in the hundreds is magnitudes higher. Even then, with a mindset of defense against other nations, this still doesn’t fly.) But, even then, the idea that the Japanese will bomb these US facilities in a Pearl Harbor-esque attack on Thanksgiving evening is just nothing sort of laughable. History certainly has its place, but it cannot be used reliably to predict the future with an instance such as this. Analyze trends and motivations, yes, but using a country’s prior methods of warfare, in this manner, is pure fiction.
This is unfortunate, because the book is presented as fact and not necessarily as an exercise in history or how to think about how these events might work in the future. The result is a ridiculous and absurd argument for a return to older political thinking from people who were immersed in that world for so long.