Friday, January 22, 2010

In praise of the Americentric world

At the beginning of the century, everything looked fine for the United States. Its economy was booming, the American style finance capitalism was tightening its grip over world economies, its military operation in Yugoslavia, co-sponsored by the Nato, was a success and the world had more or less come to terms with the new political order emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union. If somebody predicted that the 21st century would be an Americentric period, it would have been hailed by many.

But the world has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. And when the US is facing one of its worst crises – both militarily and economically – George Freidman, the best selling author of “America’s Secret War”, forecasts that the US would remain the world’s “pre-eminent” power for the next 100 years. Friedman, the founder and chief executive of the US-based private intelligence agency Stratfor, makes some brilliant but strange predictions in his new book, “The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century”. If somebody thought, the US Empire is on the decline, or the Communist China is on the rise to become the next super power, or the present century will belong to the emerging nations like India, Brazil and South Africa, he or she could be wrong, according to Friedman. He says Turkey, Poland and Japan would emerge as great powers of the century. Stunned by the prognosis? Well, “the most practical way to imagine future is to question the unexpected”, says Freidman. He argues his predictions are simple efforts to read history geopolitically. “It’s Geography which defines power”. The geopolitical locations of Japan, Turkey and Poland and the changing contours of global politics would help these countries emerge as great powers.

So what about China, an emerging power billed by many analysts as the next super power? Freidman believes China would be fragmented by 2020 due to internal contradictions. When its coastal regions will get richer and richer, the interior parts will plunge into acute poverty. On the global scene, China would fail to extend its influence as it’s not a major geopolitical force. The US will continue its technological, economical and military dominance and will be challenged by an ambitious Japan and its ally Turkey in 2050. Turkey, the largest Islamic economy, would emerge as the greatest power in the region as Russia would weaken by middle of the century. Poland, on the other side, will align with the US like what Israel and South Korea did in the post-war world. “In the emerging competition between the US and Russia, Poland represents the geographical frontier between Europe and Russia and the geographical foundation of any attempts to defend the Baltics,” writes Friedman.

Unlike the previous world wars, the war between the US and Japan would not be fought as the first two were. It will begin with attacks on American military space stations and the US and its Polish ally will eventually emerge victorious.

The victory will further strengthen the US power and it will start another major technological surge similar to that of its post-war policy. BY the end of the century, America’s neighbour Mexico will emerge another great power and a potential threat to the US influence on the earth. That conflict will be one of the defining developments of the 22nd century.

Reading Freidman’s book is an enjoyable exercise, though it’s biter to swallow most of his arguments. The US as a whole -- its capitalism, its military power and its unipolar world – is undergoing the worst crises in decades. It’s president himself has hinted the changing role of the US in an unfolding multilateral world order in which both China and India are set to have higher stakes. China, the fastest growing economy in the world, is likely to overtake Japan as the second largest economy in 2010. Friedman seems to be sidestepping these facts, while most of his forecasts looked based on certain fixed notions like the “immunity” of the US and the role of naval power and global trade in defining the greatness of countries. However, it remains to be seen how much the Stratfor founder is correct in imagining the world ahead.

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century”, George Friedman, Doubleday: 2009 (Reviewed for Purple Beret)

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