If we view the beginning of the twenty-first century as the dawn of the American Age (superseding the European Age), we see that it began with a group of Muslims seeking to re- create the Caliphate—the great Islamic empire that once ran from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Inevitably, they had to strike at the United States in an attempt to draw the world's primary power into war, trying to demonstrate its weakness in order to trigger an Islamic uprising. The United States responded by invading the Islamic world. But its goal wasn't victory. It wasn't even clear what victory would mean. Its goal was simply to disrupt the Islamic world and set it against itself, so that an Islamic empire could not emerge.
The United States doesn't need to win wars. It needs to simply disrupt things so the other side can't build up sufficient strength to challenge it.
The U.S.–Islamist war is already ending and the next conflict is in sight. Russia is re-creating its old sphere of influence, and that sphere of influence will inevitably challenge the United States. The Russians will be moving westward on the great northern European plain. As Russia reconstructs its power, it will encounter the U.S.-dominated NATO in the three Baltic countries—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—as well as in Poland. There will be other points of friction in the early twenty-first century, but this new cold war will supply the flash points after the U.S.–Islamist war dies down.
The Russians can't avoid trying to reassert power, and the United States can't avoid trying to resist. But in the end Russia can't win. Its deep internal problems, massively declining population, and poor infrastructure ultimately make Russia's long- term survival prospects bleak. And the second cold war, less frightening and much less global than the first, will end as the first did, with the collapse of Russia.
There are many who predict that China is the next challenger to the United States, not Russia. I don't agree with that view for three reasons. First, when you look at a map of China closely, you see that it is really a very isolated country physically. With Siberia in the north, the Himalayas and jungles to the south, and most of China's population in the eastern part of the country, the Chinese aren't going to easily expand. Second, China has not been a major naval power for centuries, and building a navy requires a long time not only to build ships but to create well-trained and experienced sailors.
Third, there is a deeper reason for not worrying about China. China is inherently unstable. Whenever it opens its borders to the outside world, the coastal region becomes prosperous, but the vast majority of Chinese in the interior remain impoverished. This leads to tension, conflict, and instability. It also leads to economic decisions made for political reasons, resulting in inefficiency and corruption. This is not the first time that China has opened itself to foreign trade, and it will not be the last time that it becomes unstable as a result. Nor will it be the last time that a figure like Mao emerges to close the country off from the outside, equalize the wealth—or poverty—and begin the cycle anew. There are some who believe that the trends of the last thirty years will continue indefinitely. I believe the Chinese cycle will move to its next and inevitable phase in the coming decade. Far from being a challenger, China is a country the United States will be trying to bolster and hold together as a counterweight to the Russians. Current Chinese economic dynamism does not translate into long-term success.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Stratfor's Predictions for the Next Hundred Years, Part I
Via John Mauldin, George Friedman of Stratfor offers some of his predictions for the rest of this century, "The Next 100 Years". Below are a few excerpts; I'll post a couple more separately to keep this post from getting too long.