George Friedman holds a doctorate in government from Cornell University and is the founder and chief executive of Stratfor, a geopolitical consulting firm in Austin, Texas. His most recent book is The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. He spoke with Terence Monmaney.
Commentators have declared the end of American dominance. You disagree. Why?
The 20th century wasn’t the American century. In the first half of the century, the United States was a peripheral player—marginal to what was happening. From 1945 to 1991, the United States was caught in a terrific conflict with the Soviet Union. The United States has been the sole global power [only] since 1991, less than 20 years. People say China is emerging as a power. The U.S. economy is roughly three times larger than China’s. That’s a $10 trillion difference. Twenty-five percent of the world’s economic activity happens in the United States. The U.S. Navy controls all the oceans. We are an order of magnitude more powerful than anyone else. Undermining that kind of power can happen, but it normally takes wars, and it certainly takes generations.
You posit a third world war starting in 2050.
My expectation is we’re going to see a fragmentation in China because of internal social stresses, and the weakening of Russia. Three powers are emerging on the periphery of Eurasia. One is Japan, which is truly the center of gravity of Asia; it’s the second-largest economy in the world. Unlike China, Japan does not have a billion people living in sub-Saharan-type poverty. It is unified. It has the largest navy in Asia. Second is Turkey, now the 17th- largest economy in the world and the largest Islamic economy. And whenever Islam emerges into a coherent political entity, which it hasn’t done for a century, Turkey is almost invariably at its center. Turkey has by far the most powerful and effective military in Europe and is going to be a major Mediterranean power. The third country is Poland. Few people know that Poland is the 21st-largest economy in the world, the 8th-largest in Europe, and by far the most dynamic. It is also a country very much afraid of Germany and Russia. Russia is right now in the process of rebuilding itself. This makes the Poles very uneasy. The Germans are reaching out to the Russians. Poland feels trapped.
Japan is utterly dependent on the sea lanes for the import and export of products. And those sea lanes are controlled by the United States. The United States controls the oceans, and its view is that that is the foundation of its national security. As Japan and Turkey become greater maritime powers, the United States will become hostile toward them. Japan and Turkey each wants to be a maritime power and each sees the U.S. as a threat. Poland has no interest in being a maritime power. It’s afraid of Turkey, and interested in the U.S. There’s a natural coalition.
The center of gravity of American military power is in space. Everything from navigation to communication to intelligence satellites operate in space. If any power were to knock out the United States, it would have to knock out those assets. If the Japanese and Turks were to take on the United States, that would be the place they would have to strike first, to blind us, to cripple us. I would expect the war to start there. It seems like science fiction, but one wonders how somebody in 1900 would have felt about a description of what World War II was going to be like.
The details may not be as I say—there may be other players, it may not happen in 2050—but every century has a war. The 21st century is not going to be the first century without major warfare.