Sometimes paying attention to what’s going on in the world at the moment will not shed any light on what will happen tomorrow. While our choices and actions may affect our immediate future, much greater forces – which lore often ascribes to “fate” – will shape the courses of our lives. According to George Friedman‘s The Next 100 Years, the same holds true for the future of international relations, which are shaped, similarly, by a concoction of geopolitical forces – specifically geology, geography, economics and demographics.
Friedman, beginning in the early 21st century, walks the reader through what he forecasts to be some of the major conflicts of the future. Citing Turkey, Poland, Mexico, and Japan as future contenders for regional hegemony, Friedman points to Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Baltic states, the Caucasus, and the American Southwest as conflict zones. Considering the advances in military technology, Friedman also includes space.
Basing his “predictions” (which he prefaces humbly enough to make them palatable to the reader) on geopolitical factors and historical patterns, Friedman does a great job at inspiring the reader to think outside of the box about geopolitics, the balance of power, and the trends that determine the future. While his book does not prove what will happen in the world, it does prove one thing for sure – we cannot assume that what we expect to happen will actually happen.
Though the intellectual exercise does the reader a great favor in serving as a reminder not to get caught up in the hype of the most recent trends in the media, Friedman’s analyses fail to incorporate more dynamic transnational variables.
Specifically, I am referring to the role of disease in determining human history. Pathogens played a large role in enabling Europeans to swiftly carve out the New World for their own interests. Malaria prevented the Dutch from being as successful at colonizing southern Africa as the French were in west Africa and the Maghreb. HIV/AIDS and Malaria have inhibited and continue to burden the growth of many African nations. If Friedman considers demographics to be so important in determining history, how can he possibly justify avoiding a discussion of the role of maladies that so powerfully sculpt demographic pyramids? It would have been interesting to see him try to factor this into his discussion or even to hear him explain why he did not.