Friedman`s correction on “The Next Hundred Years”
BSSB.BE Geopolitical Futures
* «I have no crystal ball. I do, however, have a method that has served me well, imperfect though it might be, in understanding the past and anticipating the future…» George Friedman
Before I delve into any details of global wars, population trends, or technological shifts, it is important that I address my method—that is, precisely how I can forecast what I do. I don’t intend to be taken seriously on the details of the war in 2050 that I forecast.
But I do want to be taken seriously in terms of how wars will be fought then, about the centrality of American power, about the likelihood of other countries challenging that power, and about some of the countries I think will—and won’t—challenge that power. And doing that takes some justification. The idea of a U.S.–Mexican confrontation and even war will leave most reasonable people dubious, but I would like to demonstrate why and how these assertions can be made.
One point I’ve already made is that reasonable people are incapable of anticipating the future. The old New Left slogan “Be Practical, Demand the Impossible” needs to be changed: “Be Practical, Expect the Impossible.” This idea is at the heart of my method. From another, more substantial perspective, this is called geopolitics.
Geopolitics is not simply a pretentious way of saying “international relations.” It is a method for thinking about the world and forecasting what will happen down the road. Economists talk about an invisible hand, in which the self- interested, short- term activities of people lead to what Adam Smith called “the wealth of nations.” Geopolitics applies the concept of the invisible hand to the behavior of nations and other international actors. The pursuit of short- term self- interest by nations and by their leaders leads, if not to the wealth of nations, then at least to predictable behavior and, therefore, the ability to forecast the shape of the future international system.
- Geopolitics and economics both assume that the players are rational, at least in the sense of knowing their own short- term self- interest. As rational actors, reality provides them with limited choices. It is assumed that, on the whole, people and nations will pursue their self- interest, if not flawlessly, then at least not randomly. Think of a chess game.
- On the surface, it appears that each player has twenty potential opening moves. In fact, there are many fewer because most of these moves are so bad that they quickly lead to defeat. The better you are at chess, the more clearly you see your options, and the fewer moves there actually are available. The better the player, the more predictable the moves. The grandmaster plays with absolute predictable precision—until that one brilliant, unexpected stroke.
Nations behave the same way. The millions or hundreds of millions of people who make up a nation are constrained by reality. They generate leaders who would not become leaders if they were irrational. Climbing to the top of millions of people is not something fools often do. Leaders understand their menu of next moves and execute them, if not flawlessly, then at least pretty well. An occasional master will come along with a stunningly unexpected and successful move, but for the most part, the act of governance is simply executing the necessary and logical next step. When politicians run a country’s foreign policy, they operate the same way. If a leader dies and is replaced, another emerges and more likely than not continues what the first one was doing.
- I am not arguing that political leaders are geniuses, scholars, or even gentlemen and ladies. Simply, political leaders know how to be leaders or they wouldn’t have emerged as such. It is the delight of all societies to belittle their political leaders, and leaders surely do make mistakes.
- But the mistakes they make, when carefully examined, are rarely stupid. More likely, mistakes are forced on them by circumstance. We would all like to believe that we— or our favorite candidate—would never have acted so stupidly. It is rarely true.
- Geopolitics therefore does not take the individual leader very seriously, any more than economics takes the individual businessman too seriously. Both are players who know how to manage a process but are not free to break the very rigid rules of their professions.
Politicians are therefore rarely free actors. Their actions are determined by circumstances, and public policy is a response to reality. Within narrow margins, political decisions can matter. But the most brilliant leader of Iceland will never turn it into a world power, while the stupidest leader of Rome at its height could not undermine Rome’s fundamental power.
Geopolitics is not about the right and wrong of things, it is not about the virtues or vices of politicians, and it is not about foreign policy debates. Geopolitics is about broad impersonal forces that constrain nations and human beings and compel them to act in certain ways.
The key to understanding economics is accepting that there are always unintended consequences. Actions people take for their own good reasons have results they don’t envision or intend. The same is true with geopolitics. It is doubtful that the village of Rome, when it started its expansion in the seventh century BC, had a master plan for conquering the Mediterranean world five hundred years later. But the first action its inhabitants took against neighboring villages set in motion a process that was both constrained by reality and filled with unintended consequences. Rome wasn’t planned, and neither did it just happen.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: Geopolitical Futures