The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century

by George Friedman 

                                               
 

It always bemuses me that someone can have the chutzpah to forecast the next ten years let alone the next hundred years. The world is a complex place and when you include politics, technological change, and wars into the mix of your predictions it becomes more complex still. However this is just what George Friedman sets out to do and, despite my innate misgivings and views about forecasting and predictions, the book is valuable and eminently readable as long as we take the accompanying certainty with a grain of salt.

Friedman reiterates on page 188 that:

“History is a chess game in which there are many fewer moves available than appears to be the case. The better a player you are, the more you see the weaknesses of the moves, and the number of moves shrinks to a very few.”

And he provides a deep and sweeping analysis to back this contention up. Reading the book has given me a new appreciation of the driving forces of international geopolitics and how they might play out. Having said that, the prediction that there will be a global war between the US, Turkey, Poland, and Japan in 2050 while Russia and China fall by the way is stretching that analysis a long way.
Friedman’s basic contention is that international politics are driven by a few fundamental forces and national interests, and that there are long cycles at play in the history of the modern world. For example, he believes the US has been governed by 50 year cycles. There is certainly a possibility that this is the case but there are very large dangers in identifying such long term patterns from historical data because we have a tendency to fit data to our theories rather than the other way around.

I found the first half of the book far more valuable than the second half because that is where Friedman goes into great depth on the key forces he believes are driving the major countries and blocs in the world, especially the US, Russia and China. I found his analysis of the forces at play in Russia and the countries surrounding it particularly fascinating and insightful given my lack of knowledge of that area and the skilful way he marries geographical features and cultural mindsets and their effects on national motivations.

It is my strong belief that futurists have a duty to their readers and their clients to do that analysis and identify the forces they believe are key drivers in forward scenarios because that allows the reader or client to gain greater understanding of the subject and derive far more value as the future plays out. Friedman certainly delivers on this, it is just that as I read the book and got further and further out from the present day that the experience was ruined for me to an extent because there was a voice in the back of my head wishing that he could just state that he was writing just one possible future rather than making very specific predictions about individual years such as 2045.

So if you are interested in the forces driving international change and national decision making I would strongly recommend you read the book and do your own analysis as long as you can put aside the problems.

Paul Higgins

July 2009