The Next Decade Summary (9/10) — Unearned Wisdom

The Next Decade is a book about geopolitics by George Friedman, author of The Next 100 Years.


Most people think that the longer the time frame, the more unpredictable the future. I take the opposite view. Individual actions are the hardest thing to predict. In the course of a century, so many individual decisions are made that no single one of them is ever critical.

Three native balances of power defined the last 50 years: the Arab-Israeli, the Indo-Pakistani, and the Iranian-Iraqi. Owing largely to recent U.S. policy, those balances are unstable or no longer exist.

Palestine is no threat to Israel, Pakistan is no threat to India, and Iraq is no threat to Iran.

A primary strategy for the U.S. is to keep Europe’s technological expertise separate from Russia’s manpower and natural resources.

The fall of the Soviet Union prevented this from happening. After 9/11, U.S. forces sent to Mediterranean-Himalayan theater gave Russia time to regain its power.

Diverted and tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has been unable to hold back Moscow’s return to influence, or even to make credible threats that would inhibit Russian ambitions. As a result, the United States now faces a significant regional power with its own divergent agenda, which includes a play for influence in Europe.

All this helps explain why the United States’ return to balance will require a major effort over the next 10 years to block an alliance between Germany and Russia. The U.S. approach will include cultivating a new relationship with Poland, the geographic monkey wrench that can be thrown into the gears of a German-Russian relationship.

China will also need attention, but not as much as people think. As the country’s economic miracle comes of age, China will transform into a more mature economy, with over a billion people living in abject poverty. The U.S. will shift its focus to Japan, the third largest economy in the world, with the most important navy in the region.

The president of the U.S. will need to be duplicitous and subtle, to ally with enemies, and maintain the public narrative at home.

Some countries make up for their weaknesses economically by being clever, but all the cleverness in the world can’t compensate for profound weakness.

The United States possesses what I call “deep power,” and deep power must be first and foremost balanced power. This means economic, military, and political power in appropriate and mutually supporting amounts. It is deep in a second sense, which is that it rests on a foundation of cultural and ethical norms that define how that power is to be used and that provides a framework for individual action. Europe, for example, has economic power, but it is militarily weak and rests on a very shallow foundation. There is little consensus in Europe politically, particularly about the framework of obligations imposed on its members.

Deep rooted and well-balanced power is rare. The U.S. is uniquely positioned to consolidate and exercise both. Some people think that the U.S. can withdraw from managing global power, and to cease to meddle in the affairs of the world. And if they did so, the world would not fear or hate it, leaving the Americans to live in peace and prosperity without fear. But such a belief is nostalgia for a time that is long behind us.

After the fall of the Soviet Union…

Interdependence has historically led to friction and war.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, France and Germany feared each other’s power, so each tried to shape the other’s behavior. The result was that the two countries went to war with each other three times in seventy years. Prior to World War I, the English journalist (later a member of Parliament) Norman Angell wrote a widely read book called The Great Illusion, in which he demonstrated the high degree of economic interdependence in Europe and asserted that this made war impossible. Obviously, the two World Wars proved that that wasn’t the case. Advocates for free trade continue to use this argument. Yet, as we will see, a high degree of global interdependence, with the United States at the center, actually increases-rather than diminishes-the danger of war.

Since the world does not have relatively equal powers willing to go on adventures, this danger is somewhat mitigated. The American military dominance is such that no country can use force to shape its relationship with America. But there is substantial resistance to U.S. hegemony, and there have been many wars since 1991.

An unsentimental foreign policy means that in the coming decade, the president must identify with a clear and cold eye the most dangerous enemies, then create coalitions to manage them. This unsentimental approach means breaking free of the entire Cold War system of alliances and institutions, including NATO, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations. These Cold War relics are all insufficiently flexible to deal with the diversity of today’s world, which redefined itself in 1991, making the old institutions obsolete.

The Americans should try to divert threats from the United States and to enable the balance of power in the world.

To create alliances in which the United States maneuvers other countries into bearing the major burden of confrontation or conflict, supporting these countries with economic benefits, military technology, and promises of military intervention if required. To use military intervention only as a last resort, when the balance of power breaks down and allies can no longer cope with the problem.

A quick war is more humane than a long one. That’s where conventional virtue fails.

Even though the U.S. wants to destroy al Qaeda and similar groups to protect itself, it also wants to protect the Arabian Peninsula and its oil — oil that the U.S. does not want to see in the hands of only one regional power. Historically, the U.S. has ensured that the Saudi royal family has been the partner of choice. There are two other countries that have been large and powerful enough to dominate the Arabian Peninsula: Iran and Iraq.

Rather than occupy Arabia to protect the flow of oil, the United States has followed the classic strategy of empire, encouraging the rivalry between Iran and Iraq, playing off one against the other to balance and thus effectively neutralize the power of each. This strategy preceded the fall of the shah of Iran in 1979, when the United States encouraged a conflict between Iran and Iraq, then negotiated a settlement between them that maintained the tension.

The fact that the Iranian regime is split between old clerics who came to power with Ayatollah Khomeini and younger, nonclerical leaders such as Ahmadinejad adds to Iranian worries. But the leaders’ primary concern is that they have seen other U.S. -sponsored uprisings succeed, particularly in the former Soviet Union, and they cannot gamble that the United States won’t get lucky again.

The Iranians learned from the North Koreans, who portrayed themselves as unstable and dangerous while launching a nuclear program.

To convince people that they might actually use those weapons, they made statements that sounded mad. Everyone feared a regime collapse that would lead to unintended consequences.

North Koreans managed to create a situation in which powers such as the United States, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea tried to coax them to the table with aid. The North Koreans were so successful that they had the great powers negotiating to entice them to negotiate. It was an extraordinary performance.

Iran played to America’s nuclear phobia. They managed to put themselves in a position where members of the UN plus Germany tried to negotiate with them over the issue of whether they would negotiate. Iran copied the North Korea blueprint and it worked.

The French wanted influence in the Middle East since the days of Napoleon.

They had also made a commitment to defend the Arab Christians in the area against the majority Muslim population. During a civil war that raged in the region in the 1860s, the French had allied with factions that had forged ties with France. Paris wanted to maintain that alliance, so in the 1920s, when the French were at last in control, they turned the predominantly Maronite (Christian) region of Syria into a separate country, naming it after the dominant topographical characteristic, Mount Lebanon. As a state, then, Lebanon had no prior reality. Its main unifying feature was that its people felt an affinity with France.

Israel’s first patron was the Soviet Union, which saw Israel as an anti-British power that could become an ally. The USSR supplied weapons to Israel through Czechoslovakia, but this relationship crumbled quickly. Then France, still fighting in Algeria, replaced the Soviets as Israel’s benefactor.

The Arab countries supported the Algerian rebels, so it was in France’s interest to have a strong Israel standing alongside France in opposition. That Is why the French supplied the Israelis with aircraft, tanks, and the basic technology for their nuclear weapons.

The things the United States needed from Israel in the past are no longer there. The United States does not need Israel to deal with pro-Soviet regimes in Egypt and Syria while the U.S. is busy in other areas of the world. But Israel is valued for sharing intelligence and for acting as a base for supplies to support U.S. military intervention in the region.

Israel is unlikely to go to war soon. It does not quick delivery of tanks or planes, as it did in 1973. Nor does it need the financial assistance the United States has provided since 1974. Israel’s economy is robust and growing steadily….

Friedman does not think that Europe will go back to concentration camps and trenches, but the next decade will see more geopolitical tension, with the roots of a more serious war.

The Americans also had a vested interest in European prosperity. Through the Marshall Plan and other mechanisms, the United States created a favorable environment in which to revive the European economy while also creating the foundations for a European military capability. The more prosperity was generated through association with the United States, the more attractive membership in NATO became. The greater the contrast was between living conditions in the Soviet bloc and in Western Europe, the more likely that contrast was to generate unrest in the east. The United States believed ideologically and practically in free trade, but more than that, it wanted to see greater integration among the European economies, both for its own sake and to bind the potentially fractious alliance together.

The Americans saw a European union as a buttress for NATO while the Europeans saw it as an opportunity to recover from world and impose a place for themselves. But the relationship between America and European countries is not straightforward.

During the decade to come, we will see the ebbing of the demographic tide that helped to drive the prosperity of the immediate postwar period. The age cohort known as the baby boom-the children born during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations-will be in their sixties, beginning to retire, beginning to slow down, beginning to get old. As a result, the same demographic bulge that helped create abundance a half century ago will create an economic burden in the years ahead.

The baby boomers (in the 1950’s) helped create demand for millions of strollers, tract houses, station wagons, bicycles, and washer-dryers. In the 1970s, they began to seek work in an economy not yet ready for them. But as they applied for jobs, married and had children, bought and borrowed, their collective behavior caused interest rates, inflation, and unemployment to rise.

As the economy absorbed them in the 1980’s and as they matured in the 1990’s, the boomers pushed the economy to tremendous levels of growth. But during the next decade, creativity and productivity previously supplied by the boomers will go down, and the economy will suffer for it as it feels the dawn of a demographic crisis.

A lot of carbon emissions are coming from developing countries. They will not cut down since conservation would permanently relegate them to Third World countries.

Recycling doesn’t help. We need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Fracking technology also makes it possible to get at enough quantities of natural gas in a short enough period of time to control the cost and availability of energy during this decade. We would expect other technologies to become available fifty or sixty years from now, but in the next ten years, the options come down to coal and gas.

Water will be another issue. Desalination tech is available but expensive.

Originally published at on March 24, 2022.



I write about ideas that matter to me. In other words, revolutionary.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Sud Alogu

Sud Alogu


I write about ideas that matter to me. In other words, revolutionary.