Who Will Be on Top at the End of this Century?

What will the world look like at the end of this century?  I ask this in light of the emergence of Brazil and India, German dominance of the European Union, the rise of China, and the apparent decline of America.

China and India each have about a billion people.  Together, they house at least one-third of the human race.  An example of India's presence on the world's stage is the Tata Group.  This is a conglomerate that owns, among other businesses, the London-based Tetley Tea company and the Bermuda-based Orient-Express Hotels.  Tata has unveiled a $2,500 car. 

Politically and militarily, Hindu India has allied itself with Jewish Israel as a counterweight to Muslim Pakistan.  India buys Israeli weapons.  It has launched an Israeli spy satellite from its soil.  It has a large army.  It possesses nuclear weapons.  Thanks to British rule, its educational system emphasizes science and technology.  In fact, so many Indian engineers work for Intel, the largest employer in my state of Oregon, that the local  joke is that to get ahead in that company, you must speak either Hindi or Hebrew (Hebrew because so many Intel engineers are from Israel, which leads the world in the percentage of scientists and technicians in its workforce: 145 per 10,000, as opposed to 85 in America, over 70 in Japan, and fewer than 60 in Germany).

When my wife and I lived in Japan, we spent a week in British Hong Kong.  We didn't visit mainland China because we could neither forget nor forgive its killing of peaceful protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square a few years earlier.  So what did we find when we came back to the States and built and furnished our new house? 

Many of our new possessions were made in China: Our desk and pocket calculators, most of my sweaters, my hooded jacket, my goose down vest, our alarm clock radio, our electric mixer, and our exercise machine's computer were manufactured in China.  It's become more pronounced in the ensuing decades.  Millions of other Americans clothe their families and stock their homes and apartments with ever more Chinese products.

One of my friends believes that America cannot remain great by moving paper and computer messages around the world.  It must also make things.  Having been in the textile industry all of his life, my friend jokes that if the United States gets into a war with the Chinese again, as it did in Korea, it will have to arrange a periodic truce so that the Chinese will be able to replenish our depleted supply of boots and uniforms.

Except for mentioning Germany in my opening paragraph, why haven't I discussed Europe?  Yes, the euro is often higher than the dollar.  Yes, the European Union has more people than does America.  Yes, Britain and France sit in veto-wielding seats in the U.N. Security Council, pretending that they're playing in the same league as Russia, China, and the United States.  But having surrendered their sovereignty to the EU and having given up their ability to defend themselves, the Europeans have made themselves irrelevant.  Because they are passive and pacifistic, no one fears them, no one respects them, and no one takes them seriously.  Though they lie within range of Iranian missiles, they insist on diplomacy and powerlessness, the tools they employed so foolishly and unsuccessfully against Nazi Germany. 

As for Islam, Western Europe is oblivious to this 1974 statement by the late President Houari Boumedienne of Algeria:

One day millions of men will leave the southern hemisphere of this planet to burst into the northern one. But not as friends. Because they will burst in to conquer, and they will conquer by populating it with their children. Victory will come to us from the wombs of our women.

Boumedienne's prediction has come true.  Twenty-five percent of Marseilles and Malmö; 24 percent of Amsterdam; 20 percent of Stockholm and Brussels; 17 percent of London; 14 percent of Birmingham, Copenhagen, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht profess Islam, and a portion of these populations are extremists. 

In 1997, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the present Prime Minister of Turkey, which is trying to gain full membership in the European Union, publicly recited an Islamist poem which included these lines: "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers."

It is tempting to predict that the United States will be in nearly total decline by the end of this century.  But I am not so sure.  In their book The Graying of the Great Powers: Demography and Geopolitics in the 21st Century, Neil Howe and Richard Jackson argue that America is the only developed country whose population is rising.  It is the only one with replacement-rate fertility rates.  By 2050, when the other developed nations will be dangerously underpopulated, the United States will be the third-most populous country in the world.

Howe and Jackson think that "the declinists [as they call them] have got it wrong. The challenge facing America is not its inability to lead the developed world. It is the inability of the other developed nations to be of much assistance -- or the likelihood that many will be in dire need of assistance themselves because of fiscal crisis, economic stagnation, and ugly political battles over entitlements and immigration." Furthermore, by the middle of this century, the United States "will be the only country of the top twelve with a historical commitment to democracy, free markets, and civil liberties." 

George Friedman, the author of The Next 100 Years and the founder of STRATFOR, the private intelligence and forecasting company, contends that America is just beginning to rise.  He argues that America's unique geopolitical position -- straddling, as it does, both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans -- plus the fact that it controls the seas and can project air power anywhere in the world mean that America will still be the big boy on the block.  Friedman predicts that in this century, regional powers will try to form coalitions to limit American power, and America will attempt to limit the formation of such coalitions.  At mid-century, this will result in a war similar to World War II, followed by the development of stunning technologies and a new golden age.  

Robert D. Kaplan, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a correspondent for The Atlantic, has a different take.  "One standard narrative," he writes:

is that as we recede, China will step up as part of a benign post-American world. ... While the Soviet Union and the United States were both missionary powers motivated by ideals -- communism an d liberal democracy -- China has no such grand conception. It is driven abroad by the hunger for natural resources (hydrocarbons, minerals and metals) that it requires to raise hundreds of millions of its citizens into the middle class.

Kaplan asks:

Who is to fill the moral void? Does China really care if Tehran develops nuclear weapons, so long as it has access to Iran's natural gas? And Beijing may not be entirely comfortable with the North Korean regime, which keeps its population in a state of freeze-frame semi-starvation, but China props it up nevertheless.

But Kaplan is ambivalent about America's future power and future role in this world.  While predicting the decline of the United States, he also writes: 

Americans rightly lack an imperial mentality. But lessening our engagement with the world would have devastating consequences for humanity. The disruptions we witness today are but a taste of what is to come should our country flinch from its international responsibilities.

My own belief is that by the end of this century, petroleum will be replaced by nuclear, hydrogen, solar, and other sources of energy, and the influence of the Arab oil-exporting countries will disappear.  This is important because it is oil revenue that funds Muslim terrorism, and it is America's dependence on Arabian oil that makes it look away from the Saudis' other main export: Wahhabism, the most radical theology in the Sunni Muslim world.  By the end of this century, there will be several regional powers and one superpower.  Like George Friedman, I think that Turkey will impinge upon central Asia and control the Middle East, as it did in the days of the Ottoman Empire.  Like Friedman, "I don't share the view that China is going to be a major world power."  Instead, it will regionalize.  Russia will weaken.  Japan may again grab chunks of the Far East. 

Just as in the twentieth century, geopolitics will mandate America's supremacy.  The United States will still dominate the seas.  It will still be the only nation able to project air power anywhere.  No other nation will match its youth, its dynamism, and its technological prowess.  And it -- not China, India, Japan, Russia, Brazil, or Europe -- will still be the big boy on the block.  History dictates that there must always be such an entity: Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome, the Ottoman Turks, Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States.  In the foreseeable future, the big boy will be America, which, in President Abraham Lincoln's estimation, will still be "the last best hope on Earth."

More recently and more bluntly, in connection with the so-called WikiLeaks scandal, Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense under both Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic President Barack Obama, made the point this way:

Governments deal with the United States because it's in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets. Some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation.
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