- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2011

THE NEXT DECADE: WHERE WE’VE BEEN… AND WHERE WE’RE GOING
By George Friedman
Doubleday, $27.95, 243 pages

The United States is and in the future will be an empire, albeit unintended, George Friedman writes. Whereas presidents past may have had to play only a single integrated global hand, presidents in the next decade will have to play multiple hands, as there will be no single overriding threat.

Mr. Friedman then suggests how to play that multiple hand, starting with a succinct world tour of the history, economy, geopolitics, demography and current state of nations, along with a discussion of the growing impact of changing technology. At a minimum, “The Next Decade” lends itself to use as an orientation to the future and as a reference.

Mr. Friedman’s basic thesis is centered on the need to maintain balances of power. For each continent, he locates and describes the critical balance points. He sums up, “During the next decade, the United States must manage the chaos of the Islamic world, a resurgent Russia, a sullen and divided Europe, and a China both huge and profoundly troubled.”

At the start there is an excellent description of the United States, its place in the world today and a short history of how we arrived. Mr. Friedman ends that with the interesting declaration that we must disabuse ourselves of Cold War relics and attitudes, many of which still shape our international relations. That leads into cogent arguments as to the ineffectiveness, indeed waste, of applying enormous resources to domestic security and wars for cloudy purposes such as in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“A foreign policy focused singularly on terrorism, even including nuclear terrorism, is fundamentally unbalanced.” This has created a strategic unbalance that limits focus on other areas of the world where a balance is much more critical to the United States in the long run. The ineffective use of the enormous resources applied to domestic security and questionable wars has helped create a worldwide financial crisis. Mr. Friedman also describes how that crisis has brought about potentially dangerous imbalances.

His following chapters are descriptions, worldwide, of the current local situation, the important threads of history, interactions with neighbors, the view from that country and the implications for the United States. In each instance, balance points are identified and recommendations are made for establishing or maintaining the balance of power. Just a few examples follow.

With regard to Israel, the author opines that while a close relationship was of great importance during the Cold War, the benefits to the United States today have declined while costs have risen. He suggests that this calls for recalibration.

The area between the Eastern Mediterranean and Pakistan remains, and must remain for some time, the central focus of American policy. It’s essential that the balances of power between the Arabs and Israelis, Indians and Pakistanis, and Iraqis and Iranians be maintained. Of most importance is that if a balance is not maintained, Iran, secure from overland incursions, is in an extraordinary position against Iraq and the Strait of Hormuz, with a large portion of the world’s oil supply increasingly vulnerable.

As for Russia, its sense of being encircled, diminished and encroached upon shapes behavior. From the Russian point of view, the American invasion of Iraq, involvement in Ukraine and Georgia and buildup of a major presence in Central Asia looks like encirclement.

Europe outside of Russia in a little more than 100 years has gone from being the center of a world empire to something else. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the European Union turned from a Cold War institution serving Western Europe to a post-Cold War institution designed to bind together all of Europe. Yet there is no unified defense policy, and the military authority to act internationally is retained by the individual states.

Membership is elective, and if it becomes inconvenient, nations can leave. While some of the EU nations subscribe to a common currency, others do not, and many of those that do subscribe have lost control of their own financial systems. There is a European bureaucracy, but not a European state. This, then, gives license to the strongest in the EU to pretty much dictate terms and the weaker to chafe and begin to look outside the EU, particularly in the direction of Russia.

Beyond the above, Mr. Friedman also discusses the Western Pacific, the Western Hemisphere and Africa. Unfortunately, a short review doesn’t lend itself to more detailed description.

This is a powerful, well-reasoned, tightly worded and clearly expressed recommendation for diplomatic, military and economic approaches for the United States over the next 10 years. For anyone the least bit concerned with or interested in history, economics or international affairs “The Next Decade” is a must read.

Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn is the president of the Naval Historical Foundation.