by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
What does the "new millennium" have in store for the world? What is the outlook for the twenty-first century? What can we expect to happen around the globe over the next ten years?
Forecasting the future from current trends is an inexact science, if a science at all. Current trends do not always complete their cycles, interrupted by war, political or economic crises, or new and more dominant trends. Sometimes serendipitous factors interfere, such as a technological breakthrough, the death of a key political figure or a natural disaster. On occasion the trend itself proves an illusion or a cover for another, more significant trend. As we have seen from recent predictions for the year 2000, the chances of accurately predicting what will happen just a few years ahead are slim.
That said, however, it is still educational and interesting to speculate about what could occur in the next decade if the current direction of world affairs stays its course. When we add "the prophetic word made more sure" (II Peter 1:19) to the mix, we increase our chances of accurately predicting the world scene to come. Without God's Word shining its light through the darkness, we would be just as lost as the world is!
We will look at the next ten years from a geopolitical standpoint. Geopolitics is the "study of the influence of such factors as geography, economics, and demography on the politics and especially the foreign policy of a state" (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition). As we consider each region, the interrelations among them will begin to clarify, and discernable trends will surface.
(The following material comes from several different forecasting sources. Predominant among them are Stratfor, Inc.; Intelligence Digest; This Week in Germany; Current Thoughts and Trends; The Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society; and various major wire services, including Reuters and the Associated Press.)
The Coming Crisis
Within the past decade, the authors of The Fourth Turning, Neil Howe and Bill Strauss, have popularized generational studies. Noticing that American history divides itself into roughly twenty-year generations, Howe and Strauss show that every four generations comprise a cycle, culminating in a catastrophic crisis that redefines society. Each generation they term a "turning," and the fourth turning is the time of crisis. How society responds to the fourth turning determines the tone of the next cycle.
Their studies cause them to conclude that we are living during the tail end of a third turning, a time they call "the unraveling." This period is marked by the old ways of doing and thinking "coming apart at the seams." It is a time of institutions breaking down, of groups disintegrating, of stalwart, old-guard fixtures losing their strength and making way for upstarts. This turmoil in society lays the foundation for the major crisis that follows.
Howe and Strauss believe that the crisis period will begin in the last half of the coming decade. It could be an economic depression, a war or both. The last fourth turning began—after the tumult of WWI and the Roaring Twenties—with the Great Depression and concluded with WWII. The Revolutionary and Civil wars also occurred during prior fourth turnings. If affairs work out according to form, a similar or greater crisis looms in our near future!
Whether this coming crisis ushers in the Great Tribulation and Day of the Lord remains to be seen. Jesus says in Matthew 24:36 that the Father has not given it to us to know the day or the hour of His return, and in Acts 1:7, not even the "times or seasons"! This makes the setting of dates a foolhardy endeavor. But we can certainly "watch . . . and pray always" (Luke 21:36) so that that Day does not catch us unaware and unprepared.
Any credible global forecast must revolve around the probable direction of the United States of America. It is the world's sole superpower, possessing the only true blue-water navy and thus the ability to project its power anywhere on the planet. The American economy drives the world's markets to the point that a sneeze on Wall Street often feels like a hurricane on foreign shores! In addition, U.S. technologies are frequently years ahead of their international competitors' products, widening the already huge gaps between foreign and domestic industries. America stands like Gulliver in Lilleput.
Do these facts mean we live under a Pax Americana? Hardly! Such an imbalance creates tensions equal to those found in bi-polar or multi-polar situations. One of these tensions can be called "America vs. the World." It is similar to the children's game, "King of the Mountain," where one child stands on a mound and all the others try to knock him off. Many nations, including France, Russia, China and Iran, would like nothing more than to see the U.S. put in its place. A sole superpower does not have many true friends.
Another tension created in this environment is regionalism. Since once powerful nations have been reduced to second-tier status, they seek to become a "big fish in a small pond" by dominating other countries around them. This, then, divides the globe into several large regions in which the indigenous nations cooperate to some extent economically, politically and/or militarily to rival or compete with the strength of the superpower. Often these regional alliances are formalized by treaties or membership in groups like ASEAN, CIS, the European Union and the like. Sometimes, rather than starting fresh, regional alliances transform old organizations to deal with the changing world order, and this could be the case with one or more of those mentioned already.
The object of these tensions is the balance of power. Among men, the only human system that produces a semblance of peace and stability is the age-old "game of nations," in which the power of a strong nation is checked and balanced by another strong nation (as in the Cold War) or by a group of nations (as in the alliance created by the Treaty of Chaumont in 1814 to counter Napoleon). It is ironic that even though this system "works" in keeping one nation from completely dominating the world, it often ends in violent, destructive wars. For this reason, such ideas as the League of Nations and the United Nations have been tried, but they have failed to provide an effective check on strong nations. Perceptive leaders have thus concluded that the only true solution to this struggle for world dominance is "a strong hand from someplace" taking control and forcing all nations to live in peace.
Until that happens, the world is left to play the delicate game of balancing the powers against each other. Today and for the foreseeable future, America is the superpower that the rest of the world must check. Washington will need to be very careful in its dealings with other nations because any unwarranted flexing of American muscle abroad will produce heated rhetoric, anti-Americanism protests and in some cases terrorism against Americans and U.S. property abroad.
Should America somehow "slip"—whether politically, militarily or economically—watch out! The hungry young lions always attack the dominant lion at his first sign of weakness. They may not always succeed in wresting control of the pride, but from that point on they never let the "king of the jungle" rest until he is defeated and one of them takes his place.
Probably the single greatest chance of American slippage is on the economic front. Its unprecedented growth must end sometime. Will it end in a steady decline or will the bottom drop out? Forecasters do not know, but they predict that the American economy's heady surge will end sometime in mid-decade. Interestingly, this corresponds to the beginning of the fourth turning, according to Howe and Strauss.
Decline of the Bear
During the Cold War the world's second superpower was the Soviet Union. Stripped of most of its republics and Communist allies, it is now simply Russia, poor, weak and a marginal player on the world scene. This blow to its power and prestige is humiliating and unforgivable, and it desires nothing less than to return to its former glories. Notwithstanding that this is a pipe-dream, Russia will try in the coming decade to regain what it has lost.
Russia is a shell of its former self. Years of economic disaster and mismanagement have left it deeply in debt with a crumbling infrastructure, moribund industry and deep levels of corruption. Its huge military can barely feed itself, much less pay its troops. Though it still possesses thousands of nuclear weapons—and uses this fact to threaten the West—its ability to launch them successfully is open to question. It cannot hope to regain anything on its own.
So it, like many weak nations, must band together with others in its region. Russia's first step has been to establish closer ties with Communist China, possibly the only nation in the world with the size and strength to stand up to the U.S. Together, the two huge nations comprise a formidable bloc in Asia. Working against the cohesion of this bloc, however, are the internal instabilities and economic problems within both nations. Much of this bloc's effectiveness in the next decade will come as anti-American rhetoric rather than real, substantive action.
Russia has also tightened its relationship with Iran, a pariah state that sees America as "the great Satan." Moscow must have the cooperation of Iran for three major reasons: 1) Russia has a huge Moslem population, as well as several breakaway Islamic republics on its southern flank. It cannot afford to disregard them, and having Iran as an ally is a way to pacify them. 2) Iran has warm-water ports that Russia has always desired, especially if war should occur. 3) Iran has oil, maybe the key ingredient to conventional military power. For its cooperation, Russia will supply Iran with weapons and nuclear technology, areas in which it still has expertise.
Closer to home, Russia will attempt to bring its former republics back into the fold. It would like nothing better than to resurrect the Soviet Union, but it will find this a daunting process. Currently, Russian forces are attempting to subdue Chechnya and finding it extremely difficult and destructive. Other former republics have tasted independence, and few of them will willingly give it up. Instead, Russia will try to work within the CIS to achieve hegemony, but this will only be partially successful.
Its only partial success can be explained simply: internal instability. Acting President Vladimir Putin has galvanized the Russian people with nationalistic rhetoric and the war in Chechnya, but this will not solve Russia's problems. Chief among these is the nation's terrible economy and its primary cause, massive corruption. Both of these must be solved before Russia can become a superpower again. A bloody housecleaning may be the only solution because the corruption reaches deep into the highest levels of politics and industry. If Putin does not have the stomach to purge the criminals from the system, we can expect Russia to remain a superpower wannabe.