Several weeks ago, I wrote a column (This Century) making the prediction that three specific geopolitical trends would define the 21st Century. They are, in no particular order, the impending bankruptcy of the United States, the approaching clash of civilizations in Europe, and the rising tensions in the Far East accompanying the rise of China to world power status (particularly with regard to Japan).
Each of these trends is long-term and may not come to a boiling point for decades. Nevertheless, it is an interesting exercise to revisit these trends periodically to keep track of how events are unfolding (I also hasten to add that these are not based on how I think things "should" be but are rather predictions based on an analysis of history and current events).
America slides toward bankruptcy:
Nothing particularly new has happened on this front except that the trend continues unabated. Recent data on the US trade deficit and the federal budget deficit have been predictably appalling. The federal government recently borrowed over 100 billion dollars in a single month, which is around 10% of our GDP (a deficit of 6—7% of GDP is typical of a disintegrating Central American banana republic).
While some statistics look stable, such as unemployment and inflation, this "stability" is most likely the result of what I call the "Wile E. Coyote effect." This phenomenon occurs when the cartoon coyote is lured off the side of a cliff, yet remains stationary for a moment (wearing a sheepish look on his face) before he plunges into the abyss, usually with an anvil or boulder trailing him on the way down.
America’s enormous debt is painting the Fed into a corner in which it is "damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t." If the Fed raises interest rates, it risks touching off a severe recession with waves of personal and corporate bankruptcies. If, on the other hand, it lowers rates and reinstitutes a policy of "easy money," it risks igniting a dollar crisis and hyperinflation.
Either way, it is a time-honored truism that you can’t live on borrowed money forever.
I’m frankly curious to see which way events will transpire, but I doubt it will be pleasant in either case.
The Rise of China:
In the Far East, the situation revolves around the economic revolution occurring in China. Historically, whenever a new power arises, it creates ripples in the global system as the existing powers react to the "new kid on the block." The most dangerous moment in this process occurs when the rising power attempts to displace the existing hegemon and create a "new world order." Germany, for instance, twice failed to displace the British Empire as the dominant economic and military power in the world…a process that was accompanied by two world wars.
Japan is a fading power with an aging and shrinking population. Nevertheless, its close proximity and troubled historical relationship with China create a natural rivalry between the two nations.
As China’s power increases (and the bankruptcy of the USA becomes more apparent), Japan will face a geopolitical crisis. The Land of the Rising Sun will have a decision to make. Will she bow to the Middle Kingdom, or will she rise to struggle for regional hegemony?
There are four warning signs to look for indicating that Japan is preparing a path of resistance rather than acquiescence:
- Japan alters its pacifist constitution to allow for a "normal" military.
- Japan builds aircraft carriers.
- Japan builds nuclear weapons.
- Japan creates a formal military alliance with Taiwan.
It was with these facts in mind that I read several Stratfor articles last week with consternation.
In Japan: Plutonium and Pacifism, Statfor reports the following:
Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL), operator of the $18.6 billion Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, said March 29 that it has reached an agreement with the government of Aomori prefecture to begin extraction of plutonium waste from spent nuclear fuel. This extraction will be the first step of an experimental program allowing JNFL to manufacture plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide fuel (MOX).
The most obvious reason for the production of MOX is to decrease the quantity of nuclear waste, thereby significantly reducing the costs associated with its storage.
But, as Stratfor notes, this process has other implications:
But there are two notable side effects of establishing a MOX fuel cycle. First and most obviously, it involves the extraction and purification of plutonium.
Japan is a highly developed, first world economy. It is no secret the country has the expertise to manufacture a uranium-based nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks. Perhaps the biggest restraint on any potential Japanese nuclear weapons program comes from the country’s uranium enrichment complex’s being geared toward civilian nuclear fuel production. Civilian fuel only requires uranium enriched to the point that 3.5 percent to 5 percent of its makeup is of the fissile isotope of uranium, aka U-235. Weapons-grade uranium must be at least 90 percent U-235. Concentrating U-235 to that level is difficult — just ask Tehran. Japan certainly has the skill and capital to address the complication should it wish to launch a large-scale weapons program, but that would take time — not to mention thousands of cascading centrifuges that would raise lots of uncomfortable questions.
In other words, Japan’s production of MOX will give it a readily available source of weapons-grade plutonium which could, given the right political circumstances, be quickly diverted into nuclear weapons.
This is not to say Japan is preparing to actually build nuclear weapons, but rather that Japan will soon have the ability to do so at a moment’s notice.
A second interesting Stratfor article involves recent polling data and Japan’s security policy.
A poll by Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun says 71 percent of Japanese want the country’s constitution to “clarify the existence of the Self-Defense Force,” with 56 percent saying the constitution should be modified to take the SDF into consideration. The poll also put the number of those who want the pacifist Article 9 of the constitution revised at 39 percent — the highest percent in five years.
The article also goes on to mention that Japan is building several (admittedly small) helicopter carriers:
Interestingly, Japan already is building its first of two planned helicopter destroyers, which will be the largest ships in the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and — semantics aside — will be little less than coastal or escort carriers.
I still believe that China’s rise will occur without a major conflict. The region simply has too much to lose by staging a titanic and ugly war for hegemony. Nevertheless, one could also have said the same thing about Europe in 1914.
People do not always act in a rational manner, and several early warning signs are flashing that Japan and China may be slowly moving toward a new cold war.
Europe and Islam:
In the post-war era, Europe has behaved in a manner that is classic for a decaying civilization. A collapsing birthrate, cultural decadence, the death of its foundational religion, and the penetration of its borders by more vigorous neighboring civilizations are all symptoms of an advanced state of Spenglerian decline.
In my previous article, I predicted that massive Muslim immigration into Europe would ultimately end in a clash of civilizations. The two cultures are, in my opinion, too divergent to cohabitate in large numbers under the same government. This cultural incompatibility will be exacerbated by the economic sclerosis afflicting most of Europe due to its socialism and its severely restricted labor market.
There are several milestones to anticipate on this road to conflict:
- The formation of Fourth Generation insurgent groups by immigrant populations
- The defection of left wing European political leaders into the anti-immigrant ranks.
- The formation of Fourth Generation insurgent groups by native Europeans.
The first milestone has already been passed. The French intifada, the London/Madrid bombings, and the targeted murders of anti-immigrant Europeans are all the work of loosely organized immigrant groups carrying out low-intensity Fourth Generation warfare. This will probably increase over the next years and decades.
The second milestone is of critical importance. So long as anti-immigrant political agitation is limited to the usual right-wing suspects, the drift toward conflict will be contained. The center and left of the political spectrum, along with well-established legal mechanisms used for the suppression of intolerance and xenophobia, will limit right-wing influence.
However, radical Islam is incompatible with modern secular liberalism on numerous fronts (especially with regard to feminism, sexual orientation, and the separation of church and state). At some point, the rising power of Islamists fueled by burgeoning demographics will bring the European left into conflict with Islam. This was seen briefly in the Netherlands with the rise of Pim Fortuyn, who was a self-described flamboyant homosexual (although his politics were not classically leftist).
In the Yugoslavian model (which I believe is a forerunner of the coming conflict in Western Europe), it is important to note that Slobodan Milosevic was a life-long Communist and his influential wife was a professor of Marxist philosophy. When Yugoslavia began to unravel due to its decaying economy and its divergent, polyglot demographics, Milosevic abandoned internationalist Marxism and defected to the ranks of Serbian nationalism, whereupon he began supporting his brethren in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo. That was the moment when the wars started in earnest.
It was with this idea in mind that I watched the recent French labor strife. Leftist students and labor unions have been staging massive demonstrations against a proposed law that would enable companies to fire new employees in the first two years on the job. These students and unionists, who apparently prefer a career in which they are permanently sheltered from performance-based scrutiny, took to the streets and rioted (In yet another sign of civilizational decay, I recently read about polling data showing that the career goal of 75% of French youths is to obtain a government job. Imagine an entire generation of young people whose only ambition is to be a bureaucrat. If that isn’t a sign the end is near, I don’t know what is).
At any rate, what drew my eye was a side-show to these demonstrations. Apparently, loosely organized gangs of Muslim youths were prowling the fringes of these left-wing demonstrations beating student marchers. This was, allegedly, quite widespread and has obvious political ramifications. Specifically, it shows the extent to which Muslim youths are alienated, even from left-wing students who would ordinarily be presumed to be their political allies. The fear of being attacked by these gangs supposedly became widespread among the students and represents a small but notable fissure between the European left and the immigrant gangs.
While no leaders of the French left have defected to anti-immigrant politics, the memory of being beaten by gangs of hoodlums will remain embedded in the personal memories of the rising generation of French leftists. While this, in and of itself, may be of limited importance, it does represent a trend which I believe will continue.
If and when prominent European leftists go the "Slobo route," things will start to move rather quickly. Soon thereafter, native Fourth Generation groups will appear (which will probably take the form of loosely organized street gangs and terrorist cells) and will publicly announce the goal of "liberating" their homeland from Muslim "settlers." (Similar organizations were a nasty attribute of the Yugoslav wars. Groups of insurgents/terrorists such as Arkan’s Tigers perpetrated some of the worst abuses of those wars).
When these Fourth Generation movements appear and begin carrying out paramilitary operations, (probably with the aid of rogue elements inside the European police and security establishments) things will have reached the precipice.
Some time ago, the neocons famously stated that we have reached the "end of history." Western liberal democracy had, they claimed, emerged as the final world system into which all nations would be integrated.
Unfortunately, they forget to inform history of this fact, for she is marching forward as she always has.
In my opinion, the neocons got the situation exactly wrong. Rather than triumphantly conquering the world, we are seeing the decay of the Western dominated post-war world system all around us on a daily basis.
What system will rise to replace it is the great unknown of our age.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.