There’s no better way to pick a fight than to try and pick the future, and my predictions of what nations are going to be Top Dogs in a hundred years are, apparently, no exception. In particular, my depiction in THE MIRRORED HEAVENS of an Eastern superpower composed of a rising China and a resurgent Russia has stirred up some debate about the feasibility of such a construct. Particularly vis-a-vis the Russian part of the equation.
And with good reason. We crushed Russia in the Cold War: suborned its satellites to revolt, and deprived the Soviet Union of large sections of its outlying territory. Leaving only the Russian core, which across the 1990s became an economic basketcase.
But Russia has a way of coming back off the mat, and that’s what they’ve been doing. Here are some of the reasons why—despite the fact that Russia remains in serious trouble—it’s unwise to count them out. And why I contend that great power status for Russia a century from now is eminently plausible:
#1: Rising energy prices: Russia is one of the world’s largest energy producers, and they’ve been ruthless in using the onset of peak oil for military/foreign policy advantage. You think that oil at $130 a barrel gives them leverage? Try oil at $200.
#2: Location, location, location: MacKinder’s geopolitical theses have needed revising since he first proposed them in 1904. But his core contention—regarding the advantages conferred on the nation that occupies the Eurasian heartland—is one we ignore at our peril.
#3: Several thousand nuclear warheads: Nukes don’t translate automatically into power, but they sure as hell make you difficult to ignore. And Russia’s military remains formidable, though a far cry from the old Red Army days.
#4: National psyche: This is always a difficult one to invoke, but the fact remains that the Russians as a people are very dangerous to underestimate. As the Nazis found out.
No one’s going to argue that Russia isn’t beset with problems. But here’s the thing: anyone can come up with Giant Challenges a nation faces in the here and now, and cite those as Absolute Proof that it’s bound to face decline. But if you’re going to argue convincingly for decline, you not only have to show that those factors are accelerating, but that no action that nation is likely to take will reverse those factors. Alternatively, you have to show that whatever advantages a nation has are certain to erode, no matter what that nation does. (Case in point: Britain’s world power across the 19th century was based to a large degree on the fact that she was first to industrialize. As the larger land powers followed suit, they surpassed her, virtually inevitably.) I have yet to see anyone do that convincingly with Russia, though I will fully admit that Russia may very well fail to rise to its current challenge.
Indeed, my personal view is that Russia’s trajectory across the next century will be a function of its leadership. Again and again throughout history, a strong tyrant has rallied Russia and pushed it forward, albeit often at a terrible price. History may or may not repeat itself, but as to one scenario in that regard: in the world of THE MIRRORED HEAVENS, a man embodying all the (best?) qualities of Peter the Great, Lenin and Stalin comes to power in the 2030s; under his leadership, Russia institutes full-scale “super-modernization” schemes, with an emphasis on space-based systems and information technology—and is then able to formulate an alliance with China that both keeps them out of Siberia and redirects Chinese expansive impulses south.
But you know what? I really thought the thing that would cause all the controversy was my prediction that the UNITED STATES would still be a superpower. To be continued.