2020 Ten Year Predictions
Prognosticating the future is always a dangerous profession. For every Von Schlieffen that correctly predicted the features of World War I there are numerous pollsters and pundits that get elections wrong by as much as 15 percentage points. But studying history, as well as being well read on current events, gives one an important perspective that is worth sharing. The following are the biggest foreign policy storylines that I think will happen over the next ten years.
China Has No Clothes
A day doesn’t go by that there isn’t a breathless story about China’s rise. They premier a new carrier killing missile, have more ships than the U.S., have dramatic cyber and space warfare capabilities that will upend U.S. dominance, and they will inaugurate the 21st century of China’s preeminence. At the time of this writing I went to RCP politics and found a random sample of breathless analysis of Chinese aggression. These arguments have numerous problems, including relying on narrow technical studies and ignore many wider effects. Just in the military realm, for example, every weapon system is used by a living, breathing person and thus their effectiveness is highly dependent on training. The best example of the difference between a missile in a fear mongering article and how it can be used is found in Iran.
We forgot about it during the massive COVID outbreak, but for a brief time we had a war scare with Iran. Despite their sophisticated air defenses and being on high alert with advanced weapon systems, they couldn’t even properly identify a civilian passenger plane before panicking and firing at it. It strains credulity to believe they could bypass American electronic warfare planes and a massive aerial bombardment to lock onto an F35 let alone hit it. China hasn’t made similar mistakes, but analyst’s impression of Chinese training, suggest they will not be able to use their advanced weapon systems in a time of war.
And that is only a single issue. Their one child policy presents a self-inflicted demographic crisis where they have a smaller and aging population to support a growing elderly class. Like Western Europeans have discovered, it is difficult to pay for a medical programs and social safety nets as well as a military at the same time. Their command driven economy has created a bubble that will dwarf the US housing crisis of 2008. In short, the Chinese will not be the threat they appear to be. Chinese experts like Michael Pillsbury claim that China lets these stories leak to mislead the West about their ascendance. But these arguments sound a great deal like a boxer claiming he blocked a knockout blow using his chin.
U.S. Military Technology Ascendant
It will be the U.S. that will field the new weapons to counter growing threats. Despite the breathless arguments about China, it is the U.S. that increasingly fields the new weapons that will dominate the new landscape. Again, on the very day of this writing a random sample of the news found that the U.S. successfully shot down an ICBM missile using a destroyer. This adds another layer to already robust defenses that are constantly being upgraded.
The U.S. is fielding sub sonic and hypersonic weapons faster than their adversaries. While it is still years away from being implemented, this news is very heartening. American forces have upgraded laser technology to make them portable and more usable. These lasers offer low cost and essentially unlimited ammunition to destroy enemy missiles swarms that will negate China’s strategy.
Until the Apocalypse
Fielding better weapons and a better trained military is important because economic concern will handicap the U.S. military and make them do more with less. Within the next decade the debt crisis will finally come due.
By 2034, even total elimination of all benefits for the newly-retiring would be insufficient to maintain solvency of social security. In the case of a debt default, the consequences are even greater. The 2008 meltdown was simply a mild version of what could come. The dollar would lose its value, making purchases from gas to groceries more expensive. As Venezuelans can tell you, a million dollars of currency might not be enough to buy a loaf of bread. The banks that have many of their assets in the form of government-backed debt might be forced out of business. Millions of Americans would lose the money they have in savings. At the same time, their investments will lose money, and their interest rates on their homes will skyrocket.
Hyperinflation and depression in 1920s Germany resulted in chaos. According to pbs.org: “The law-abiding country crumbled into petty thievery. Copper pipes and brass armatures weren’t safe. Gasoline was siphoned from cars. People bought things they didn’t need and used them to barter — a pair of shoes for a shirt, some crockery for coffee. Berlin had a ‘witches’ Sabbath’ atmosphere. Prostitutes of both sexes roamed the streets. Cocaine was the fashionable drug.”
The country will get more violent. When Argentina hit its crisis, crime went up 142 percent and there were gangs of kids looting supermarkets. In Venezuela, gangs of children fight for control over the best dumpsters in town— searching for the ones with the most food.
When the pension crisis hits, local governments won’t be able to help or even provide basic services. Trash will pile up on the streets; parks will likely become unkempt homeless camps. Police and ambulances will take longer and longer to arrive. But ambulances will have longer return trips and fewer places to transport patients, as the hospitals go bankrupt. Jails will be at half capacity because of a lack of guards. Schools and foster care workers will hemorrhage personnel. When a crisis like a Hurricane Florence hits, local responders won’t have the gas for rescue vehicles, which will be increasingly outdated and dilapidated.
In making my predictions I chose to look at long term trends that are often larger than the military or the fancy new weapon. Underlying economic factors will play a huge part in the foreign policy of the U.S. over the next ten years. Hopefully, the coming debt crisis doesn’t cripple the U.S. as badly as I fear. Only time will tell, and hopefully I can report back to OpsLens readers in 10 years.