A Guest post from Martin over at the Fantasy Fleets blog
If we look at the past 50 years and extrapolate over the next 50 years we can see some clear trends emerging that will lead to opportunities and challenges for the future.
Developing nations such as China, Brazil, Indonesia and India will continue to grow their economies. This means the little post World War II club on the Security Council will look increasingly irrelevant. China and the USA can be assured of maintaining their positions however Russia, France and the United Kingdom all look to be getting their hats in the next 15-20 years.
However from a strictly economic point of view old blighty’s position does not look that bad. One thing that the UK has that none of our compatriots has is a growing population. The UK will have the largest economy in Europe by 2050 if German population continues to decline. Russia’s population is collapsing faster than anyone’s and with its relatively low per capita GDP it may also find it difficult to maintain a seat at the top table. While we can’t maintain a top 5 slot for much longer economically we should be able to maintain a place in the top 10 for the next 50 years. We should also be able to maintain a top 5 position in military spending for much of the next 50 years.
In 50 years we will be operating in a multi polar environment with numerous super powers, a position very much like that of the late 19th and early 20thCentuary.
By 2050 global populations will likely begin to peak around the 9 billion mark. The main problem we will face is resource constraint. While we can grow enough food to feed all these people we cannot produce enough energy and resources to give them all the same standard of living I enjoy today. While we have lots of oil and hydrocarbons the rate we can extract them at is limited. In the past decade 200 million Chinese people stopped cycling bikes and started driving cars. Oil prices went from $10 a barrel to $140 a barrel. What’s going to happen when the other 1.1 billion Chinese people decide they want to drive a car as well?
One of three things is likely to happen to address this:
One, the world comes up with a magical source of new cheap energy and we can go on as we do today.
Two, China will try to grab the resources it needs forcing us and the rest of the world to defend them.
Three, the big boys will decide that it’s not really fair that a few hundred thousand Arabs are sitting on the mother load and decide to divvy it up amongst themselves. At which point we really need to make sure we are one of the big boys and we get a slice of the pie.
The neutral model followed by countries such as Sweden worked well in a world where NATO ensured the peace and there was more than enough to go around. However it did not work well in the pre-World War I environment and it is likely to not work well in the middle to later 21st Century.
Who is to say that nations will not revert back to empire building? Who is to say that new powers like China, India and Brazil will be as magnanimous as the USA today or Britain in the past? We can ill afford to unilaterally disarm in a world with so much uncertainty.
Technology will continue to develop and developing nations will catch up with us. This will lead to a number of different developments. Information technology will continue to grow and alter our lives in ways we cannot yet imagine. Who would have thought five years ago that Facebook could be responsible for toppling half the dictators in the Middle East?
As developing societies gain more access to information technology they are likely to become more democratic and more unstable leading to dozens of revolutions. Extremist groups are also likely to become more prevalent as they gain the ability to spread their message to a large badly educated audience.
Defence technology is also likely to change. We will rely more and more on Robots be they UAV’s, UUV’s or land based autonomous platforms.
We will also have to accept that the silver bullet solution of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) backed by undefeatable ICBM’s will not last forever. Missile Defence is a reality today. Imagine its capability in 50 years’ time. We have not had an unlimited state on state war for 66 years exactly the same amount of time we have had Nuclear Weapons. A world were Nuclear weapons no longer guarantee the peace will be a more dangerous one. We will likely have to invest heavily in missile defence at some point and we may have to consider increases in conventional forces.
We will also have to be prepared to maintain our independent nuclear capability and it may also be necessary to increase it in order to achieve the same effect. If China can intercept ICBM’s then we can’t expect that a total of 8 or 16 missiles are enough to provide a credible deterrent.
We may also have to face up to environmental change over the next 50 years with global warming leading to droughts, famines and other natural disasters. This topic is a favourite of the power point warrior gazing into the future. I do not want to put too much emphasis on it though. Most of these natural disasters if they do happen will happen in desperately poor countries with little in the way of resources. While it is only right that we do our part in providing humanitarian aid we must avoid the notion that we will send in the marines or anyone else to fix the problem or end a civil war. Civil war like it or not is a part of human development. We can’t stop it. It will likely continue to happen for 100 years or more until all nations reach a European level of development. It’s the oldest rule in the book that no outside military force should become involved in a civil war but it is one our politicians and military leaders keep forgetting.
If we can intervene in a small scale way as with Sierra Leone to support a democratic government or provide air cover for civilians as we did in Libya then we should. But our experience over the past 10 years has shown us that large scale ground forces on permanent deployment are not the answer. The Army is not a police force. We would never accept using it as such in our own country.
Why would we try to do this in other people’s countries?
Given these relative certainties we should be able to conduct our foreign and military policy today in a way that is likely to benefit us greatly when the time that we really need it comes. We have done this in the past and it served us well. If it had not been for major diplomatic efforts made towards the end of the 19th Century would America have entered not one but two world wars on our side? Don’t forget we went to war with the USA twice and almost entered their civil war on the confederate side. We were hardly natural allies. We must make a concerted effort to identify the future super powers of the world today and make every effort to develop relationships with them as close as the relationship we share with the USA at present.
In the race to position ourselves for the future we have two major advantages over anyone else.
Firstly we know we are crap and can’t really do anything on our own. We realise we are not a super power and never will be. This means that we can be far more flexible in our dealings with other nations than for instance the United States can be. Our fore fathers realised this as well. Where possible we always built coalitions to attack our enemies. Be it for mutual defence against Napoleon or for mutual benefit as against Russia in the 1850’s.
Secondly most of the major players like us and trust us. We have excellent relations with the USA and the European Union who will still be the dominant economic forces in the world of 2050. We have decent relations with India and Brazil as well as a host of other major developing nations.
This allows us to form coalitions with a wide group on nations. Countries will allow us basing rights and provide us with support because unlike China they do not feel we will later attempt to colonise them.