What will the geopolitical scene look like in 2050? In any case, it is time to tighten our seatbelts!

  • 2024-07-04
  • Maris Andzans / Janis Kazociņs

Predicting the future is notoriously difficult. Therefore, it is no surprise that most predictions turn out to be largely or completely wrong. However, there are some trends which can be seen in today’s geopolitics which can give us some indications about how things might look in 25 years’ time.

Firstly, those projections which have turned out to be false. Some 30 years ago it was common to read articles predicting that China would break up as a unified state. Now some commentators suggest that, if Russia loses the war its Ukraine, a break-up of the Russian Federation, similar to that following the collapse of communism, could follow.

Despite the significant human, economic and reputational cost the war has inflicted on Russia itself, and even an attempted coup d’état by Prigozhin, Putin’s regime has proven itself durable. Despite this, the exodus of talented people during the war, Russia’s overreliance on natural resources, and its lack of serious home-grown technological solutions do not promise it a bright future. But Russia will likely remain a master of trouble across the globe.

More recently, the Chinese economy was slated to overtake that of the United States within a decade or two. Now, that is a distant prospect, if a prospect at all. Moreover, China has already lost its top slot in terms of population to India, which is already a bitter rival to China. To some, China still seems to contradict the thesis of Francis Fukuyama by proposing a model that rivals Western liberal democracy. China’s immense economic growth, poverty eradication, and technological innovations are apparent. However, the ageing population and growing wages will likely bring similar economic and societal challenges to Japan. Protests during the Covid pandemic proved that the support for the Communist Party is far from unanimous. 

In the meantime, Europe languishes slowly recovering from its imperial past and the trauma of being divided during the Cold War – still unable to look after its own security or to bolster Ukraine without American help. Despite this and various other challenges, like the Brexit, migration and eurozone crises, the European Union has become stronger and more unified. The number of EU candidate countries underline the appeal of the Union and the West at large. 

Most of all, the seemingly inevitable decline of the United States has been forecast for many decades. This was highlighted by America’s isolationism at the start of the Second World War, followed by the ignominious withdrawal from Vietnam. More recently, the misguided Iraq adventure, a failure to maintain red lines in Syria and the tragic retreat from Afghanistan have all pointed towards a decline in American power and resolve.

Even worse, the McCarthyism of the 1950s, racial tensions and inequality in the 1960s and 1970s (and continuing) and now political and cultural polarisation have all cast a shadow over American democracy and its leadership of the free and democratic world. America remains the sole superpower of global politics but it will remain to be seen if America will be Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill or a spent power. 

All of these issues are merely the current backdrop to the existential challenges the human race is beginning to recognise but not yet to face. In particular, the gap between the Global North and the Global South is increasing. This is most clear in two areas.

The Covid pandemic very clearly demonstrated the selfishness of the rich North which bought up global stocks of vaccines far beyond their own requirements leaving the South without enough. Then, to add insult to injury, decisions by rich countries to retain patent rights to these vaccines so that they could not be manufactured in quantity for the South meant that deaths there from Covid were massively higher than they should have been.

The Green agenda (minimising the use of fossil fuels) is the supposed answer to global warming, a threat which will affect us all. From a Southern perspective, this appears especially unfair. The rich North became rich by exploiting these dirty resources and bringing our planet to this crisis. Now they can use their wealth to find expensive alternative energy sources while prohibiting the South from reaching the same level of prosperity by using these same resources. In other words, the North intends to maintain its advantage.

Biological threats (including biological weapons, genetic engineering and antivax movements) and global warming (likely to lead to the kind of mass migration not seen in millennia) are not the only existential threats to be faced this century. 

Nuclear proliferation is becoming more likely with unstable countries like North Korea, Pakistan and (possibly) Iran having access to them. Should Iran produce nuclear weapons, it is expected that Saudi Arabia could follow suit and open the nuclear proliferation doors wide open. Is it merely a matter of time before a suicidal terrorist group gets their hands on one or more? 

The digital revolution over the past two decades has been mind-blowing. For example, the first iPhone was only released in 2007, but most people might not recall life without smartphones and the technological solutions they support. Most recently, generative artificial intelligence is playing an increasing role in reshaping our lives. It brings both opportunities and risks that we can only imagine (or possibly not). 

In conclusion, it is more likely that the next quarter of a century will be shaped more by discord between North and South and by attempts to deal with existential threats rather than by decisions made in Moscow, Beijing or other capitals. In any case, it is time to tighten our seat-belts and await a bumpy ride.