As a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and current director of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative, Burrows is well-qualified to speculate on the future, as he does in this stimulating series of essays.
Though the author admits that matters might turn out differently, he believes current trends will continue: China and India will prosper, Russia will provoke, and the Middle East and Africa will lag behind. By 2030, Asia will surpass North America and Europe combined in gross domestic product, population, military spending and technological investment, but “the end of western domination need not mean western decline,” provided Western leaders drop their obsession with crisis management in favor of long-term planning. Many readers may suspect this is unlikely. Burrows is not the first to notice the digital revolution, which has globalized the world at one level but fragmented it at others. Individuals and small groups have the ability to do harm to an extent formerly reserved for states, but they can also be a force for good; even autocracies now find it hard to ignore popular opinion. Everyone wants democracy, but it requires a certain level of economic development, which is why the Arab Spring uprisings have thus far failed to bring about viable democracies in the countries that underwent the upheaval. Like every observer, the author struggles to explain why autocratic China is doing so well. Throughout, he tries “to capture what is at stake for the individual, not just governments or international businesses or institutions, which are the usual customers for future analysis. A big theme in the book is that more than ever, individuals matter.”
Burrows is an acute observer, but almost all important events in history are spectacularly unexpected. Although this is no news to readers of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan (2007), writers continue to deliver predictions, and this is a fine example of the genre.