This map created something of a stir when I posted it on social media, in part because its claims are so counter to conventional wisdom in many instances. An enlarged version is available here.
The conventional wisdom is that we are moving toward an era of multipolarity with Russia, China, Iran, Islam generally, the BRICS countries generally, etc. challenging the US and/or Western global hegemony with America entering a period of decline. Zeihan challenges these claims and argues that Russia and China are demographically, geopolitically, economically, and politically unstable, and are likely to collapse and fracture in the future. The “rising stars” are the nations Zeihan regards as having the most geographic or demographic advantages. The rising stars are the USA, which Zeihan thinks will continue to be a dominant economic power even as America’s military reach declines, along with Mexico, Argentina, Angola, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and the countries of Southeast Asia and Oceania. He argues that these are the countries that presently have the best demographic patterns, geographical advantages, access to sea lanes, internal navigation and transport systems, agriculture, etc.
On the other hand, Zeihan argues that demographic instability and geographic disadvantages will eventually cause Russia and China to collapse and perhaps fracture into multiple countries (for example, secession by the constituent republics of the Russian Federation, with Eastern China becoming a collection of commercial city-states and Western China reverting to Maoism and experiencing famine).
The major disagreement I tend to have with Zeihan is his understatement of the aggressive nature of US foreign policy, but I suspect that is a concession he makes to his audiences, who are mostly military, intelligence, business, investment, and NGO sectors, not political dissident sectors like most of my readers. Zeihan’s own politics are those of a self-identified “Atlanticist” and “globalist” who claims Poppy Bush was his favorite Prez. So basically the standard Rockefeller internationalist vision.
The main problems I see with the USA are the not geographic and demographic issues that Zeihan studies. It’s more cultural with our society fragmenting into warring tribes, which I see as more of a quasi-religious conflict over existential values. Another criticism I have of Zeihan is that I think he underestimates the severity of all that. We could easily become another Northern Ireland writ large, IMO.
The main thing that interests me about Zeihan is that his predictive analysis is somewhat similar to that of Martin Van Creveld and Bill Lind in terms of the collapse of the global order, the proliferation of failed states, and the rise of non-state military actors. Only Zeihan comes at it from a geographical, demographic, and economic framework while Van Creveld and Lind are more focused on the military and political angle, and, in the case of Lind, the cultural angle as well.
I think he is definitely right about the brewing three-way fight in the ME between Iran’s resistance axis, the Saudi-Sunni-Israeli alliance, and the Muslim Brotherhood-influenced countries like Turkey and Qatar.
I think Zeihan’s analysis of the domestic US is a bit too light. He seems to underestimate the volatility of domestic US politics. Yes, we have lots of arable land and navigable rivers, and valuable natural resources, but there can still be a de facto or de jour civil war between warring factions over existential values. And rich countries can become shitholes due to poor leadership and management. He doesn’t recognize the rising demographic conflict rooted in rapid demographic, cultural, and generational change. He doesn’t recognize the existential nature of US “culture wars” and he doesn’t address the Third Worldization of our class system as well. I suspect he knows all this and deliberately leaves it out because, as I pointed out above, his clients are typically drawn from sectors that don’t want to face all that (businesses, investors, NGOs, government agencies, military/intelligence, etc).