The Case for American Optimism in an Unstable World

Published October 15, 2015

Review of The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder, by Peter Zeihan, Twelve, 2014, 384 pages; ISBN-13: 978-1455583669: $20.97 on

On an increasingly complex geopolitical stage featuring numerous influential players, understanding how and why geographical happy accidents fueled America’s rise to power over the centuries is key to grasping the role our nation plays in the future of this new, multi-polar world.

Peter Zeihan, author of The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder, explains how demography, geography, and geology give the United States an advantage over rival nations seeking to leave their marks on the course of history.

New World Orders

Zeihan, a geopolitical strategist and former global intelligence consultant, sees increasing global instability on the way.

“Impersonal factors beyond our control are not only tearing down the world we think we know, but also haphazardly putting a new one in its place,” Zeihan wrote.

Tracing the history of the world in about 50 pages, Zeihan explains how the United States saved the world and helped put it together, a feat he says no other country could have accomplished. At the Bretton Woods conference of nations, the United States crafted a new order for Europe, acting in benevolence to assist the defeated countries in their recovery. Zeihan says it is not a coincidence 730 delegates from 44 allied countries met in New Hampshire to knit a war-torn world back together with cooperative organizations such as the International Monetary Fund.

Natural Advantage

Countering the “conventional contemporary wisdom that the United States’ best days are behind it,” Zeihan says such pessimism “isn’t simply wrong, it’s laughably so.”

Starting from first principles of how geography shapes nations’ relations with one another and building from that foundation, his book explains why some countries are more powerful than others and why the United States is uniquely positioned to weather the coming international storm that other countries may not survive.

One advantage held by the U.S. is our large swaths of farmable land. America’s Midwest is the largest contiguous area of farmable land in the world, spanning 333 million acres. And with more land area usable for port traffic than the rest of the world combined, the United States can literally ship anything from anywhere to anywhere! 

China Not Ascendant

The United States’ location, situated between Asia and Europe, offers the ease of transporting goods for the world’s other powerful nations, enhancing its standing in the world.

Although Zeihan foresees a global labor problem as populations in nearly every major country age beyond their working years, he predicts the United States will avoid the fate of its rivals, notably China.

For example, many pundits claim China will be an ascendant power and supplant the United States’ role in geopolitics, but Zeihan explains why China just does not have the resources or geography to take on the role of global superpower. Over the past 10 years, labor costs in China have increased by a factor of six, driving away manufacturers who used to see China as an economic promised land.

China’s workforce will also shrink, because the Chinese government’s oppressive family planning policies have caused the nation’s birth rate to fall below replacement level. Chinese factories may soon be left idle, simply because not enough workers are being born to work in them.

America on the Rebound

Zeihan’s book is a refreshingly levelheaded departure from the doomsday predictions made about the United States by so many scholars and pundits today.

Ultimately, Zeihan’s analysis of geography and foreign relations indicates the United States will likely return to a role the nation played before World War II, one as a global power without designs on world domination but equipped with a long-range military capability to project force if provoked.

Throughout this impressive book, it is clear U.S. shale oil deposits and the nation’s many other abundant natural resources, including the American people themselves, give the United States an inherent advantage and a cause for optimism in the face of coming geopolitical adversity.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.