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Disunited Nations: Succeeding in a World Where No One Gets Along

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Should we stop caring about fading regional powers like China, Russia, Germany, and Iran? Will the collapse of international cooperation push France, Turkey, Japan, and Saudi Arabia to the top of international concerns?

Most countries and companies are not prepared for the world Peter Zeihan says we're already living in. For decades, America's allies have depended on its might for their economic and physical security. But as a new age of American isolationism dawns, the results will surprise everyone. In Disunited Nations, geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan presents a series of counterintuitive arguments about the future of a world where trade agreements are coming apart and international institutions are losing their power.

Germany will decline as the most powerful country in Europe, with France taking its place. Every country should prepare for the collapse of China, not North Korea. We are already seeing, as Zeihan predicts, a shift in outlook on the Middle East: It is no longer Iran that is the region's most dangerous threat, but Saudi Arabia. The world has gotten so accustomed to the "normal" of an American-dominated order that we have all forgotten the historical norm: several smaller, competing powers and economic systems throughout Europe and Asia.

America isn't the only nation stepping back from the international system. From Brazil to Great Britain to Russia, leaders are deciding that even if plenty of countries lose in the growing disunited chaos, their nations will benefit. The world isn't falling apart--it's being pushed apart. The countries and businesses prepared for this new every-country-for-itself ethic are those that will prevail; those shackled to the status quo will find themselves lost in the new world disorder.

Smart, interesting, and essential reading, Disunited Nations is a sure-to-be-controversial guidebook that analyzes the emerging shifts and resulting problems that will arise in the next two decades. We are entering a period of chaos, and no political or corporate leader can ignore Zeihan's insights or his message if they want to survive and thrive in this uncertain new time.

256 pages, ebook

First published March 3, 2020

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About the author

Peter Zeihan

5 books677 followers
Geopolitical Strategist Peter Zeihan is a global energy, demographic and security expert.

Zeihan’s worldview marries the realities of geography and populations to a deep understanding of how global politics impact markets and economic trends, helping industry leaders navigate today’s complex mix of geopolitical risks and opportunities. With a keen eye toward what will drive tomorrow’s headlines, his irreverent approach transforms topics that are normally dense and heavy into accessible, relevant takeaways for audiences of all types.

In his career, Zeihan has ranged from working for the US State Department in Australia, to the DC think tank community, to helping develop the analytical models for Stratfor, one of the world’s premier private intelligence companies. Mr. Zeihan founded his own firm -- Zeihan on Geopolitics -- in 2012 in order to provide a select group of clients with direct, custom analytical products. Today those clients represent a vast array of sectors including energy majors, financial institutions, business associations, agricultural interests, universities and the U.S. military.

His freshman book, The Accidental Superpower, debuted in 2014. His sophomore project, The Absent Superpower, published in December 2016.

Find out more about Peter -- and your world -- at www.zeihan.com

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Profile Image for David Wineberg.
Author 2 books683 followers
November 16, 2019
Disunited Nations is a remarkable attempt summarize every major nation’s future, determined by its location, geography, its past and present. Peter Zeihan of Strafor has laid it all out in a straightforward and shocking manner. It is scathing, brutal, honest, and to at least some extent, correct.

Underlying everything in Disunited Nations is the Order. The Order is what the United States imposed following World War II. It was meant to ally everyone against the Soviets, but it imposes peaceful transport by sea and air all over the world. The US could do this because it represented half the production of the world at that point, when most of the industrialized nations were in ruins. It did it without knowing or understanding the side effects it would produce. It allowed Europe to unite for the first time – without war. It allowed Japan to look outward for the first time peacefully, and become a world power without bloodshed. Most importantly, it allowed goods to be traded, which multiplied economies and standards of living worldwide, taking billions out of poverty and making the comfortable unprecedentedly wealthy. It even allowed rogue nations to build themselves up through world trade. No more, Zeihan says.

The United States is tiring of maintaining the Order. It is pulling back from being the world’s policeman. It’s navy, down by about 40%, is no longer capable of maintaining open oceans globally. NATO is brain-dead, according President Macron. The USA itself doesn’t really need the rest of the world, having everything it (thinks it) needs at home. As the Order dissipates, what will replace it? Zeihan thinks he knows. But even if he doesn’t, it is tremendous food for thought.

First, there is a terrific exploration of all the contradictions and hypocrisy in America’s foreign policy. The messages it sends confuse not only the rest of the world, but its own citizens, businesspeople and corporations. Without detailing all Zeihan’s endless (valid) examples, let me just point out that Mort Sahl said “Anyone who holds a consistent foreign policy stance in this country must eventually be tried for treason,” in 1964. It has only gotten far worse.

Zeihan has a breezy style, with all kinds of snide remarks and asides to brighten a grim future. In writing about an alternative to the US dollar as the global reserve currency, he says: “If there’s one thing the whole world agrees on, it is that the British should never be in charge of anything ever again.” On the importance of food security: “Anyone sufficiently arrogant to think the poor will simply starve in silence has a particularly weak grasp of not only biology, but history.” And he loves to break up a miserable description with the line: ”It is worse than it sounds.” And then expand on the true ugliness of it. He also likes to turn maps on their sides, giving a totally different perspective to positioning, neighbors, and access. Not everything is straight up and down.

The closest thing to a common denominator in what will take nations down is their demographics. Too few younger people supporting too many older ones. The extreme is China where they did it on purpose, but Japan, Germany and the USA are already suffering its consequences today. For many countries, it will be fatal, he thinks.

Zeihan believes China is not only going nowhere, it will break up, and sooner than later. “The country has less farmland per person than Saudi Arabia,” he says in one of his many clear and shocking examples. Its energy demand is off the charts. So is its financial health, but in the other direction. Its navy is not capable of straying from its shore, let alone protecting sea lanes outside India, Indonesia and Vietnam, among others it has annoyed with its arrogance and demands. Looking at China’s history, he says it will simply revert to the mean. And that’s not pretty. As he puts it: “China will suffer a cataclysmic flameout every bit as impressive as its rise to power.”

Saudi Arabia is a much bigger threat than China. It doesn’t care who it offends, and seeks to create chaos all around itself to keep itself secure. Chaos in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are examples where the Saudis want nothing to do with peace breaking out. They are also trying it in Qatar and of course Iran. As a medieval monarchy, it is totally paranoid. It won’t even let citizens be in its military, hiring mercenaries instead. And lest anyone forget, it loves sending terrorists out to say, take down the World Trade Center.

It is around this time you begin to wonder how right Zeihan is. Saudi Arabia is projected to consume as much energy in air conditioning as it sells in oil by 2030. This will cripple its economy, which is already phony. The country relies almost entirely on near slavery for Pakistanis and Bangladeshis to keep its infrastructure going. No one with a future stays there. Its human rights record is atrocious, and the only allies it has aren’t even in the middle east. They’re petroleum customers. Is it really going to thrive going forward?

Zeihan sees Russia ending as badly and as soon as China. Too many fronts, too long a border, and too little internal investment augur very badly if the (dis)Order makes trade difficult.

He thinks Argentina is beautifully placed and endowed to dominate South America as Brazil implodes due to complications in its geography and endemic corruption. But Argentina is a basket case facing bankruptcy once again. In the new disOrder, how will it rise, thrive and take over?

He thinks Germany is toast – right now. It has doomed itself, while France is on the rise, on the way to becoming the sole and dominant power in Europe. It has the biggest and best armed forces, natural endowments to keep food supplies secure, and can team up with the USA better than anyone in the world. But will the EU survive France?

Canada, on the other hand, is now irrelevant to the US, and is being set adrift. It has been replaced by Mexico as the America’s biggest trading partner, and is no longer key to a missile defense system the US doesn’t believe it will ever need. He says the US spent a century leaning on Canada for intelligence and support against their common allies and enemies. Now the US doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, so Canada’s assistance is of no value.

Turkey will rise as a regional power, taking over the Black Sea area and at least all of Cyprus and maybe Lebanon, as Russia retreats in advance of its total collapse. In the new disOrder, Turkey will escort all shipping (for a huge fee) as it transits from the Mediterranean, something it cannot do in the Order.

But despite all the truly fascinating research and analysis, the predictions of his models miss the biggest threat to everyone – climate change. It is not until page 329 (in reference to models of the Sahara) that he makes its one mention. Incredibly to me, he doesn’t take into account the inevitable wars and mass migration as whole nations go under water. He doesn’t account for Canada’s unbeatable stocks of fresh clean water that a parched desert in the USA will be desperate for when the Ogallala Reservoir is totally drained. France is already suffering double digit declines in food production from drought and severe weather. Nor does Zeihan account for the diversion of trillions of dollars as every nation tries to fend off the effects of climate change, if only in disaster relief following ever more severe weather events. Instead, he posits the importance of Caribbean islands to the US in its much-reduced sphere of influence to protect itself without consideration for the rest of the world. But will those island nations even be there? This is a huge and fatal omission in all his modeling.

And yet. What it all means is that even if Trump is removed or replaced, the world will not revert to a saved restore point. Things will continue to deteriorate, as per the second law of thermodynamics, and the claims Zeihan makes are what they will revolve about. It’s complicated, and Disunited Nations presents it in an accessible and compelling, if incomplete survey.

David Wineberg
Profile Image for Andrej Karpathy.
110 reviews3,388 followers
May 31, 2020
Peter Zeihan presents a biased, incomplete and seemingly just slightly rushed geopolitical analysis of the past present and future world (dis)order, which despite its flaws makes for an informative, interesting and entertaining (due to his writing style) read. In particular, in stark contrast to popular narratives over the last decade or so, Peter argues strongly for an imminent collapse and fracturing of China.

The core thesis is that the last ~60 years of rising global prosperity and peace (relatively speaking) is a highly anomalous state of affairs in the backdrop of history. This period has primarily been enabled by the global "Order" established by the American superpower (by far the economic and military "last man standing" after the second world war) to fight the Cold War. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union the chief strategic justification for the Order is claimed to be severely dissipated. Combined with the energy independence afforded by the shale revolution, America as a highly self-sufficient nation is turning inward, and becoming increasingly indifferent to the world's affairs. It looks unwilling to get involved in wars like those in Korea and Vietnam, to continue nation building experiments in Middle East, or to continue to protect international trade routes. In Peter's view, this has dire repercussions for the global physical/maritime security that a lot of other nations have come to rely on. He examines the world's countries through 4 lenses (viable home territories, agriculture capacity, energy access and demographic structure) to divine whether they will thrive, or fall apart.

From here on the book reads like a slightly watered down version of Guns Germs and Steel but with a modern focus. Much is said about mountains, (navigable) rivers, deep water ports, climates, natural resources, arable land, global supplies of oil, coal and natural gas, geographic viability of solar/wind, and demographic distribution (male/female ratios and age histograms). In contrast and unfortunately, not very much at all is said about culture / institutions (e.g. why isn't Argentina be a superpower? And why are Singapore, Japan South Korea doing so well?). Similarly, how can an analysis with a claimed scope of multiple decades not include climate change and its likely effects? Why not attempt at least a mention of the increasing relevance of cyber warfare, when our economies and national security are increasingly based on information processing and computers? In this sense, Peter's analysis and focus on physical barriers and the number of super-cruisers each country commands comes off as a bit outdated. By the way, why is India barely discussed? Finally, why should America not have a continued vested interest in the security of the global financial system and trade? The analysis jumps a little too quickly from "America is the de facto world police" to "America checks out completely, global chaos ensues and oceans become plundered by pirates".

Overall, this was an informative read that I am happy to recommend, as long as one is prepared for and willing to forgive what seems to me like a little bit of tunnel vision and a little bit of jumping to unsupported conclusions where it counts. But if you're willing to cherry pick some of the analysis and fit it into a slightly more broader picture you'll have a good time!
Profile Image for Richard Thompson.
1,759 reviews87 followers
April 26, 2020
Zeihan is amazingly irritating. He writes in a snappy, colloquial style that is proudly politically incorrect, but is also heartless and in the end of the day clueless. He is arrogant, narcissistic and America centric. He gives the rest of world good reason to hate Americans. Zeihan's picture of the world consists of pawns moving around on a Westphalian chessboard. He would have been a great advisor to Metternich. His view of history is simplistic and deterministic. Everything important is driven by geography. Culture has nothing to do with it; people have nothing to do with it; chance has nothing to do with it. There is no butterfly effect in his universe. Since he believes that history is deterministic, he thinks that he can make strong predictions about the future. A certain amount of this stance is, of course, bravado and meant to sell books more than it is meant to be taken seriously, but for the most part Zeihan believes his own bullshit.

Zeihan's perspective isn't totally wrong. Geography is important; states and leaders do act sometimes on the basis of the kind of strategic considerations that Zeihan discusses, but the key word is "sometimes". Metternich gave us the Concert of Europe that kept the peace for a hundred years, but it was a fragile peace, a brittle one that shattered horribly when it broke. That's the best that this kind of thinking can accomplish. People less talented than Metternich who follow this line of thinking are more likely to cause suffering than to solve problems. Our leaders need to have a flexible humanistic approach in making strategic decisions taking into consideration the kinds of things that Zeihan discusses, but not taking them too seriously.
Profile Image for Antigone.
494 reviews733 followers
November 4, 2021
Once upon a time, directly following a certain World War...

In that charming way the Americans have of oversimplifying things, the Americans cut the Gordian knot. Carpe-ing the hell out of the diem, the American president - one Franklin Delano Roosevelt - invited everyone to a ski resort in the New England town of Bretton Woods and bribed everyone into joining him in forging a new world.

The Americans pledged total physical security for anyone who joined their alliance, protecting them with tanks, troops, ships and the still-under-development nuclear umbrella. The Americans used their absolute mastery of the seas to protect any ship from anywhere transporting any product to any location. And that was just the beginning...

So was founded the Bretton Woods global order, which has run the world for as long as most of us can remember and which, our author takes great (and highly entertaining) pains to point out, is now quite completely falling apart. America is detaching. The United States is tired. The United States is frustrated. The United States is even a little confused. And, well, then there's all that deeply embarrassing narcissistic crap that somehow continues to go on in Washington, D.C....

The "America First" of the hard right is reflexively hostile to the world. The "America First" of the hard left is reflexively hostile to American involvement in the world. The "America First" of the middle just finds the world exhausting.

And so, what happens when America - finally attempting to pull its diverse political factions onto the very same page - takes most of its big, shiny toys and bright, profitable promises right up the driveway and back into the garage? A mixed bag, to be sure, yet so darn delightfully conveyed by geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan that it qualifies, from first page to last, as a thoroughly guilty pleasure of a read. This was fantastic. Intelligent, witty, comprehensible, pragmatic, and the insights, for anyone who enjoys a bit of history, are genuinely thought-provoking.

Who imagined I might ever have had this much fun with The End of the World as We Know It?

Five stars. Easy.

Profile Image for Daniel.
613 reviews82 followers
May 5, 2020
This is a strange book written on a serious topic but in a colloquial/frivolous manner. According to Zeihan:

1. The current global order was built and is maintained by America. It gives free protection to sea lanes and air travel to the world so that countries can trade with each other and get rich. Not so America; she trades mainly within herself, and maybe a bit with Mexico and Canada. America does not need the world and is about to turn inward, giving up the world police job. And the world is going to turn chaotic.

2. Asia: China is a paper tiger, because of lack of arable land, rapidly ageing society, over-indebtedness, and political instability. China will surely break apart. Japan has a very strong navy and will be able to economically lord over the whole of Asia! If Japan fights China again, it will win even though all its cities will be levelled. But hey no problem, it still wins economically.

3. Middle East: Iran and Turkey will be strong, because they are easy to defend and have strong armies. Expect some land grabs by either countries, like the old Ottomon or Persian empires.

4. Russia: militarily strong but population shrinking and economy no good.

5. Germany: shrinking population, no army. Without American protection it is toast.

6. France: strong in Europe.

7. UK: weakened from Brexit, going to be a ‘supplicant of America’.... Only has a navy but no army.

8. South America: Argentina will be strong because it has got the best farmland. Brazil is separated into the high land and the coastal cities so is disunited.

No Africa? No India? No problem. America is all that matters.

2 star because of the (sort of) nice overview of the geopolitics of the world...
Profile Image for Wick Welker.
Author 5 books321 followers
February 10, 2023
Great current geopolitics in a nutshell.

This is my second Zeihan read. I delved into his more recent The End of the World is Just the Beginning before this one. At first I was annoyed because I thought Disunited Nations was essentially the same book but upon finishing this, I realized the two books complement one another very well.

Within this book Zeihan gives a brief and welcomed history of the current key players in geopolitics and then delves into their modern problems, strengths and weaknesses then followed by his predictions over the next few decades. The main countries he touches on are (and not limited to) the United States, China, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Russia, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Iran and Saudi Arabia. If you don’t know a lot about how these countries operate in the geopolitical theater, this is a great book to start with.

The overarching theme of this book is that there is widespread demographic collapse due to the mass industrialization as a fallout of the American lead globalized order causing plunging fertility rates because of the urbanization that usually happens when you industrialize a people. Dropping fertility rates are a huge problem because you lose your labor force, your consumer base, your tax base and then have a higher proportion of retirees that depend more on social services. The other piece of the puzzle is that the American-lead order of ensuring safe global commerce is slowly winding down as the Americans have little self interest in maintaining the order. What Zeihan argues will happen is that globalized commerce will become fractured into regional hegemonies. There will be regional power grabs to secure trading routes that the Americans will abandon which will clearly cause problems. Unstable trading routes will leave many, many countries vulnerable who are dependent on globalized and peaceful trading which could result in economic collapse, famine, starvation and social upheaval.

Zeihan asserts that China is at the forefront of doom and gloom. China’s tremendous success over the past 20-30 years has been because of open trade as well as a hyperfinanced model and runaway lending. The unraveling of the American lead order may completely upend China’s model of success. China imports tons of stuff. It also has a terrible navy. Yes it could bomb the hell out its waterways if any other southeast asian countries try to take control but this will also cut off mainland China from essential trading that it needs to even survive and support its population. If you combine a tyrannical single party rule like the CCP with mass starvation, social turmoil is right around the corner. Zeihna doesn’t mince words about China: he believes it is doomed in the next 10-20 years.

The UK has been very successful because of its island geography and fantastic navy and ability to have captive markets. Zeihan believes that Brexit and dependence on the US will not be good for the country. He believes France is in really good shape because it has very favorable land, can make almost everything its population needs and has a better demographic profile than most countries. Zeihan spends a lot of time on Germany and believes their aging population and its surplus model will not be good for it and will likely have increasing tensions with Russia. Zeihan spends a good deal on Turkey and kind of casts it as the regional future’s wild card. It has a fantastic geographic location between the Black and Mediterranean, a very robust military and very navigable waterways for trading. Also, Russia will never go to war with Turkey because it depends on Turkey for oil exportation. Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia are likely to continue weaponizing Kurds against one another and will be in constant rivalry. The animosity between Iran and Saudi Arabia probably won’t get better. Iran wants to be the center of the middle east and Saudi Arabia just wants to see Iran fail. The Saudi’s have little to lose and can basically do whatever they want, including exporting global terrorism, because they have the oil purse. Brazil has huge problems and will continue to have problems. Combine its very difficult terrain, hostile land, torrential Amazon, social upheaval and corrupt oligarchic control and things will only get worse. Zeihan believes Argentina is in a really good position to become the de facto power house of South America with its favorable demographics, good terrain and its remote location.

That brings us to the United States. Zeihan very clearly endorses an American exceptionalism model of the world and I can’t say he’s totally wrong in this context. The Breton Woods era ushered in peaceful global commerce for the first time which industrialized other nations at a break-neck speed (this is very likely what is responsible for the miracle of China). The globalized world order was buttressed specifically by the Cold War and communism moral panic. Anti-communism consolidated American political power and was used as justification for countless American interventions where millions of people have been killed in numerous anti-democratic coups and invasions.

In my opinion there is nothing moral about America's involvement in the global order. America always acts in self interest cobbled together by some very malleable principles that can be contorted to justify its various inventions of what is a de facto pointillistic empire. The results have been good for many people and have also been bad for many people. To valorize the United States for putting itself at the wheel and keeping itself there by any means necessary is just indulging in romanticized nationalism and post-hoc rationalization which is not something I’m interested in. The United States will continue to reign supreme with the unraveling world order. It is blessed with extremely good geography and it can support its own population and energy needs specifically because of the shale gas revolution. It has also some of the best naval and military power in the world, not to mention the power of the US dollar. It will disentangle itself from foreign affairs and peaceful trade which will probably crash many, many vulnerable countries. Again, there is nothing moral about America’s global interventions or lack thereof. It acts in self interest guided by some loosely defined ideologies it throws out to its citizens for bread and circus. The current American political turmoil will likely not weaken its global power.

Anyway, an excellent book if you can hold your nose for a bit for geographic determinism, not something I’m opposed to but I don’t think it’s everything. It doesn’t matter too much if Zeihan’s predictions are correct or not although I would guess he’s very much on the right track. I recommend this to get informed about geopolitics to help aid your understanding of current world events. The one glaring omission from this book that will certainly upend geopolitics with unpredictable results is climate change. I’m not sure why Zeihan omitted this and I can only assume it was intentional.

Here's my review for his other more recent book The End of the World is Just the Beginning
Profile Image for Mattias.
52 reviews
September 12, 2022
Simplistic: drives most of his arguments from the realm of geography and resource distribution across the planet.

Teleological: at times seems to pick data which fits his conclusions.

Yet fascinating: well written, easy to read and written in a compelling fashion.

If one ignores the absolute certainty of his bombastic conclusions/predictions and sees them more as an indication of one possible path forward into the future, the book is interesting.

Kind of like the geopolitical version of Yuval Noah Harari's Homo Deus. Entertaining on one level, interesting food for the mind on another, but dangerous if taken too seriously.
March 8, 2020
Obviously rushed and lacks citations for massive numbers of claims. It's not worth a reader's time or money. It's not even educated guessing. It's unsubstantiated unprofessional guessing.
Profile Image for Pavelas.
131 reviews9 followers
January 22, 2023
Daug įdomių faktų apie geografinių ir demografinių veiksnių įtaką šalių pasiekimams. Vis dėlto pagrindinis knygos elementas - prognozės apie ateitį, pasirodė abejotinas. Juk tos ateities jau sulaukėme (knyga parašyta 2020 m.).
192 reviews35 followers
May 22, 2020
I’ve been softly following Zeihan for a couple of years, but it was Arnold Kling’s recent accolades that made me pay closer attention. Now, having read “Disunited Nations”, I can see why Kling likes him. Zeihan approaches geopolitics through a relatively simple, yet fecund explanatory framework, akin to Kling’s “Three-Axes” model for politics.

Specifically, when evaluating geopolitical situations and trends Zeihan analyses relevant countries along four dimensions – geography & climate, access to energy, agricultural capacity, and demographics. For example, when it comes to geography he looks for “crunchy” borders to ensure territorial integrity and ease of protection, navigable rivers for cheap transportation and unification, internal plains to allow for economies of scale and political unification, and temperate climate. When it comes to demographics he is primarily concerned with age distribution, for example a situation where a big bulk of population is retiring while the younger populations are dwindling is not healthy for economic growth and debt sustainability.

Within that framework “Disunited Nations” presents a thesis which suggests that last sixty years of politics and development were quite unusual… and that a reversion to the mean will spell out many unpleasant surprises. In particular, in the aftermath of World War II, America established an “Order” which started out with a stable currency (Bretton Woods), security, and foreign aid as means to incentivize economic growth and international commerce. America’s military might and absolute hegemony of the seas ensured safety of supply lines and international borders, and allowed countries to outsource security to the US and concentrate on economic growth. On top of it America became world’s consumption sink, a highly unusual move for an empire.

The price of this “Order” was access to a diverse pool of allies in the Cold War with Soviet Union. And of course, America’s unfettered access to energy in the Middle East was a big part of this calculation as well.

Zeihan argues that the “Order” has been increasingly under strain. The collapse of the Soviet Union followed by America’s energy independence on the heels of fracking revolution massively reduced the value of Cold War allies and access to Middle East oil. Meanwhile, American “War on Terror” and its gruesome and still ongoing aftermath (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria…) has cooled foreign engagement appetite among the American public and both political parties. And so, according to Zeihan, this “Order” is about to end as a largely self-sufficient, energy-independent, agriculturally-secure and broadly-rich America will withdraw from world’s affairs.

In a way, this is a reversion to a more typical polycentric world of international competition, both economic and military. In such a world geography, borders, access to resources, access to secure supply lines, and ability to feed one’s own citizens all begin to matter.

In the rest of the book Zeihan uses his “Four-Axes” model to look at the implications of America’s withdrawal and a subsequent loss of international commerce and border security for many explicit or implicit participants & beneficiaries of this “Order”. Jumping from Russia, France and Germany to Japan and China, with stops in Argentina and Brazil, and of course Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran Zeihan globe-trots with gusto and a lot of unexpected insight. For example, he is remarkably (and refreshingly) bearish on China – its awful demographics (a double-whammy of one-child policy and urbanization), heavy reliance on agricultural inputs, unfriendly neighbors, and massive dependence on oil all the way from Persian Gulf coupled with absence of long-range navy to protect it doesn’t paint a very hopeful picture.

Zeihan’s writing style is informal and rather punchy, and that makes “Disunited Nations” a fun little read. Even if he is only partially right I found many of his chapters eye opening, and so will you.
Profile Image for Pedro L. Fragoso.
574 reviews50 followers
March 17, 2022
Ah, well this was a painful reading experience. Not only because the overall arch of the thing is depressing, sad and dystopian, but because the “USA über alles, über alles in der Welt” POV makes it a sliver past rational and into unhinged territory. On another note, the whole tone of the writing (and the reading of the audiobook), punctuated by hubris and smugness, even when delivering the cringiest of assertions, was salt in the wound. This stated, I did find the book relevant, read it thoroughly and will read “The End of the World Is Just the Beginning”. There’s a lot that makes sense and that I never had given a thought, so it was in a concrete way, an eye opener. It was also well worth reading to grasp the way the “Beltway” (lack of?) intelligentsia looks upon the world (N.B.: reminds me of “Don’t Look Up”): the future of the United States is definitely not the ones of “Snow Crash” or “The Mandibles”.

Let’s start by Russia. This I find extremely well argued and nigh depressing. “The only outcome of the brewing contest between Russia and Europe that extends the life of the Russian state is one in which Russian forces consolidate control of the Baltic Coast and the Polish Gap as well as the Bessarabian Gap, all of Ukraine, Moldova, and the Caucasus republics. Failure to achieve all these goals leaves the Russians unanchored and engaged in a war of numbers and/or movement that they cannot possibly win. Anything shy of total success would also gut the Russian state’s income. Russia’s competition with Europe will end meaningful oil and natural gas exports via the Baltic Sea and North European Plain.”

I would have much more to say, but I’ll just let that stay as is, given the current events.

Also, good food for thought: “On a grand scale, many of us are betting on the wrong horses. France will lead the new Europe, not Germany. We should be worried about Saudi Arabia, not Iran. We should be thinking about how to remedy mass starvation in China, not counter its economic and military clout.” All this is well argued in the book.

There is more that’s well worth considering. For instance, what is written about Brazil and Argentina. Namely: “Brazil’s relative success required the extra layer of stability and wealth that only the post–Cold War Order could provide. Brazilian success required more than strong demand; it required the bottomless, price-insensitive demand of the Panda Boom. Brazilian success required more than cheap, abundant capital; it required the supercheap, hyperabundant capital of the height of the Boomer cadre’s financial wealth in the moments before the Boomers retire en masse. These factors aren’t simply one-offs, and they are not simply fading; they are turning inside out, heralding tragic outcomes for Brazil (…) If this all sounds bleak, it is. But bad is not the same as gone, and worse is not the same as dead. Brazil faces neither the broadscale collapse of China nor the demographic implosion of Russia nor the economic and security catastrophe awaiting Germany. Brazil will look and feel and act different, and most of those differences will not be for the better, but this isn’t the end of history for the Brazilians. (…) Yes, Brazil faces a hard stall. Yes, Brazil will become a much more violent place. Yes, Brazil’s much-lauded progress on so many fronts will cruelly unwind. Yes, Brazil may end up being a country in name only. But except for Brazil’s western extremes and Amazon fringe, outright civilizational collapse is not in the cards. Neither is war. Nor famine. Compared with the likely futures of China and Russia and Germany and Iran, that’s practically paradise.”

Now for the ridiculous. Turkey: “The only other large-scale route is southwest via the Black Sea and Turkish Straits. Even a minor military conflict with Turkey would utterly end Russia’s ability to export oil and natural gas to the west, removing it from the list of significant energy exporters (it currently ranks number one for combined oil, natural gas, and petroleum products, with oil and natural gas sales being the government’s top two sources of income). (…) While predicting tactical moves in a strategic conflict that has yet to begin is a bit like playing darts blindfolded while doing tequila shots, the optimal time for Turkish action would be once the Russians become fully committed against the Northern Europeans. At that point the Russians would have fewer forces to spare to a front in the south, vastly improving the success rate of what would have to be a sizable amphibious assault. The optimal place would be the Crimean Peninsula, Turkish control of which would eliminate the only meaningful Russian naval presence on the Black Sea, turning it into a Turkish lake.” N.B.: Cringe doesn’t stop here.

And there is some that’s simple hateful, as for instance: “The most likely outcome is a sort of horrific stalemate, as the foundations of civilization throughout the Middle East burn away, leading to outbreaks of famine, civil collapse, vast refugee flows, and unprecedented depopulation—most notably in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. The only reason the Palestinians might be spared is because a functional state largely divorced from the region’s politics and traumas—Israel—is responsible for feeding them.” (…) Is Israel a democracy, a Jewish state, or should it directly control all occupied lands? So far, Israel has mostly managed all three. (…) Higher birthrates among both the occupied Palestinians and deeply conservative Orthodox Jews means that by 2030 an enlarged Israel will be a Jewish-minority state that will not even want to converse with the Palestinians, much less grant political or territorial concessions. The only possible outcome is a social and security management system that makes Apartheid look progressive. Apartheid South Africa enabled the country’s black population to hold jobs in white-run zones but refused integration or political rights. In contrast, in Israel the Palestinians are kept permanently in what have become massive open-air prisons.” But: “Israel may become defined by attributes that are normally associated with pariah states, but without American leadership, international institutions like the United Nations are not likely to continue anyway. Being a pariah doesn’t mean what it used to.” And, on another note: “Canada is being reduced to little more than a passive-aggressive American satellite. Even that assumes full Canadian cooperation. If Ottawa strikes too strident a tone with Washington, Canada will be reminded that both Alberta and Quebec have active secessionist movements. As the Canadian provinces are laid out east to west in a straight line, one leaving would break the remainder of Canada into two completely disconnected pieces—ending the existence of Canada as a unified state and leaving it to the Americans to pick and choose which pieces they desire.”

Ah, well.

“(…) the level of development most countries enjoyed before World War II will be firmly out of reach for most. The Order’s impact has been deep and pervasive, so singularly effective that it suffused itself into every aspect of human existence, nearly erasing every previous structure. Its absence will not be merely non-Order, but instead a new kind of chaos. In the Imperial Age when people were miserable, they were just the same kind of miserable they had always been. But in the Disorder the sense of achievements lost will be palpable. People will remember a degree of security and wealth that they will never be able to achieve on their own.”

The world is changing dramatically. As for the blurb for “The End of the World Is Just the Beginning”, “2019 was the last great year for the world economy. For generations, everything has been getting faster, better, and cheaper. Finally, we reached the point that almost anything you could ever want could be sent to your home within days - even hours - of when you decided you wanted it. (…) Globe-spanning supply chains are only possible with the protection of the U.S. Navy. The American dollar underpins internationalized energy and financial markets. Complex, innovative industries were created to satisfy American consumers. American security policy forced warring nations to lay down their arms. Billions of people have been fed and educated as the American-led trade system spread across the globe. All of this was artificial. All this was temporary. All this is ending.” This book (and the next one in the series) are worthwhile guides, even if flawed, as they would be, to possible, likely futures. One may not like (the entirety of) the content, but one should suck it up and reflect on it.
Profile Image for Ben Rogers.
2,160 reviews137 followers
August 13, 2022
One of My New Favorite Authors

This was a very good book.

Truly enjoyed this economic / international relations book.

Some really interesting chapters.

Great predictions of the future too.

Zeihan has proven to me as an excellent writer. I now consider him as a favorite author of mine.

Profile Image for Andrew Tollemache.
326 reviews21 followers
March 31, 2020
Talk about amazing timing! Zeihan drops his new book right at the begining of March 2020 right when the COVID-19 pandemic was going to make all his previous predictions and analysis look acclerated. In "DisUnited Nations" Zeihan does a country by country analysis of how well each nation is set up to fare in the coming dissolving of the US led post WW2 order. As he did in his previous 3 books Zeiahn expands his thesis that the US is going begin walking away from the International Order it established at the end of WW2 to thwart the USSR, not so much from weakness but because of weakness, but because the Order no longer suits our needs. With the USSR gone, the US increaaslingly energy dependent and the US being one of the least integrated economies into the Global trade space we have gotten bored and are going home.
Zeihan sees the US as increasingly disengaged Super power with enormous strength and military power to do what it wants but no interest in any responsiblities. Its a flexibility that will suit us well for decades. However he identifies a number of countries that have become totally dependent on the US order for their economic well being and are now in serious danger of existential problems. He cites China and Germany as two nations who have built their entire economies around exporting to the global, primarily US consumer market, but in coming years can expect to lose those trade flows.
Other countries like Saudi Arabia are not only dependent on the US order for their trade and currency flows, they also import most of their food. Not Good at ALL!!
He also identifies 3-countries that should do quite well going forward: Mexico, Argentina, Turkey and France.
--Mexico is firmly integrated into the US's continental manufacturing and energy supply chains while also having one of the only consumer growth oriented demographics on the planet. NOw in a post COVID-19 world if US companies start bringing back manufacturing to North America, they are bring alot of it to Mexico. Zeihan notes how the Trump admin has totally changed its tune on Mexico from the campaign and early days but now sees Mexico as a key partner placing US and Mexican relations on their best footing ever.
--Argentina has the 2nd best geography for economic development next to the US, no real neighbor thrreats and pretty good demographics.
--France has always positioned itself in Europe to not be so dependent on the US Order in their uniquely French manner. They source most of their energy from North Africa and their industrial policy was always leary of relying upon the US market. Coupled decent demographics for Europe, strong agriculture sector and its rival Germany heading for a rough patch France should shine.
--Turkey used to rule the Eastern Mediterranean when it was the Ottoman Empire but with the US withdrawing from the Order (and policing the Med) and Russia withering away from checking Turkey in the West Turkey is free expand back into their old imperial stomping grounds. Look for Turkey to resume its historical role of keeping the Middle East orderly
Profile Image for Brahm.
460 reviews50 followers
March 15, 2021
In Disunited Nations, Zeihan is typically engaging and provocative and snarky, the book is a quick read and is quite interesting.

Zeihan's thesis is that America is pulling back from its role as World Police, a role he described in-depth in The Accidental Superpower (my review - tl;dr we have the US of A to thank for safety on the high seas which enables all safe trade). Once the World Police hang up their hats, the world descends into various levels of chaos as the engine of globalization stalls. Food security, resource security, personal security all become uncertain, except for the Yanks, who are happy at home in their capitalist paradise full of navigable rivers.

I have problems with this book.

1. It's a prediction book. At the best of times these have to be read with a grain of salt, but predicting long-term geopolitical trends 30 years out introduces some wide error bars.

2. As a more critical reviewer points out, Zeihan focuses almost exclusively on geography (and to some degree, population demographics). The way I see it, he's looking at a Risk pieces on a Settlers of Catan board and moving them about ("oohhh, China needs more wheat"), but he's not acknowledging the chance introduced by the dice, or the culture and politics of the players. Or even the possibility of working together collaboratively (a la Pandemic, to continue the board game comparison).

3. There are so many cascading series of future events and "what ifs" that I can't help but think this is closer to advanced fortune telling than any legitimate predictions. He has all the knowledge to make it seem real and plausible. And in a way, it's kind of scary Zeihan has a big audience in political, institutional and military audiences, as the back jacket claims.

4. Big focus on oil. So a major blind spot for this prediction book would be a resurgence of cheap nuclear (or other clean) energy, as Where Is My Flying Car? advocates.

Maybe I am totally naive or overly optimistic (as Zeihan notes, almost everyone alive today has never lived through a World War) but there are so many global interdependencies, linkages and complexities that I just can't envision the global breakdown Zeihan sees. I suppose like my disdain for a lot of "pop science" books, this is "pop politics" but one can enjoy it without taking it too seriously.
Profile Image for Myles.
377 reviews
March 7, 2023
Although this book is only a few months old, world events seem to have raced ahead of its premise: that the disengagement of America will cause greater hardship to America’s allies and competitors than to America itself.

If you read headlines (and who doesn’t) you’d quickly learn that the opposite is true: America’s hegemony is threatened more by its own intransigence than by anything anybody could have dreamed up for it.

If anything, the current international public health emergency has demonstrated that the American republic was designed to fail from the beginning.


Because it valued liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Krispy Kreme Donuts?) over cooperation, consensus, and compromise.

This book gives “report cards” on America’s major competitors and the forecasts are pretty grim. China will implode. Russia will fizzle out. Germany has had its day and its green plans are a sham. In spite of its demographic cul de sac, Japan will assume its rightful place among the Asian tigers.

N. Korean, Iranian, Indian, Pakistanian and Israeli nuclear programs? Shrug.

Nowhere in this global strategic analysis does one find the role of ocean acidification, ocean rise, the deterioration of the ice caps, the decline of the permafrost, or the seemingly unstoppable rises in CO-2 emissions.

The book reads more like a prep book for a presidential debate than a sober analysis of who wins, who loses, and why.

There is no analysis on the concentration of wealth, or the scale of international crime, the offshoring of wealth, or the grip of transnational corporations.

Don’t black lives matter? Not in this book.

Where in this equation are data and processing power and the integrity of electronic networks? And where do artificial intelligence and CRISPR fit in?

Nowhere in plain sight.

About a year ago I read Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. If you want to wake up frightened, that is a better place to start.

Before I read this book I was skeptical that nations standing alone will have a great impact on global trends. I am still of that opinion.
Profile Image for David.
Author 26 books166 followers
June 11, 2020
Elements of this book are wildly improbable (collapse of Germany, Russia, and China) but other parts, the continued rise of America and the new winners (Japan, Turkey, France, and Argentina) seem reasonable.

The extremes of the author's position, and their bitter progressivism (how could this have happened and those evil MAGA folk), is sometimes difficult to swallow. On the whole, however, the book takes a good, hard, and believable look at the next ten to twenty years. That look, on the whole, seem almost probable. The analysis, in the present political climate, of China see almost possible. Whatever does happen the rise of China appears on the wane. The country may be coming in for a very hard landing. What will happen with Japan when China retreats into chaos is anyone's guess.

On the whole, this is an excellent book about what the world might look like without America front and center on the world stage.

A must-read book! One of the top ten books for 2020.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
181 reviews9 followers
October 4, 2022
Are you losing sleep worrying about Vladimir Putin's intentions concerning Russian military expansion? How about Xi Jinping's efforts to turn the South China Sea into a parking lot? Peter Zeihan says forget about it; Russia and China are demographic and economic time bombs which are likely to disappear as political entities in the next decade. He's kind of sketchy about what may become of their nuclear arsenals, but Zeihan is a Big Picture guy and the details will work themselves out.

It is easy to criticize Zeihan for his breezy narrative, filled with oversimplifications and hyperboles, on the future of the world. He is a fortune teller whose tools of the trade are not tea leaves or tarot cards, but population structure charts and petroleum production statistics. His style will keep the reader entertained and turning pages to see what else he has to say.

His primary contention is that the US is tired of babysitting the rest of the world, and will soon pull back its security agreements and trade protections that have created seven decades of unprecedented wealth generation for the world as a whole, leaving most countries to fend for themselves. This will lead to new trade patterns and the revisiting of traditional political, economic and ethnic hostilities, that the US will be uninterested in defusing. Once the Americans withdraw behind their oceanic boundaries and border walls, the rest of the world will be left with a Hobbesian free for all, vying for food and energy resources. Zeihan tells us who the winners and losers will be in this competition and some of his predictions are likely to surprise you.

Personally, I think that there are enough people in the world who realize the benefits of global engagement, and that they will work together to prevent Zeihan's dystopian predictions. However, I have to admit that there is a constant flow of information that suggests I may be wrong.
Profile Image for mwr.
286 reviews8 followers
August 28, 2021
I don't buy it.

Zeihan offers the same cause, without distinction, as explanation for disparate outcomes. Japan's difficult geography gave it "no choice but to optimize for high value add use of technology." Other nations, facing difficult geography fail to develop because of their difficult geography. (yes, I'm eliding some nuances but, I think, none relevant).

I'll buy that geography will winnow down the possibilities for any nation. But, if different people facing the same problem will respond differently, then geography itself can't be the causal agent for those differences. There must be something else, the national character, the wheel of fortune, who knows. The book doesn't speak to this cause. This would be fine if it was up front about that and gave us a set of geographically and demographically determined possibilities. But, it presents itself as giving the cause and having the answers.
Profile Image for Moritz Mueller-Freitag.
81 reviews9 followers
July 19, 2020
A new age of American isolationism dawns. After seven decades, the US is giving up its role as the world’s policeman and is turning inward. America is belatedly realizing that its former foe, the Soviet Union, hasn’t been replaced by another competing superpower, making the American-led postwar alliance obsolete. Moreover, the US is now a self-sufficient nation, insulated geographically, food and energy independent (thanks to shale oil), and exhausted after two decades of fighting in the Middle East. The geopolitical consequences will be grim: American strategic commitments will wither, sea lanes will no longer be safe, global trade will break down, and old geopolitical conflicts will re-emerge. China and Russia will collapse. Even a European war isn’t out of the question. Or so the author claims.

Peter Zeihan envisions a world that will soon dissolve into a Hobbesian nightmare of war and disorder, with a silver lining for American readers: “The world is indeed going to hell, but the Americans are going to sit this one out.” The book is structured as a series of scorecards in which Zeihan evaluates the futures of major countries along four dimensions: geography, demographics, agricultural capacity, and energy access. Echoing Guns, Germs and Steel, his core thesis is that geography has an outsized influence on a country’s development, and he makes his argument with seductively persuasive prose and great punchlines like “You want your country to be crunchy on the outside, but gooey in the middle.” Zeihan’s gift for storytelling and our current geopolitical tensions make Disunited Nations an engaging, highly informative and horizon-expanding read.

Unfortunately, the book suffers from several shortcomings and I was frankly surprised that none of the aforementioned podcasts dug into them. Zeihan often plays fast and loose with history, which leads to a rather oversimplified, deterministic explanation of world events. He rightly points out that geography still matters in our digital world but he jumps to conclusions by treating geography as destiny. Geographical forces create constraints rather than hard rules, which leaves plenty of room for surprising developments. Having geography on your side doesn’t mean you will inevitably succeed, as Argentina has taught us over the past century. And geographic isolation doesn’t mean that America will automatically avoid chaos, as Zeihan predicts it will. Oceans can’t protect you against foreign electoral interference or weapons of mass destruction.

Zeihan’s narrative is propelled by the notion that history is bound by environmental deterministic laws and therefore predictable. It is anything but, especially in a world as chaotic as ours. So many forces are at work in geopolitics and their interactions are so complex that even small changes produce huge differences in outcomes. Ignoring this “butterfly effect” makes the triumphalist tone and the air of inevitability of Zeihan’s forecasts really problematic. His predictions are couched in impressive storytelling but don’t come with time frames, probabilities, or verifiable sources. He provides us with no footnotes or references. It’s also no coincidence that his books target a primarily business-oriented audience that is ill-equipped and time poor to fact-check his geopolitical predictions.

There’s another problem with Zeihan’s framework. Important variables and macro trends are completely absent from his analysis and modeling. He fails to discuss climate change and its potential for wars and mass migration. He assumes that countries and the politicians who run them act rationally, at least most of the time. He otherwise ignores the human factor and the role of culture in national development. He glosses over the importance of economic and political institutions, which can be inclusive or extractive. He doesn’t give sufficient weight to nuclear proliferation, cyber warfare, and the emergence of “AI nationalism.” He barely mentions India and Africa. He also doesn’t acknowledge the role of chance or black swan events (remember, no one predicted the history-altering revolutions of 1989!). These omissions––and I’m sure there are more––greatly undermine his projections.

Zeihan is the polar opposite of what Philip Tetlock calls a “superforecaster” who is cautious, humble, and nondeterministic. His condescending, Americentric rhetoric can be incredibly irritating, especially to international readers. He sometimes reminds you of the man with only a hammer, to whom every problem looks like a nail. To be clear, Zeihan deserves full credit for correctly predicting some of the first-order consequences of America’s more insular and protectionist stance, but it’s the second, third and fourth-order consequences that are going to move the needle (for example, what if China doesn’t collapse and becomes the global foe that forces the US to look outward again?). Forecasting second or third-order effects on the world stage is an exercise in pure conjecture and it might take decades for us to find out whether Zeihan hit the nail on the head or missed the mark completely.

All of the above would suggest that you should stay away from this book, but I actually don’t think you should. Even if you don’t agree with the specifics of Zeihan’s forecasts and conclusions, you’ll still derive a lot of value from the context and forward-looking statements he provides. Zeihan’s prediction of American disengagement predates the Trump era and he has been vindicated by the general direction of trends, as we’ve seen with across-the-board renegotiation of all major trade agreements and the abandonment of landmark multilateral commitments like the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Paris Climate Accords. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated these trends by laying bare the absence of US leadership in the world. More importantly, Zeihan is correct in reminding us that the forces which shape American foreign policy are larger than Trump. The global order was already looking wobbly under Obama. Globalization was already in trouble before the Sino-American trade war and the outbreak of COVID-19. So don’t expect a rapid turnaround in American foreign policy in case the Dems win the 2020 election.

In my eyes, Disunited Nations is best read as a warning sign of things to come if—and that’s one of the big ifs—middle powers like Germany, France or Japan fail to step up and do more of the heavy lifting in security matters. Germany in particular is at risk of being smashed by the end of the American-led global order. Zeihan’s characterization of Germany as an export-dependent gerontocracy and security free-rider without a functional army is sadly not altogether wrong. Germany hasn’t contributed its fair share to the NATO budget in years and thereby failed to do its part in assisting America in keeping the global order going. The coming geostrategic tensions will hopefully shake up politicians all over Europe and make them realize that the postwar global order is worth saving, even with temporary non-participation by the Americans. Inertia might actually prove helpful. The EU has a long history of just muddling through, which buys us some time for a much needed course correction. The same goes for countries like China whose imminent meltdown Zeihan has been predicting since 2005. The world might be fragmenting at every level but we haven’t yet reached a point of no return with regard to Zeihan’s nightmare scenario of global disorder. Let’s just hope someone hands a copy of this book to Merkel and Macron.
Profile Image for Rudyard L..
111 reviews286 followers
September 7, 2020
Enough of this book was absolutely brilliant to offset the parts that were idiotic.

For the bad, Zeihan likes to look at objective variables, namely demographics and geography to make his predictions, ignoring subjective variables like culture or history. This can result in some very silly results. For example, he posits Argentina will be a great power due to its excellent geography. He ignores, however, that these variables have always been there and the Argentines, due to their social structure, have blown it every single time, with no reason for them to change this time.

Similarly, will the US be able to emotionally leave Europe, an area with which it has immense kinship and in which the native Europeans have no military ability or will? Wouldn’t it be more plausible the US just redefines the relationship so the Europeans pay more “tribute” for their defense or the Europeans are made to have larger military.

Similarly, his reasoning for the collapse of China is solid, except the Chinese government is currently building the BRI to bypass their dependency on oceanic trade for resources. Similarly, the very aggressive Chinese leadership might realize that if they are going down, they’ll take the whole region with them in an insane gamble.

Similarly, his lack of any mention of India is really bizarre.

The rest of his analysis is brilliant. Zeihan is very far seeing, capable of seeing several steps ahead of the game. He is capable of seeing beyond the screen of the American dominated social order. A lot of the stuff he talks about is stuff that makes perfect sense but you never would have thought of. Most people who study politics ignore that massive demographic and political shifts are the norm in history, not the exception, not here. This is dramatic telling of the dark times to come. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is studying the future or the world.
45 reviews
April 13, 2020
Both depressing and uplifting, it's Zeihan continuing the story of our future, while our future works doubletime to catch up. As he says, this book is coming out years ahead of when he thought it would because events are accelerating and catching up with what he's been talking about.

And that was before COVID-19.

This book, obviously, doesn't mention our latest viral scourge. He throws down a LOT of markers for the next decade, things like:

- war between Germany and Russia.
- something that looks an awful lot like war in the Middle East and the US not getting deeply involved.
- the breakup of China (something he says will happen well before the decade is out.

Most of this looks like madness, but you can see the early movements towards these things in the news. The analysis of why is completely different, which is fascinating. Reading a Zeihan book almost feels like joining a secret society: not only do you suddenly know what's coming next, you have what appears to be a peek behind the curtain.

If you're a geography junky, if you believe that the arrangement of a nation's coastlines, plains, rivers, and mountains define its destiny, you'll love this book. I cold be wrong, but this one feels more geography-focused than his previous books.

Is he right? I kinda hope not. As much as his vision of the near future is very much America Über Alles, it's still a world riven by violence in which the great dreams of '89 die. But I also recognize that I don't have a good argument for why not. If things don't work out largely as Zeihan lays out, I'll be forced to seriously reconsider by understanding of the world (again).

We'll know soon enough.
2 reviews1 follower
October 4, 2021
Read it for fun, not as a source

Hi this is Rossana Currie. A little repetitive from his videos and earlier books. As an economist, I like economical analysis that include geography which is pretty rare in spite of being an important parameter to analyze…. But it is not the only one ( ever heard about climate change and tech development that can transform a country with Netherlands weather into an exploding food producer?). As a Latin immigrant I am aware of the growing importance of the mobs taking control of complete areas of different countries at the same time we created here at home a booming market for drugs, human organs, etc with help of our own mafia, Pharma, Medical business and in addition our gun industry exporters are filling these countries with arms. But the author never even consider a) Mexico is now our most important external trader in both directions and it has now roads and some cities under mob control b) the explosive migratory patterns that those levels of insecurity creates in any country. Pecata minuta? Maybe… Anyway, I also like his general sarcasm to say things, but his tone and lack of data references makes the book a written chat, so don’t take it too seriously. He is smart, funny and terribly arrogant… Just enjoy the ride.
Profile Image for Maukan.
43 reviews23 followers
November 28, 2022
There are always three things you can count on when reading a Peter Zeihan book. 1. At some point you will find yourself chuckling. 2. The book will be packed to the gills with economic information. 3. He will radiate a poignant level of smugness. You can tell Zeihan has a passion when it comes to all things geo politics that is practically bursting out of him. I can see him talk for hours over obscure countries economic prospects in such a passionate way that you find yourself glued to the conversation despite not even knowing where the country even is on a map. I always enjoy his books but that doesn't mean I agree in fact I am not even sure what to think reading his thoughts.

Zeihan's whole premise rests on the United States detracting from global affairs in a way that breaks down global shipping lanes, global peace and allows a chaos to emerge which fractures supply chains and throws countries into all out desperation. The premise is that since the end of World War II, the US has been a global protector of order to ensure stability but in return for that stability, no agreeing country can partner with the soviet union. As the cold war ended, the US population finds itself wondering more and more why the country is spending trillions in the middle east when its own countries infrastructure is falling apart. This is an ever more popular position with voters on both sides of the aisle. Zeihan predicts the US will withdraw from these affairs and leave the rest of the world to itself which well create global armageddon.

I am not sure on what timeline he thinks this is going to happen, he mentions "suddenly" quite often but I also do not know what "suddenly" can mean in terms of shifts of power in countries? Right now the US after the shale revolution is a leader in exporter of oil but that has not stopped Biden from graveling to Saudis. I wonder what Zeihan would say to this? From his logic, the whole point of US involvement in the middle east was (and still is) to ensure oil is accessible at a desirable price. Not only that but the US has given over 80 billion to Ukraine for its ongoing war against Russia. Maybe he's talking on a much longer timeline than what I mention. I can also imagine that any candidate running in 2024 can make a statement like "We spent {insert number here} on the Ukraine/Russia war instead of you". I believe that will be an increasingly popular position as inflation rages on, as gas prices are over $4 and food prices attack the wallets of citizens globally. It does set the stage for a revolt of the status quo, still I think it's going to take decade(s) for that to happen. There are elements where this scenario plays out, will just have to see what happens.

One of things that makes Zeihan's thoughts so interesting is that he takes one premise and then stacks 50 outcomes on top of each one like a game of Jenga. Where each premise rests on top of the other which makes for an entertaining read but any decision tree that goes 50 decisions deep is bound to be incorrect. If one of the underlying premises are wrong then the whole thing falls apart. When you're talking about global geo politics, you're bound to have black swans that shift possibilities that you never thought would occur. This is why it can be hard to take some predictions he makes seriously but I do not look at the books value deriving from being 100% accurate not even 50% accurate. Zeihan does one thing extremely well, he teaches you how to think from a geopolitical viewpoint, this does not imply his thinking is right more so it allows you to take a perspective you had not thought of previously. This is immensely valuable, you do not read books because you hope to remember every fact from every book, you read books because they teach you how to think, how to ask questions and when to reject conventional norms.

For me Zeihan's book does exactly that, a fun read that pushes me to adopt new viewpoints and for that I had a blast reading it. 4 stars, you could give it 5 and I would not complain.
Profile Image for Luc.
3 reviews2 followers
April 20, 2020
Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about geopolitics so read this review with a grain of salt.

A very entertaining book. The author is obviously very knowledgeable about geopolitics. His writing style makes is a very fun read as it feels like you are discussing fascinating topics with a friend at a bar. I was particularly entertained by the chapters that cover different countries and how they will fare in the new world order. They were fascinating discussions of how a country’s geography and history molds its future.

However, there are a few things that are lacking in this book:

1 - Author seems to completely ignore climate change and the impact it will have in geopolitics over the next decades.

2 - Similarly, the author seems to undermine the role of cyber warfare. At times, this makes the book feel like it was written 20 years ago when war could only be fought in the physical world. This has changed. Russia might not be able to engage in an all out old school war with the United States but if they can shut down the US power grid anonymously, they can do a lot of harm without big aircraft carriers in the sea.

3 - Similarly, biological weapons are barely mentioned. Covid-19 is just a stark reminder that no matter how many aircraft carriers you have, a biological weapon can hurt you. Just look at what is happening to the French’s Charles De Gaulle carrier this week. Could a whole carrier be taken down by infecting a couple of crew members with a highly contagious man made disease?

4 - The author does not list his sources. For a book with so much “knowledge”, I would expect a big section in the back with sources. But none can be found. So the author is asking you to just trust him and his opinions. I’m usually very skeptical of such books.

5 - Finally, most of the book is based on an assumption that is taken a bit to its extreme: that the world under a new order where the US is no longer playing the police will descend into chaos and that global trade will come to an almost halt as a result. While it’s clear that the US is withdrawing from global leadership, it does not necessarily mean that it will turn our oceans into war zones as a lot of the book seems to suggest. Is a global financial system not enough of an incentive for countries to keep trading without resorting to force ?

Regardless, this was an interesting read and I would recommend the book to anyone. It will definitely challenge some of your views, make you think, and the author is quite convincing. Who knows? Maybe he turns out to be right. It does not hurt to have been exposed to his vision of the future while learning a lot about geopolitics.
Profile Image for Jason Roberson.
106 reviews
August 2, 2020
Excellent country-by-country overview of the coming disorder era, post American pro-bono global security. The book doesn't have particularly great writing, but the concepts and historical references are brilliant.

Some excerpts for my own future reference:

When the credit Tabs are on, and they usually are, the money flow enables companies to ignore pesky things like productivity, market forces and input costs. Just take out another loan to cover cost and expand, expand, expand. Second, since these firms credit access means they view the issue of cost as largely irrelevant, they can compete in any market on price. The Chinese can-and do-buy high and sell low because efficiency is secondary to the political needs of the party (such as maintaining high employment levels).

Chinese GDP Has expanded by a factor of 4.5 since 2000, but Chinese credit has expanded by a factor of 24. Total debt in China has ballooned to more than triple the size of the entire economy. According to Citigroup, some 80% of freshly issued private Credit in 2018 took place in China.

Cheap financing paired with global access enabled the Chinese to undercut almost everyone. A significant amount of the world's industrial hollowing-out can be laid at the feet of China’s hyper-manufacturing in the 1990s.

All new births in China are now to the thin generation born under One-Child, whose median age increases from 37 in 2015 to 45 in 2040. In comparison, the U.S. ages pretty gracefully: from 37.6 to 40.6. As soon as 2030, China will have four pensioners for every two taxpayers for every one child.

1996: 42% of Chinese lived in extreme poverty. Two decades later, that figure was 0.7%

America’s Midwest is a place apart: The Greater Mississippi system includes over 13,000 miles of naturally navigable, interconnected waterways-more than the combined total of ALL the world’s non-American internal river systems. Additionally, they almost perfectly overlap the largest piece of arable, flat, temperate-zone under a single political authority in the world.

Russia’s labor shortages have proved it cannot both develop new military technology and produce them in sufficient quantities. Resulting in Moscow selling advanced weapons to China and then using the proceeds to fund the manufacture of its own. Instead, the Chinese did what they’ve done with everyone else: buy the floor model, reverse engineer it, engage in some light tech-theft, and start domestic production of whatever they can figure out.

Russia is the strongest it's been since before the Soviet collapse. It has established deep energy dependencies in countries as far west as Germany and Italy, it has troops occupying pieces of Ukraine and Georgia, and it regularly interferes in the internal political affairs of the entire NATO alliance without fear of retribution.

Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) was one of the ayatollah’s earliest allies. During the French colonial period, Paris found the SAR to be a bit too spunky. The French solution was to elevate the Alawite minority to leadership. As the Alawites had often been the target of Sunni Arab crackdowns, the Alawites took to the role with violent enthusiasm. When the French left, the Alawites remained in charge, turning Syria into the most repressive county in a repressive region. The ruling Assad family seized upon the rise of the Iranian ayatollahs to secure an ally. As the Iranians love a good sectarian play, it was an easy alliance.

One big war later, the Ottoman Empire was on history’s ash heap. The British left Arabia as quickly as they arrived. The tribal Saudis immediately rebranded themselves the House of Saud., while their in-laws, the Wahhabis, gained control of the Muslim world’s Vatican City. Modern Saudi Arabia emerged from the Ottoman Empire’s wreckage in 1932… and six years later some Americans poking around in the new Kingdom discovered oil.

The hajj pilgrimage is a major boon for the Saudi economy. Religious tourism in general employs nearly 1 million people and attracts 17 million visitors annually. Conversely, in the U.S. Disney World alone draws 55 million people per year, yet employs fewer than 70,000 people.

Regardless of what the Americans thought of Saudi greed or Wahhabi extremism, the Americans had no choice but to ally with one of the world’s least functional and most repressive regimes. Saudi oil powered global growth, enabled global trade, solidified the American alliance, granted American security.

Since the Ottomans were a river-and-land empire, none of the new maritime technologies helped them one iota. The rise of the deep-water powers gutted the Turks’ trade-based income while also presenting the Turks with new threats.

The split between those with the money to carve a future out of Brazil and everyone else has dominated the country's economics and politics since the very beginning of the colonial effort three centuries ago. Add the extreme cost of infrastructure and living expenses in Brazil’s swarming-like-ants coastal cities, and Brazil suffers some of the world’s most extreme economic inequality.

Of Brazil’s seven former presidents since democratization in 1985, two have been impeached, two have been imprisoned, and two more remain under investigation.

In a world degrading into energy shortages, physical insecurity, and demographic collapses, Argentina boasts the resources, land, rivers, geographic structure to make the most of an age of Disorder.

The U.S. is not a trading nation, but all its current competitors are. Fully 100% of trade in Asia uses oceanic shipping, as does over 95% of Europe-Asia trade and 70% of global oil trade. In contrast, less than half of total American trade (less than 8% of American GDP) uses the ocean. Targeted disruptions do not only make a great deal of mercantile sense, but they also make would-be trading nations strategically dependent upon American goodwill even if they are not U.S. allies.
Profile Image for Fraser Kinnear.
774 reviews37 followers
July 12, 2020
Zeihan starts from the premise that the United States is disengaging from the post-war order that they established (free trade and global standards, protection of ocean trade routes and merchant marine activities, etc.), and speculates on the futures of ten countries from their current macro-economic and geopolitical positions.

What are these positions? Zeihan has a very simple formula, evaluating if a country has:
1. Viable home territories with usable lands and defensible borders
2. A reliable food supply
3. A sustainable population structure
4. Access to a sustainable mix of energy inputs

Most countries appear to be losers. The starkest driver being lack of a sustainable population structure, which Zeihan argues has condemned China, Russia, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and many others (mostly European) that he doesn’t bother to profile. The United States, France, and Argentina appear to be more sustainable on this front, although they too are greying.

Zeihan has particular concern regarding China, and quotes grave statistics about their future. For example, over the past 20 years, Chinese GDP has grown 4.5x, while their debt has grown 24x. 75% of the value of new loans in China today go entirely towards paying debt service on existing loans, and most of that debt is short term. By late 2016, the majority of residences sold in China were for investment, and not first home purchases, resulting in 25% of all urban housing in China being unoccupied. Due to their greying population (by 2050, 1/3 of the entire population will be over 60 years old, i.e., past retirement age), Zeihan asks who will drive the future growth to absorb that debt? China has other ominous demographic problems, beyond simple greying. There’s a 10% imbalance between men and women born after 1979, which has resulted in 41 million men (the population of California) under the age of 40 who will never marry. What happens to these frustrated young men?

All that said, there have been naysayers before, and everyone who has bet against China has lost. Being too soon is so often the same as being wrong.

In contrast to China, Zeihan holds some surprisingly contrarian views about Japan. I think the common conception of Japan is, following it’s Lost Decade (more like a lost two decades now), and their leadership in demographic aging, Japan is a “has been”. Japan further has very few resources (only ~1/6 of the land across Japan’s 7,000 islands are inhabitable), and is heavily reliant upon global trade for subsistence. Zeihan, however, argues that they have a robust portfolio of energy inputs, and almost contradicts himself by his confidence in their ability to maintain their trade networks for food and energy. Part of this confidence comes from Japan’s industrial policy of outsourcing most manufacturing to the end markets, and not rely upon their own population. This has the added benefit of returning hard currency to their own economy, which continues to lose steam from its shrinking worker base.

One fascinating history lesson buried in all of this: the Plaza Accord, wherein the US forced Japan and Germany to stop manipulating the value of their currency, or else the US would stop providing the military support that was so much more necessary at prior to the Cold War’s winding down.

Zeihan’s chapter on Russia is as predictably depressing as one might imagine. An example statistic: “The average of death among Russian men is probably under 60.”

We understand Germany today to be the great European power, but looks dire under the scrutiny of Zeihan’s formula. Germany’s economic tear of the past 20 years, Zeihan argues, is in part thanks to its missing the generation who would have otherwise been entering into retirement (they were lost in WWII). This comes with a demographic hangover, however, as now Germany’s population is facing a similar demographic cliff as China and Japan, because their baby boomer generation had very low birthrates. By 2030, “the generation entering the the work force will be less than half the size of the generation retiring.”

Because Germany and Russia are facing the same pressures for decline, Zeihan fears conflict arising between them, perhaps over the states that sit between them. I suppose we have already started seeing this, with Russia and the Ukraine. But if German aggression, or conflict between the two, sounds ridiculous, Zeihan’s message is simply that history isn’t over.

Zeihan’s bullish position on France seems most formulaic in his survey. They tick his four boxes, so they’ll be fine. He doesn’t seem interested in addressing the political upheaval and inability to reform, but perhaps that’s because he just expects the problem will eventually resolve itself?

By the middle-east countries, Zeihan becomes more hesitant to make predictions. There are some fascinating historical facts (e.g., Iran is only on it’s seventh governing system since the rise of the Achaemenid Empire 2,600 years ago), but the Zeihan formula ceases to make predictions about the future. In other words, Zeihan seems to admit that politics and players oftentimes matter.

These chapters are full of dark, bleak predictions. To pick just one: Zeihan believes that Syria can never be made whole, due to their reaching an end to unsustainable treatment of their resources (oil) and growing beyond their means (water). “Syria will not, will never recover”.

Brazil’s great curse, that it’s “the country of the future, and always will be” continues to apply. Zeihan argues that their geography (the Great Escarpment) and climate (hot, tropical) prevents any inland development (Brazilian infrastructure costs are 4x that of a flat, arable, temperate territory). And the inequality! The six (6!) wealthiest Brazilians own as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the 213 million population. All of these contribute to making Brazil enormously reliant on external capital and export demand, both of which Zeiahn predicts to recede in the coming years.

In contrast to Brazil, Zeihan is bullish on their neighbor, Argentina. Similar to France, Zeihan rests his confidence on his formula, and ignores recent political / economic circumstances, like Argentina’s looming sovereign defaults.

Profile Image for Camilla.
1,360 reviews7 followers
August 26, 2020
So this was a strange book. Not what I was expecting at all, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The author uses his very down-to-earth writing to assess a dozen countries in the world, and sort of analyze where the global powers will come from and which nations will not be in a position to seize power for a few decades and why. He makes conjectures as to who America's closest allies will become, who to watch out for, and why he thinks that is the case. I don't think I agree with him on most of his conclusions, largely because I can't really get behind his reasons for thinking the way he does. He doesn't come across as someone who speaks from a breadth of knowledge behind every country he discusses (that's not to say that he didn't know plenty, just that he wasn't an expert on any of them), so it feels like his analysis is superficial. I did enjoy his summary of Saudi Arabia and his hopeful projections for America's future. I hope most of what he projects do not come to be, but I do like when people are hopeful for the future of this country, especially when they have a thorough understanding of our current events.
Profile Image for Dmitry.
87 reviews
July 26, 2020
Oh, wow. The world where America does not care about maintaining peace and order and what it means for everyone else. Mr. Zeihan developed a very detailed and comprehensive analysis of what comes next. It is hard to put the book down, as the author goes through country after country looking at their borders, demographics, energy and food supply, and what their options are once America pulls out. The scenario seems very plausible, but I would think that it is hardly the only possible course of development. The only drawback of the book is that it fails to consider any alternatives.

Anyways, grab some popcorn and your favorite drink, find a quiet corner in your house, and prepare to travel the world that will never be the same again!
Profile Image for Harshan Ramadass.
55 reviews1 follower
October 10, 2021
No idea where I’ll apply what I learned, but excerpts from the book will make for great barstool conversations! Breezy and clever but likely incomplete. Incomplete because there’s no mention of climate change, not even once. The idea is the US built a world order after WW2. This world order is unraveling because of American unwillingness to lead anymore. The author runs fascinating analyses of key countries that likely will play different roles in this chaotic post American world. Surprisingly, China and Germany get failing grades. Reasons: good ol geography, their neighbours and the inexorable decline of their working age populations. Super entertaining reading.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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