It’s finally arrived!
I’m happy to announce that The Absent Superpower: The Shale Revolution and a World Without America is finally in print and in stock. Here is a link to the purchase page on Zeihan.com. We will have a digital version ready by February 1st. Additionally, book format issues limit me in terms of graphics capacity to only black & white images but many of the topics I write about are in screaming color, so here is the map room for The Absent Superpower.
Which brings me to my next announcement: the Zeihan on Geopolitics website has had a face lift for the New Year. We’ll be populating it with more material during the next few weeks, particularly as the Know Your World section expands. Feel free to explore.
And if all that wasn’t tease enough, in lieu of a New Year’s newsletter, we’ve instead opted to share the introduction for The Absent Superpower…
The Journey to The Absent Superpower
EVERYTHING IS CHAOS!
At least, that’s what it seems like every time you turn on your TV, radio, computer, or smart phone.
The European Union is falling apart, Syria is in meltdown, cybercrime is an hourly occurrence, the Chinese economy is gyrating wildly, Russia is on the march, the election of Donald Trump has Americans of all political stripes wondering what comes next, and the Kardashians get more press time than Congress. It’s enough to give anyone a panic attack.
Well, not quite anyone. Unlike the average person, all this craziness puts me in my happy place. Where most see the world turning itself upside down and inside out, I see a long-overdue shift in the global order. New trends emerging. New possibilities unfolding. For me, change is good for business.
That’s because my job is a bit…different than the standard. You see, I’m a geopolitical strategist. That’s a fancy way of saying I help organizations understand what challenges and opportunities they will be grappling with across the world in the years to come. As such I’m sort of a professional apprentice, rarely a master of any particular craft but needing to be able to hold my own in conversations about manufacturing and transport and health care and finance and agriculture and metals and electricity and education and defense and such. Preferably without pissing off anyone whose living is based off of manufacturing or transport or health care or finance or agriculture or metals or electricity or education or defense.
In many ways those conversations make me who I am. From the Air Force to the Pickle Packers, every interaction gives me a good hard view of the world, yet each of these interactions originates from a radically different perspective. Combine all those angles and interactions and perspectives and the unique information that comes from them with my private intelligence experience, and I’m granted the privilege of seeing something approximating the full picture — how the world’s myriad pieces interlock — and catch some telling future glimpses to boot. More than anything else, what I sell is context.
That picture and those glimpses and that context formed the bones of my first book, The Accidental Superpower, which was published in November 2014. In Accidental I made the case that the world we knew was at a moment of change: The Americans who had created, nurtured, enabled, maintained and protected the post-WWII global order were losing interest. As they stepped back the world we know was about to fall to pieces.
At any time in history such a shift would have had monumental consequences, but the American retrenchment is but one of three massive shifts in the global the order. The second is the rapid greying of the entire global population. Fewer people of working age translates directly into anemic, decaying economies — enervating global trade just as the Americans stop guaranteeing it. Third and finally, the American shale revolution has changed the mechanics — if not yet the mood — of how the Americans interact with the energy sector. Surging petroleum output within the Lower 48 is pushing North America toward outright oil independence; in the past decade the total continental shortfall has narrowed from roughly 10 million barrels of oil per day (mbpd) to about 2mbpd.
In the two years since Accidental published, I’ve had ample opportunity to re-examine every aspect of my work — some of my critics have been (over) eager to assist in such endeavors — and I fear that I may have been off the mark on a couple of points.
First, the American shale sector has matured far faster and more holistically than I could have ever expected.
Despite a price crash in oil markets, despite ongoing opposition to shale among a far from insignificant portion of the population, despite broad scale ignorance about what shale is and what shale is not, shale has already overhauled American energy.
In 2006 total American oil production had dropped to 8.3mbpd while demand was touching 20.7mpbd, forcing the United States to import 12.4mpbd, more than Japan and China and Germany combined. By 2016 U.S. oil output had breached 15mbpd. Factor in the Canadians and Mexicans, and total American imports of non-North American oil had plunged to about 2mbpd — and that in the teeth of an oil price war. And that’s just oil specifically. Take a more comprehensive view and include everything from bunker fuel to propane, and the continent is less than 0.8mbpd from being a net energy exporter.
The end of American dependence upon extra-continental energy sources does more than sever the largest of the remaining ties that bind America’s fate to the wider world, it sets into motion a veritable cavalcade of trends: the re-industrialization of the United States, the accelerated breakdown of the global order, and a series of wide-ranging military conflicts that will shape the next two decades.
This book’s opening section contains the long and the short of this Shale New World, the greatest evolution of the American industrial space since at least 1970. For the financiers and accountants and policy wonks out there, this was written with your geeky brains specifically in mind.
Second, the isolationist trickle I detected in American politics has deepened and expanded into a raging river. Of the two dozen men and women who entered the 2016 presidential race, only one — Ohio Governor John Kasich — advocated for a continuation of America’s role in maintaining the global security and trade order that the Americans installed and have maintained since 1945. The most anti-trade candidate on the right won his party’s nomination, while the most anti-trade candidate on the left finished a close second in the Democratic primaries to the Clinton political machine. Last night (now President) Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton met in New York to debate economic policy. What struck me as self-gratifying and horrifying in equal measure was that their core disagreement on trade issues wasn’t whether trade was good or bad for the United States, but how much to pare it back and which reasons for paring cut it the most with the electorate. (The pair of them obviously disagreed — colorfully, vehemently and often — on other issues.)
The world has had seven decades to become inured to a world in which the Americans do the heavy lifting to maintain a system that economically benefits all. The world has had three decades to become inured to a world in which the Americans do not expect anything of substance in return. As the Americans back away, very few players have any inkling of how to operate in a world where markets are not open, transport is not safe, and energy cannot be secured easily.
The stage is set for a global tailspin of epic proportions. Just as the global economy tips into deflation, just as global energy is becoming dangerous, just as global demographics catastrophically reduce global consumption, just as the world really needs the Americans to be engaged, the United States will be…absent. We stand on the very edge of the Disorder.
The Disorder’s defining characteristic is, well, its lack of order. Remove the comfortable, smothering American presence in the world and the rest of humanity has to look out for its own interests. As many of those interests clash, expect devolutions that are deeply-felt and disastrous in equal measure. Part II breaks down the breakdown. I’m equally proud and terrified to report that some of the darker shades in Accidental are happening sooner rather than later. For generals — armchair or otherwise — who prefer jumping directly into the fight, Part II is what you’re after.
In the final section we will circle back at take a good hard look at the United States. Energy independent, economically robust, physically secure, and — above all — strategically unfettered, the United States will be taking a break from the world writ large for the most part.
Yet “for the most part” is a far cry from a full divorce from all things international. The Yanks will still find bits of the world worth their time, effort, money and ammunition. Section III explores the American Play: where the Americans will still be found, why they will be there, how they’ll act, and what they’ll be up to.
It may be small comfort, but the acceleration of the shale revolution as well as the American political shift towards populism has illuminated a great deal, sharpening my view of the future. The various glimpses that made up Accidental have somewhat merged, lingering to the point that they now constitute a bit of a roadmap.
That roadmap is the core of this book.
September 27, 2016
Somewhere over Kentucky