George Friedman exclusively for IPESE (video)

GEORGE FRIEDMAN, THE WORLD FAMOUS GEOPOLITICAL AUTHOR: The World Order may undergo collapse as it constantly changes, but the United States will endure and maintain its power

George Friedman, the world famous geopolitical author, founder of Geopolitical Futures and former Stratfor chairman, speaks for IPESE to journalist Dragan Bisenic.

Friedman was so popular and respected as a forecaster of global political events that there was a comment by The New York Times that “When you are around George Friedman, there is a temptation to treat him like a Magic 8-Ball”.

Speaking about our region, Friedman said that this region is home to educated and capable individuals poised to fulfill their potential and undergo growth.

IPESE: George, it is great to see you after so many years, almost 30 years. Very long period, from 1996. to 2023. Today, we have different judgments on what happened during all these decades. Secretary Blinken said that we now face destruction and the end of Post Cold War World Order. Secretary Kissinger is saying that now we see the biggest threat to the existing World Order. What do you think?

Friedman: I have never been sure what the World Order means. And the World has always been disorderly. And there has always been this fear that it will collapse, and that there will be a systematic shift in the way that the Global System operates. Whenever that happens, the stronger powers are afraid that their power will decline. Usually, that doesn’t happen. So we really have to understand the changes that are happening, the conquests, but more, the certainties that we lived by, of what was going to happen. Well those were wrong. The World Order is still there.

IPESE: We all now see two big events. One is the Ukraine and Russian war, and the other is the beginning of the Middle East troubles. 

Friedman: Well, I would argue that the biggest issue is neither of those. The biggest issue is China. China after Deng Xiaoping took office was a flourishing place. It was surpassing the World. Now, it is in economic turmoil, it’s in a political turmoil, with the disappearance of ministers and so on, and the tensions between the interior of China and the coastal area. So the thing to understand is this, what really matters: whatever happens in the Ukrainian War, it will not pivot the World. Another Israeli War with Arabs is not going to change anything. But China, and the expectations we have of China, which I think were vastly overstated, that does make a great deal of difference in how the World works. Because everybody looked at China as a place where they could go next, with capital, for trade and so on. And that’s not turning out that way.

IPESE: Do you think that alliance between Russia and China could be sustainable?

Friedman: You could sustain any alliance. The question is what does China have to offer Russia, that it needs, and what does Russia have to offer China? What China needs is export markets to be able to sell their goods at, and capital investment. Russia can’t really give that. On the other hand, what Russia needs is men and weapons and so on, but China is a long way from Russia. But more to the point, it’s not a risk they can afford to take at a time of great trouble. So, this alliance is something we talk about a great deal, because they are two great powers, but in fact one cannot help the other. Each needs something different, and the other one doesn’t have what to give.

IPESE: What about Europe?

Friedman: Well, Europe is an area of multiple nations, each of which have its own interests. And they collaborate when it’s in their interest to do so. It’s surrounded by something called the European Union and NATO, which is supposed to contain them, but really it only contains them when they want to be there. So, if the French want Europe to look a certain way, the Germans want it to look the other way, the European Union is hardly going to hold them in power. What it does, it holds smaller countries that are expecting payments or something from the European Union. And those countries that are engaged in War may need financial help. So, what I see here is a myth, this myth of Europe. Just as there is never anything between Germany and France. Fifty years ago, it’s the same as today.

IPESE: What is the American position on Ukraine and relations with Russia.

Friedman: First, remember something very important about the United States. It is the only major country in the World that cannot be invaded by land. Canada, Mexico, neither could do it. Where we can be invaded, is by the sea. So, for the United States, control of, say, the Pacific, from the Chinese, this matters a great deal. For the Atlantic too, it matters. So, we have to understand that it is not an European country landlocked with neighbours, it is two things: a sea power, and secondly, a very rich country. In other words, it can afford the kind of navy that it has, but also afford to do business in the entire World. So, it makes it more powerful than it appears, because it is so safe in a way that Russia isn’t, and China isn’t. So safe from attack, and has wealth. It is a very special country. And it behaves that way. Thinks of itself as very special.

IPESE: But although the United States is so powerful, you wrote a book about the approaching internal crisis in the United States.

Friedman: Every country has a crisis. You have to remember that the United States is an invented country. It doesn’t have an ideal framework in it, but it changes constantly. And as it changes, it creates tremendous stress and unhappiness. So in 1970. For example, we had the crisis of Vietnam, the crisis of the Arab Oil Embargo, the crisis of the president, Nixon, who is a criminal… All of these things were there. But the important thing about that crisis is that we overcame it, readily. So, what appears to be a crisis that might break another country, doesn’t break a country that is expecting a crisis, that is expecting itself to evolve. So, when you think about these countries, the United States has the flexibility that is built into the founding.

IPESE: How will that crisis appear, and how will it disappear?

Friedman: It will appear and disappear depending on its need and certainty. So, the United States does not need to be as careful as other countries. Because of its geographical position, and so on, it can afford mistakes that other countries cannot. And it does make every mistake you can imagine. And yet the power remains. So we have to think about power in terms of its flexibility. So the country that does not have any flexibility has a certain power under these circumstances. The United States advantage is that it is so highly flexible that it can not only survive a crisis, but it can create things that nobody thought can be created.

IPESE: So you don’t think the World Order could collapse soon?

Friedman: The World Order may collapse, but not something important like the United States. Look, the World Order is changing constantly. It is changing from the First World War to the Second World War, From the Second World War to the Cold War, and the idea that there is something sanctified about the World Order is something really strange. The reality is that we are shifting now dramatically. And one thing that is shifting now is Russia’s ability to defend itself against the West. The other thing is that China’s performances are shifting. Many things are shifting, but the idea that there is some sort of sacred World Order that we must respect is… well, what we are really saying is “the way the World was when I was young must live forever”.

IPESE: How could the Ukraine-Russia War be ended? How could it be negotiated with Russia?

Friedman: First we need to understand why go to war. Moscow is very close to the Ukrainian border. 300 miles away. For all of its history, it survived from Napoleon to Hitler by the distance they had to go to get to Moscow. They stopped. Now, with the fall of the Soviet Union, that distance has disappeared. And Russia had to, as I would think, extremely expand that distance. The problem was if they expanded it so that all of Ukraine fell under it, it would now be at the border of NATO, with the NATO countries. And this the United States could not accept. So what you had was two very reasonable imperatives. The Americans didn’t want the Russians at the border there, the Russians didn’t want Ukrainians close to Moscow. And they went to war. In this war, no one is winning. The Ukrainians are not going to win the War, if you mean by that to overthrow the Russians. The Russians do not have the force in the past year and a half to break the Ukrainians, or even come close to it. And the Americans, being very clever, are not involved in the War, but are making sure that it goes on. So, in this situation, this has to stop. It has to stop, because it’s really stupid. They can’t keep fighting. So, Russia is not going to get what it wants. But you could offer Russia something. And what you could offer Russia is technological transfers from the United States. That would allow Russia to build civilian products and become quite wealthy. Because the secret to everybody is, yes, they worry about Napoleon, but they really want to become well to do. They want their oligarchs to do beautifly, and the United States can give them that. The Russians would have to agree to take only a small part of Ukraine, maybe Donbass, and the Ukrainians are going to have to swallow the fact that they are not going to defeat the Russians. And that they are going to hold on to most of their territory, but not all of it. Now, this is very difficult politically for every country to do, for Putin to admit that he failed, for the Ukrainians to admit that they failed, these are very hard things to do. But there is no other choice. This cannot go on. The war is over, it’s just that nobody knows how to stop it.

IPESE: How do you see the regional perspective for the countries of ex-Yugoslavia and Balkans? There was much talk about those countries joining the European Union. Another part which is important for us is the Kosovo issue. Couple a days ago we had a letter signed by councelor Sholtz, president Macron, prime minister Meloni, calling Serbia to recognize de facto independence of Kosovo. But that is very hard for us, almost impossible. Let’s see what is happening now in Azerbaijan, with Nagorno-Karabakh, and all those issues related to territorial integrity. In the UN it was spoken, and the US are the biggest defender of territorial unity and integrity. It’s not the atmosphere where we can say “ok, take 15% of our territory”.

Friedman: Well, remember, talk is cheap. And they say things like these all the time, never expecting anything to come through. The more important question is not the question of Kosovo, which has to be put to bed somehow, it’s the question of how does the Balkans, how does Serbia emerge as a significant economic power? When we look at Europe, we look at how well it’s developed, we remember also they are not going to help you do that. They are not looking for competitors. But what has to happen is that, this is a region with well educated people, capable people, people who travel the world, who know what’s to be sold and bought, and the region finally has to start emphasizing the crucial question of economic growth in the world that’s growing and taking advantage of it. I have no idea how to solve the crisis that you have, but mostly you should go beyond them. Because it’s not going to go away, and people will continue to make speeches at the United Nations. So the crucial thing for every country everywhere – focus on the center of gravity of your needs. Then take your capable businessmen, your capable technologists and so on, and turn them loose, to make things happen. I am in America, so I am telling people to do what Americans would do, but it’s not a bad thing to look at, because the European Union is, I think, a failure, and the United States isn’t. So you might want to focus on the United States. But the key is – use your talent to make money. That is the foundation of your safety.

IPESE: Let us go to the US again. Next year we will have presidential elections, and it seems that the two former rivals, former president Trump and president Biden, will emerge as candidates. How do you see that process and that rivalry between them, and what will be the outcome?

Friedman: First, it’s very important to understand that the president is not that important. He has a position, he makes speeches, he makes decisions, maybe somebody follows it, maybe not. In other words, the presidency is the symbol of the country. And that’s important. But the idea that he would turn the United States this way or that way, well, you saw with Trump, the catastrophic attempts that he made and the outcome. I think, at this point, Biden is not going to run for president. I don’t think that his own party wants to see him there. I think Trump has an excellent chance to be in jail, and he could be president from there, we would love to see that. But we have to remember that the United States, according to my model, right now is making a massive shift in the way it behaves. It seems like an unbearable crisis. But there are a lot of people out there that have very different views. Again, remember, this is not a dictatorship. The president will not make all the decisions, or even most of them. He will try to get by, and if you focus on the condition of the president, and try to understand the United States, you’re going to get it wrong. It’s very different.

IPESE: We know you as Stratfor chairman. What are you doing now, and what is your company now?

Friedman: My company is Geopolitical futures. It is Stratfor, but for various business reasons, it was not wise to continue in that mode. We have been in this business now for almost 10 years doing this, but our goal is very simple. It is to explain to the World what is happening without being motivated by any beliefs. So it’s a large room of people filled with lack of belief, trying to understand the World. And it’s a pretty good way to do it.

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