Rocco P Santurri III is a Wargame Analyst, independent Financial Consultant, and an American Football Coach. Currently he is also a graduate student in Strategic Communications at the War Studies Department of King’s College London. Additionally, he serves as a Major in the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command with the 457th Civil Affairs Battalion in Germany. He has conducted Civil Affairs operations since 2011 throughout Asia and Europe. He can be found on LinkedIn.com at www.linkedin.com/in/RoccoPSanturri3. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
Title: Assessing Superpowers in 2050 – The Great Game Redefined
Date Originally Written: May 6, 2022.
Date Originally Published: May 30, 2022.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author believes that the United States must transition from its current definition of Great Power Competition (GPC) to one that will reflect the operating environment in 2050. He is concerned that the lobbying efforts of the Military-Industrial Complex will continue to result in policies being driven by the production of lucrative weapon systems with limited future utility, instead of being determined by realities in the operating environment. These lobbyist-driven policies will leave the U.S. prepared for the last conflict but not the next. The currently narrow focus on large conventional engagements must be shifted to one that embraces Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov’s often misunderstood concept of total, not hybrid, warfare, specifically within growing areas of conflict such as Artificial Intelligence, Cyberwarfare, Economics, Sub-Threshold Operations, and Information Operations. These are areas China has prioritized in its future planning concepts and will contribute to its ascension in 2050 to world’s dominant superpower.
Summary: GPC in 2050 will be between China, Russia, and the United States. China will emerge as the world’s preeminent superpower, on the strength of its understanding of the future operating environment in 2050, as well as possession of the requisite resources to support its ambitions. Russia and the United States will remain powerful, but as regional hegemons, due to deficiencies in mind for one, and in means for the other.
Text: The world is changing, rapidly. Geopolitics is certainly not immune to change, as GPC has seen significant, fundamental changes in recent years. The binary nature of the Cold War that gave way to one superpower has seen the rise of other competitors and a return to GPC. Over the coming years this multipolar contest will produce a dominant superpower, but the competition itself will change in response to a different geopolitical operating environment. New criterion will emerge and demand a new approach for GPC success.
While some have written of new challengers in GPC, the run-up to 2050 for the title of top superpower plays like an enticing but predictable Hollywood rerun. China, Russia, and the U.S., each with their strengths, each with their weaknesses, remain the three most qualified contestants for the title of dominate world superpower. The strengths of the three are both seen and unseen: enormous populations and territories, economic strength, powerful militaries, robust clandestine services, and perhaps most important, permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council, or UNSC. Their collective weaknesses are similar in visibility: aging or declining populations, internal political strife, and international overextension, to name but a few. But on aggregate, these three remain the principal contenders. While fellow UNSC members and historic powers England and France, as well as emerging contenders Brazil and India, are also in the discussion, none warrant consideration in GPC circa 2050. Instead, the focus remains on the “Big Three”. Analysis begins with examining their key strengths and weaknesses.
With over one billion people and $3 trillion in currency exchange reserves, China presents an economic powerhouse that is now acquiring a greater hunger for superpower status. President Xi Jinping has aggressively pursued a new role for China on the world stage. China’s military continues to undergo a rapid upgrade in both size and quality. The Chinese navy, the largest in the world, continues to expand its presence in the South China Sea, while Belt and Road initiatives entice countries from Africa to South America to side with China while being rewarded with lavish infrastructure funding that also opens the door for Chinese military expansion. China’s strengths are not without weaknesses; these include an aging population, underconsumption, few allies, international condemnation for its treatment of Uighurs, and an enormous police state that carefully tracks a populace that regularly protests restrictions on freedom. These weaknesses make the Chinese ascent anything but guaranteed.
The revanchism of Russian President Vladimir Putin has catapulted Russia back into GPC after a prolonged hangover following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, the book cover of Russia has proven more impressive than the contents. Russia’s stumbles in Ukraine in 2022 have shown its military to be a shadow of its former self. Despite abundant resources, Russia remains a country with a relatively small economy that is dependent upon gas and oil exports. Additionally, there appears to be no succession plan when Mr. Putin is no longer de facto dictator of Russia. With an all-pervasive security apparatus often faced inward to quell domestic unrest, Russia’s path to 2050 is littered with crucial questions, with the likely answers not boding well for Russian GPC aspirations.
Boasting the world’s largest economy and military, the U.S. seems well-positioned to maintain its dominant superpower status. But there are cracks in the armor that are becoming more visible with the passage of time. Political gridlock, social unrest, a ballooning deficit, and an isolationist sentiment after the misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq cast the U.S. as more of a fading superpower, and not an ascending one. Furthermore, the ever-present military lobby in the U.S. threatens to leave the U.S. prepared for current warfare, but not that of the future. Lastly, U.S. commitments to North Atlantic Treaty Organization, especially to “alliance a la carte” allies such as Hungary and Turkey, further complicate and undermine the U.S. focus on GPC while these countries actively support GPC adversaries China and Russia.
In 2050, the world will witness China emerge as the winner of GPC, with Russia second. The U.S. places a distant third due to its inability to perceive and adapt to the true nature of the future operating environment. Epitomizing the adage of “fighting the last war”, the U.S. will continue to measure superpower qualifications on outdated criterion and fail to grasp the sweeping changes not on the horizon, but already upon us. While the U.S. remains fixed on kinetic engagements with peer and near-peer adversaries, China capitalizes on its superior understanding of the future operational environment. The U.S. wins the current paradigm of GPC, but it will lose the future incarnation. The passing of the torch has already begun. While the lobby of the Military-Industrial Complex keeps the U.S. fixated on weapon systems worth billions, China perceptively pushes ahead on a foundation of four specific areas. These areas are economics, information operations, chemical and cyberwarfare, and technological advances, specifically advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Careful to avoid disastrous engagements such as the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq, China skillfully employs a long term view based on economic strength and the leverage it creates.
The world will be a drastically different place in 2050. The future is often uncertain and difficult to predict. No country’s leadership has a mastery of prognosticative skills, but some are certainly better than others. Blending ancient beliefs, a long term view, an acute study of modern history, and a determined leader focused on his country’s ascent, China scores highest due its abilities in visualizing and navigating the way forward while possessing the resources to support the journey. While Russia has similar qualities in terms of vision, its ability to exploit this advantage is limited by economic strength dependent upon the demand for its resources; this limits Russia to a distant second place position. And the U.S. relinquishes its top spot and is relegated to regional hegemon, a victim of fighting the previous war amid a world of competitors who have long since lost their “reverential awe” for the American Empire.
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