Two decades ago, the Soviet empire and its ideological engine, communism, simultaneously died. Thus ended the Cold War, with unexpected suddenness. Looking forward at the time, many observers foresaw a placid future with few challenges to approximate the hot and cold wars that had so scarred the twentieth century. Peace and prosperity were predicted. In fact, peace did not break out. The last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century were full of challenges and surprises, including several long and debilitating wars that are not yet over.

As the post-Cold War world unfolded, Foreign Affairs addressed some of the discernible changes just getting under way. It was an early witness to the rise of Asia, the growth of globalization, and the emergence of economics and environmental issues as primary concerns in international relations. One essay, published in 1993, sounded a much-noted alert that conflict would still be a central concern. It was Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations?" which predicted that the fundamental source of conflict would be not ideological or economic but cultural, consisting of clashes "between nations and groups of different civilizations."

Today, unlike 20 years ago, there is widespread recognition of a long list of simmering conflicts, unsettling trends, and mounting global problems. Mindful that the unexpected is always lurking in the future, the contributors to this special issue of Foreign Affairs address a broad range of challenges that are likely to arise in the world ahead. In general, the subjects break down into three categories: the changing balance of power among states and peoples, the urgency of planetary issues, and the role of the United States.

Here are a few of the notes struck by our authors:

  • The return of Asia to the world stage will define the era.
  • The chasm between the United States and China could widen as their differing interests become more pronounced.
  • Emerging powers, even democratic ones, will have separate agendas, making international integration more difficult.
  • Cooperative approaches to an array of global issues, such as climate change, will be difficult to accomplish.
  • Nonstate actors, ranging from unofficial governing entities to terrorist organizations, will grow, particularly in weak states.
  • The United States' influence, diminished by the rise of other states and nonstate actors, will be fatally undercut if the country does not curb its unsustainable reliance on debt.
  • Avoiding famine will depend on a vast expansion of Africa's lagging agricultural productivity.
  • The resurgence of all the major religions will be marked by post-Western versions of Christianity and a return of religious practice to secular Europe.
  • Half the world will experience "fertility implosions," thus leading to shortages of working-age populations, with only sub-Saharan Africa producing a surplus of working-age men.
  • The technology revolution, epitomized by the Internet, will empower both people yearning for democracy and repressive tyrants.
  • The United States will remain the primary source of clean-energy innovation.
  • Those states that best educate their citizens will win the economic competition.

This special issue also contains capsule reviews of books about one aspect or another of the world ahead. The section opens with an essay by Richard Betts that sets the stage for the forward-looking reviews by looking backward at three seminal books that defined in different ways the post-Cold War era: Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man; Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, based on his Foreign Affairs article; and John Mearsheimer's The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.

With this issue, I complete 18 rewarding years of editing Foreign Affairs. During that time, I have had the good fortune of working with two managing editors, first Fareed Zakaria and then Gideon Rose; a host of associate editors; and the publisher David Kellogg and his able staff. All have applied skill and dedication to enhancing the magazine's mission of informing the public of world affairs and enriching the debate on foreign policy. I am confident that my successor, Gideon Rose, will build on Foreign Affairs' strong position to, as he puts it, "thrive in a new global environment and a new publishing environment."

     

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