Review of Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World published by the National Intelligence Council, November 2008.
The aim of Global Trends 2025 is to set out the factors that are expected to shape international events over the next two decades and to stimulate strategic thinking with respect to a future where no single narrative yet dominates. The report is compiled by the National Intelligence Council, drawing on “communities of experts" within the United States and elsewhere, including for example, experts from Chatham House in the UK and from China. The strategic thinking in the end comes down to how the international system as it now stands will need to adapt and change and the question of United States leadership in a multipolar world. What are the key factors identified in this report? What are the implications?
The report identifies “relative certainties" and “key uncertainties" as one way of getting at the significant factors that will impact on international events. Taking first place is the shift from a unipolar to a multipolar world as a result of the shift of resources from West to East. The implications of this is that whilst the United states will remain the most powerful country, its dominant position will be challenged by a changed configuration of influential states, most notably China and India with Russia tagging along too. The rise of Asian economies will lead to pressure on food, energy and water resources. How significant this pressure will be will depend on the pace and type of technological change that is achieved. Population growth in most states will reflect the influence of ageing but in an identifiable number of countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, young populations will continue to cause problems for political stability. Terrorists will continue to be active with the danger that they will be able to gain access to more dangerous technologies of mass destruction. Conflict over natural resources is more likely than conflict over ideological issues. Sub-Saharan Africa will continue to be marginalized and in Latin America, Brazil is the key contender for international influence.
“Key uncertainties" concern for example the pace of technological innovation with respect to carbon-based natural resources. If oil and gas remain dominant then Russia and Iran and such countries will prosper and grow in economic significance and power. If “clean" coal is possible, this will suggest a different kind of shift. The economic and demographic future of Europe as a place for growth or secular decline is another uncertainty as is the fate of globalization. Is the globalization doomed to halt under the forces of economic recession and protectionist demands? Will “state capitalism" (a developmental model now best exemplified by China, and to some extent Russia) rather than liberal democracy be the predominant developmental mode over the next twenty years? The report investigates each of these elements in detail in the main body.
Global Trends is speculative with respect to the development of the details of the international system. Growing regionalism is one way in which some economic growth can be compatible with some degree of protectionism but a world of power blocks will not make in any easier for the United Nations to get leverage. States will be important but non-state actors will grow in significance, including religious leaders with the dynamism within Islam and in Christianity coming from poorer parts of the world. There will be a need for “global governance��? but the report seems to suggest that this need will increase faster than the capacity to supply it. If this is the case then significant state actors will need to shoulder responsibilities even if they are questions marks over their willingness to do so. India and China will still be concerned with the domestic agenda as much as the international one. Europe is not seen as having great strategic capabilities. There is unlikely to be any radical challenge to the existing system itself, though Russia will continue to challenge United States domination in that system, though the system itself will become, without significant reform, increasingly outmoded.
In such a world then it is clear, to those that compiled Global Trends, that there will be a “demand" for leadership from the United States, particularly with respect to the Middle East and parts of Asia. The capacity to supply that leadership will be constrained by other actors and by economic and other factors, including significant but declining military capacity. What the report re-asserts is the significance of human capacity and leadership. However there does not seem to be any clear indications as to the attributes (and sensitivities) of leadership required in a complex multipolar and culturally diverse world.
This report is essentially an audit of prospects and problems in a world that is to be, in some sense, “managed" The problem is that the world that is being described is not one that is readily amenable to the visible hand of United States “management" any more than it is amenable to management by the invisible hand of the globalized market place. There are more issues than management capacities. What is needed, now and in the future, is the wisdom to know what is and what is not an issue requiring either policy action, or other forms of intervention. International action in a multipolar world will require sensitive and cooperative political and diplomatic action and a realistic sense of what such action is capable of achieving.