A US intelligence portrait of the world in 2030 predicts that China will be the largest economic power, climate change will create instability by contributing to water and food shortages, and there will be a "tectonic shift" with the rise of a global middle class.
The National Intelligence Council's Global Trends Report, published every five years, says the world is "at a critical juncture in human history".
The report, which draws in the opinion of foreign experts, including meetings on the initial draft in nearly 20 countries, paints a future in which US power will greatly diminish but no other individual state rises to supplant it.
"There will not be any hegemonic power. Power will shift to networks and coalitions in a multi-polar world," it says.
The report offers a series of potential scenarios for 2030. It says the best outcome would be one in which "China and the US collaborate on a range of issues, leading to broader global co-operation". It says the worst is a world in which "the US draws inward and globalisation stalls."
"A collapse or sudden retreat of US power probably would result in an extended period of global anarchy; no leading power would be likely to replace the United States as guarantor of the international order," it says, working on the assumption that the US is a force for stability – a premise open to challenge in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East and beyond.
The NIC report draws a distinction between what it calls "megatrends" – things that are highly likely to occur – and "game-changers", which are far less certain. Among the megatrends is growing prosperity across the globe. "The growth of the global middle class constitutes a tectonic shift: for the first time, a majority of the world's population will not be impoverished, and the middle classes will be the most important social and economics sector in the vast majority of countries around the world," the report says.
With prosperity spreading across the globe will come shifts in influence and power. "The diffusion of power among countries will have a dramatic impact by 2030. Asia will have surpassed North America and Europe combined in terms of global power, based upon GDP, population size, military spending, and technological investment. China alone will probably have the largest economy, surpassing that of the United States a few years before 2030," the report says.
That change will mean that the economic fortunes of the US and European countries will have a diminishing impact on the global economy. "In a tectonic shift, the health of the global economy increasingly will be linked to how well the developing world does — more so than the traditional west. In addition to China, India, and Brazil, regional players such as Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Turkey will become especially important to the global economy.
"Meanwhile, the economies of Europe, Japan, and Russia are likely to continue their slow relative declines."
The report also says that "individual empowerment" will accelerate with the growth of the global middle class and reduction in poverty combined with new types of communications. The NIC warns that also has a downside.
"In a tectonic shift, individuals and small groups will have greater access to lethal and disruptive technologies (particularly precision-strike capabilities, cyber instruments, and bio terror weaponry), enabling them to perpetrate large-scale violence – a capability formerly the monopoly of states," it says.
The megatrends also point to increased instability because of rising demand for water, food and energy compounded by climate change.
"Demand for food, water, and energy will grow by approximately 35, 40, and 50% respectively owing to an increase in the global population and the consumption patterns of an expanding middle class.
"Climate change will worsen the outlook for the availability of these critical resources. Analysis suggests that the severity of existing weather patterns will intensify, with wet areas getting wetter and dry and arid areas becoming more so. Much of the decline in precipitation will occur in the Middle East and northern Africa as well as western Central Asia, southern Europe, southern Africa, and the US south-west."
The NIC says that a world of scarcities is not inevitable but "policymakers and their private sector partners will need to be proactive to avoid such a future". It says any solution will require more able countries to help more vulnerable states.
Among the less predictable but possible "game changers" identified by the report are the collapse of the euro, a severe pandemic, or a nuclear attack by Pakistan or North Korea. It also says a democratic or collapsed China, or the emergence of a more liberal regime in Iran, could have a significant impact on global stability.
The report warns that a number of countries are at high risk of becoming failed states by 2030, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. The risk of civil wars and internal conflicts remains high in Africa and the Middle East, but is declining in Latin America.
The intelligence assessment will add to pressure on Barack Obama to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because it backs the president's view that the issue feeds instability in the Middle East alongside Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. But it says the Arab spring could prove a stabilising force.
"On the one hand, if the Islamic Republic maintains power in Iran and is able to develop nuclear weapons, the Middle East will face a highly unstable future. On the other hand, the emergence of moderate, democratic governments or a breakthrough agreement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have enormously positive consequences."
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