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Mapping the Global Future

What major challenges can the world expect to confront in the next 15 years?

February 11, 2005

What major challenges can the world expect to confront in the next 15 years?

What challenges will the world confront by 2020? Will the United States still reign supreme? And how stable will the global order be? These are some of the questions pursued by the National Intelligence Council — a U.S. government center for strategic thinking — in its latest report, "Mapping the Global Future." We talked with David Gordon, the NIC's Vice Chairman, about some of the report’s findings.

Compared to today, what is the most significant change you foresee with regard to the military power of the United States?

“While no single country looks within striking distance of rivaling U.S. military power by 2020, more countries will be in a position to make the United States pay a heavy price for any military action they oppose.”

What does that mean politically?

"With the rise of China and India as major new global players, even the United States will see its relative power position eroded. But the United States will remain the single most powerful country economically, technologically and militarily."

What is a key challenge to U.S. policymakers?

"Washington may be increasingly confronted with the challenge of managing, at an acceptable cost to itself, relations with Europe, Asia, the Middle East and others — and doing so absent a single overarching threat on which to build consensus."

Why is it more difficult for Washington to find support abroad?

"The younger generation of leaders outside the United States — unlike during the post-World War II period — has no personal recollection of the United State as its 'liberator.' It is thus more likely to diverge from Washington's thinking on a range of issues."

How concerned are you about big power wars?

"The likelihood of great power conflict escalating into total war in the next 15 years is lower than at any time in the past century — unlike during previous centuries when local conflicts sparked world wars."

When you look at Asia, in what way is there a sense of déjà vu?

"The likely emergence of China and India, as well as others, as new major global players is similar to the advent of a united Germany in the 19th century — and a powerful United States in the early 20th century. Their rise will transform the geopolitical landscape, with impacts potentially as dramatic as those in the previous two countries."

Just how will this change the global political geography?

"The 'arriviste' powers — China, India and perhaps others, such as Brazil and Indonesia — have the potential to render obsolete the old categories of East and West, North and South, aligned and nonaligned, developed and developing."

Which other effects do you foresee?

"Traditional geographic groupings will increasingly lose salience in international relations. A state-bound world and a world of mega-cities — linked by flows of telecommunications, trade and finance — will coexist. In addition, we anticipate that religion will play an increasing role in how many people view their identities. For many societies, divisions between and within religious groups will become as significant as national boundaries."

What about democracy coming to China?

"Beijing may pursue an 'Asian way of democracy,' which could involve elections at the local level and a consultative mechanism on the national level, perhaps with the Communist Party retaining control over the central government."

Why are you concerned about the future of oil?

"Just look at the supply side. Many of the areas — the Caspian Sea, Venezuela and West Africa — that are being counted on to provide increased oil output involve substantial political or economic risk."

How will the globalization debate change?

“By 2020, globalization could be equated in the popular mind with a rising Asia, replacing its current association with Americanization.”

What are the benefits to the United States?

"Some of the current anti-Americanism is likely to lessen as globalization takes on more of a non-Western face."

And finally, what is the key risk in the process of globalization?

"The risk is that the gap between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' will widen — unless the 'have-not' countries pursue policies that support application of new technologies, such as good governance, universal education and market reforms."

To read the full report, "Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project", click here.