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Intelligence Council Poses Four Worlds of the Future

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2012 – Prediction is an inexact science.

The 1939 New York World’s Fair was billed as a look at tomorrow, and nations built pavilions and presented their latest inventions along with how they believed they would change the world.

One large part of the Fair itself was called “Futurama” -- a scale model of what planners believed would be America in 1960. The model had futuristic homes, urban complexes, bridges, dams and an advanced highway system which envisioned speeds of 100 mph.

The visionaries of 1939 did not anticipate suburbs, satellites, an oil embargo, nuclear energy or apparently where all those 100 mph cars were going to park.

The National Intelligence Council, which supports the Director of National Intelligence by providing long-term strategic analysis, has learned from instances like this and presents a range of options in its publication World Trends 2030.

The council posits four possible worlds in 2030: stalled engines, fusion, gini out-of-the-bottle and nonstate world.

“Gini” refers to the gini coefficient, which is a statistical measurement of income inequality.

The stalled engine world predicts a planet where the risk of interstate conflict rises due to a new great game in Asia. This scenario is a bleak one. “Drivers behind such an outcome would be a U.S. and Europe that turn inward, no longer interested in sustaining their global leadership,” the report says. This scenario envisions the Euro Zone unraveling, causing Europe’s economy to tumble.

The stalled engine world also sees the U.S. energy revolution failing to materialize -- despite current trends that suggest the U.S. will be a future energy exporter.

This scenario is most likely to lead to conflict between nations over scarce resources, but this scenario does not necessarily envision major conflagrations. Economic interdependence and globalization would be mitigating factors.

The fusion scenario represents the other end of the spectrum.

“This is a world in which the specter of a spreading conflict in South Asia triggers efforts by the U.S., Europe and China to intervene and impose a ceasefire,” the report says. “China, the U.S. and Europe find other issues to collaborate on, leading to a major positive change in their bilateral relations, and more broadly leading to worldwide cooperation to deal with global challenges.”

This scenario sees China adopting political reforms and Chinese leaders managing growing nationalism. Fusion sees more multinational organizations.

“In this scenario, all boats rise substantially,” the report says. Developing economies rise, but so do those in developed countries. Under fusion, the American dream remains a reality with the council seeing U.S. incomes rising by $10,000 over a decade.

“Technological innovation -- rooted in expanded exchanges and joint international efforts -- is critical to the world staying ahead of the rising financial and resource constraints that would accompany a rapid boost in prosperity,” the report says.

The genie out-of-the-bottle scenario is a world of extremes, but somewhere between the stalled engine and fusion scenarios. This scenario sees winners and losers in the global commons; a core group of the European Union remaining while others -- those not doing well economically -- fall away.

In the “gini” scenario the United States remains the preeminent power but it doesn’t play global policeman. Energy producing nations see prices fall while they fail to diversify their economies. “Cities in China’s coastal zone continue to thrive, but inequalities increase and split the [Communist] Party,” the report says.

Global growth continues, but it is uneven. More countries fail in part because of the failure of international organizations.

“In sum, the world is reasonably wealthy, but it is less secure as the dark side of globalization poses an increasing challenge in domestic and international politics,” the report says.

The final scenario -- the nonstate world -- sees nonstate actors taking the lead in confronting global challenges. Nonstate actors include nongovernmental organizations, multinational businesses, academic individuals, wealthy individuals and cities.

“The nation state does not disappear, but countries increasingly organize and orchestrate ‘hybrid’ coalitions of state and nonstate actors which shift depending on the issue,” the report says.

This is a complex and diverse world that favors democracies. “Smaller, more agile countries in which the elites are also more integrated are apt to do better than larger countries that lack social or political cohesion,” the report says.

By its nature, the nonstate world would be uneven and would carry its own dangers. Some global problems would be solved because the networks would coalesce to solve them but others would not. Security threats would increase because not all nonstate actors are benign. Access to lethal and disruptive technologies could expand, “enabling individuals and small groups to perpetuate violence and disruption on a large scale,” according to the report.

The four worlds suggested in the report could happen or something altogether different may occur also. The report notes that unplanned, unforeseen events can change all of this.

The example of the New York World’s Fair extends here too. While the Fair opened in 1939, it reopened in 1940. Two nations that sponsored buildings in 1939 -- Czechoslovakia and Poland -- had ceased to exist when the Fair returned in 1940.

 

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Related Sites:
National Intelligence Council
NIC Global Trends

Related Articles:
National Intelligence Council Forecasts Megatrends
Global Trends Report Discusses Game Changers



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