In among the quotes from John Maynard Keynes and Charles Dickens, the authors of the National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds” make the relatively old observation that the United States could be passed by China as the world’s number one economy, based on gross domestic product. However, many of the observations about the world in 2030 make the future of U.S. growth seem almost unimportant. The world could be torn apart in the next two decades, which would leave almost every nation worse off than it is today.
In the executive summary of the document, the authors point out that:
As with the NIC’s previous Global Trends reports, we do not seek to predict the future — which would be an impossible feat — but instead provide a framework for thinking about possible futures and their implications.
But it is hard to look at the report as anything other than a set of predictions, although, for the reader, they are multiple choice ones.
The report has several “worst case scenarios” that would drive the world into a state of near chaos. Among these are:
… the risks of interstate conflict increase. The US draws inward and globalization stalls.
In other words, a world at war, at least economically. And:
Demand for food, water, and energy will grow by approximately 35, 40, and 50 percent 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.
The world likely will be unable to feed itself, which is already a problem. If that problem gets worse, it is hard to imagine that global instability will not grow. And:
A wider spectrum of instruments of war — especially precision-strike capabilities, cyber instruments, and bioterror weapony — will become accessible. Individuals and small groups will have the capability to perpetrate large-scale violence and disruption — a capability formerly the monopoly of states.
The ability to create wars will fall into more and more hands.
“Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds” has plenty of positive scenarios are well. Among these are a world in which the major powers cooperate for the betterment, both economically and politically for the balance of the world. “In this scenario, all boats rise substantially,” the authors write.
But, between the lines, there is a sense that the chance that the most powerful nation will bring peace and prosperity to the balance of the world is unlikely. It will not matter whether the U.S. drops to number two in gross domestic product. That will be among the least of the problems America and every other country will face. The real issue is how the world will slip into chaos.
Douglas A. McIntyre