National Security Network

Global Trends Report Reflects Need for a Progressive Foreign Policy

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Report 21 November 2008

china Energy global warming globalization india national security natural resources terrorism


Today the National Intelligence Council (NIC) released a new report outlining the global strategic trends of the next twenty years.  The report describes a number of disturbing trends, which could greatly increase the complexity of the international system.  It concludes that while the United States will remain the world’s most powerful nation, the next twenty years will see the continuing shift of economic and military power from West to East as China’s and India’s economies continue to grow, and the world becomes more multipolar.  The report also describes the possibility of new resource wars as rising populations result in energy and food shortages and global warming threatens to make parts of the world uninhabitable.  Finally, the NIC argues that challenges arising from extremism, low-intensity and intra-regional conflict, and most of all the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, the Balkans, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia could further destabilize the international system.

However, none of these outcomes are foregone conclusions, and what is most needed are smart policies that can effectively manage these complex challenges before they become significant threats to the US and the international system.  The past eight years have shown that the neoconservative vision of foreign policy is not up to this challenge.  The United States brings many strengths to this emerging system – our multicultural society, our informal, networked work habits, our tradition of innovation and embracing change.  Progressive policies harness these strengths and reflect the realities of an interdependent world – more effectively dealing with the economic challenges of globalization, directly addressing the issues of energy dependence and global warming, and marshalling allies and partners to limit the dangers of proliferation and terrorism. Rather than seeking to hold on to twentieth-century visions, they retain what is best about how the U.S. can be in the world and offer a pragmatic and hopeful way forward.  

While the U.S. will likely remain the most powerful country in the world, NIC projects a global power shift as global wealth and economic power shift eastwards. 
  “A global multipolar system is emerging with the rise of China, India, and others. The relative power of nonstate actors— businesses, tribes, religious organizations, and even criminal networks—also will increase.”  The report projects a relative drop in US global power, saying  “By 2025 the US will find itself as one of a number of important actors on the world stage, albeit still the most powerful one. Even in the military realm, where the US will continue to possess considerable advantages in 2025, advances by others in science and technology, expanded adoption of irregular warfare tactics by both state and nonstate actors, proliferation of long-range precision weapons, and growing use of cyber warfare attacks increasingly will constrict US freedom of action.  The trend is especially strong on economic matters.  “In terms of size, speed, and directional flow, the transfer of global wealth and economic power now under way—roughly from West to East—is without precedent in modern history. . . Growth projections for Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRICs) indicate they will collectively match the original G-7’s share of global GDP by 2040-2050. China is poised to have more impact on the world over the next 20 years than any other country. If current trends persist, by 2025 China will have the world’s second largest economy and will be a leading military power.”  [NIC 2025 Report, 11/21/08]

NIC Report concludes that challenges arising from extremism, low-intensity and intra-regional conflict, and most of all - nuclear proliferation will continue to pose a major threat. According to the NIC 2025 forecast, the U.S. must be poised to deal with potential consequences arising from “a great arc of instability stretching from Sub-Saharan Africa through North Africa, into the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and South and Central Asia, and parts of Southeast Asia."  For one, “the lethality of violent extremists may increase because of their ability to access biological weapons or even nuclear devices.”  Additionally, “[e]pisodes of low-intensity conflict and terrorism taking place under a nuclear umbrella could lead to an unintended escalation and broader conflict.”  Finally, “[o]pportunities for mass-casualty terrorist attacks using chemical, biological, or less likely, nuclear weapons will increase as technology diffuses and nuclear power (and possibly weapons) programs expand.” “The spread of nuclear technologies and expertise is generating concerns about the potential emergence of new nuclear weapon states and the acquisition of nuclear materials by terrorist groups.” [Washington Post, 11/21/08. NY Times, 11/21/08. NIC 2025 Report, 11/21/08]

Competition for resources due to factors such as global warming, demographic changes and an increased demand for food will likely increase the number of violent conflicts.  “Unprecedented global economic growth—positive in so many other regards—will continue to put pressure on a number of highly strategic resources, including energy, food, and water, and demand is projected to outstrip easily available supplies over the next decade or so.” “The World Bank estimates that demand for food will rise by 50 percent by 2030, as a result of growing world population, rising affluence, and the shift to Western dietary preferences by a larger middle class. Lack of access to stable supplies of water is reaching critical proportions, particularly for agricultural purposes, and the problem will worsen because of rapid urbanization worldwide and the roughly 1.2 billion persons to be added over the next 20 years.”  In addition “Climate change is expected to exacerbate resource scarcities. Although the impact of climate change will vary by region, a number of regions will begin to suffer harmful effects, particularly water scarcity and loss of agricultural production. . . Types of conflict we have not seen for awhile—such as over resources—could reemerge. Perceptions of energy scarcity will drive countries to take actions to assure their future access to energy supplies. In the worst case, this could result in interstate conflicts if government leaders deem assured access to energy resources, for example, to be essential for maintaining domestic stability and the survival of their regimes. . . Descending into a world of resource nationalism increases the risk of great power confrontations.”[NIC 2025 Report, 11/21/08]

Quick Hits

After a two-day drop of more than 800 points in the U.S. stock market, Asian markets rallied today but European stocks were mixed.  Gas prices have fallen to approximately $2 a gallon.

In another sharp rebuke to the Bush administration’s detainee policies, a federal judge ordered the release of five Guantanamo detainees, ruling that they have been held illegally.  He declared another suspect legally detained.

Thousands of Iraqis protested the U.S.-Iraq security agreement in Baghdad as the country debates its future.

Chaos erupts across Somalia as Ethiopian troops plan to begin their withdrawal today
Somali Islamic insurgents entered a port in search of the pirates behind the hijacking of the Saudi Arabian supertanker last week.  A gun battle in Mogadishu killed at least 15 after police and Islamic militants clashed.  A gunman killed a clan elder at a mosque in the self-declared republic of Somaliland.

The Indian navy received formal approval from the United Nations to “go after” pirates in Somali waters. 

The United States and NATO allies debate where additional U.S. forces in Afghanistan will be deployed.

A suicide bomber attacked a mosque in the tribal area of Pakistan, where government-backed militia troops were praying, killing eight including the group leader.  Also in the tribal area, an explosion killed at least eight mourners at the funeral of Shiite cleric Allama Nazir Shah Naqvi, shot and killed earlier in the day.

At least 26 children have died in a remote region of Haiti over the past few weeks as victims of Haiti’s food crisis.

Floods in Ethiopia leave over 100,000 homeless.

A former U.N. peacekeeping chief said that the extra 3,000 troops being sent to the DR Congo should be elite forces from Europe.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Nelson Mandela’s wife Graca Machel are still planning a humanitarian visit to Zimbabwe this weekend, despite being told not to come.