Based on consultations with nongovernmental experts around the world
At no time since the formation of the Western alliance system in 1949
have the shape and nature of international alignments been in such a state
of flux. The end of the Cold War shifted the tectonic plates, but the
repercussions from these momentous events are still unfolding. Emerging
powers in Asia, retrenchment in Eurasia, a roiling Middle East, and transatlantic
divisions are among the issues that have only come to a head in recent
years. The very magnitude and speed of change resulting from a globalizing
world - apart from its precise character - will be a defining feature
of the world out to 2020. Other significant characteristics include: the
rise of new powers, new challenges to governance, and a more pervasive
sense of insecurity, including terrorism. As we map the future, the prospects
for increasing global prosperity and the limited likelihood of great power
conflict provide an overall favorable environment for coping with what
are otherwise daunting challenges. The role of the United States will
be an important variable in how the world is shaped, influencing the path
that states and nonstate actors choose to follow.
New Global Players
The likely emergence of China and India, as well as others, as new major
global players—similar to the advent of a united Germany in the 19th century
and a powerful United States in the early 20th century—will transform
the geopolitical landscape, with impacts potentially as dramatic as those
in the previous two centuries. In the same way that commentators refer
to the 1900s as the “American Century,” the 21st century may be seen as
the time when Asia, led by China and India, comes into its own. A combination
of sustained high economic growth, expanding military capabilities, and
large populations will be at the root of the expected rapid rise in economic
and political power for both countries.
- Most forecasts indicate that by 2020 China’s
gross national product (GNP) will exceed that of individual Western
economic powers except for the United States. India’s GNP will have
overtaken or be on the threshold of overtaking European economies.
- Because of the sheer size of China’s and
India’s populations - projected by the US Census Bureau to be 1.4 billion
and almost 1.3 billion respectively by 2020 - their standard of living
need not approach Western levels for these countries to become important
Barring an abrupt reversal of the process
of globalization or any major upheavals in these countries, the rise of
these new powers is a virtual certainty. Yet how China and India exercise
their growing power and whether they relate cooperatively or competitively
to other powers in the international system are key uncertainties. The
economies of other developing countries, such as Brazil, could surpass
all but the largest European countries by 2020; Indonesia’s economy could
also approach the economies of individual European countries by 2020.
By most measures - market size, single currency, highly skilled work force,
stable democratic governments, and unified trade bloc - an enlarged Europe
will be able to increase its weight on the international scene. Europe’s
strength could be in providing a model of global and regional governance
to the rising powers. But aging populations and shrinking work forces
in most countries will have an important impact on the continent. Either
European countries adapt their work forces, reform their social welfare,
education, and tax systems, and accommodate growing immigrant populations
(chiefly from Muslim countries), or they face a period of protracted economic
Japan faces a similar aging crisis that could crimp its longer run economic
recovery, but it also will be challenged to evaluate its regional status
and role. Tokyo may have to choose between “balancing” against or “bandwagoning”
with China. Meanwhile, the crisis over North Korea is likely to come to
a head sometime over the next 15 years. Asians’ lingering resentments
and concerns over Korean unification and cross-Taiwan Strait tensions
point to a complicated process for achieving regional equilibrium.
Russia has the potential to enhance its international role with others
due to its position as a major oil and gas exporter. However, Russia faces
a severe demographic crisis resulting from low birth rates, poor medical
care, and a potentially explosive AIDS situation. To the south, it borders
an unstable region in the Caucasus and Central Asia, the effects of which
- Muslim extremism, terrorism, and endemic conflict - are likely to continue
spilling over into Russia. While these social and political factors limit
the extent to which Russia can be a major global player, Moscow is likely
to be an important partner both for the established powers, the United
States and Europe, and for the rising powers of China and India.
With these and other new global actors, how we mentally map the world
in 2020 will change radically. 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. 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 co-exist. Competition for allegiances will be
more open, less fixed than in the past.
Impact of Globalization
We see globalization - growing interconnectedness reflected
in the expanded flows of information, technology, capital, goods, services,
and people throughout the world - as an overarching
“mega-trend,” a force so ubiquitous that it will substantially shape all
the other major trends in the world of 2020. But the future
of globalization is not fixed; states and nonstate actors - including
both private companies and NGOs - will struggle to shape its contours.
Some aspects of globalization - such as the growing global interconnectedness
stemming from the information technology (IT) revolution - almost certainly
will be irreversible. Yet it is also possible, although unlikely, that
the process of globalization could be slowed or even stopped, just as
the era of globalization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was
reversed by catastrophic war and global depression.
Barring such a turn of events, the world economy
is likely to continue growing impressively: by 2020, it is projected to
be about 80 percent larger than it was in 2000, and average per capita
income will be roughly 50 percent higher. Of course, there
will be cyclical ups and downs and periodic financial or other crises,
but this basic growth trajectory has powerful momentum behind it. Most
countries around the world, both developed and developing, will benefit
from gains in the world economy. By having the fastest-growing consumer
markets, more firms becoming world-class multinationals, and greater S&T
stature, Asia looks set to displace Western countries as the focus for
international economic dynamism - provided Asia’s rapid economic growth
Yet the benefits of globalization won’t be global.
Rising powers will see exploiting the opportunities afforded by the emerging
global marketplace as the best way to assert their great power status
on the world stage. In contrast, some now in the “First World” may see
the closing gap with China, India, and others as evidence of a relative
decline, even though the older powers are likely to remain global leaders
out to 2020. The United States, too, will see its relative power position
eroded, though it will remain in 2020 the most important single country
across all the dimensions of power. Those left behind in the developing
world may resent China and India’s rise, especially if they feel squeezed
by their growing dominance in key sectors of the global marketplace. And
large pockets of poverty will persist even in “winner” countries.
The greatest benefits of globalization will accrue
to countries and groups that can access and adopt new technologies.
Indeed, a nation’s level of technological achievement generally will be
defined in terms of its investment in integrating and applying the new,
globally available technologies - whether the technologies are acquired
through a country’s own basic research or from technology leaders. The
growing two-way flow of high-tech brain power between the developing world
and the West, the increasing size of the information computer-literate
work force in some developing countries, and efforts by global corporations
to diversify their high-tech operations will foster the spread of new
technologies. High-tech breakthroughs - such as in genetically modified
organisms and increased food production - could provide a safety net eliminating
the threat of starvation and ameliorating basic quality of life issues
for poor countries. But 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
Those countries that pursue such policies could leapfrog stages of development,
skipping over phases that other high-tech leaders such as the United States
and Europe had to traverse in order to advance. China
and India are well positioned to become technology leaders, and even the
poorest countries will be able to leverage prolific, cheap technologies
to fuel - although at a slower rate - their own development.
The expected next revolution in high technology
involving the convergence of nano-, bio-, information and materials
technology could further bolster China and India’s prospects. Both countries
are investing in basic research in these fields and are well placed
to be leaders in a number of key fields. Europe risks slipping behind
Asia in some of these technologies. The United States is still in a
position to retain its overall lead, although it must increasingly compete
with Asia to retain its edge and may lose significant ground in some
firms will become global, and those operating in the global arena will be
more diverse, both in size and origin, more Asian and less Western in orientation.
Such corporations, encompassing the current, large multinationals, will
be increasingly outside the control of any one state and will be key agents
of change in dispersing technology widely, further integrating the world
economy, and promoting economic progress in the developing world.
Their ranks will include a growing number based in such countries as China,
India, or Brazil. While North America, Japan, and Europe might collectively
continue to dominate international political and financial institutions,
globalization will take on an increasingly non-Western character. By 2020,
globalization could be equated in the popular mind with a rising Asia, replacing
its current association with Americanization.
An expanding global economy will increase demand for many raw materials,
such as oil. Total energy consumed probably will rise by about 50 percent
in the next two decades compared to a 34 percent expansion from 1980-2000,
with a greater share provided by petroleum. Most experts assess that with
substantial investment in new capacity, overall energy supplies will be
sufficient to meet global demands. But on the supply side, many of the areas
- the Caspian Sea, Venezuela, and West Africa - that are being counted on
to provide increased output involve substantial political or economic risk.
Traditional suppliers in the Middle East are also increasingly unstable.
Thus sharper demand-driven competition for resources, perhaps accompanied
by a major disruption of oil supplies, is among the key uncertainties.
- China, India, and other developing countries’
growing energy needs suggest a growing preoccupation with energy, shaping
their foreign policies.
- For Europe, an increasing preference for
natural gas may reinforce regional relationships - such as with Russia
or North Africa - given the interdependence of pipeline delivery.
Challenges to Governance
The nation-state will continue to be the dominant
unit of the global order, but economic globalization and the dispersion
of technologies, especially information technologies, will place enormous
new strains on governments. Growing connectivity will be accompanied
by the proliferation of virtual communities of interest, complicating the
ability of states to govern. The Internet in particular will spur 13 the
creation of even more global movements, which may emerge as a robust force
in international affairs.
Part of the pressure on governance will come from new forms of identity
politics centered on religious convictions. In a rapidly globalizing world
experiencing population shifts, religious identities provide followers with
a ready-made community that serves as a “social safety net” in times of
need - particularly important to migrants. In particular, political
Islam will have a significant global impact leading to 2020, rallying disparate
ethnic and national groups and perhaps even creating an authority that transcends
national boundaries. A combination of factors - youth bulges
in many Arab states, poor economic prospects, the influence of religious
education, and the Islamization of such institutions as trade unions, nongovernmental
organizations, and political parties - will ensure that political Islam
remains a major force.
Outside the Middle East, political Islam
will continue to appeal to Muslim migrants who are attracted to the
more prosperous West for employment opportunities but do not feel at
home in what they perceive as an alien and hostile culture.
|Regimes that were able to
manage the challenges of the 1990s could be overwhelmed by those of 2020.
Contradictory forces will be at work: authoritarian regimes will face new
pressures to democratize, but fragile new democracies may lack the adaptive
capacity to survive and develop.
The so-called “third wave” of democratization may
be partially reversed by 2020 - particularly among the states of the former
Soviet Union and in Southeast Asia, some of which never really embraced
democracy. Yet democratization and greater pluralism could gain
ground in key Middle Eastern countries which thus far have been excluded
from the process by repressive regimes.
With migration on the increase in several places around the world - from
North Africa and the Middle East into Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean
into the United States, and increasingly from Southeast Asia into the northern
regions - more countries will be multi-ethnic and will face the challenge
of integrating migrants into their societies while respecting their ethnic
and religious identities.
Chinese leaders will face a dilemma over how much to accommodate pluralistic
pressures to relax political controls or risk a popular backlash if they
do not. 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
With the international system itself undergoing profound
flux, some of the institutions that are charged with managing global problems
may be overwhelmed by them. Regionally based institutions will
be particularly challenged to meet the complex transnational threats posed
by terrorism, organized crime, and WMD proliferation. Such post-World War
II creations as the United Nations and the international financial institutions
risk sliding into obsolescence unless they adjust to the profound changes
taking place in the global system, including the rise of new powers.
We foresee a more pervasive sense of insecurity - which may be as much based
on psychological perceptions as physical threats - by 2020. Even
as most of the world gets richer, globalization will profoundly shake up
the status quo - generating enormous economic, cultural, and consequently
political convulsions. With the gradual integration of China,
India, and other emerging countries into the global economy, hundreds of
millions of working-age adults will become available for employment in what
is evolving into a more integrated world labor market.
- This enormous work force - a growing portion
of which will be well educated - will be an attractive, competitive
source of low-cost labor at the same time that technological innovation
is expanding the range of globally mobile occupations.
- The transition
will not be painless and will hit the middle classes of the developed
world in particular, bringing more rapid job turnover and
requiring professional retooling. Outsourcing on a large scale would
strengthen the antiglobalization movement. Where these pressures lead
will depend on how political leaders respond, how flexible labor markets
become, and whether overall economic growth is sufficiently robust to
absorb a growing number of displaced workers.
governments, lagging economies, religious extremism, and youth bulges will
align to create a perfect storm for internal conflict in certain regions.
The number of internal conflicts is down significantly since the late 1980s
and early 1990s when the breakup of the Soviet Union and Communist regimes
in Central Europe allowed suppressed ethnic and nationalistic strife to
flare. Although a leveling off point has been reached where we can expect
fewer such conflicts than during the last decade, the continued prevalence
of troubled and institutionally weak states means that such conflicts will
continue to occur.
Some internal conflicts, particularly those that involve ethnic groups straddling
national boundaries, risk escalating into regional conflicts. At their most
extreme, internal conflicts can result in failing or failed states, with
expanses of territory and populations devoid of effective governmental control.
Such territories can become sanctuaries for transnational terrorists (such
as al-Qa’ida in Afghanistan) or for criminals and drug cartels (such as
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. The rigidities of alliance systems before World War I and
during the interwar period, as well as the two-bloc standoff during the
Cold War, virtually assured that small conflicts would be quickly generalized.
The growing dependence on global financial and trade networks will help
deter interstate conflict but does not eliminate the possibility. Should
conflict occur that involved one or more of the great powers, the consequences
would be significant. The absence of effective conflict resolution mechanisms
in some regions, the rise of nationalism in some states, and the raw emotions
and tensions on both sides of some issues - for example, the Taiwan Strait
or India/Pakistan issues - could lead to miscalculation. Moreover, advances
in modern weaponry - longer ranges, precision delivery, and more destructive
conventional munitions - create circumstances encouraging the preemptive
use of military force.
Current nuclear weapons states will continue to improve the survivability
of their deterrent forces and almost certainly will improve the reliability,
accuracy, and lethality of their delivery systems as well as develop capabilities
to penetrate missile defenses. The open demonstration of nuclear capabilities
by any state would further discredit the current nonproliferation regime,
cause a possible shift in the balance of power, and increase the risk of
conflicts escalating into nuclear ones. Countries
without nuclear weapons - especially in the Middle East and Northeast Asia
- might decide to seek them as it becomes clear that their neighbors and
regional rivals are doing so. Moreover, the assistance of proliferators
will reduce the time required for additional countries to develop nuclear
Transmuting International Terrorism
The key factors that spawned international terrorism show no signs of
abating over the next 15 years. Facilitated by global communications,
the revival of Muslim identity will create a framework for the spread of
radical Islamic ideology inside and outside the Middle East, including Southeast
Asia, Central Asia and Western Europe, where religious identity has traditionally
not been as strong. This revival has been accompanied by a deepening solidarity
among Muslims caught up in national or regional separatist struggles, such
as Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, Mindanao, and southern Thailand,
and has emerged in response to government repression, corruption, and ineffectiveness.
Informal networks of charitable foundations, madrassas, hawalas1, and other
mechanisms will continue to proliferate and be exploited by radical elements;
alienation among unemployed youths will swell the ranks of those vulnerable
to terrorist recruitment.
We expect that by 2020 al-Qa’ida will be superceded
by similarly inspired Islamic extremist groups, and there is
a substantial risk that broad Islamic movements akin to al-Qa’ida will merge
with local separatist movements. Information technology, allowing for instant
connectivity, communication, and learning, will enable the terrorist threat
to become increasingly decentralized, evolving into an eclectic array of
groups, cells, and individuals that do not need a stationary headquarters
to plan and carry out operations. Training materials, targeting guidance,
weapons know-how, and fund-raising will become virtual (i.e., online).
Terrorist attacks will continue to primarily employ conventional weapons,
incorporating new twists and constantly adapting to counterterrorist efforts.
Terrorists probably will be most original not in the technologies or weapons
they use but rather in their operational concepts - i.e., the scope, design,
or support arrangements for attacks.
Strong terrorist interest in acquiring chemical, biological, radiological
and nuclear weapons increases the risk of a major terrorist attack involving
WMD. Our greatest concern is that terrorists might acquire biological agents
or, less likely, a nuclear device, either of which could cause mass casualties.
Bioterrorism appears particularly suited to the smaller, better-informed
groups. We also expect that terrorists will attempt cyber attacks to disrupt
critical information networks and, even more likely, to cause physical damage
to information systems.
In this era of great flux, we see several ways in which major global changes
could take shape in the next 15 years, from seriously challenging the nation-state
system to establishing a more robust and inclusive globalization. In the
body of this paper we develop these concepts in four fictional scenarios
which were extrapolated from the key trends we discuss in this report. These
scenarios are not meant as actual forecasts, but they describe
possible worlds upon whose threshold we may be entering, depending on how
trends interweave and play out:
- Davos World
provides an illustration of how robust economic growth, led by China
and India, over the next 15 years could reshape the globalization process
- giving it a more non-Western face and transforming the political playing
field as well.
- Pax Americana
takes a look at how US predominance may survive the radical changes
to the global political landscape and serve to fashion a new and inclusive
- A New
Caliphate provides an example of how a global movement
fueled by radical religious identity politics could constitute a challenge
to Western norms and values as the foundation of the global system.
- Cycle of Fear
provides an example of how concerns about proliferation might increase
to the point that large-scale intrusive security measures are taken
to prevent outbreaks of deadly attacks, possibly introducing an Orwellian
|Of course, these scenarios
illustrate just a few of the possible futures that may develop over the
next 15 years, but the wide range of possibilities we can imagine suggests
that this period will be characterized by increased flux, particularly in
contrast to the relative stasis of the Cold War era. The scenarios are not
mutually exclusive: we may see two or three of these scenarios unfold in
some combination or a wide range of other scenarios.
The role of the United States will be an important shaper of the international
order in 2020. 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 absent a single overarching threat on which
to build consensus. Although the challenges ahead
will be daunting, the United States will retain enormous advantages, playing
a pivotal role across the broad range of issues - economic, technological,
political, and military - that no other state will match by 2020.
Some trends we probably can bank on include dramatically altered alliances
and relationships with Europe and Asia, both of which formed the bedrock
of US power in the post-World War II period. The EU, rather than NATO, will
increasingly become the primary institution for Europe, and the role which
Europeans shape for themselves on the world stage is most likely to be projected
through it. Dealing with the US-Asia relationship may arguably be more challenging
for Washington because of the greater flux resulting from the rise of two
world-class economic and political giants yet to be fully integrated into
the international order. Where US-Asia relations lead will result as much
or more from what the Asians work out among themselves as any action by
Washington. One could envisage a range of possibilities from the US enhancing
its role as balancer between contending forces to Washington being seen
as increasingly irrelevant.
The US economy will become more vulnerable to fluctuations in the fortunes
of others as global commercial networking deepens. US dependence on foreign
oil supplies also makes it more vulnerable as the competition for secure
access grows and the risks of supply side disruptions increase.
While no single country looks within striking distance
of rivaling US 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. The possession of chemical, biological, and/or nuclear weapons
by Iran and North Korea and the possible acquisition of such weapons by
others by 2020 also increase the potential cost
of any military action by the US against them or their allies.
The success of the US-led counterterrorism campaign will hinge on the capabilities
and resolve of individual countries to fight terrorism on their own soil.
Counterterrorism efforts in the years ahead - against a more diverse set
of terrorists who are connected more by ideology than by geography - will
be a more elusive challenge than focusing on a centralized organization
such as al-Qa’ida. A counterterrorism strategy
that approaches the problem on multiple fronts offers the greatest chance
of containing - and ultimately reducing - the terrorist threat. The
development of more open political systems and representation, broader economic
opportunities, and empowerment of Muslim reformers would be viewed positively
by the broad Muslim communities who do not support the radical agenda of
Even if the numbers of extremists dwindle, however, the terrorist threat
is likely to remain. The rapid dispersion of biological and other lethal
forms of technology increases the potential for an individual not affiliated
with any terrorist group to be able to wreak widespread loss of life. Despite
likely high-tech breakthroughs that will make it easier to track and detect
terrorists at work, the attacker will have an easier job than the defender
because the defender must prepare against a large array of possibilities.
The United States probably will continue to be called on to help manage
such conflicts as Palestine, North Korea, Taiwan, and Kashmir to ensure
they do not get out of hand if a peace settlement cannot be reached. However,
the scenarios and trends we analyze in the paper suggest the possibility
of harnessing the power of the new players in contributing to global security
and relieving the US of some of the burden.
Over the next 15 years the increasing centrality
of ethical issues, old and new, have the potential to divide worldwide publics
and challenge US leadership. These issues include the environment
and climate change, privacy, cloning and biotechnology, human rights, international
law regulating conflict, and the role of multilateral institutions. The
United States increasingly will have to battle world public opinion, which
has dramatically shifted since the end of the Cold War. Some of the current
anti-Americanism is likely to lessen as globalization takes on more of a
non- Western face. At the same time, the younger generation of leaders -
unlike during the post-World War II period - has no personal recollection
of the United States as its “liberator” and is more likely to diverge with
Washington’s thinking on a range of issues.
In helping to map out the global future, the United States will have many
opportunities to extend its advantages, particularly in shaping a new international
order that integrates disparate regions and reconciles divergent interests.
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