Defense Media Network

Global Trends 2030: Game-Changers

Part 5 of a series covering the National Intelligence Council's look into the future

A Predictable Glide Slope – Up Until Now

The previous two posts have focused on megatrends and tectonic shifts described in “Global Trends 2030.” These are the fundamental underpinnings regarding how the intelligence community – the IC – looks at the future, based on, to borrow a phrase from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “known-knowns.”

While not tilting against John Maynard Keynes rejoinder that, “The idea of the future being different from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behavior that we, most of us, offer a great resistance to acting on it in practice,” at the end of the day, megatrends and tectonic shifts represent those trends that will likely occur under any future scenario. In other words, they are things we can “take to the bank” without a lot of argument.

 

What Are Game-Changers?

Hundreds of refugees from Libya line up for food at a transit camp near the Tunisia-Libya border, March 5, 2011. The spillover of regional conflicts is a game-changer. U.N. photo by Mark Garten

Hundreds of refugees from Libya line up for food at a transit camp near the Tunisia-Libya border, March 5, 2011. The spillover of regional conflicts is a potential game-changer. U.N. photo by Mark Garten

That takes care of the “known-knowns,” but what about, again borrowing from Rumsfeld, the “known-unknowns?” GT2030 has identified six potential “game-changers,” events that we cannot say will happen, but that could happen under certain sets of conditions.

Although these megatrends and tectonic shifts are expected to shape the world out to 2030, GT2030 acknowledges that these critical game-changers have the potential to largely determine “what kind of transformed world will be inhabited in 2030.” These game-changers are questions regarding:

  • the health of the international economy;
  • global governance;
  • conflict;
  • regional instability;
  • technological breakthroughs, and;
  • the role of the United States.

 

Global Trends 2030’s Six Potential Game-Changers

The vast changes resulting from the megatrends and tectonic shifts alone ensure a transformed world by 2030. How these six game-changers evolve and interact with each other and with the megatrends and tectonic shifts will determine what kind of transformed world we will experience in 2030. Briefly, the six key game-changers and their potential impacts are:

  • The Crisis-prone Global Economy: GT2030 does a deep dive into the question regarding whether divergences among players with different economic interests and global volatility will result in a worldwide economic breakdown and collapse. Conversely, this game-changer could go the other way, with the development of multiple growth centers leading to increased resiliency in the global economic order.
  • The Governance Gap: GT2030 tees up a critical potential game-changer and one closely associated with the previous one, asking if current governments and international institutions will be able to adapt quickly enough to harness change instead of being overwhelmed by this change. Without putting too fine a point on it, the current U.S. government gridlock reinforces the importance of this potential game-changer.

    President Obama delivers the State of the Union, Jan. 24, 2012. Current U.S. government gridlock showcase what a game-changer governance is. U.S. Capitol photo

    President Obama delivers the State of the Union address, Jan. 24, 2012. Current U.S. government gridlock showcases what a game-changer governance can be. U.S. Capitol photo

  • The Potential for Increased Conflict: GT2030 points out that rapid changes and shifts in power could well lead to more intrastate and interstate conflicts, but on the other hand, this potential for conflict may well be ameliorated and dampened down by other means. The current conflicts in North Africa suggest that this is a game-changer that bears watching.
  • A Wider Scope of Regional Instability: Closely connected to the previous potential game-changer is the potential for regional spillover. GT2030 asks the question regarding this game-changer with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia and the potential for the conflicts there leading to global instability.
  • The Impact of New Technologies: GT2030 notes that technology will figure prominently in what kind of future world we live in. It asks the question, will technological breakthroughs be developed in time to boost economic productivity and solve the problems caused by the strain on natural resources and climate change as well as chronic disease, aging populations, and rapid urbanization?

This is an especially important part of the GT2030 report for industry – and one that is especially user-friendly. GT2030 organizes these technologies into four areas:

  1. Resource Technologies, including genetically modified crops, precision agriculture, water management, bio-based energy, and solar energy.
  2. Automation and Manufacturing Technologies, including, robotics, remote and autonomous vehicles, additive manufacturing, and 3-D printing.
  3. Information Technologies, including data solutions, social networking, and smart city technologies.
  4. Health Technologies, including disease management and human augmentation, and technologies supporting increased human longevity.

Due to the enormous impact of these technologies, especially for those in industry reading these posts, we will further explore these technologies in future posts.

The guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS McCampbell (DDG 85) maneuver with the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) destroyer Guangzhou off the coast of North Sulawesi, Indonesia, following an international fleet review that commemorated the 64th anniversary of Indonesian independence, Aug. 19, 2009. Fitzgerald and McCampbell are part of Destroyer Squadron 15 and the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group underway supporting security and stability in the western Pacific Ocean. The United States will have to decide to either work with rising powers or to retrench. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ian Schoeneberg

The guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS McCampbell (DDG 85) maneuver with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) destroyer Guangzhou off the coast of North Sulawesi, Indonesia, following an international fleet review that commemorated the 64th anniversary of Indonesian independence, Aug. 19, 2009.  The United States will have to decide to either work with rising powers or to retrench. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ian Schoeneberg

The Role of the United States: Boldly, even courageously, for a publication created by the U.S. intelligence community, GT2030 asks whether the United States will be able to work with new partners to reinvent the international system, carving out new roles in an expanded world order, or whether the United States will retrench and play a less-prominent role in the international system.

Without overstating the current Washington gridlock, the real economic challenges the nation faces, and the voices calling for less U.S. involvement in international crisis management, it is fair to say the paths the role of the United States could take in the future are divergent, perhaps wildly so.

How important – and potentially impactful – are these potential game-changers? “Global Trends 2030” dedicates 70 pages of this 160-page report to them. This fact, in and of itself, tells us that they bear watching. This link to “Global Trends 2030” will enable you to look at these potential game-changers in detail.

 

Beyond Game-Changers

Potential game-changers are important – and worth further analysis and study. But beyond potential game-changers are other events, often called “Black Swans” that could radically – and even suddenly – completely upset the world order as we know and anticipate it. The next post will investigate eight potential Black Swans.

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Captain George Galdorisi is a career naval aviator. He began his writing career in 1978...