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Global Trends 2030: Nonstate World

Alternative Worlds and Hedging Strategies

In the previous post on Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds we looked at the uncertain but potentially worrisome Gini Out of the Bottle scenario, the third scenario presented in the National Intelligence Council’s (NIC) comprehensive analysis. This post will examine another more nuanced scenario, Nonstate World, which represents yet another uncertain scenario. The NIC’s companion report to Global Trends 2030, entitled “Le Menu,” provides the Cliff’s Notes description of this third alternative world this way:

“New and emerging technologies that favor greater empowerment of individuals, small groups and ad hoc coalition spur the increased power of nonstate actors. This is a patchwork and uneven world. Some global problems get solved because networks manage to coalesce and cooperation exists across state and nonstate divides. Security threats pose an increasing challenge: access to lethal and disruptive technologies expands to terrorists and criminal actors.”

Global governance institutions that do not adapt to the more diverse and widespread distribution of power are also less likely to be successful.

Without putting too fine a point on it, the Nonstate World scenario represents what is arguably the most uncertain and unpredictable scenario presented in Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. While the future worlds presented in the other three scenarios presented in GT2030 have their own uncertainties and conundrums, the Nonstate World scenario envisions a world where it is hard enough to guess, let alone “know,” what will transpire circa 2030.

Global governance institutions that do not adapt to the more diverse and widespread distribution of power are also less likely to be successful. Multinational businesses, IT communications firms, international scientists, NGOs, and groups that are used to cooperating across borders thrive in this hyper-globalized world where expertise, influence, and agility count for more than “weight” or “position” in this scenario. Private capital and philanthropy matter more, for example, than official development assistance. Social media, mobile communications, and big data are key components, underlying and facilitating cooperation among nonstate actors and with governments.

Boko Haram

One year-old Koursia Mahamadou’s father used to migrate to Nigeria to work and return with money to feed the family, but he is presently at home, fearful of returning to Nigeria because of the unrest caused by Boko Haram. There are countless organizations looking to take advantage of weak central/regional/local governments or to weaken them in ways that allow the violent non-state actors some degree of local control. Nyani Quarmyne/Save the Children photo

The reasons for this are clear. While the levers of governance of states are well known and well-tested and there is some (albeit imperfect) predictability to the “action-reaction” equation, for the Nonstate World scenario we simply don’t know what to expect because it has not been tried before. Yes, there has been “empowerment of individuals, small groups and ad hoc coalitions” in the past, in various venues and multiple fora, but this has happened – and continues to happen today – in an environment where states have the primary roles in all matters. Knowing whether “some global problems [will] get solved because networks manage to coalesce and cooperation exists across state and nonstate divides” is truly a “known-unknown” at this stage.

In a Nonstate World, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), multinational businesses, academic institutions, and wealthy individuals, as well as sub-national units such as megacities, flourish and take the lead in confronting global challenges. New and emerging technologies that favor greater empowerment of individuals, small groups, and ad hoc coalitions spur the increased power of nonstate actors. A transnational elite – educated at the same global academic institutions – emerges that leads key nonstate actors (major multinational corporations, universities, and NGOs). A global public opinion consensus among many elites and middle-class citizens on the major challenges – poverty, the environment, anti-corruption, rule-of-law, and peace – form the base of their support and power. In this Nonstate World scenario, countries do not disappear, but governments increasingly see their role as organizing and orchestrating “hybrid” coalitions of state and nonstate actors, which shifts depending on the challenge.

This is a “patchwork” and uneven world. Some global problems get solved because networks manage to coalesce, and cooperation exists across state and nonstate divides. In other cases, nonstate actors may try to deal with a challenge, but they are stymied because of opposition from major powers who, as noted above, often consider these NGOs, multinational businesses, academic institutions, and wealthy individuals as threats to their authority.

Authoritarian regimes – preoccupied with asserting the primacy and control of the central government – find it hardest to operate in this world. Indeed, authoritarian regimes will more than likely see these NGOs, multinational businesses, academic institutions, and wealthy individuals as threats to their authority and take measures to marginalize them. Smaller, more agile states where the elites are also more integrated are apt to be key players – punching way above their weight – more so than large countries, which lack social or political cohesion.

Global governance institutions that do not adapt to the more diverse and widespread distribution of power are also less likely to be successful. Multinational businesses, IT communications firms, international scientists, NGOs, and groups that are used to cooperating across borders thrive in this hyper-globalized world where expertise, influence, and agility count for more than “weight” or “position” in this scenario. Private capital and philanthropy matter more, for example, than official development assistance. Social media, mobile communications, and big data are key components, underlying and facilitating cooperation among nonstate actors and with governments.

World Vision NGO

In the Nonstate World scenario, non-governmental organizations, such as World Vision International, shown here during relief efforts, will have increasing influence. World Vision photo

In this scenario, the scale, scope, and speed of urbanization – and which actors can succeed in managing these challenges – are critical, particularly in the developing world. National governments that stand in the way of these clusters will fall behind. This is why such attention is paid to the increasing pace of urbanization wrought by factors such as globalization as well by migrations to cities set off by environmental factors such as food and water shortages in interior sections of many nations, especially those in Asia and Africa.

In this Nonstate World scenario, security threats pose an increasing challenge: access to lethal and disruptive technologies expands, enabling individuals and small groups to perpetrate violence and disruption on a large scale. Terrorists and criminal networks take advantage of the confusion over shifting authorities among a multiplicity of governance actors to acquire and use lethal technologies. Economically, global growth does slightly better than in the Gini Out of the Bottle scenario because there is greater cooperation among nonstate actors and between them and national governments on big global challenges in this world. This world is also more stable and socially cohesive than Stalled Engines.

This is a “patchwork” and uneven world. Some global problems get solved because networks manage to coalesce, and cooperation exists across state and nonstate divides. In other cases, nonstate actors may try to deal with a challenge, but they are stymied because of opposition from major powers who, as noted above, often consider these NGOs, multinational businesses, academic institutions, and wealthy individuals as threats to their authority.

Car Bombing Baghdad

The aftermath of a car bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2007. In the Nonstate World scenario, more radical groups and individuals would have increased access to weapons of mass destruction and advanced weaponry. Photo by Jim Gordon

In this Nonstate World scenario, security threats pose an increasing challenge: access to lethal and disruptive technologies expands, enabling individuals and small groups to perpetrate violence and disruption on a large scale. Terrorists and criminal networks take advantage of the confusion over shifting authorities among a multiplicity of governance actors to acquire and use lethal technologies. Economically, global growth does slightly better than in the Gini Out of the Bottle scenario because there is greater cooperation among nonstate actors and between them and national governments on big global challenges in this world. This world is also more stable and socially cohesive than Stalled Engines.

Since this Nonstate World scenario is so different to our current paradigm, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds has inserted a fictional letter in its analysis of this scenario. It begins: In 2030 an historian is writing a history of globalization and its impact on the state during the past 30 years. He had done a doctoral thesis on the 17th century Westphalian state system but hadn’t managed to land an academic job. He was hoping that a study of a more recent period would give him a chance at a big-time management consultancy job. Following is a synopsis of his book, The Expansion of Subnational Power. Two paragraphs from this letter are provided below:

“This “can-do” and “everyone-can-make-a-difference” spirit has caught on with the rising middle classes around the world, which are increasingly self-reliant. It’s fair to say that in a number of cases, the rising middle classes distrust the long-time elites who have controlled national governments in their countries. Hence, for the rising middle classes, working outside and around government has been the way to be upwardly mobile. Denied entry at the national level, many – when they seek elected office – see cities as steppingstones to political power.

This new global elite and middle class also increasingly agree on which issues are the major global challenges. For example, they want to stamp out cronyism and corruption because these factors have been at the root of what has sustained the old system or what they term the ancient regime. The corruption of the old elites has impeded upward mobility in many countries. The new elites believe strongly in rule-of-law as a way of enforcing fairness and opportunity for all. A safe and healthy environment is also important to ensuring quality of life. Many are crusaders for human justice and the rights of women.”

The United States has an advantage in this Nonstate World scenario because many nonstate actors – multinationals, NGOs, think tanks, and universities – originated in the United States, but they increasingly see themselves as having a global identity. The U.S. government maximizes its influence when it organizes a hybrid coalition of state and nonstate actors to deal with global challenges. Across the Atlantic, Europe thrives as it uses its soft powers – NGOs, universities, and global finance and business – to boost its standing. The emphasis on coalition and inclusiveness in this world plays to the Europeans’ strength of coalition-building to solve challenges.

Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds notes that “none of these alternative worlds are inevitable and in reality, the future will probably consist of elements from all the scenarios.” 

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