“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.” – John Maynard Keynes, 1937, from Global Trends 2030
The National Intelligence Council (NIC) has recently released their comprehensive quadrennial report forecasting global trends that have a major impact on our world, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.” In shorthand, GT2030.
NIC has been in existence for over three decades and represents the primary way the U.S. intelligence community (IC) communicates in the unclassified realm. Initially a “wholly-owned subsidiary” of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the NIC now works directly for the director of national intelligence and presents the collective research and analysis of the entire IC, an enterprise comprising 16 agencies with a combined budget of well over $60 billion. In a sentence: There is no more comprehensive analysis of future trends available anywhere, at any price. It’s not an overstatement to say this 160-page document represents the most definitive analytical look at the future security environment.
Importantly, though, GT2030 does not attempt to “predict” the future. This is crucial, because many so-called “strategic thinkers” and organizations contend that they can do just that – and do it better than anyone else. Sadly, they cannot. The purpose of GT2030 is to cause us to think about the future for all the reasons, as John Maynard Keynes suggested over seven decades ago, we typically choose not to. The first paragraph of GT2030’s Executive Summary describes what this report does do:
“This report is intended to stimulate thinking about the rapid and vast geopolitical changes characterizing the world today and possible global trajectories during the next 15-20 years. 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.”
So how does this publication attempt to “provide a framework for thinking about possible futures and their implications?” Global Trends 2030 is the fifth in the NIC’s series, which aims to stimulate strategic thinking among decision makers rather than seeking to predict the future. Each edition of this publication (which began with Global Trends 2010), has reached out to a broader constituency than previous editions. Global Trends 2030 is the most collaborative effort to date, incorporating input from government officials, businesses, universities, think tanks, and experts in 20 countries. The release of this quadrennial report intentionally coincides with the election of a new (or in this case, returning) administration, to “assist … in its strategic review.” GT2030 is performing that function today.
The World in 2030
While future posts on this website will go into more detail regarding various aspects of Global Trends 2030, it is worth pausing to look at a “bottom line up front,” regarding what GT2030 says about future trends, shifts, potential game-changers and plausible alternative security futures. Importantly, and as we will describe in more detail in future posts, this comprehensive, 160-page report performs an admirable deep dive into each of these areas.
GT2030’s detailed analysis sees a world of 2030 that will be radically transformed from our world today. It notes that by 2030, no country – whether the United States, China, or any other large country – will be a hegemonic power. The empowerment of individuals and diffusion of power among states and from states to informal networks will have a dramatic impact, largely reversing the historic rise of the West since 1750, restoring Asia’s weight in the global economy, and ushering in a new era of “democratization” at the international and domestic level.
In addition to individual empowerment and the diffusion of state power, GT2030’s analysis suggests that that two other megatrends will shape our world out to 2030: demographic patterns, especially rapid aging; and growing resource demands which, in the cases of food and water, may well lead to scarcities. These trends, which are virtually certain, exist today, but during the next 15-20 years they will gain much greater momentum.
Underpinning these megatrends, according to GT2030 are tectonic shifts – critical changes to key features of our global environment – that will affect how the world “works.” Extrapolations of the megatrends would alone point to a changed world by 2030 – but the world could be transformed in radically different ways.
GT2030 further suggests that six key game-changers – questions regarding the global economy, governance, conflict, regional instability, technology, and the role of the United States – will largely determine what kind of transformed world we will inhabit in 2030. GT2030 suggests that these game-changers are the raw – and unpredictable – elements that could either sow the seeds of global disruption or, alternatively, usher in incredible advances. Several potential “Black Swans” – surprise events that have a major effect – would cause large-scale disruption. All but two of these – the possibility of a democratic China or a reformed Iran – would have negative repercussions.
Future Global Trends 2030 Posts will explore the four mega-trends, the “tectonic shifts,” potential “game-changers” (and especially technological game-changers), and the alternative worlds GT2030 sees in more detail.