The National Intelligence Council (NIC) has released its quadrennial report forecasting global trends that have a major impact on our world, “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” in shorthand, GT2030. While many organizations, both inside and outside of government, as well as pundits of varying stripes attempt to project what the future may hold – with varying degrees of success – GT2030 does this and does it extraordinarily well. And this is an especially important time to leverage this analysis. As the chairman of the NIC, Christopher A. Kojm puts it in an opening letter to readers:
We are at a critical juncture in human history, which could lead to widely contrasting futures. It is our contention that the future is not set in stone, but is malleable, the result of an interplay among megatrends, game-changers and, above all, human agency. Our effort is to encourage decision makers – whether in government or outside – to think and plan for the long term so that negative futures do not occur and positive ones have a better chance of unfolding.
A word about this document and about NIC: NIC has been around for decades and represents the primary way the U.S. intelligence community (IC) communicates in the unclassified realm. Initially a “wholly owned subsidiary” of the CIA, the NIC now works for the director of national intelligence and presents the collective research and analysis of the entire IC, an enterprise comprising 17 agencies with a combined budget of more than $60 billion a year – and growing.
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 definitive look at the future
Government and industry should look to GT2030 in order to determine future requirements to address threats against the United States and its interests. Why? Because this will drive future platforms, systems, sensors, and weapons needed by the U.S. military and other agencies, such as the departments of Homeland Security and State. Indeed, technology represents a huge focus of GT2030, and this makes the report especially valuable for industry, as Kojm explains:
In this volume, we expanded our coverage of disruptive technologies, devoting a separate section to it in the work. To accomplish that, we engaged with research scientists at DoE laboratories at Sandia, Oak Ridge, and NASA in addition to entrepreneurs and consultants in Silicon Valley and Santa Fe. We have also devoted strong attention to economic factors and the nexus of technology and economic growth.
The GT2030 report begins by describing megatrends, those factors that will likely occur under any future scenario. It then addresses game-changers, those critical variables whose trajectories are far less certain but which could affect world events in profound ways. Finally, acknowledging the diversity and complexity of various factors that can affect megatrends, GT2030 has gone beyond what the NIC provided in previous reports and put increased attention on scenarios or alternative worlds we might face.
Among the major projections in GT2030: China’s economy is set to overtake that of the United States in the 2020s, but China will not challenge the United States’ pre-eminence or the international order; Asia will become more powerful than both North America and Europe combined (based on GDP, population, military spending, and technological investment); the United States will achieve energy independence with shale gas; and wider access to disruptive technologies – including precision-strike capabilities, cyber instruments, and bioterror weaponry – could increase the risk of large-scale violence and disruption.
Global Trends 2030 is the fifth Global Trends publication in the NIC’s series, which aims to stimulate strategic thinking among decision-makers rather than seeking to predict the future. It 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.”
The report first lists four megatrends, considered “relative certainties” that are expected to shape the world out to 2030. The first is “individual empowerment,” which will come with the rise of a larger global middle class that is better educated and has wider access to health care and communications technologies. The report states that “for the first time, a majority of the world’s population will not be impoverished, and the middle classes will be the most important social and economic sector in the vast majority of countries around the world.”
The second megatrend is the “diffusion of power among countries.” As stated previously, Asia will surpass Europe and North America combined in terms of the indices of overall power, but no country – whether the United States, China, or any other – will be a hegemonic power. Instead, the report projects that the United States will remain “first among equals” in a multipolar world. Even greater than the shift in power among nations will be the shift in the nature of power as the world is increasingly characterized by “multifaceted and amorphous” networks and coalitions. Combined with the trend toward individual empowerment, this diffusion of power is projected to lead to a growing democratization globally.
The third megatrend is “demographic patterns,” which posits that most countries’ economic and political conditions will be shaped by aging, migration, and growing urbanization. On a positive note, GT2030 posits that the demographic “arc of instability will narrow.” But on a negative note, it predicts that economic growth might decline in “aging” countries. It notes that urbanizing trends are accelerating and that 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urbanized areas by 2030. It also notes migration will increase due to a variety of factors.
The fourth megatrend is the “growing nexus among energy, water and food.” GT2030 notes that scarcity of these three resources will be exacerbated by a growing demand as the global population increases from 7.1 billion today to about 8 billion by 2030. Key to the report is the stipulation that tackling problems pertaining to one commodity will be linked to supply and demand for the others.