Defense Media Network

Global Trends 2030: Tectonic Shifts Between Now and 2030

Part 4 of a series covering the National Intelligence Council's look into the future

What are Tectonic Shifts?

Tectonic shifts are the direct result of the megatrends we reported on in the previous post and are inextricably connected to them. These tectonic shifts represent concrete, visible, and important changes we will see in our world along the road to 2030. Some people, especially those in affected countries, will notice one or the other, or perhaps several of these trends, but only in “Global Trends 2030” do we see them compiled and connected.

“Underpinning the megatrends are tectonic shifts – critical changes to key features of our global environment that will affect how the world ‘works.’”

– “Global Trends 2030” Introduction to the Megatrends Section

Tectonic shifts represent the intersection and often the combination of megatrends affecting our world today and pushing forward into the future. For example, the growth of the global middle class constitutes a tectonic shift because for the first time, a majority of the world’s population will not be impoverished. In a similar way, aging represents a tectonic shift for both the West and increasingly most developing countries, which have a shrinking number of youthful workers to support their aging population.


Major Tectonic Shifts

There are seven major tectonic shifts, stemming from the factors noted above, that will manifest themselves over the next two decades:

  • Growth of the Global Middle Class: Middle classes most everywhere in the developing world are poised to expand substantially in terms of both absolute numbers and the percentage of the population that can claim middle-class status during the next 15 to 20 years.
  • Wider Access to Lethal and Disruptive Technologies: A wider spectrum of instruments of war – especially precision-strike capabilities, cyber instruments, and bioterror weaponry – will become readily accessible. Individuals and small groups will have the ability to perpetrate large-scale violence and disruption – a capability formerly the monopoly of nations.
  • Definitive Shift of Economic Power to the East and South: The U.S., European, and Japanese share of global income is projected to fall from 56 percent today to well under half by 2030. In 2008, China overtook the United States as the world’s largest saver; by 2020, emerging markets’ share of financial assets is projected to almost double.
  • Unprecedented and Widespread Aging: Whereas in 2012 only Japan and Germany have matured beyond a median age of 45 years, most European countries, South Korea, and Taiwan will have entered the post-mature age category by 2030. Migration will become more globalized as both rich and developing countries suffer from workforce shortages.
  • Urbanization: Today’s roughly 50-percent urban population will climb to nearly 60 percent, or 4.9 billion people, in 2030. Africa will gradually replace Asia as the region with the highest urbanization growth rate. Urban centers are estimated to generate 80 percent of economic growth; the potential exists to apply modern technologies and infrastructure, promoting better use of scarce resources.
  • Food and Water Pressures: Demand for food is expected to rise at least 35 percent by 2030, while demand for water is expected to rise by 40 percent. Nearly half of the world’s population will live in areas experiencing severe water stress. Fragile states in Africa and the Middle East are most at risk of experiencing food and water shortages, but China and India are also vulnerable.
  • U.S. Energy Independence: With shale gas, the United States will have sufficient natural gas to meet domestic needs and generate potential global exports for decades to come. Increased oil production from difficult-to-access oil deposits would result in a substantial reduction in the U.S. net trade balance and faster economic expansion. Global spare capacity may exceed over eight million barrels, at which point OPEC would lose price control and crude oil prices would collapse, causing a major negative impact on oil-export economies.


Trends, Shifts, and Planning

Earnest Will escort – Gas King

A tanker convoy under way in the Persian Gulf during Operation Earnest Will. The United States becoming a net energy exporter would likely affect the composition of the U.S. Navy. DoD photo by PH2 Elliott

What these tectonic shifts mean collectively will depend greatly on the individual’s or organization’s point of view. From the defense industry perspective, U.S. energy independence could well usher in a major change in where U.S. military forces – especially U.S. naval forces – operate. As OPEC and the Arabian Gulf region diminish in importance, it is highly likely that the United States will no longer feel the need to maintain substantial rotational naval forces forward in the Central Command area of responsibility.

On the other hand, as the United States becomes a net energy exporter, the role of naval forces to secure the global commons to protect these energy flows will likely increase, but the types of naval ships, aircraft and autonomous systems needed will likely be different from the types of naval forces the U.S. Navy fields today. Given the length of time it takes to build naval vessels, as well as how long they remain in service, the planning window for industry to react to these – as well as other – tectonic shifts may indeed be close at hand.

Continue to Part 5: Global Trends 2030: Game-Changers


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