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Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds

A publication of the National Intelligence Council (USA).

Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds
Dear Reader,
Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds is the fifth installment in the National Intelligence Council’s series aimed at providing a framework for thinking about the future. As with previous editions, we hope that this report will stimulate strategic thinking by identifying critical trends and potential discontinuities. We distinguish between megatrends, those factors that will likely occur under any scenario, and game-changers, critical variables whose trajectories are far less certain. Finally, as our appreciation of the diversity and complexity of various factors has grown, we have increased our attention to scenarios or alternative worlds we might face.

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 decisionmakers—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.

I would like to point out several innovations in Global Trends 2030. This volume starts with a look back at the four previous Global Trends reports. We were buoyed by the overall positive review in the study we commissioned, but cognizant too of the scope for needed changes, which we have tried to incorporate in this volume.

Our aim has been to make this effort as collaborative as possible, believing that a diversity of perspectives enriches the work. We have reached out to experts far beyond Washington, D.C. We have held numerous meetings, many in universities, in Indiana, Texas, California, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Colorado, Tennessee, New York, and New Jersey.

We also sponsored a public blog which featured blog posts and comments by experts on key themes discussed in Global Trends 2030. The blog had over 140 posts and over 200 comments. As of mid-October, it had 71,000 hits and had been viewed by readers in 167 different countries. To ensure that the blog posts can continue to be consulted, we are linking them to the web and e-book versions of the final published report.

We expanded our engagement overseas by holding meetings on the initial draft in close to 20 countries. Many times this was at the invitation of governments, businesses, universities, or think tanks. One beneficial outcome of the NIC’s quadrennial efforts has been the growing interest elsewhere in global trends, including elaboration by others on their own works, which we encourage. Because of the widespread interest in how Global Trends 2030 is seen elsewhere, we have detailed the reactions of our international experts to the initial draft in a special box following the introduction.

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.

Finally, this volume contains a chapter on the potential trajectories for the US role in the international system. Previous editions were criticized—particularly by overseas readers—for not discussing at greater length the US impact on future international relations. We believe that the United States also stands at a critical juncture; we have devoted a chapter to delineating possible future directions and their impact on the broader evolution of the international system.

Scores of people contributed to the preparation of Global Trends 2030, and we have sought to acknowledge the key contributors from outside the NIC in a separate entry. Within the NIC, Counselor Mathew Burrows was our principal author in addition to orchestrating the entire process from beginning to end. He was assisted by Elizabeth Arens as senior editor; Luke Baldwin, who established the first-ever NIC blog; Erin Cromer, who oversaw logistical support; and Jacob Eastham and Anne Carlyle Lindsay, who created the design. Dr. Burrows worked closely with regional and functional National Intelligence Officers, who reviewed and contributed to the draft. Among NIC offices, the NIC’s Strategic Futures Group under Director Cas Yost rates special mention for its participation across the board in Global Trends-related work. I would especially like to acknowledge the work of the late senior analyst Christopher Decker who provided critical help with the forecasts on global health and pandemics before his untimely death.

I encourage readers to review the complete set of Global Trends 2030 documents, which can be found on the National Intelligence Council’s website,, and to explore possible scenario simulations using the interactive material. We also have published the work in an e-book format so readers can download it for their use on a tablet. These formats are available for downloading from our website.

As with our previous Global Trends studies, we hope this report stimulates dialogue on the challenges that will confront the global community during the next 15-20 years—and positive and peaceful ways to meet them.

Christopher Kojm,
Chairman, National Intelligence Council

Track Record of Global Trends Works
Before launching work on the current volume, the NIC commissioned an academic study of the four previous Global Trends studies, beginning with the first edition in 1996-97. The reviewers examined the Global Trends papers to highlight any persistent blind spots and biases as well as distinctive strengths. A subsequent conference focused on addressing shortcomings and building on the studies’ strong points for the forthcoming work. We sought to address the reviewers’ concerns in designing the present project.
The key “looming” challenges that our reviewers cited for GT 2030 were to develop:
- A greater focus on the role of US in the international system. Past works assumed US centrality, leaving readers “vulnerable” to wonder about “critical dynamics” around the US role. One of the key looming issues for GT 2030 was “how other powers would respond to a decline or a decisive re-assertion of US power.” The authors of the study thought that both outcomes were possible and needed to be addressed.
- A clearer understanding of the central units in the international system. Previous works detailed the gradual ascendance of nonstate actors, but we did not clarify how we saw the role of states versus nonstate actors. The reviewers suggested that we delve more into the dynamics of governance and explore the complicated relationships among a diverse set of actors.
- A better grasp of time and speed. Past Global Trends works “correctly foresaw the direction of the vectors: China up, Russia down. But China’s power has consistently increased faster than expected ... A comprehensive reading of the four reports leaves a strong impression that [we] tend toward underestimation of the rates of change ... ”
- Greater discussion of crises and discontinuities. The reviewers felt that the use of the word “trends” in the titles suggests more continuity than change. GT 2025, however, “with its strongly worded attention to the likelihood of significant shocks and discontinuities, flirts with a radical revision of this viewpoint.” The authors recommended developing a framework for understanding the relationships among trends, discontinuities, and crises.
- Greater attention to ideology. The authors of the study admitted that “ideology is a frustratingly fuzzy concept ... difficult to define ... and equally difficult to measure.” They agreed that grand “isms” like fascism and communism might not be on the horizon. However, “smaller politico-pychosocial shifts that often don’t go under the umbrella of ideology but drive behavior” should be a focus.
- More understanding of second- and third-order consequences. Trying to identify looming disequilibria may be one approach. More wargaming or simulation exercises to understand possible dynamics among international actors at crucial tipping points was another suggestion.
We will let our readers judge how well we met the above challenges in this volume.

Executive Summary
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.

“ ... 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

Global trends 2030: an overview
- Individual Empowerment: Individual empowerment will accelerate owing to poverty reduction, growth of the global middle class, greater educational attainment, widespread use of new communications and manufacturing technologies, and health-care advances.
- Diffusion of Power: There will not be any hegemonic power. Power will shift to networks and coalitions in a multipolar world.
- Demographic Patterns: The demographic arc of instability will narrow. Economic growth might decline in “aging” countries. Sixty percent of the world’s population will live in urbanized areas; migration will increase.
- Food, Water, Energy Nexus: Demand for these resources will grow substantially owing to an increase in the global population. Tackling problems pertaining to one commodity will be linked to supply and demand for the others.

- Crisis-Prone Global Economy: Will global volatility and imbalances among players with different economic interests result in collapse? Or will greater multipolarity lead to increased resiliency in the global economic order?
- Governance Gap: Will governments and institutions be able to adapt fast enough to harness change instead of being overwhelmed by it?
- Potential for Increased Conflict: Will rapid changes and shifts in power lead to more intrastate and interstate conflicts?
- Wider Scope of Regional Instability: Will regional instability, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, spill over and create global insecurity?
Impact of New Technologies: Will technological breakthroughs be developed in time to boost economic productivity and solve the problems caused by a growing world population, rapid urbanization, and climate change?
Role of the United States: Will the US be able to work with new partners to reinvent the international system?

Potential worlds
- Stalled Engines: In the most plausible worst-case scenario, the risks of interstate conflict increase. The US draws inward and globalization stalls.
- Fusion: In the most plausible best-case outcome, China and the US collaborate on a range of issues, leading to broader global cooperation.
Gini-Out-of-the-Bottle: Inequalities explode as some countries become big winners and others fail. Inequalities within countries increase social tensions. Without completely disengaging, the US is no longer the “global policeman.”
Nonstate World : Driven by new technologies, nonstate actors take the lead in confronting global challenges.

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Jeudi 18 Avril 2013