The American Century is drawing to a close, and the U.S. Defense Department will have to be more flexible in dealing with a faster-paced multipolar world, according to the Global Trends 2030 report released Dec. 10.
The National Intelligence Council has looked to the future to jumpstart the conversation about what U.S. policy should be, given world-wide trends.
In the annual report, the NIC makes its best guesses about several “megatrends” that will shape the world in 2030.
The first is individual empowerment. The council believes there will be a significant decrease in poverty in the world and a concomitant increase in the middle class. The council says this represents a “tectonic shift,” as for the first time in history “a majority of the world’s population will not be impoverished.”
The NIC expects the global economy to expand and the new members of the middle class will be able to harness new communications and manufacturing technologies.
The council sees this megatrend as the key to solving global challenges over the next 15 to 20 years. But the results of this expanded economy aren’t all rosy. The trend could also give individuals and small groups access to lethal and disruptive technologies and capabilities once only held by nation states.
The second megatrend NIC predicts is the diffusion of power. The council posits that by 2030, Asia will surpass the West in gross domestic production, population size, military spending and technology investment. If this occurs, China would become the world’s largest economy, with India and Brazil close behind. Other rising nations could include Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa and Turkey, while Russia, Europe and Japan could continue their declines.
But, according to the council, more important than who is up or down is that the nature of power will change. “Enabled by communications technologies, power will shift toward multifaceted and amorphous networks that will form to influence state and global actions,” the report says. Countries unable to understand or use these new technologies “will not be able to punch their weight.”
Demographic changes will transform the world of 2030, the report said. NIC estimates that the world population will grow from 7.1 billion today to 8.3 billion in 2030. Aging, migration and urbanization will push this megatrend. Its most noticeable manifestation will be the continued growth of cities, the report predicts, spurring economic growth, but potentially straining food and water resources.
The report said developing countries could become demographically “older,” while the demand for labor drives migration. “Owing to rapid urbanization in the developing world, the volume of urban construction … over the next 40 years could roughly equal the entire volume of such construction to date in world history,” the report says.
Finally, NIC predicts that “demand for food, water and energy will grow by approximately 35, 40 and 50 percent respectively.” The growing population and expanded middle class will trigger that growth, the report said.
At the same time, the council wrote, climate change will accelerate, amplifying existing weather patterns – meaning that wet areas become wetter and dry areas become drier. The council said this does not necessarily mean a world of scarcity, but stressed that world leaders must collaborate to tackle the problem.