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The U.S. intelligence community has confirmed in a new report that global power in the future will not be marked by the deployment of large military force or arsenals of nuclear weapons, two measures of American power that still have a large following in Washington.

In a new report entitled “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds”, the National Intelligence Council said global power in that year will be reflected instead by a mix of factors, including the state of technology, health, education, and governance as well as GDP (the size of the national economy), population size, and military spending.

And by 2030, countries in Asia will have surpassed the United States in many of these power metrics, meaning that “the ‘unipolar moment’ is over and Pax Americana – the era of American ascendancy in international politics that began in 1945 – is fast winding down,” the report said. “There will not be any hegemonic power” in 18 years but instead a collection of “networks and coalitions” in which Asian nations and rising economic powers such as India, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa and Turkey will take part.

This may not seem revolutionary, but it contravenes some rhetoric that surrounded the presidential campaign, which still animates those wedded to a nostalgic model of American predominance in global affairs. The days of primacy are over, says the council, which held meetings with scholars and experts in 10 states and 20 countries, and drew on studies by national laboratories and advice from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Predominance is an ambition Americans cannot expect to see fulfilled, and certainly not by doing more of what we do now, says the report, prepared by an analytic unit of the White House’s Director of National Intelligence.

Military spending in the United States won’t remain at the current level “in the absence of a major emergency,” and could wind up being half its current proportion of the GDP, the report suggests. Moreover, “in a multispeed economic world in which the West continues to experience severe fiscal constraints…the trend toward an increasingly disproportionate share of military spending by the non-G-7 [industrialized nations] will continue to grow.”

The report, the fifth in a series and 137 pages, says that the country is at a “critical juncture,” facing decisions that can produce highly different outcomes. The worst of those would be an advanced state of international disorder and the best would be a long-term problem-solving partnership between the United States and China that produces stability around the globe. America should not retreat from the world, it says, but should remain “a global security provider” along with others.

Dark forces could readily disrupt human and economic progress, some of which the report calls “black swans.” These include a global recession, a pandemic, worse climate change than now expected, the collapse of China, an effective attack with cyber weapons, the detonation of a nuclear bomb, a devastating solar storm, and even a tsunami that originates in an earthquake near Puerto Rico and ravages the East Coast. The report also worries about the spread of new lethal technologies, including those that underlie precision-strike weapons and biowarfare.

Despite its many uncertainties, however, the report is littered with small but highly interesting factoids and forecasts worthy of attention by those watching whether American lawmakers are preparing the nation for the challenges of the future. They include the following:

  • “Income distribution in the US is considerably more unequal than in other advanced countries and is becoming more so. Although incomes of the top 1 percent have soared, median household incomes have declined since 1999. Social mobility is lower and relative poverty rates are higher in the US than in most other advanced countries.”
  • “The US education advantage relative to the rest of the world has been cut in half in the past 30 years.”
  • By 2030, nearly half of the world’s population will live in areas experiencing water shortages.
  • Around 50 countries are now in “the awkward stage” of transition from autocracy to democracy, marked by a “proven track record of instability.”
  • Afghanistan and Pakistan face “youth bulges” comparable to many African nations. Many experts doubt that Pakistan can “turn the corner” by opening new trade ties with India and establishing a better government; instead it may become more Islamicized or unravel altogether.
  • India is in better shape – its economic advantage over Pakistan will grow from 8-to-1 to perhaps 16-to-1 — but the country will be weakened by “inequality, lack of infrastructure, and education deficiencies.”
  • In the next five years, China’s populace will likely reach an economic threshold that the NIC says often triggers democratization – a per capita purchasing power parity of $15,000.
  • The involvement of women in governance will lag behind their educational gains, even though studies show “participation of women in parliament or senior government positions correlates stronger with lower corruption.”
  • Somalia, Uganda, Nigeria, Niger and Chad will all experience higher risks of state failure.
  • “Many of our interlocutors saw a Palestine emerging from Arab-Israeli exhaustion and an unwillingness of Israelis and Palestinians to engage in endless conflict.”

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R. Jeffrey Smith worked for 25 years in a series of key reporting and editorial roles at The Washington...