The United States National Intelligence Council (N.I.C.) has released a report of its "2020 Project", which aims at describing the possible configurations of world politics 15 years from now. The report is of great interest to CRN, as our recommendations for policy initiatives concerning advanced nanotechnology must consider not only today's global realities, but tomorrow's as well.
According to an analysis prepared by The Power and Interest News Report (PINR), which they have graciously allowed us to quote, the N.I.C. report constitutes "a sober and realistic warning to decision makers committed to a unipolar vision of the world, in which the U.S. is the arbiter of globalization through wielding preponderant military power or, at the extreme, the first global empire."
Although the report identifies the release of a weapon of mass destruction -- particularly a major bio-terrorist attack -- as the greatest danger to global security, it does not place trends in the "war on terrorism" front and center. That position belongs to economic globalization, the only "mega-trend" named in the report. According to the Council, globalization -- "growing interconnectedness reflected in the expanded flows of information, technology, capital, goods, services, and people throughout the world" -- is "a force so ubiquitous that it will substantially shape all the other major trends in the world of 2020."
Besides economic globalization, we'll note one other force that could "substantially shape all the other major trends in the world" -- and that's exponential general-purpose molecular manufacturing. If it is developed before 2020, as seems possible, it could severely upset both economic and military balances of power.
Not suprisingly, the N.I.C. report points to the East when evaluating potential changes in global strategic relationships. According to PINR:
Its major conclusion is that China and India, along with possibly Brazil and Indonesia, will be "new major global players" that "will transform the geopolitical landscape, with impacts potentially as dramatic as those in the previous two centuries. In the same way that commentators refer to the 1900s as the 'American century,' the 21st century may be seen as the time when Asia, led by China and India, comes into its own."
The result of the rise of Asian powers will be the erosion of U.S. power, although the U.S. "will remain in 2020 the most important single country across all the dimensions of power" -- "an important shaper of the international order," but not its architect.
The relative decline of U.S. power is the most certain political trend identified by the report; it has an air of inevitability that places it beyond decisional control. Here the Council issues an implicit warning to Washington -- attempts to assert U.S. world hegemony are doomed to failure and U.S. interests will be best served by policies of "balancing" and "reconciling" the conflicting interests of other great powers, and moving toward intelligent retrenchment.
It will be interesting to see how these trends develop over the next decade or two; how the U.S. will react to a "relative decline" of power; and how the introduction of molecular manufacturing, if it occurs, may change the picture.
Washington is now constrained to cooperate and compete in the global great game, not as leader, but as the most powerful player. What works most in its favor, according to the Council, is a broadly shared interest by major powers in peaceful economic globalization that militates against "the likelihood of great power conflict escalating into total war."
Otherwise, the picture is more sobering -- the persistence of Islamism, the rising prospects of bio-terror, the possibility of more local wars, the appearance of more failed states, the possibility of nuclear proliferation, possible challenges to globalization in major powers caused by shifts in world labor markets, and conflicts over scarce strategic resources, among many others mentioned in the report, none of which can be managed by Washington alone, and all of which can be addressed successfully only by multinational and international initiatives.