Global megatrends could be leading to a new era of democratization, according to a new report from the U.S. government’s National Intelligence Council.
But that is only one of several scenarios outlined in the report, Global Trends 2030, which warns of the potentially catastrophic impact of “Black Swans,” exceptional events that can shift the course of history, including rapid climate change, a severe global pandemic that killed millions in a matter of months. Two positive events – “a democratic China or a reformed Iran” – could generate more global stability.
“By 2030, no country—whether the US, China, or any other large country—will be a hegemonic power,” the report states. “The empowerment of individuals and diffusion of power among states and from states to informal networks will have a dramatic impact, largely reversing the historic rise of the West since 1750, restoring Asia’s weight in the global economy, and ushering in a new era of ‘democratization’ at the international and domestic level.”
“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 concludes.
New communications technologies will shift political power from nation states “toward multifaceted and amorphous networks that will form to influence state and global actions,” the NIC contends.
“Those nations with some of the strongest fundamentals — GDP, population size, etc. — will not be able to punch their weight unless they learn to operate in networks and coalitions in a multipolar world.”
Nevertheless, the U.S. is most likely to remain “first among equals” in 2030.
The U.S. will remain the only power “that can really orchestrate these coalitions, including non-state actors and state actors, to really manage, deal with these huge challenges and changes” the world faces, said NIC Counselor Mathew Burrows, the report’s principal author.
In one potential scenario for global governance, “cooperation, initially based on the US and China coming together, quickly spreads. Greater democratization takes hold first with a more liberal regime in China.”
“Chinese democratization could constitute an immense ‘wave,’ increasing pressure for change on other authoritarian states,” the authors contend.
But the authors warn that sectarian violence in the Arab world, “could undermine support for democratic governance and lead to the emergence of strongman dictators—propelling these countries away from liberal democracy.”
The report outlines several scenarios, or “Potential Worlds,” for 2030, including “Stalled Engines”, the “most plausible worst-case scenario [in which] the risks of interstate conflict increase….The U.S. draws inward and globalization stalls.”
Much of the report, the fifth in a series by the NIC, an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, highlights potentially positive trends, including a healthier, more educated and more affluent global population and a shift toward greater democracy.
“We are at a critical juncture in human history, which could lead to widely contrasting futures,” Council Chairman Christopher Kojm writes in the report.
With “economic growth, the rise of the global middle class, greater educational obtainment and better health care mean — for the first time in human history — the majority of the world’s population will no longer be impoverished,” he said.
The global expansion of the middle classes will accelerate pressure for political and social change, but democracy will not necessarily result.
“Historically, the rise of middle classes has led to populism and dictatorships as well as pressures for greater democracy,” the authors note.
Democratization may also generate severe political and social disruption, the report contends.
“Many experts believe a more democratic China would unleash growing nationalistic sentiment, at least in the short-to-medium term, increasing already existing tensions with China’s neighbors,” the authors note:
Over the longer term, as rule-of-law institutions become more rooted and the political system stabilizes and is perceived as non-threatening, Chinese “soft power” could be boosted. China’s successful transition to democratization could increase pressure on other authoritarian states as well as further burnish China’s economic development model as long as democratization did not permanently stem China’s economic growth.
“A world of surging middle classes, varying economic potentials, and more diffuse power will also exhibit an increasingly diverse ideological landscape,” says the report, with religion “at the center of these ideological debates within and across societies.”
The growing education, earning power, education and political leverage of women “will be a key driver of success for many countries,” with gender gaps closing fastest in East Asia and Latin America.
In the Middle East, the youth who led the Arab revolts will eventually contribute to a gradually aging population and as new technologies begin to supply the world with alternative sources of oil and gas, the region’s economy will need to diversify.
“But the Middle East’s trajectory will depend on its political landscape,” the report states.
“On the one hand, if the Islamic Republic maintains power in Iran and is able to develop nuclear weapons, the Middle East will face a highly unstable future. On the other hand, the emergence of moderate, democratic governments or a breakthrough agreement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have enormously positive consequences.”
The region “will be a very different place” in 2030, the authors contend. “But the possibilities run a wide gamut from fragile growth and development to chronic instability and potential regional conflicts.”
Chronic instability will be a feature of the Middle East because of the growing weakness of the state and the rise of sectarianism, Islam, and tribalism”:
The challenge will be particularly acute in states such as Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria where sectarian tensions were often simmering below the surface as autocratic regimes co-opted minority groups and imposed harsh measures to keep ethnic rivalries in check. …. Under any scenario, Yemen is likely to be a security concern with weak central government, poverty, unemployment with a young population that will go from 28 million today to 50 million in 2025. Bahrain could also become a cockpit for growing Sunni-Shia rivalry, which could be destabilizing for the Gulf region.
“Over time,” the authors suggest, “ongoing violence could undermine support for democratic governance and lead to the emergence of strongman dictators—propelling these countries away from liberal democracy.”
The use of new communications technologies and social media will empower citizens, but it will also provide governments “an unprecedented ability to monitor their citizens,” the report said.
“The widespread use of new communications technologies will become a double-edged sword for governance. On the one hand, social networking will enable citizens to coalesce and challenge governments, as we have already seen in Middle East,” the report states.
On the other hand,…
“Connective technologies will give governments—both authoritarian and democratic—an unprecedented ability to monitor their citizens,” the NIC notes. “If threats and challenges to state control escalate, IT use in statecraft presents opportunities for middle and emerging powers to project soft power and increase their influence through new IT-enabled strategic communications relative to bigger countries.”
Many currently fragile states—such as Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia—are “likely to remain highly vulnerable during the next 15-20 years.”
“These countries will most likely continue to have weak governance, security, and economic performance while facing demographic and environmental challenges,” the report suggests.
In Asia, the report envisages a “consolidated regional order in which an East Asian community develops along the lines of Europe’s democratic peace, with China’s political liberalization a precondition for such a regional evolution.”
“Such a pathway for regional order presumes that Asian regionalism will develop in a pluralistic way that preserves the autonomy of smaller Asian states. A pluralistic and peace-loving East Asian community might require the continued role of the United States as the region’s security guarantor.”