USA - "First" Among Equals in a Multipolar System

Posted in United States | 23-Dec-08 | Author: Dieter Farwick

"The United States will remain the single most powerful country."
"The United States will remain the single most powerful country."
“Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World” is the title of the report of the US National Intelligence Council - a publication that was very well timed between the presidential elections in November 2008 and the next US president’s inauguration on January 20, 2009.

Global Trends 2025 is the fourth installment in the National Intelligence Council-led effort to identify key drivers and developments likely to shape world events a decade or more in the future. This iteration of Global Trends 2025 is the most collaborative report yet produced with inputs from experts outside the world of secret services from the US and from abroad. It has one weak spot: The authors could not reflect sufficiently the current global deep crises in the financial and economic world and their mid-and long-term impact on the future development of countries and regions. The year 2009 will already be crucial for the road to 2025. It will be decisive in determining how countries will be able to cope with the complex challenges and their first countermeasures.

Global Trends 2025 emphasizes that any prognosis covering the next 15 –20 years produces a broad range of possible developments within a well-defined framework of still variable risks and opportunities. The report addresses all key factors: Economy, climate change, financial status, demography, technology, military, religion, food and water supply - that are relevant with regards to the role a particular country might play in the coming years. This comprehensive approach makes the report a must-read for all leaders and decision makers – be it in politics, economy, stock market, military or trade.

The hundred-page-report contains:

Executive Summary

Introduction: A Transformed World

Chapter 1: The Globalizing Economy

Chapter 2: The Demographics of Discord

Chapter 3: The New Players (including Global Scenario I: A world without the West)

Chapter 4: Scarcity in the Midst of Plenty (including Global Scenario II: October Surprise)?

Chapter 5: Growing Potential for Conflict (including Global Scenario III: BRICSs’ Bust Up)

Chapter 6: Will the International System Be Up to the Challenges (including Global Scenario IV: Politics is Not Always Local)?

Chapter 7: Power-sharing in a Multipolar World

This newsletter will focus on the most important findings and assessments. It is no substitute for reading the complete report.

Relative certainties and their likely impact

NIC report:

“The overriding relative certainty is the emerging global multipolar system with the rise of China, India and others. The relative power of non-state actors also will increase. This leads to the fact that by 2025 a single “international community” composed of nation-states will no longer exist. Power will be more dispersed with newer players.”

WSN:

It is obvious that non-state actors will have greater impact but we should not underestimate the sustainability and viability of nation-states. In the current global crisis there are signs for re-nationalization. For most people, the own nation-state is seen as being in charge and is held accountable to find solutions.

NIC report:

“The unprecedented shift in relative wealth and economic power roughly from West to East now under way will continue with the likely impact that as countries become more invested in their economic well-being, incentives toward geopolitical stability could increase. This transfer is strengthening states like Russia that want to challenge the Western order.”

(from left): Senator Joe Biden, designated US Vice President, Barack Obama, US President-elect, Senator Hillary Clinton, designated Minister for Foreign…
(from left): Senator Joe Biden, designated US Vice President, Barack Obama, US President-elect, Senator Hillary Clinton, designated Minister for Foreign Affairs: "The next US administration should take the report as a starting point for the next legislation."
WSN:

Russia is perhaps the best example for the impact of the current crisis. If and when the oil price remains close to the present level, the financial and economic clout of Russia will decrease drastically. Already today, Russia faces big challenges to sustain its ambitious foreign policy – not to speak about the rising domestic problems. It remains to be seen whether an authoritarian country with a state-controlled economy or whether a democracy with a more or less market economy is better placed to solve the deep crisis in the mid- and long-term.

NIC report:

“The United States will remain the single most powerful country but will be less dominant. Shrinking economic and military capabilities may force the US into a difficult set of tradeoffs between domestic versus foreign policy priorities.”

WSN:

This is certainly the option that makes it possible for the US, with its inherent dynamics and optimism to follow President-Elect Obama’s slogan: Yes we can. But this is far from sure. There is the other option that US power and influence will decline more than anticipated in the report. There is also some good news for the US: The emerging competitors are being hit, too.

NIC report:

“Continued economic growth – coupled with 1.2 billion more people by 2025 – will put pressure on energy, food and water resources. In this respect, the pace of technological innovation will be key to outcomes during this period. All current technologies are inadequate for replacing traditional energy architecture on the scale needed.”

WSN:

The growing demand and the shrinking availability of energy, food and water resources form the most explosive package to be defused. All countries and organizations should give highest priority to coming up with solutions. There is already pressure to act now. Without solutions, mass migration, conflicts and wars might become inevitable.

NIC report:

“The number of countries with youthful populations in the “arc of instability” will decrease, but the populations of several youth-bulge states are projected to remain on rapid growth trajectories with the consequence that unless employment conditions change dramatically in parlous youth-bulge states such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Yemen, these countries will remain ripe for continued instability and state failure.”

WSN:

The growth of population is a gift for those countries able to feed, educate, train and integrate the young people into the economy. It is a nightmare for those countries that are already unable to do so. Demography is a factor of security and stability that has been neglected in the past by many countries. One extreme is the shrinking, aging and graying populations – e.g. in most European countries, Russia and Japan – leading to the decline of a qualified work force and the increase of those no longer working who have to be looked after. The other extreme is the already weak states that might become failing states.

NIC report:

“The potential for conflicts will increase owing to rapid changes in parts of the greater Middle East and the spread of lethal capabilities leading to the need for the US to act as regional balancer in the Middle East, although other outside powers – Russia, China and India – will play greater roles than today.”

WSN:

In the greater Middle East, the Israel/Palestine conflict and the future course of Pakistan/Afghanistan will play a major role. WSN launched an initiative to improve the living conditions in FATA – the safe haven and breeding ground for transnational terrorism. WSN wants to offer incentives for young people not to join the ranks of al Qaeda and the new” Taliban. There will be no solution for Afghanistan and Pakistan without more stability and security in FATA.

NIC report:

“Terrorism is likely to disappear by 2025,but its appeal could lessen if economic growth continues in the Middle East and youth unemployment is reduced. For those terrorists that are active, the diffusion of technologies will put dangerous capabilities within their reach – leading to opportunities for mass-casualty terrorist attacks using chemical, biological, or less likely, nuclear weapons will increase as technologies diffuses and nuclear power (and possibly weapons) programs expand. The practical and psychological consequences of such attacks will intensify in an increasingly global world.”

WSN:

Weapons of Mass Destruction in the hands of terrorist groups form a worst-case scenario. Even the virtual quality will change the situation. The proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction must be stopped.

Even the “certainties” are far from given – what about the “Key uncertainties?”

Gen(ret) James Jones, designated National Security Advisor. "Governments have to execute "simultaneous policy" to address the interwoven problems with a…
Gen(ret) James Jones, designated National Security Advisor. "Governments have to execute "simultaneous policy" to address the interwoven problems with a global and comprehensive approach."
Key uncertainties and potential consequences

NIC report:

“Whether an energy transition away from oil and gas – supported by improved energy, storage, bio-fuels and clean coal will be completed during the 2025 timeframe. The potential consequences: With high oil and gas prices, major exporters such as Russia and Iran will substantially augment their levels of national power, with Russia’s GDP potentially approaching that of the UK and France. A sustained plunge in prices, perhaps underpinned by a substantial switch to new energy sources, could trigger a long-term decline for producers as global and regional players.”

WSN:

The rapid decline of oil prices comes close to “Global Scenario II: The October surprise.” Earlier than expected the oil producers have arrived in deep, troubled waters. As mentioned above, oil prices of such a low level as at the end of 2008 would totally change the level of power and influence of oil producers. It might well be that a recovering economy could change the pattern of “demand and offer” again – certainly in the long run. But will countries like Russia and Iran be able to bridge the opening gap?

NIC report:

“How quickly climate change occurs and the locations where its impact is most pronounced: Climate change is likely to exacerbate resource scarcity, in particular water scarcity.”

WSN:

There are signs at the wall that time might be running out. Climate change might lead to heightened levels of the oceans threatening e.g. Bangladesh and islands like Mauritius and the Seychelles. There will be winners and losers from climate change. Canada and Russia might be among the winners.

NIC report:

“…Whether mercantilism stages a comeback and global markets recede with the consequence that descending into a world of resource nationalism increases the risk of great power confrontations.”

WSN:

In periods of crises, there is always the risk of re-nationalization. “My country comes first” is more popular than the search for multinational solutions. Nationalism and mistrust of foreign partners are wrong guides for designing the future.

NIC report:

“…Whether advances toward democracy occur in China and Russia. The consequence: Political pluralism seems less likely in Russia in the absence of economic diversification. A growing middle class increases the chances of political liberalization and potentially greater nationalism in China.”

WSN:

Even in Western democracies with market economies, the cry for “more state” is very popular. Many Western governments break the rule that the market will be a regulator. Russia and China do not see any pressure to open the system. In contrast, through loosening the state grip they might open a dangerous Pandora’s box.

NIC report:

“…Whether regional fears about a nuclear-armed Iran trigger an arms race and greater militarisation with the potential consequence that episodes of low-intensity conflict and terrorism taking place under a nuclear umbrella could lead to an unintended escalation and broader conflict.”

WSN:

It goes without saying that a nuclear-armed Iran would change the political landscape in the Broader Middle East. The neighbors would feel pressed to look for nuclear countermeasures.

NIC report:

“…Whether the greater Middle East becomes more stable, especially whether Iraq stabilizes, and whether the Arab-Israel conflict is resolved peacefully with the potential consequences that turbulence is likely to increase under most scenarios. Revival of economic growth, a more prosperous Iraq and resolution of the Israeli-Palestine dispute could engender some stability as the region deals with a strengthening Iran and global transition away from oil and gas.”

WSN:

The resolution of the Israeli-Palestine conflict is – besides Afghanistan/Pakistan the key for any progress in the greater Middle East. The expectations are very low that even a new US government will achieve a breakthrough to diffuse this powder keg.

NIC report:

“…Whether Europe and Japan overcome economic challenges and social challenges caused or compounded by demography with the potential consequences: Successful integration of Muslim minorities in Europe could expand the size of the productive work forces and avert social crisis. Lack of efforts by Europe and Japan to mitigate demographic challenges could lead to long-term declines.”

WSN:

For some European countries and Japan – as well as Russia – the demographic downward spiral will not stop by 2025. In some European countries there is a dramatic rise of Muslim population – a so-called “silent revolution.” In some European cities, Muslims will form a majority. A large part of the Muslim population in some European countries does not want to be integrated. They refuse to learn the host nation’s language – like in Germany. As a consequence, they receive a poor education and little chance to learn a profession and to get a job.

The social problems with the Muslim population will increase in some European countries. A declining young and qualified work force will have to feed and financially support a growing, aging and graying society. This task comes close to squaring the circle.

NIC report:

“…Whether global powers work with multilateral institutions to adapt their structure and performance to the transformed landscape with the potential consequence: Emerging powers show ambivalence toward global institutions like the UN and the IMF, but this could change as they become bigger players on the global stage. Asian integration could lead to more powerful regional institutions. NATO faces stiff challenges in meeting growing out-of-area responsibilities with declining European military capabilities. Traditional alliances will weaken.”

WSN:

The UN is in a deep crisis. In its present structure, it is almost incapable of acting in the field of crisis management. Decision-making has become very difficult, if and when one or two of the permanent members of the UN Security Council block a motion. The UN should form regional UN organizations.

On the other hand, the first G – 21 summit shows a possible way ahead to bring a limited number of leading countries- be it 13 or 15- together, to aim for orchestrated solutions. Most NATO-member governments have to do more to reach a public awareness and public support for new missions out-of-area.

Where do “relative certainties” and “key uncertainties” lead?

"Historically, emerging multipolar systems have been more unstable than bipolar or unipolar ones."
"Historically, emerging multipolar systems have been more unstable than bipolar or unipolar ones."
The set of “relative certainties” and “key uncertainties” is an important prerequisite for a sound prognosis defining a corridor in which future developments might evolve. To make things even more complicated, there are two more question marks. One is the “unexpected” – be it a natural disaster – flood, earthquake and/or a pandemic. The second issue is the performance of leadership in politics, economy and religion. Nowadays, there is the concern that leadership is a scared resource. Will the major powers and big companies find the leaders – not managers – who have the individual skills to cope with the complex and complicated world?

Charisma is a prerequisite but not enough. Deeds and success must be added to charisma to win the hearts and minds of the people and to regain initiative, trust and confidence leading to dynamism and optimism. Yes, we can?

A global multipolar world

Outside the US, most people hail the shift from the unipolar world dominated by the US to a multipolar – some experts call it “nonpolar” – as a trend to a better and safer world. One important explanation for this view is widespread anti-Americanism. However, history does not support the view of a multipolar world establishing a better and safer world.

NIC report: “Historically, emerging multipolar systems have been more unstable than bipolar or unipolar ones…. Strategic rivalries are most likely to revolve around trade, investments, technological innovations and acquisition, but we cannot rule out a 19th Century-like scenario of arms race, territorial expansion and military rivalries.” One could easily add the 20th Century with two world wars and millions of people that died by force.

The future of the United States of America

NIC report:

“Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor, the United States’ relative strength – even in the military realm – will decline and US leverage will become more constrained.”

WSN:

It has become obvious over the last years that even the US, as the “lone superpower” was unable to impose its will on other countries or regions. Hit by the financial and economic crisis, the new administration under President Barack Obama will face a full plate of domestic and foreign problems. There is no timeout for either set of problems. There is a need for simultaneous action on these issues because domestic and foreign problems are interwoven and interrelated. The change of US administration has led to high expectations in the US and abroad that there will be a change for the better. For the sake of the whole world, it would be a great advantage if the US would be able to become a respective “primus inter pares.”

What about China?

NIC – report:

“China is poised to have more impact on the world over the next 20 years than any other country. If current trends persist, by 2025 China will have the world’s second largest economy and will be a leading military power. It could also be the largest importer of natural resources and the biggest polluter.”

WSN:

The current crisis shows that China is already part of a global system of crucial interdependence. China’s economy is suffering. Many production lines have been closed, leading to a drastic increase in unemployment. China has to invest a lot of money to mitigate the consequences of heavy pollution. The country has become the biggest polluter already in 2008. As China’s economy is dependent on exports – especially to the US – it suffers from the decline of economic and financial power abroad.

As China is dependent on the import of oil and gas from far-away regions, China is interested in safe lanes of transportation. There is a chance and a need for cooperation with other countries that have similar interests.

India’s way ahead

NIC report:

“India probably will continue to enjoy relatively rapid economic growth and will strive for a multipolar world in which New Delhi is one of the poles. China and India must decide to which extent they are willing and capable of playing increasing global roles and how each will relate to others.”

WSN:

The terrorist in attacks in Mumbai in late November 2008 might lead to a break in India’s way up – especially if and when more attacks should follow. The attacks have interrupted a modest rapprochement between India and Pakistan about Kashmir.

It seems obvious that the terrorists came from Pakistan. But it is far from sure that the Pakistani government or Pakistani institutions played a crucial role. Pakistan itself faces huge problems on its own territory with the terrorists in FATA. But the attacks heightened again the tensions between both countries – leading to the brink of war.

India was on its way to play a more dominant role in the region. India has increased its military capabilities to secure its life lanes in the “blue water.” The world’s largest democracy will hopefully overcome the present crisis and be able to play a stabilizing role in this strategically important region.

Where is Russia headed?

NIC report:

“Russia has the potential to be richer, more powerful and more self-assured in 2025 if it invests in human capital, expands and diversifies its economy and integrates with global markets. On the other hand, Russia could experience a significant decline if it fails to take these steps and oil and gas prices remain in the $50 – $70 per barrel range.”

WSN:

The financial and economic crisis has hit Russia drastically, pushing Russia more in the direction of a more skeptic option. The recent treatment of opposition leaders gives no hope of democratization in the near future. In time of crisis, authoritarian regimes tend to rely on central state power. Russia might have to pay a high price for not having invested more into the future of a “post-oil era.”

Which countries might play a vital role on world stage?

NIC report:

“No other countries are projected to rise to the level of China, India, or Russia and none are likely to match their individual global clout. We expect, however, to see the political and economic (development) of other countries – such as Indonesia, Iran and Turkey – increase.”

What about Europe?

NIC report:

“Europe: Losing clout in 2025.We believe Europe by 2025 will have made slow progress toward achieving the vision of current leaders and elites: A cohesive, integrated and influential global player to employ independently a full spectrum of political, economic and military tools in support of European and Western interests and universal ideals… However, continued failure to convince skeptical publics of the benefits of deeper economic, political and social integration and to grasp the nettle of a shrinking and aging population by enacting painful reforms could leave the EU a hobbled giant distracted by internal bickering and competing national agendas, and less able to translate its economic clout into global influence.”

What about Japan?

NIC report:

“ Japan is caught Between the US and China. Japan will face a major reorientation of its domestic and foreign policies by 2025 yet maintain its status as an upper middle-rank power.”

WSN:

It’s a fair guess that we will see a tri-polar world by 2025, without Russia. In theory, the EU with about 450 million people should be a candidate for the Ivy League. Unfortunately, the current financial and economic crisis seems to strengthen the powers of disintegration and re-nationalization. There is a lack of leadership in the EU. The EU presidency with its 6-month rotation system within the 26 member states is too short to be efficient. Europe and Japan will remain close allies of the US.

Common global challenges

Climate change is global challenge No.1 – with the consequences of global warning, food supply, drinking water availability and diseases caused by heavy pollution.

NIC report:

“Climate change is expected to exacerbate resource scarcities. Although the impact of climate change will vary by region, a number of regions will begin to suffer harmful effects, particularly water scarcity and loss of agricultural production…. For many developing countries, decreased agricultural output will be devastating because agriculture accounts for a large share of their economies and many of their citizens live close to subsistence levels.”

NIC report:

“The World Bank estimates that demand for food will rise by 50 percent by 2030 as a result of growing world population, rising affluence and the shift to Western dietary preferences by a larger middle class. Lack of access to stable supplies of water is reaching critical proportions and the problem will worsen because of rapid urbanization worldwide and the roughly 1.2 billion people added over the next 20 years. Today, experts consider 21 countries, with a combined population of about 600 million, to be either cropland- or freshwater-scarce. Owing to continuing population growth, 36 countries, with about 1.4 billion people, are projected to fall into this category by 2025.”

WSN:

In a global and interdependent world, most challenges are global. They cannot be answered sufficiently by a single nation. Global challenges need global responses. It goes without saying that the protection of our environment is paramount. There must be a common enterprise including the largest polluters – such as China, India and the US. Could new technologies help?

NIC report:

“New technologies could again provide solutions, such as viable alternatives to fossil fuel or means to overcome food and water constraints. However, all current technologies are inadequate for replacing the traditional architecture on the scale needed, and new energy technologies probably will not be commercially viable and widespread by 2025. The pace of technological innovation will be key.”

WSN:

There is one glimmer of hope. There is a fascinating book written by William E. Halal entitled “Technology’s Promise?” This book covers almost the same period of time as the NIC report and shows the solutions new technology might offer. This book is a “must read” in addition to the NIC report. (WSN will present this book in early 2009).

What are the prospects for terrorism, conflict and proliferation?

NIC report:

“Terrorism, proliferation, and conflict will remain key concerns even as resource issues move up on the international agenda. Terrorism is unlikely to disappear by 2025, but its appeal could diminish if economic growth continues and youth unemployment is mitigated in the Middle East…One of our greatest concerns continues to be that terrorist or other malevolent groups might acquire and use biological agents, or less likely, a nuclear device, to create mass casualties. Although Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is not inevitable, other countries’ worries about a nuclear-armed Iran could lead states in the region to develop new security arrangements with external powers, acquire additional weapons and consider pursuing their own nuclear ambitions.”

WSN:

Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups will remain strong as long as the Israeli/Palestine as well as the Kashmir conflict are not contained or even solved. To make things even more complicated: The situation in Pakistan with the FATA being a safe haven, recruiting and training ground for terrorists makes the problems even greater. FATA is the key for more stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan and – as Mumbai shows – India.

World Security Network Foundation has started an initiative to improve the living conditions in FATA and to offer jobs to young people preventing them from joining terrorist groups to earn money for their families.

Iran will soon become the first litmus test for President-elect Barack Obama. It remains to be seen whether there will be a solution prior to the “point of no return.”

As said by Mark Twain: Prognoses are difficult, especially if and when they address the future. This wise caveat, which Winston Churchill used himself repeatedly, is true with any prognosis. But it is no argument against the attempt to deliver a prognosis. The caveat should tell us that there is no one single way ahead.

It’s a merit of the American democratic system that the governments are forced by congress to deliver such a long-ranging prognosis every four years for public use, too. That gives a golden opportunity for leaders in all walks of life to get a sound basis for their own assessments.

When working with the NIC report, there is a need to make a distinction between undisputable facts and figures and the subjective assessments. The report itself already has consequences for the way to 2025, awakening more awareness of the challenges and opportunities that are offered.

WSN recommendations

1. All leaders in politics, the economy, the military – and their staffs – should study this report carefully.

2. Other countries and international organizations should come up with their own prognoses.

3. Young leaders have to be trained and educated to see the world as a “system of systems.”

4. The next US administration should take the report as starting point for future legislation.

5. The report should be used as an early warning system to find ways for proactive measures – instead of reactive measures, which come too late.

6. All countries have to train leadership and select leaders – not managers.

7. The world has to find a substitute for the inefficient UN – be it G-13, G-15 or G-20.

8. Governments have to execute “simultaneous policy” to address interwoven problems with a global and comprehensive approach.

Full Report: "Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World"

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