The Near Future:
Tensions are Rising
These global trends, challenging governance and changing the nature of power, will drive major consequences over the next five years. They will raise tensions across all regions and types of governments, both within and between countries. These near-term conditions will contribute to the expanding threat from terrorism and leave the future of international order in the balance.
Within countries, tensions are rising because citizens are raising basic questions about what they can expect from their governments in a constantly changing world. Publics are pushing governments to provide peace and prosperity more broadly and reliably at home when what happens abroad is increasingly shaping those conditions.
In turn, these dynamics are increasing tensions between countries—heightening the risk of interstate conflict during the next five years. A hobbled Europe, uncertainty about America’s role in the world, and weakened norms for conflict-prevention and human rights create openings for China and Russia. The combination will also embolden regional and nonstate aggressors—breathing new life into regional rivalries, such as between Riyadh and Tehran, Islamabad and New Delhi, and on the Korean Peninsula. Governance shortfalls also will drive threat perceptions and insecurity in countries such as Pakistan and North Korea.
- Economic interdependence among major powers remains a check on aggressive behavior but might be insufficient in itself to prevent a future conflict. Major and middle powers alike will search for ways to reduce the types of interdependence that leaves them vulnerable to economic coercion and financial sanctions, potentially providing them more freedom of action to aggressively pursue their interests.
Meanwhile, the threat from terrorism is likely to expand as the ability of states, groups, and individuals to impose harm diversifies. The net effect of rising tensions within and between countries—and the growing threat from terrorism—will be greater global disorder and considerable questions about the rules, institutions, and distribution of power in the international system.
Europe. Europe’s sharpening tensions and doubts about its future cohesion stem from institutions mismatched to its economic and security challenges. EU institutions set monetary policy for Eurozone states, but state capitals retain fiscal and security responsibilities—leaving poorer members saddled with debt and diminished growth prospects and each state determining its own approach to security. Public frustration with immigration, slow growth, and unemployment will fuel nativism and a preference for national solutions to continental problems.
- Outlook: Europe is likely to face additional shocks—banks remain unevenly capitalized and regulated, migration within and into Europe will continue, and Brexit will encourage regional and separatist movements in other European countries. Europe’s aging population will undermine economic output, shift consumption toward services—like health care—and away from goods and investment. A shortage of younger workers will reduce tax revenues, fueling debates over immigration to bolster the workforce. The EU’s future will hinge on its ability to reform its institutions, create jobs and growth, restore trust in elites, and address public concerns that immigration will radically alter national cultures.
United States. The next five years will test US resilience. As in Europe, tough economic times have brought out societal and class divisions. Stagnant wages and rising income inequality are fueling doubts about global economic integration and the “American Dream” of upward mobility. The share of American men age 25- 54 not seeking work is at the highest level since the Great Depression. Median incomes rose by 5 percent in 2015, however, and there are signs of renewal in some communities where real estate is affordable, returns on foreign and domestic investment are high, leveraging of immigrant talent is the norm, and expectations of federal assistance are low, according to contemporary observers.
- Outlook: Despite signs of economic improvement, challenges will be significant, with public trust in leaders and institutions sagging, politics highly polarized, and government revenue constrained by modest growth and rising entitlement outlays. Moreover, advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are likely to further disrupt labor markets. Meanwhile, uncertainty is high around the world regarding Washington’s global leadership role. The United States has rebounded from troubled times before, however, such as when the period of angst in the 1970s was followed by a stronger economic recovery and global role in the world. Innovation at the state and local level, flexible financial markets, tolerance for risk-taking, and a demographic profile more balanced than most large countries offer upside potential. Finally, America is distinct because it was founded on an inclusive ideal—the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness for all, however imperfectly realized—rather than a race or ethnicity. This legacy remains a critical advantage for managing divisions.
Central and South America. Although state weakness and drug trafficking have and will continue to beset Central America, South America has been more stable than most regions of the world and has had many democratic advances—including recovery from populist waves from the right and the left. However, government efforts to provide greater economic and social stability are running up against budget and debt constraints. Weakened international demand for commodities has slowed growth. The expectations associated with new entrants to the middle class will strain public coffers, fuel political discontent, and possibly jeopardize the region’s significant progress against poverty and inequality. Activist civil society organizations are likely to fuel social tensions by increasing awareness of elite corruption, inadequate infrastructure, and mismanagement. Some incumbents facing possible rejection by their publics are seeking to protect their power, which could lead to a period of intense political competition and democratic backsliding in some countries. Violence is particularly rampant in northern Central America, as gangs and organized criminal groups have undermined basic governance by regimes that lack capacity to provide many basic public goods and services.
- Outlook: Central and South America are likely to see more frequent changes in governments that are mismanaging the economy and beleaguered by widespread corruption. Leftist administrations already have lost power in places like Argentina, Guatemala, and Peru and are on the defensive in Venezuela, although new leaders will not have much time to show they can improve conditions. The success or failure of Mexico’s high-profile reforms might affect the willingness of other countries in the region to take similar political risks. The OECD accession process may be an opportunity—and incentive— for some countries to improve economic policies in a region with fairly balanced age demographics, significant energy resources, and well-established economic links to Asia, Europe, and the United States.
An Inward West? Among the industrial democracies of North America, Europe, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, leaders will search for ways to restore a sense of middle class wellbeing while some attempt to temper populist and nativist impulses. The result could be a more inwardly focused West than we have experienced in decades, which will seek to avoid costly foreign adventures while experimenting with domestic schemes to address fiscal limits, demographic problems, and wealth concentrations. This inward view will be far more pronounced in the European Union, which is absorbed by questions of EU governance and domestic challenges, than elsewhere.
- The European Union’s internal divisions, demographic woes, and moribund economic performance threaten its own status as a global player. For the coming five years at least, the need to restructure European relations in light of the UK’s decision to leave the EU will undermine the region’s international clout and could weaken transatlantic cooperation, while anti-immigration sentiments among the region’s populations will undermine domestic political support for Europe’s political leaders.
- Questions about the United States’ role in the world center on what the country can afford and what its public will support in backing allies, managing conflict, and overcoming its own divisions. Foreign publics and governments will be watching Washington for signs of compromise and cooperation, focusing especially on global trade, tax reform, workforce preparedness for advanced technologies, race relations, and its openness to experimentation at the state and local levels. Lack of domestic progress would signal a shift toward retrenchment, a weaker middle class, and potentially further global drift into disorder and regional spheres of influence. Yet, America’s capital, both human and security, is immense. Much of the world’s best talent seeks to live and work in the United States, and domestic and global hope for a competent and constructive foreign policy remain high.
Imagining a surprise
news headline in 2021... “Gig Workers” Riot in
London and New York September 17, 2021 – London
The Gig Workers Movement (GWM), representing the growing number of independent, temporary workers, organized violent protests and denial of service cyberattacks on major companies in London and New York to protest poor pay, job uncertainty, and a lack of benefits. Movement leaders warned they would stage more disruptive protests unless they received stronger social support for basic food and housing supplemental programs. The cyber-attacks leveraged millions of compromised Internet-connected devices and overwhelmed the targeted companies’ information systems.
China. China faces a daunting test—with its political stability in the balance. After three decades of historic economic growth and social change, Beijing, amid slower growth and the aftereffects of a debt binge, is transitioning from an investment-driven, export-based economy to one fueled by domestic consumption. Satisfying the demands of its new middle classes for clean air, affordable houses, improved services, and continued opportunities will be essential for the government to maintain legitimacy and political order. President Xi’s consolidation of power could threaten an established system of stable succession, while Chinese nationalism—a force Beijing occasionally encourages for support when facing foreign friction—may prove hard to control.
- Outlook: Beijing probably has ample resources to prop up growth while efforts to spur private consumption take hold. Nonetheless, the more it “doubles down” on state owned enterprises (SOEs) in the economy, the more it will be at greater risk of financial shocks that cast doubt on its ability to manage the economy. Automation and competition from lowcost producers elsewhere in Asia and even Africa will put pressure on wages for unskilled workers. The country’s rapidly shrinking working-age population will act as a strong headwind to growth.
Russia. Russia’s aspires to restore its great power status through nationalism, military modernization, nuclear saber rattling, and foreign engagements abroad. Yet, at home, it faces increasing constraints as its stagnant economy heads into a third consecutive year of recession. Moscow prizes stability and order, offering Russians security at the expense of personal freedoms and pluralism. Moscow’s ability to retain a role on the global stage—even through disruption—has also become a source of regime power and popularity at home. Russian nationalism features strongly in this story, with
President Putin praising Russian culture as the last bulwark of conservative Christian values against the decadence of Europe and the tide of multiculturalism. Putin is personally popular, but approval ratings of 35 percent for the ruling party reflect public impatience with deteriorating quality of life conditions and abuse of power.
- Outlook: If the Kremlin’s tactics falter, Russia will become vulnerable to domestic instability driven by dissatisfied elites— even as a decline in status suggests more aggressive international action. Russia’s demographic picture has improved somewhat since the 1990s but remains bleak. Life expectancy among males is the lowest of the industrial world, and its population will continue to decline. The longer Moscow delays diversifying its economy, the more the government will stoke nationalism and sacrifice personal freedoms and pluralism to maintain control.
An Increasingly Assertive China and Russia. Beijing and Moscow will seek to lock in temporary competitive advantages and to right what they charge are historical wrongs before economic and demographic headwinds further slow their material progress and the West regains its footing. Both China and Russia maintain worldviews in which they are rightfully dominant in their regions and able to shape regional politics and economics to suit their security and material interests. Both have moved aggressively in recent years to exert greater influence in their regions, to contest the US geopolitically, and to force Washington to accept exclusionary regional spheres of influence—a situation that the United States has historically opposed. For example, China views the continuing presence of the US Navy in the Western Pacific, the centrality of US alliances in the region, and US protection of Taiwan as outdated and representative of the continuation of China’s “100 years of humiliation.”
- Recent Sino-Russian cooperation has been tactical, however, and is likely to return to competition if Beijing jeopardizes Russian interests in Central Asia and as Beijing enjoys more options for cheap energy supply beyond Russia. Moreover, it is not clear whether there is a mutually acceptable border between what China and Russia consider their natural spheres of influence. Meanwhile, India’s growing economic power and profile in the region will further complicate these calculations, as New Delhi navigates relations with Beijing, Moscow, and Washington to protect its own expanding interests.
Imagining a surprise
news headline in 2019... China Buys Uninhabited Fijian Island To Build Military Base February 3, 2019 – Beijing
A Chinese development firm—with links to the Chinese Government and People’s Liberation Army— today announced that it recently purchased the uninhabited Cobia Island from the Government of Fiji for $850 million. Western security analysts assess that China plans to use the island to build a permanent military base in the South Pacific, 3,150 miles southwest of Hawaii.
Russian assertiveness will harden anti-Russian views in the Baltics and other parts of Europe, escalating the risk of conflict. Russia will seek, and sometimes feign, international cooperation, while openly challenging norms and rules it perceives as counter to its interests and providing support for leaders of fellow “managed democracies” that encourage resistance to American policies and preferences. Moscow has little stake in the rules of the global economy and can be counted on to take actions that weaken US and European institutional advantages. Moscow will test NATO and European resolve, seeking to undermine Western credibility; it will try to exploit splits between Europe’s north and south and east and west, and to drive a wedge between the United States and the EU.
- Similarly, Moscow will become more active in the Middle East and those parts of the world in which it believes it can check US influence. Finally, Russia will remain committed to nuclear weapons as a deterrent and as a counter to stronger conventional military forces, as well as its ticket to superpower status. Russian military doctrine purportedly includes the limited use of nuclear weapons in a situation where Russia’s vital interests are at stake to “deescalate” a conflict by demonstrating that continued conventional conflict risks escalating the crisis to a large scale nuclear exchange.
In Northeast Asia, growing tensions around the Korean Peninsula are likely, with the possibility of serious confrontation in the coming years. Kim Jong Un is consolidating his grip on power through a combination of patronage and terror and is doubling down on his nuclear and missile programs, developing long-range missiles that may soon threaten the continental United States. Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington have a common incentive to manage security risks in Northeast Asia, but a history of warfare and occupation along with current mutual distrust makes cooperation difficult. Continued North Korean provocations, including additional nuclear and missile tests, might worsen stability in the region and prompt neighboring countries to take actions, sometimes unilaterally, to protect their security interests.
Competing Views on Instability
China and Russia portray global disorder as resulting from a Western plot to push what they see as self-serving American concepts and values of freedom to every corner of the planet. Western governments see instability as an underlying condition worsened by the end of the Cold War and incomplete political and economic development. Concerns over weak and fragile states rose more than a generation ago because of beliefs about the externalities they produce— whether disease, refugees, or terrorists in some instances. The growing interconnectedness of the planet, however, makes isolation from the global periphery an illusion, and the rise of human rights norms makes state violence against a governed population an unacceptable option.
One consequence of post-Cold War disengagement by the United States and the then-USSR, was a loss of external support for strongmen politics, militaries, and security forces who are no longer able to bargain for patronage. Also working against coercive governments are increased demands for responsive and participatory governance by citizens no longer poor due to the unprecedented scale and speed of economic development in the nonindustrial world. Where political and economic development occurred roughly in tandem or quick succession, modernization and individual empowerment have reinforced political stability. Where economic development outpaced or occurred without political changes—such as in much of the Arab world and the rest of Africa and South Asia—instability ensued. China has been a notable exception. The provision of public goods there so far has bolstered political order but a campaign against corruption is now generating increasing uncertainty and popular protests have grown during the past 15 years. Russia is the other major exception—economic growth—largely the result of high energy and commodity prices—helped solve the disorder of the Yeltsin years.
US experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown that coercion and infusions of money cannot overcome state weakness. Rather, building a stable political order requires inclusiveness, cooperation among elites, and a state administration that can both control the military and provide public services. This has proved more difficult than expected to provide.
- Kim is determined to secure international recognition of the North as a nucleararmed state, for the purposes of security, prestige, and political legitimacy. Unlike his father and grandfather, he has signaled little interest in participating in talks on denuclearization. He codified the North’s nuclear status in the party constitution in 2012 and reaffirmed it during the Party Congress in 2016.
- Beijing faces a continuing strategic conundrum about the North. Pyongyang’s behavior both undermines China’s claim that the US military presence in the region is anachronistic and demonstrates Beijing’s lack of influence—or perhaps lack of political will to exert influence—over its neighbor and client. North Korean behavior leads to tightening US alliances, more assertive behavior by US allies, and, on occasion, greater cooperation between those allies themselves—and may lead to a shift in Beijing’s approach to North Korea over time.
- The decisions before Seoul and Tokyo are significant as well, with both focused intently on maintaining the US security umbrella while improving their own security capabilities.
Middle East and North Africa. Virtually all of the region’s trends are going in the wrong direction. Continuing conflict and absence of political and economic reform threatens poverty reduction, the region’s one recent bright spot. Resource dependence and foreign assistance has propped up elites even as it fostered popular dependence on the state by inhibiting markets, employment, and human capital. With oil prices unlikely to recover to levels of the oil boom, most governments will have to limit cash payments and subsidies. Meanwhile, social media has provided new tools for publics to vent frustration. Conservative religious groups— including Muslim Brotherhood affiliates and Shia movements—and ethnically-based organizations like those centered on Kurdish identity are poised to be primary alternatives to ineffective governments in the region. Such groups typically provide social services better than the state and their politics resonate with publics who are generally more conservative and religious than the region’s political and economic elites.
- Outlook: Left unchecked, current trends will further fragment the region. The influence of extremist Islamist groups is likely to expand, reducing the tolerance for and presence of minorities, setting the stage for additional migration flows. Risks of instability in Arab states such as Egypt, and possibly Saudi Arabia, could tempt rulers to impose control through force—an impulse at odds with countertrends like technology’s empowerment of individuals, freer information flows, and poverty reduction. Alternatively, transition to democracy could provide an attractive model, if it delivers greater stability and inclusive prosperity. Progress on poverty reduction, education, and women’s empowerment in some parts of the region provides momentum for tapping into the growing number of young people that will be coming of working age.
Geopolitically, growing humanitarian crises and regional conflict in the Middle East and North Africa will threaten to further undermine the credibility of international dispute resolution and human rights norms. Perceptions in the region’s capitals that Washington is unreliable have invited competition from Russia, and possibly China, and hedging by Arab states regarding US commitments. These perceptions stem from unenforced redlines in Syria, withheld support for Mubarak and other Arab incumbents in 2011, an alleged tilt toward Iran and away from traditional Sunni allies and Israel, and a sense of neglect because of the US rebalance to Asia.
- Meanwhile, Iran, Israel, and perhaps Turkey are likely to grow in power and influence relative to other states in the region but will remain at odds with each other. Iran’s growing power, nuclear capabilities and aggressive behavior will continue to be a concern for Israel and Gulf Arab states. The sectarian nature of Iranian and Saudi regional competition, which promotes inflammatory rhetoric and allegations of heresy throughout the region, heightens these concerns.
Sub-Saharan Africa. Democratic practices have expanded, civil society groups have proliferated, and public demand for better governance has become more urgent. Still, many African states continue to struggle with “big man” rule, patronage politics, and ethnic favoritism. Many leaders remain focused on political survival rather than reform—with some defying term limits. Global economic headwinds also threaten progress by keeping commodity prices low and foreign investment weak. Even some countries that have made progress toward democracy remain fragile and prone to violence accompanying elections. Tensions between Christian and Muslim groups could escalate into conflict.
- Outlook: During the next five years, growing African populations will become more youthful, urban, mobile, and networked, and better educated—and more demanding of a voice. Rapid urbanization will stress infrastructure and increase visibility of elite corruption— fueling public frustration with services or opportunities. Some 75 to 250 million Africans will experience severe water stress, likely leading to mass migration. Nonetheless, Africa will remain a zone of experimentation by governments, corporations, NGOs and individuals seeking to advance development. The progress of the past two decades—including an expanded middle class, increasingly vibrant civil society, and the spread of democratic institutions—suggests upside potential.
South Asia. India will be the world’s fastest growing economy during the next five years as China’s economy cools and growth elsewhere sputters, but internal tensions over inequality and religion will complicate its expansion. New Delhi, however, will continue to offer smaller South Asian countries a stake in India’s economic growth through development assistance and increased connectivity to India’s economy, contributing to India’s broader effort to assert its role as the predominant regional power. Violent extremism, terrorism, and instability will continue to hang over Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region’s fragile communal relations. The threat of terrorism, from Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LET), Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and al-Qa‘ida and its affiliates—as well as ISIL’s expansion and sympathy for associated ideology—will remain prominent in the region. Competition for jobs, coupled with discrimination against minorities, may contribute to radicalization of the region’s youth, especially given abnormal sex ratios favoring males in several countries.
Imagining a surprise
news headline in 2032... IMF Says African Economic
Growth Rate Surpasses Asia February 11, 2032 – Washington, DC
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Africa’s economic growth rate last year topped 5 percent, surpassing Asia for the first time as numerous improvements converged to spur regional development. The availability of cheaper solar power panels and home batteries have revolutionized energy in the region over the last decade; advances in GMOs and desalination technology stabilized food production; growing financial services, digital payments, and peer-topeer social funding boosted commerce; and widespread use of 3D printing increased local manufacturing that harnessed Africa’s growing workforce.
- Outlook: The quality of India’s development will depend on addressing widespread poor public health, sanitation, and infrastructure conditions. The rate of malnourished children, for example, is higher in India than in Sub-Saharan Africa. Populism and sectarianism will intensify if Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan fail to provide employment and education for growing urban populations and officials continue to govern principally through identity politics. Human health, food security, infrastructure, and livelihoods will deteriorate from pollution, earthquakes and the effects of climate change, including shifting monsoon patterns and increasing glacier melt. South Asia’s openness to the private sector, community groups, and NGOs, however, should position it well for an era of empowered individuals, especially if governments curb their support for chauvinistic groups that divide societies.
In South Asia, Pakistan will feel compelled to address India’s economic and conventional military capabilities through asymmetric means. Pakistan will seek to enhance its nuclear deterrent against India by expanding its nuclear arsenal and delivery means, including pursuing “battlefield nuclear weapons” and sea-based options. India, by contrast, will focus its attention on both Islamabad and Beijing— seeking military partnerships with Europe, Japan, the United States, and others—to boost its conventional capabilities while striving for escalation dominance vis-a-vis Pakistan.
- At-sea deployments of nuclear weapons by India, Pakistan, and perhaps China, would increasingly nuclearize the Indian Ocean during the next two decades. The presence of multiple nuclear powers with uncertain doctrine for managing at sea incidents between nuclear-armed vessels increases the risk of miscalculation and inadvertent escalation. Nuclear mating requirements for naval-based delivery vehicles remove a safety valve that until now has kept nuclear weapons stored separately from missiles in South Asia.
In Emerging Economies, Incomes Are Rising Faster, and
at a Greater Scale, Than at Any Point in History
India and China doubled per capita income much faster than much smaller emerging economies in the past.
aFrom $1,300 to $2,600 per year at purchasing power parity.
Source: Groningen Growth and Development Center, The Maddison-Project database, Groningen, Netherlands, 2013. http://www.ggdc.net/maddison/maddison-project/home.htm, 2013 version.
Growing Terrorism Threat
The terrorism threat is likely to increase as the means and the motivations of states, groups, and individuals to impose harm diversify. Prolonged conflicts and the information age allow terrorists to recruit and operate on a large scale, demonstrating the evolving nature of the threat. Terrorism kills fewer people globally than crime or disease, but the potential for new capabilities reaching the hands of individuals bent on apocalyptic destruction is all too real. This ultimate low-probability, high-impact event underscores the imperative of international cooperation and state attention to the issue.
Terrorists will continue to justify their violence by their own interpretations of religion, but several underlying drivers are also in play. Within countries, the breakdown of state structures in much of the Middle East continues to create space for extremists. The ongoing proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia also is fueling Shia-Sunni sectarianism—with some militant groups further fracturing over religious differences. In addition, perceptions of “Western hegemony,” remains a potent rallying cry for some groups, mobilized around striking the “far enemy.”
- Although the location of religiously driven terrorism will fluctuate, the rise of violent religious nationalism and the schism between Shia and Sunni are likely to worsen in the short term and may not abate by 2035. The combination of powerful ideologies like Salafi-jihadism, whether ISIL’s or al-Qa‘ida’s, in a region undergoing vast and rapid political change against the backdrop of generations of autocratic government and economic disparities creates the nexus in which violence becomes more likely. Militant Christianity and Islam in central Africa, militant Buddhism in Burma, and violent Hindutva in India will all continue to fuel terror and conflict.
- Extremists will exploit anger and link perceived injustices with the common identity of deepening religious affiliation in some parts of the world. Religion will become a more important source of meaning and continuity because of increasing information connectedness, the extent of state weakness in much of the developing world, and the rise of alienation due to the dislocation from traditional work in the developed world. Rapid change and conditions of political and economic uncertainty, if not insecurity, will encourage many people to embrace ideologies and identities for meaning and continuity.
- Advances in information technologies— whether with the printing press and Gutenberg Bible in the 15th century or with the invention of the World Wide Web in 1989—allow religious content to spread widely, in part because religions are ideas that transcend borders and are often more influential in daily lives than state authority. The vast majority of believers will be peaceful, but those with extreme views will find likeminded followers and vulnerable recruits through information technologies. Most world religions—including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism—have exclusionary aspects of doctrine that can be exploited in this way.
Beyond religion, psychological and social factors will drive individual participation in terrorism, as well as help terrorist groups attract recruits and resources and maintain cohesion.
- Some level of alienation, whether being disconnected from the sociocultural mainstream, unable to participate in the political process, or lacking economic benefits from society.
- Ethnic and kinship bonds—peer, social or familial networks—as well as a desire for adventure, fame, and belonging.
- “Denationalizing,” that is, the loss of connection with their community of origin, of young immigrants in European cities, combined with lack of opportunity or effective incentive to take on a new European identity.
- Ethnic and religious tensions (beyond today’s hotspots), as between Malays and Thais in Thailand, Muslims and Buddhists in Burma, and Christians and Muslims in Nigeria.
Technology will be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it will facilitate terrorist communications, recruitment, logistics, and lethality. On the other, it will provide authorities with more sophisticated techniques to identify and characterize threats—if their publics allow them. Technology will continue to enable nonstate actors to mask their activity and identity. The use of cyber tools to take down electrical systems, for instance, has potential mass disruption effects, some with lethal consequences. Communications technology also will be key to nonstate actors’ ability to recruit new members, finance operations, and disseminate messages. Advancements in technology will also lower technological barriers to high-impact, low-likelihood terrorist WMD scenarios, and enable the proliferation of lethal, conventional weaponry to terrorist groups.
- Technology will further decentralize the threat—from an organized and controlled al-Qa‘ida to a fragmented jihadist militancy, for example. This trend will pose challenges to counterterrorism efforts and change the nature of future terrorist plots and strategies.
Future International Order in the Balance
The post-World War II international order that enabled today’s political, economic, and security structures and institutions is in question as power diffuses globally, shuffling seats at the “table” of international decision making. Today, aspiring powers seek to adjust the rules of the game and international context in ways favorable to their
Imagining a surprise
news headline in 2019... Mexico Outlaws Private
Drones After Latest
Assassination Attempt May 13, 2019 – Mexico City
The Mexican Government today announced it was a crime for private citizens to own drones after the fifth “drone-bomb” assassination attempt by drug cartels against senior government officials in less than three months, the latest targeting the new Minister of Interior.
interests. This dynamic complicates reform of international institutions such as the UN Security Council or the Bretton-Woods institutions, and brings into question whether civil, political, and human rights—hallmarks of liberal values and US leadership since 1945—will continue to be so. Norms that were thought to be settled will be increasingly threatened if current trends hold, and consensus to build new norms may be elusive—particularly as Russia, China, and other actors such as ISIL seek to shape regions and international norms in their favor. A few features of the evolving international order are clear:
- Geopolitical competition is on the rise as China and Russia seek to exert more sway over their neighboring regions and promote an order in which US influence does not dominate.
- Although states and organizations will continue to shape citizen expectations about the future order, citizen and subnational concerns will increasingly press states to the point that international and domestic politics will not be separable.
- This will result in the near term in waning commitments to existing security concepts and human rights among some states, even as some individuals and small groups advocate for such ideas through new and legacy platforms, venues, and institutions.
- Authoritarian regimes are likely to increasingly reinterpret and manipulate human rights norms. This will probably lead to decreasing consensus in the international arena on the extraterritorial obligations of states, such as when to apply concepts such as the Responsibility to Protect— which could have negative consequences for domestic civil societies and the resolution of humanitarian conflicts.
- The norms and practices emerging around climate change—and their influence on international and state development policies—are the most likely candidates for fostering a 21st century set of common principles. Majorities in 40 countries polled by Pew say climate change is a serious problem, with a median of 54 percent globally saying it is a very serious problem.
The near-term likelihood of international competition leading to greater global disorder and uncertainty will remain elevated as long as a la carte internationalism persists. As dominant states limit cooperation to a subset of global issues while aggressively asserting their interests in regional matters, international norms and institutions are likely to erode and the international system to fragment toward contested regional spheres of influence.