For the night of 31 December 2014
Special Topic: A review of the National Intelligence Council publication Global Trends 2015 on he night of 31 December 2014This .
Fifteen years ago, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) published Global Trends 2015. The leaders of the recognized the shortcomings and pitfalls of making long range estimates, so they presented this version of the Global Trends series of publications as a dialogue about the future with nongovernment experts. Alternatively they described it as an exploration of alternative futures based on the principle drivers of world affairs.
The publication Defense One recently published a summary evaluation of Global Trends 2015. NightWatch has reviewed past Global Trends publications and was reminded by the Defense One article to do Global Trends 2015 (GT 2015), from the NightWatch point of view.
The seven drivers that constitute the framework of the document are listed in the beginning.
"The key drivers identified are:
(2) Natural resources and environment.
(3) Science and technology.
(4) The global economy and globalization.
(5) National and international governance.
(6) Future conflict.
(7) The role of the United States"
Demographics: The major prediction was that the world population would increase. In advanced countries declining birthrates and aging populations would cause instability. In developing countries, demographic pressures would foster instability.
Comment: The demographic experts expected instability to be the primary result from population pressures. Many countries were unstable between 2000 and 2015, but population pressure acted as a multiplier more than a cause of unrest. After the economic collapse in 2008, this was most noticeable in advanced countries, such as the PIGS - Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain.
Natural Resources and the environment: The major predictions were that the world food supply would be adequate, but distribution problems would lead to malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. Energy supplies would meet demand. The experts predicted water shortages would grow worse.
Comment: These predictions were accurate, but not for reasons cited in GT 2015. The experts expected that food problems would be worse in authoritarian regimes. GT 2015 had a consistent theme that authoritarian regimes make everything worse. That was a bias of the writers because the record is mixed.
Somewhat surprisingly, the energy experts make no mention of new discoveries in energy production, such as fracking. While the prediction of adequate fossil fuel supplies proved accurate, the reasoning was flawed because the US emerged as a major energy producer, not just a consumer. The structure of the energy market changed in ways that were not anticipated.
Science and technology: GT 2015 contains the following paragraph. "Most experts agree that the IT revolution represents the most significant global transformation since the Industrial Revolution beginning in the mid-eighteenth century."
Comment: The foregoing sentence is the most prescient in GT 2015. The experts' expectation that terrorists and criminals would exploit the technology to their advantage was accurate. A number of rosy forecasts about the benefits of various technologies did not materialize. The backlash against genetically modified crops is a salient example.
The global economy and globalization: The paragraph below captures the main themes of the discussion of the global economy.
"The global economy, overall, will return to the high levels of growth reached in the 1960s and early 1970s. Economic growth will be driven by political pressures for higher living standards, improved economic policies, rising foreign trade and investment, the diffusion of information technologies, and an increasingly dynamic private sector. Potential brakes on the global economy-such as a sustained financial crisis or prolonged disruption of energy supplies-could undo this optimistic projection."
Comment: Generally, the treatment of the economy is optimistic, buoyed by a strong bias favoring the benefits of globalization. Although GT 2015 is explicit that its optimistic projection could be undone, it did not evaluate the consequences of what happens if the worst case becomes the actual case.
For example, GT 2015 does not discuss the potential negative linkages embedded in a global economy, resulting from multiple single points of failure in an increasingly specialized world market place. Thus what Yale economics professor Robert Shiller cites as "animal spirits" - such as national or personal greed - contributed to a severe recession that slowed even China's economic growth.
It is interesting that the economists precisely identified what went wrong to derail their forecasts - a sustained financial crisis in the US. However, they included it as one of five potentially negative develops in a text box. None of the five were explained, possibly because they overwhelmingly expected an optimistic future.
National and international governance: The authors of this section were negative about the role of nation states and almost wished for a rise in the importance of non-state actors to check state power, as indicated by the following paragraph.
"States will continue to be the dominant players on the world stage, but governments will have less and less control over flows of information, technology, diseases, migrants, arms, and financial transactions, whether licit or illicit, across their borders. Nonstate actors, ranging from business firms to nonprofit organizations, will play increasingly larger roles in both national and international affairs. The quality of governance, both nationally and internationally, will substantially determine how well states and societies cope with these global forces."
Comment: In fact, the quality of governance was inversely related to the ability of states to cope with global forces at work between 2000 and 2015. The democracies experienced a powerful right-wing backlash against open borders and some forms of global dependency because of the economic crisis in the middle of the period. This occurred even in France.
The impact of the European recession caused China to reduce its dependency on European markets. It tried to develop Africa as a market. Failing that, the Chinese have tried to develop a consumer economy in China.
Generally, the trend was for nation-states to take back control of information, technology and so on. The non-state actors that proved to be the most important in the GT 2015 period were the terrorists who preyed on the kinds of non-state actors GT 2015 thought might inherit part of the earth.
Concerning governance, the following paragraph from GT 2015 is one of the worst.
"Globalization will increase the transparency of government decision-making, complicating the ability of authoritarian regimes to maintain control, but also complicating the traditional deliberative processes of democracies. Increasing migration will create influential diasporas, affecting policies, politics and even national identity in many countries. Globalization also will create increasing demands for international cooperation on transnational issues, but the response of both states and international organizations will fall short in 2015."
Comment: The experts did not anticipate that globalization might be retarded by a prolonged economic downturn. Governments became even more secretive and less transparent. They also could not know that the US would become the agent for overthrowing governments in the Middle East during the so-called Arab Spring and in the Ukraine crisis. .
Future conflict: The experts who wrote about future conflicts did not anticipate an attack on the US and its transformative effect on all international security issues after September 2001. They also did not anticipate China's new assertiveness in East and Southeast Asia under the rubric of China's Dream. They missed Russian resurgence in the latter half of the period.
"The United States will maintain a strong technological edge in IT-driven "battlefield awareness" and in precision-guided weaponry in 2015. The United States will face three types of threats:
"• Asymmetric threats in which state and nonstate adversaries avoid direct engagements with the US military but devise strategies, tactics, and weapons-some improved by "sidewise" technology-to minimize US strengths and exploit perceived weaknesses;"
Comment: The attacks on 9/11 were asymmetric but they also were direct engagements with the US landmass itself.
"• Strategic WMD threats, including nuclear missile threats, in which (barring significant political or economic changes) Russia, China, most likely North Korea, probably Iran, and possibly Iraq have the capability to strike the United States, and the potential for unconventional delivery of WMD by both states or nonstate actors also will grow; and"
Comment: This statement is reasonably accurate, except for Iraq, but it is too general to be of much use.
"• Regional military threats in which a few countries maintain large military forces with a mix of Cold War and post-Cold War concepts and technologies."
"The risk of war among developed countries will be low. The international community will continue, however, to face conflicts around the world, ranging from relatively frequent small-scale internal upheavals to less frequent regional interstate wars. The potential for conflict will arise from rivalries in Asia, ranging from India-Pakistan to China-Taiwan, as well as among the antagonists in the Middle East. Their potential lethality will grow, driven by the availability of WMD, longer-range missile delivery systems and other technologies. Internal conflicts stemming from religious, ethnic, economic or political disputes will remain at current levels or even increase in number. The United Nations and regional organizations will be called upon to manage
such conflicts because major states-stressed by domestic concerns, perceived risk of failure, lack of political will, or tight resources-will minimize their direct involvement. "
Comment: The authors of the future conflict discussion apparently envisioned a much different world from the one that exists on 1 January 2015. Their treatment tended to minimize regional conflicts. In fact, since 2001 regional conflicts have dominated US policy throughout the GT 2015 term. To the extent that GT 2015 played down conventional forces and fighting, GT 2015 ill served policy planners as a decision-making guide.
The experts did not detect the generational cycle of US national security decision making in which leaders in successive generations repeat the mistakes of their forbears.
Another judgment that has proven wrong is below.
"Export control regimes and sanctions will be less effective because of the diffusion of technology, porous borders, defense industry consolidations, and reliance upon foreign markets to maintain profitability. Arms and weapons technology transfers will be more difficult to control."
Comment: Arguably the use of sanctions and other forms of economic coercion came into their own as instruments of state policy during the GT 2015 period. The reasoning for the judgment seems sound, but precisely the opposite happened.
The role of the United States. Generally this section is accurate, but often for the wrong reasons The US remained preeminent because of its lead over all other would-be challengers, not because of its national leadership. The authors did not take into account the possibility that a US president, his advisors and his political party might be less interested in leading and wielding American power.
"The United States will continue to be a major force in the world community.US global economic, technological, military, and diplomatic influence will be unparalleled among nations as well as regional and international organizations in 2015. This power not only will ensure America's preeminence, but also will cast the United States as a key driver of the international system."
Comment: The language that the US will continue to be a major force in the world community bespeaks an egalitarian view of world affairs that did not result and is not real, as a basis for predictions.
The judgments that follow are mostly accurate, but not insightful.
"The United States will continue to be identified throughout the world as the leading proponent and beneficiary of globalization. US economic actions, even when pursued for such domestic goals as adjusting interest rates, will have a major global impact because of the tighter integration of global markets by 2015.
• The United States will remain in the vanguard of the technological revolution from information to biotechnology and beyond.
• Both allies and adversaries will factor continued US military pre-eminence in their calculations of national security interests and ambitions.
Comment: The negative effects of globalization throughout the world in the middle of the GT 2015 period tended to overshadow perceptions of who is the biggest beneficiary
The following judgment is wrong.
"Some states-adversaries and allies-will try at times to check what they see as American "hegemony." Although this posture will not translate into strategic, broad-based and enduring anti-US coalitions, it will lead to tactical alignments on specific policies and demands for a greater role in international political and economic institutions.
Comment: The Russians and Chinese have formed a broad strategic relationship whose purpose is to limit US hegemony.
Most of the following judgments are wrong.
"Diplomacy will be more complicated. Washington will have greater difficulty harnessing its power to achieve specific foreign policy goals: the US Government will exercise a smaller and less powerful part of the overall economic and cultural influence of the United States abroad.
• In the absence of a clear and overriding national security threat, the United States will have difficulty drawing on its economic prowess to advance its foreign policy agenda. The top priority of the American private sector, which will be central to maintaining the US economic and technological lead, will be financial profitability, not foreign policy objectives.
• The United States also will have greater difficulty building coalitions to support its policy goals, although the international community will often turn to Washington, even if reluctantly, to lead multilateral efforts in real and potential conflicts.
• There will be increasing numbers of important actors on the world stage to challenge and check-as well as to reinforce-US leadership: countries such as China, Russia, India, Mexico, and Brazil; regional organizations such as the European Union; and a vast array of increasingly powerful multinational corporations and nonprofit organizations with their own interests to defend in the world.
Concluding comments: GT 2015 contains many more detailed discussions. Each region has special treatment. The foregoing are the main judgments in the executive overview.
Hindsight is only one kind of wisdom, but it is always important to review the work to try to identify what factors lead to judgments that miscarried. A single event, the attack on 11 September 2001, stands out as a pivotal event in the history of the past 14 years. It literally is a day the world changed and began to move in a new direction. That new direction was beyond the imagination of the best minds on the planet, hundreds of whom contributed to GT 2015.
In hindsight, the daring analytical excursions of 2000 seem rather prosaic and tame on 1 January 2015. Out of the box ideas then look like straight line projections now, compared to the events that actually took place.
GT 2015 placed primary on the role of "drivers" and "trends" in its projections. In fact, individuals - bin Laden, Obama, Merkel, Putin Baghdadi -- placed their imprints on history as much as or more than the "drivers". In 2015, terrorism is a "driver."
Nation states reasserted themselves as people looked for safe havens during the Great Recession. The Middle East showed it was not ready for pluralistic democracy. China asserted its right to hegemony in Asia. Russia rose to defend its near abroad. Despite the preferences of some American politicians, the US has remained the indispensable country.
GT 2015 missed the mark in its brief discussion of Islamic terrorism. The impact of medieval, authoritarian, fundamentalist Islam as a modern form of government was felt on every continent. In 2000, the notion of an Islamic State was as alien as extraterrestrials to the NIC authors. And yet, Taliban leader Mullah Omar governed an Islamic state in Afghanistan until late 2001.
End of NightWatch for 31 December.
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