The future depicted by US intelligence’s ‘Global Trends, Paradox of Progress’ report is one of doom and gloom. The US National Intelligence Council, which “supports the Director of National Intelligence in his role as head of the Intelligence Community (IC) and is the IC’s centre for long-term strategic analysis” maps trends in the world over the next five years and also over the next 20 years. Since forecasting how things play out over 20 years is extremely speculative, the report's next five years has better odds of getting at least some predictions right. “The next five years will see rising tensions within and between countries.”
Both the US and Europe will turn inward. Stresses in societies will increase as they fragment along religious and cultural lines, aided and abetted by the echo chambers of social media.
Geopolitical risks will rise, as ambitious new powers such as China and Russia seek to expand their presence.
India will be the world’s fastest growing economy in the next five years. It quotes an estimate that India alone will need to create as many as 10 million jobs per year in the coming decades to accommodate people of working age in the labour force.However, “internal tensions over inequality and religion will complicate its expansion”. 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.
“Violent extremism, terrorism, and instability will continue to hang over Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region’s fragile communal relations”. The report warns, “The perceived threat of terrorism and the idea that Hindus are losing their identity in their homeland have contributed to the growing support for Hindutva, sometimes with violent manifestations and terrorism. India’s largest political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, increasingly is leading the government to incorporate Hindutva into policy.” It says that this could increase social tensions in the region.
More worryingly, it says that Pakistan, unable to compete in economic growth with India, will increasingly turn to “asymmetric means”. Towards that end, it will seek to enhance its nuclear arsenal and delivery capabilities, using “battlefield nuclear weapons” and sea-based options.
Non-traditional forms of warfare, such as cyber-warfare and terrorism, will gain prominence. Environmental stress will increase. Increasing urbanization will mean that providing services for burgeoning city populations will be a huge challenge for resource-strapped governments in South Asia, and that may “create new social, political, environmental, and health vulnerabilities”. Already, more than 20 cities in India alone have air quality worse than Beijing’s.
What can the US do about it? The report’s answer is revealing: “It will be tempting to impose order on this apparent chaos, but that ultimately would be too costly in the short run and would fail in the long. Dominating empowered, proliferating actors in multiple domains would require unacceptable resources in an era of slow growth, fiscal limits, and debt burdens.” Simply put, the US can’t do anything about it.
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