American intelligence agencies in the past 20 years usually predict disasters – this way they can escape blame for catastrophes. A report published on April 8 from the National Intelligence Council whose title is “2040: A More Contested World” emphasizes the risks from the rise of China and warns of the risks to global stability from climate change and also the spread of technology.
The report uses information from intelligence agencies as well as public information. The report examines possible future scenarios for the year 2040. The Intelligence Council issues the report every four years. It is useful to remember that the report from the year 2004 predicted a global disease pandemic that would harm the global economy. You can find the new report easily on the internet.
The contents of the report which concern traditional international security are easier to absorb. Like every other report in Washington now the report highlights competition between the United States and its allies on one side and China on the other. But according to this new report it is not enough to study the military and economic power of the United States and China to understand their future power. The ability to develop new technology and new networks and centers of exchange, including financial and information exchanges, and the ability to control information will also be vital for power of competing states.
For example, will China control important 5G networks and be able to halt sending information to competing countries or their companies? The report expects that competition between China and America will not resemble the bilateral American-Soviet Cold War in the last century. Now there are more states with influence and power, such as India, Russia, the European Union and Japan and there will be regional states that can disrupt stability like Iran and North Korea. There is more trade and movement between the countries that improves stability. However, the coronavirus pandemic disrupted trade and travel and there will be more pandemics.
The report also warns that there are new military technologies, but there are no new international laws to forbid their use. After the First World War, great countries agreed to ban the use of chemical weapons with an international treaty in 1925 and another in 1993.
According to the report, now there are new economic and infrastructure targets but in the absence of new international rules and laws, deterring attacks such as cyber-attacks against economic or health infrastructure or attacks against satellites will become more difficult as competition between states becomes more serious.
Most of the report examines the changing environmental and technology environments and the long-range forecasts cause alarm. According to the report, rising temperatures around the world will affect every country more and more. Sea levels will rise and regions of the world that suffer from inadequate rain will become drier. Shortages of water and food will cause more migration across borders. Already we can see this in Central America where families from farming regions are leaving ruined farms to try to enter the United States.
At the same time, the report states that higher temperatures will help agriculture in a few countries like Canada. The report expects that developing countries will suffer the most from climate change and competition for water will create bigger risks for conflicts, as we see with the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and probably there will be more conflicts and instability in the next 20 years.
The report also explains how technology is at the same time a problem and a solution to economic and climate challenges. The internet and social media are encouraging people to join groups that share the same thinking. Therefore, there is less dialogue between different viewpoints and more political polarization and extremism, as we see in America and Europe. With polarization there is less confidence in governments.
In addition, countries from America to Europe to China and Japan need more resources to provide care for more and more older citizens. And risks from climate change to economies and family incomes together with political polarization and extremism perhaps will result in violent conflicts inside countries and between countries, according to the report.
At the same time, new technologies like artificial intelligence and biotechnology can raise economic productivity that can provide resources for health care, transportation, agriculture and education. The report says that successful societies and successful countries will be able to develop a social consensus about the measures to manage technology and climate change.
The arguments now in America about vaccines and vaccination passports for travel show the kind of challenge the report expects will become more common. And increasing technological innovation to manage climate change and pandemics also depends on America and China finding ways to coexist and even cooperate. The intelligence experts warned us.
written by: Robert Ford
former US ambassador to Syria and Algeria