Saturday, January 15, 2005

The World in 2020

On Friday, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) presented "Mapping the Global Future" (full text), its latest report offering predictions for the state of the world in 2020. Among the highlights:

- Asian Ascension
In the same way that commentators refer to the 1900s as the “American Century,” the 21'st century may be seen as the time when Asia, led by China and India, comes into its own. A combination of sustained high economic growth, expanding military capabilities, and large populations will be at the root of the expected rapid rise in economic and political power for both countries.
  • China and India become major economic powers
  • Japan challenged to reevaluate its role
  • North Korean crisis has come to a head
  • Russian influence important but limited
- The Global Economy
Asia looks set to displace Western countries as the focus for international economic dynamism—provided Asia’s rapid economic growth continues.
  • World economy 80% larger than in 2000
  • Average per capita income 50% higher
  • The U.S., though still the single most important power, will lose ground to China and India
  • China's GDP will exceed every Western country except the U.S.; India's GDP will equal or exceed all European countries
- New World Order
Informal networks of charitable foundations, madrassas, hawalas, and other mechanisms will continue to proliferate and be exploited by radical elements; alienation among unemployed youths will swell the ranks of those vulnerable to terrorist recruitment.
  • Political Islam has significant global impact
  • Democracy in former Soviet Union and Southeast Asian republics could be undone
  • China/Taiwan or India/Pakistan issues could lead to one side taking preemptive military action and resulting in all-out war
  • Al-Qaeda has been replaced by a numer of equally dangerous splinter groups
  • Bioterrorism is the biggest security concern
The NIC considered four possible "futures", each having the potential to be realized:
  • "Davos World" - globalization and the growth of China and India lead to a world not dominated by the West
  • "Pax Americana" - the U.S. weathers global changes and maintains its hegemony
  • "A New Caliphate" - a political organization of Islam challenges the West
  • "Cycle of Fear" - concerns over security cause "large-scale intrusive security measures...possibly introducing an Orwellian world."
* * *
What does this all mean? Well, despite it being easy to get lost in gloomy speculation, the good news is that the rise to prominence of Bollywood will inundate the globe with sappy, melodramatic love stories full of song and dance. ("An expanded Asian-centric cultural identity may be the most profound effect of a rising Asia.")

Seriously though, the growing importance of Asia is hardly a surprise to anyone. I don't doubt that U.S. unipolarity will diminish as nations on the rise like China and India tap into the well of world power. Still, the U.S. will be at the forefront of all the major movements to come, helping to shape world affairs. Says Jessica Matthews (in the von Drehle article I link to below), "We're still best in the world at adapting to rapidly changing circumstances. No other nation takes disruption in stride the way we do." Phew!

Of the four scenarios presented by the NIC, I see the first and second as most viable--the most likely outcome may be a mix of the two. I have enough faith--for now at least--in common sense and an American's dedication to liberty that I don't see 1984 becoming a reality for us. The U.S., in my opinion, can and will win the war against Islamist extremism. We will do so not just through military force, but by demonstrating with the help of moderate Muslims that democracy offers people a better future.

The biggest threat to all this, of course, is what the NIC described in its third scenario--the formation of an Islamic caliphate that, through its religious and political authority, could mobilize Muslims across the globe into religious extremism. Bad news for us: the report warns that "[a] Caliphate would not have to be entirely successful for it to present a serious challenge to the international order." Furthermore, "[t]he proclamation of a Caliphate would not lessen the likelihood of terrorism and, in fomenting more conflict, could fuel a new generation of terrorists intent on attacking those opposed to the Caliphate, whether inside or outside the Muslim world."

We have our work cut out for us so that we can head off such a political organization, however unlikely its formation now seems. The entire mindset and cultural views of a generation of Muslims must be confronted. Radical elements of Islam are the 21st century equivalent of the Communist threat to the West. The task we are facing is difficult, but doable if we make the right policy decisions. Leading by example, we must show the people of the Middle East and elsewhere the benefits of rejecting extremism. It can be done, and I have every confidence that it will be done. I'm looking forward to the next fifteen years--it'll be one helluva ride!

Further Reading:
"The Yikes Years" - David von Drehle, (Washington Post Magazine, November 2004)
"World War IV" - Norman Podhoretz (Commentary, September 2004)

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