Here are my initial thoughts on the Global Trends 2025 report that many have been talking about recently (assuming you’re a policy geek).
First, I’m not thrilled with the idea that NIC continually gets to produce documents about events that occur two decades in the future. Would it tax the system too much to have several, parallel assessments going on simultaneously? For example, the last report, written in 2004, was designed to predict what the world would be like in 2020. Why couldn’t they continue writing assessments of 2020 at regular (5 year?) intervals. It seems to me that having estimates done of the world 5, 10, 15, and 20 years out could be quite helpful.
Why would this be important?
Early in the report the authors compare it to the previous one. They say:
The most dramatic difference between Mapping the Global Future: Report of the Intelligence
Council’s 2020 Project and Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World is the latter’s
assumptions of a multipolar future, and therefore dramatic changes in the international system.
The 2025 report describes a world in which the US plays a prominent role in global events, but
the US is one among many global actors who manage problems. In contrast, the 2020 report
projects continued US dominance, positing that most major powers have forsaken the idea of
balancing the US.
Now, that’s a pretty big change and while it’s great they tell us that there is a change I think it might be more important to know why that change occurred. Why did the intelligence community see the future of the world so differently than they do today? How might this altered view affect how the world will look in 2020?
Without such a process of evaluating old predictions, assessments of such distant horizons risk becoming a way to project current concerns into the far future. We can’t just take the current headlines and try to fast-forward 25 years with them. After all, 25 years ago (1983) I’m guessing an assessment like this would be talking about the threat of Soviet expansionism and communism in Latin America. Are either of those a concern today? It would be nice, therefore, to see some imaginative thinking or, at least, some explanation about how they came to the conclusions they write about. I’ll have to see how they do as I delve deeper into the document.
What immediately came to mind was the fact the the first report was published around the time of the reelection of George W. Bush and, coincidentally (?) seems to reflect his worldview. A dominant U.S. for the foreseeable future? Energy supplies “sufficient to meet global demand”?
Meanwhile, the current report has a much more ‘Obama’-like feel to it. The world will be multipolar (do I hear coalitions, anyone?), adoption of alternative energy sources will be critical, perhaps everyone in the world doesn’t want a Western style, liberal democracy.
The authors really need to explain their thought process so they can avoid appearing to be a bunch of self serving toadies looking to keep their cushy government jobs.
The authors do say that making predictions so far out is a tricky business and I’m certainly not knocking them for making the wrong predictions (we won’t know for 20 years) but rather the lack of clarity of how they came to their decision and why they think events of the last four years have fundimentally changed how the world will work 20 years from now.