Global Trends 2030 sneak peek

On 19 November, 2012, I attended a briefing at the Princeton University conducted by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) titled ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’. The Global Trends report is to be released on or about 10 December 2012 and the purpose of the presentation was to discuss the methodology of the report as well as discuss the implications of the findings in the report for the United States over the next 17 years.


The purpose of the Global Trends project is to identify ‘key drivers and developments likely to shape world events a couple of decades into the future.’ They do that by canvassing non-governmental experts on issues the Intelligence Community (IC) doesn’t track and/or doesn’t have sufficient expertise with.

Methodology/Production Issues:

From its beginnings, the NIC was determined to make Global Trends documents unclassified and accessible to the public. The intent of the document is to provide government and others with what the IC considers ‘key drivers’ in future trends in order to facilitate policy planning.

Global Trends 2030 is the first time the NIC has devoted so much time to looking at the role of the US in the global system. In previous reports they were hesitant of crossing the line between analysis and policy advocacy but criticism from past editions led them to include a greater US focus.

Also present was Anne-Marie Slaughter (former Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department and who I might just have a crush on) who said that while Global Trends isn’t a perfect product it was essential for the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review as policy analysis needs some starting point and mutually agreed assumptions.

In addition to the report, the NIC created a executive summary titled ‘Le Menu’ with a novel format for presenting key points of the report.  It was a nice example of an organization towards the top end of the IC pyramid demonstrating that not all products need alternate between dry, weighty tomes that few will read or superficial powerpoint slides that try to reduce all problems to three or four bullets.  Unfortunately, I suspect many agencies (particularly at the sub-federal level but by no means exclusive to them) lack the self awareness to even be aware that this is a question so I won’t be holding my breath waiting for agencies to expend any effort thinking about how to present or disseminate their information.

On to the report!


  1.  The NIC believes that in 2030, the US will remain preeminent because of its legacy position and leadership across hard and soft elements but unipolar world will cease to exist. There is limited potential for China to replace the US as the international leader by 2030.
  2. Alternate scenarios considered included a United States that became more isolationist or was unable to rebound economically but both were considered unlikely.
  3. Economic power would shift definitively to the East and South and the world’s economic prospects would be increasingly dependent on emerging powers.
    1. This is likely to expand the concept of US interests overseas as economic globalization increases. ‘Emerging powers’ are often unstable powers.
  4. China will not be a ‘peer competitor’ for decades. While it will continue to experience growth across the range of factors of power, it also faces a number of challenges and does not appear to want to be a global leader over this time frame. It does, however, want to be a regional power.
    1. So, could we please chill the hell out about China?
  5. Traditional US allies (Europe and Japan) are in a much steeper decline of relative power than the US is. This may be offset by a reinvigorated European Union (which there seemed to be a great deal of confidence in) which could be virtually as powerful as China in 2030.
  6. A recent report by the International Energy Agency asserts that exploitation of new tight light oil (TLO) reserves will make the United States energy independent and even a net exporter of oil by 2030. (
    1. Impacts on price could begin within a year but effects will become more pronounced as time goes on.
    2. Depending on the specific predictions, while this is likely to lead to a much improved domestic economic outlook, it might be destabilizing to those countries that rely on high energy prices (Saudi Arabia, Russia, numerous African states, etc.)
  7. The NIC identified four ‘megatrends’ that will have a significant impact on the international system.
    1. Individual empowerment: Middle classes will expand and the majority of the world’s population will not be impoverished.
    2. Demography: There will be a rapid extension of life expectancy. Migration will flow to emerging powers and urbanization will grow almost 60%.
    3. Diffusion of Power: A host of new, emerging powers will rise and have greater regional influence.
    4. Growing competition for resources: Demand for resources will increase significantly by 2030. Demand for food will increase 50% and energy by 45%. Nations will be under increasing pressure to manage resources or govern more effectively in response. There will be significant possibilities of instability and forced migration.
  8. While living standards may be higher, economic security will remain elusive. While terrorism is often believed to be a result of poverty and oppression, data indicates that the ranks of terrorists frequently come from the educated middle classes. Therefore, improved economic outlooks, and a healthier population coupled with resource scarcity, weaker governments, rising expectations and general insecurity could lead to an increase in ideologically motivated violence.
  9. Some subjects were not considered in the report, notably the role of non-state actors (terrorists, criminals, non-governmental organizations, multinational corporations, etc.)

So, there you go….

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