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Global Trends and National Security
The National Intelligence Council's 2008 report Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World attempts to provide policymakers with a summary of the probable, possible, and plausible changes most likely to affect global governance and stability over the course of the next decade and a half. The report covers a wide range of topics, but perhaps the most salient predictions included in the report, which ultimately serve to reveal the shortcomings of the United States' most recent National Security Strategy, are those predictions discussing the United States' assumed continued dominance as a global power even as the next fifteen years see the rise of countries like China and Brazil, the disruptive potential of developing energy technologies, and the geographical expansion of the social, economic, and political issues most conducive for the emergence of terrorist groups. Both the NIC report and the National Security Strategy are flawed and rely on assumptions regarding the maintenance of the status quo which have been proven wrong even in the short period since their original publication, but examining the predictions which have the most immediate relevance to the United States' national security nonetheless serves to reveal the extent to which the most recent National Security Strategy presents a strategy optimized for a world that will not exist in 2025, and actually does not even exist in 2011.
The first major prediction included in the National Intelligence Council's report is the assumption that "by 2025, the United States will find itself in the position of being one of a number of important actors on the world stage, albeit still the most powerful one" (NIC, 2008, p. 29). While the report's conclusions regarding China, Brazil, and India's potential for a rise to the top of the geopolitical pile (likely at the expense of a marginalized Europe) rings true, considering the speed with which China has sought to expand its military in the Pacific and encourage domestic development of infrastructure, Brazil's booming population and increased international profile as a result of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, and India's goal to serve "as a cultural bridge between a rising China and the United States," the report fails to offer any evidence as to why the United States should retain its preeminent status (NIC, 2008, p. 30). Instead, it simply assumes that the United States will retain its political and economic clout due to the fact that "although […] China and India will continue to rise, their ascent is not guaranteed and will require overcoming high economic and social hurdles" (NIC, 2008, p. 29).
The report includes a graph purporting to show "measurements of state power as a percentage of global power," and it helps to demonstrate the report's assumption that the United States will retain its power by default so long as other countries do not succeed. In reality, the United States could very well lose its political and economic clout on the world stage as a result of domestic issues keeping it from governing effectively, as was the case when Standard and Poor's downgraded the government's rating in a response to the legislature's hand-wringing over the debt limit, and artificially imposed problem which only served to diminish the United States' clout. Thus, while China's expansion into the Pacific offers the clearest threat to U.S. national security interests by encroaching on the hegemony of American empire established in the region through the United States' military presence in Japan and the surrounding area, in reality the single greatest factor dictating the distribution of power fifteen years from now has to do with internal American politics rather than the rise or fall of other countries (which in the case of China and Brazil, is happening almost in spite of American efforts). However, just because the report's prediction of the distribution of power in 2025 assumes continued American dominance without providing any evidence does not mean that the report's prediction is unhelpful, because it serves to highlight an assumption underlying American policy, and especially American policy as expressed in the 2010 National Security Strategy. Before considering the National Security Strategy, however, it will be useful to consider two other relevant predictions provided by the NIC report.
The second crucial prediction covered by the report is the eventual transition away from a carbon-based energy economy toward bio-fuels and eventually hydrogen. Once again, the report's predictions are based on an assumption that the status quo will maintain, but this time it is coupled with an ignorance regarding the extent to which technology develops exponentially. However, while the report is generally gloomy regarding the likelihood that the world will have effectively transitioned away from a carbon-energy economy (and tends to focus far too much on the potential for euphemistically named "clean coal"), it does point out a particularly relevant consequence on this transition, whether it occurs by 2025 or not: decreased demand for fossil fuels will serve to undermine those regimes which rely on fossil fuels to maintain their authority, such that authoritarian regimes in the Middle East will be forced to negotiate "a new social contract with [their] public as [they] try to institute a work ethic to accelerate development plans and diversify the economy" (NIC, 2008, p. 46). This weakening of regimes which rely on oil wealth to maintain their power will have interesting effects on American national security and imperial hegemony, because the two countries most likely to be effected in this way are Saudi Arabia and Iran, an American ally and enemy respectively. If either of these repressive regimes are not overthrown in the kind of popular revolt seen during the Arab Spring, then they will nonetheless see their power diminish greatly as a result of the transition away from a fossil fuels to the point that open revolution will not even be necessary. All in all this will likely produce a stabilizing effect on international politics and thus be a net benefit for the United States' national security, because the weakening of regimes which maintain power through force and repression generally provides far more stability than the maintenance of those regimes (regardless of the United States' policies toward the dictatorships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen).
The discussion of the potential transition from a fossil fuel economy is a good point of entry into the report's final important prediction, because although doing away with a reliance on fossil fuels will serve to increase stability in some of the world's most tempestuous regions, the effects of man-made climate change in the form of drought, floods, and the forced migration of massive amounts of climate refugees will actually mean that the social, economic, and political conditions that serve to foster terrorism and radicalization will increase by 2025. While the report focuses almost exclusively on terrorism motivated by Islamic fundamentalism, one may extrapolate the ongoing threat of Islamic terrorism to any region faced with "turmoil and societal disruptions, generated by resource scarcities, poor governance, ethnic rivalries, or environmental degradation" (NIC, 2008, p. 68). This is particularly relevant to the United States' national security, both because the percentage of the globe affected by resource scarcity will only increase in the next two decades as a result of climate change, and because the aforementioned list of contributors to terrorism could easily describe any number of locales in the United States itself. As the gap between rich and poor expands at an ever-increasing rate and democratic representation is replaced with a government populated with policymakers largely responsive to the needs of only the most powerful political donors, "the absence of employment opportunities and legal means for political expression [means] conditions will be ripe for disaffection, growing radicalism, and possible recruitment of youths into terrorist groups" (NIC, 2008, p. 68).
The potential for future terrorism discussed in the NIC report is perhaps the most succinct way of pointing out how the overall predictions of the report seem to suggest that a redefinition of U.S. national security interests in necessary, but the predictions regarding the future distribution of power and the transition from a fossil fuel energy economy are relevant as well, serving to demonstrate the assumptions which underlie the most recent formulation of U.S. National Security Strategy as well as why these assumptions make the definition of national security interests expressed in 2010 short-sighted and largely irrelevant to the future of the world. Firstly, the 2010 National Security Strategy focuses on Al-Qa'ida as the central threat to the United States, even though "al-Qa'ida is an 'aging' group by terrorist standards and suffers from strategic weaknesses that could cause it to decay into marginality" (NIC, 2008, p. 69). This focus on Al-Qa-ida leads the National Security Strategy to ignore the potential for homegrown terrorist threats as a result of declining standards of living in the United States, such that the only attention given to this internal threat is a nominal promise to "clearly communicate our policies and intentions, listening to local concerns, tailoring policies to address regional concerns, and making clear…[continue]
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