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Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts

Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts

NIC 2000-02, December 2000

This paper was approved for publication by the National Foreign Intelligence Board under the authority of the Director of Central Intelligence.

Prepared under the direction of the National Intelligence Council.

Letter from the Director of Central Intelligence Agency

Letter from the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council

Note on Process

In undertaking this comprehensive analysis, the NIC worked actively with a range of nongovernmental institutions and experts. We began the analysis with two workshops focusing on drivers and alternative futures, as the appendix describes. Subsequently, numerous specialists from academia and the private sector contributed to every aspect of the study, from demographics to developments in science and technology, from the global arms market to implications for the United States. Many of the judgments in this paper derive from our efforts to distill the diverse views expressed at these conferences or related workshops. Major conferences cosponsored by the NIC with other government and private centers in support of Global Trends 2015 included:

  • Foreign Reactions to the Revolution in Military Affairs (Georgetown University).
  • Evolution of the Nation-State (University of Maryland).
  • Trends in Democratization (CIA and academic experts).
  • American Economic Power (Industry & Trade Strategies, San Francisco, CA).
  • Transformation of Defense Industries (International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, UK).
  • Alternative Futures in War and Conflict (Defense Intelligence Agency and Naval War College, Newport, RI, and CIA).
  • Out of the Box and Into the Future: A Dialogue Between Warfighters and Scientists on Far Future Warfare (Potomac Institute, Arlington, VA).
  • Future Threat Technologies Symposium (MITRE Corporation, McLean, VA).
  • The Global Course of the Information Revolution: Technological Trends (RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA).
  • The Global Course of the Information Revolution: Political, Economic, and Social Consequences (RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA).
  • The Middle East: The Media, Information Technology, and the Internet (The National Defense University, Fort McNair, Washington, DC).
  • Global Migration Trends and Their Implications for the United States (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC).
  • Alternative Global Futures: 2000-2015 (Department of State/Bureau of Intelligence and Research and CIA's Global Futures Project).

In October 2000, the draft report was discussed with outside experts, including Richard Cooper and Joseph Nye (Harvard University), Richard Haass (Brookings Institution), James Steinberg (Markle Foundation), and Jessica Mathews (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace). Their comments and suggestions are incorporated in the report. Daniel Yergin (Cambridge Energy Research Associates) reviewed and commented on the final draft.



Note on Process




The Drivers and Trends


Key Uncertainties: Technology Will Alter Outcomes


Key Challenges to Governance: People Will Decide




Population Trends



Divergent Aging Patterns



Movement of People






Natural Resources and Environment


















Science and Technology




Information Technology








Other Technologies



The Global Economy




Dynamism and Growth




Unequal Growth Prospects and Distribution




Economic Crises and Resilience



National and International Governance




Nonstate Actors




Criminal Organizations and Networkss




Changing Communal Identities and Networks




Overall Impacts on States




International Cooperation



Future Conflict




Internal Conflicts




Transnational Terrorism




Interstate Conflicts




Reacting to US Military Superiority



Major Regions




East and Southeast Asia




South Asia




Russia and Eurasia




Middle East and North Africa




Sub-Saharan Africa












Latin America






Four Alternative Global Futures



Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts

Over the past 15 months, the National Intelligence Council (NIC), in close collaboration with US Government specialists and a wide range of experts outside the government, has worked to identify major drivers and trends that will shape the world of 2015.

The key drivers identified are:

(l) Demographics.
(2) Natural resources and environment.
(3) Science and technology.
(4) The global economy and globalization.
(5) National and international governance.
(6) Future conflict.
(7) The role of the United States.

In examining these drivers, several points should be kept in mind:

  • No single driver or trend will dominate the global future in 2015.
  • Each driver will have varying impacts in different regions and countries.
  • The drivers are not necessarily mutually reinforcing; in some cases, they will work at cross-purposes.

Taken together, these drivers and trends intersect to create an integrated picture of the world of 2015, about which we can make projections with varying degrees of confidence and identify some troubling uncertainties of strategic importance to the United States.

The Methodology

Global Trends 2015 provides a flexible framework to discuss and debate the future. The methodology is useful for our purposes, although admittedly inexact for the social scientist. Our purpose is to rise above short-term, tactical considerations and provide a longer-term, strategic perspective. Judgments about demographic and natural resource trends are based primarily on informed extrapolation of existing trends. In contrast, many judgments about science and technology, economic growth, globalization, governance, and the nature of conflict represent a distillation of views of experts inside and outside the United States Government. The former are projections about natural phenomena, about which we can have fairly high confidence; the latter are more speculative because they are contingent upon the decisions that societies and governments will make.

The drivers we emphasize will have staying power. Some of the trends will persist; others will be less enduring and may change course over the time frame we consider. The major contribution of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), assisted by experts from the Intelligence Community, has been to harness US Government and nongovernmental specialists to identify drivers, to determine which ones matter most, to highlight key uncertainties, and to integrate analysis of these trends into a national security context. The result identifies issues for more rigorous analysis and quantification.

Revisiting Global Trends 2010: How Our Assessments Have Changed

Over the past four years, we have tested the judgments made in the predecessor, Global Trends 2010, published in 1997. Global Trends 2010 was the centerpiece of numerous briefings, conferences, and public addresses. Various audiences were energetic in challenging, modifying or confirming our judgments. The lively debate that ensued has expanded our treatment of drivers, altered some projections we made in 1997, and matured our thinking overall—which was the essential purpose of this exercise.

Global Trends 2015 amplifies several drivers identified previously, and links them more closely to the trends we now project over the next 15 years. Some of the key changes include:

  • Globalization has emerged as a more powerful driver. GT 2015 sees international economic dynamics—including developments in the World Trade Organization—and the spread of information technology as having much greater influence than portrayed in GT 2010.
  • GT 2015 assigns more significance to the importance of governance, notably the ability of states to deal with nonstate actors, both good and bad. GT 2015 pays attention both to the opportunities for cooperation between governments and private organizations and to the growing reach of international criminal and terrorist networks.
  • GT 2015 includes a more careful examination of the likely role of science and technology as a driver of global developments. In addition to the growing significance of information technology, biotechnology and other technologies carry much more weight in the present assessment.
  • The effect of the United States as the preponderant power is introduced in GT 2015. The US role as a global driver has emerged more clearly over the past four years, particularly as many countries debate the impact of "US hegemony" on their domestic and foreign policies.
  • GT 2015 provides a more complete discussion of natural resources including food, water, energy, and the environment. It discusses, for example, the over three billion individuals who will be living in water-stressed regions from North China to Africa and the implications for conflict. The linkage between energy availability, price, and distribution is more thoroughly explored.
  • GT 2015 emphasizes interactions among the drivers. For example, we discuss the relationship between S&T, military developments, and the potential for conflict.
  • In the regional sections, GT 2015 makes projections about the impact of the spread of information, the growing power of China, and the declining power of Russia.

Events and trends in key states and regions over the last four years have led us to revise some projections substantially in GT 2015.

  • GT 2010 did not foresee the global financial crisis of 1997-98; GT 2015 takes account of obstacles to economic development in East Asia, though the overall projections remain fairly optimistic.
  • As described in GT 2010, there is still substantial uncertainty regarding whether China can cope with internal political and economic trends. GT 2015 highlights even greater uncertainty over the direction of Beijing's regional policies.
  • Many of the global trends continue to remain negative for the societies and regimes in the Middle East. GT 2015 projects at best a "cold peace" between Israel and its adversaries and sees prospects for potentially destabilizing social changes due to adverse effects of globalization and insufficient attention to reform. The spike in oil revenues reinforces the assessment of GT 2010 about the rising demand for OPEC oil; these revenues are not likely to be directed primarily at core human resources and social needs.
  • Projections for Sub-Saharan Africa are even more dire than in GT 2010 because of the spread of AIDS and the continuing prospects for humanitarian crises, political instability, and military conflicts.

The Drivers and Trends

Demographics World population in 2015 will be 7.2 billion, up from 6.1 billion in the year 2000, and in most countries, people will live longer. Ninety-five percent of the increase will be in developing countries, nearly all in rapidly expanding urban areas. Where political systems are brittle, the combination of population growth and urbanization will foster instability. Increasing lifespans will have significantly divergent impacts.

  • In the advanced economies—and a growing number of emerging market countries—declining birthrates and aging will combine to increase health care and pension costs while reducing the relative size of the working population, straining the social contract, and leaving significant shortfalls in the size and capacity of the work force.
  • In some developing countries, these same trends will combine to expand the size of the working population and reduce the youth bulge—increasing the potential for economic growth and political stability.

Natural Resources and Environment

Overall food production will be adequate to feed the world's growing population, but poor infrastructure and distribution, political instability, and chronic poverty will lead to malnourishment in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. The potential for famine will persist in countries with repressive government policies or internal conflicts. Despite a 50 percent increase in global energy demand, energy resources will be sufficient to meet demand; the latest estimates suggest that 80 percent of the world's available oil and 95 percent of its gas remain underground.

  • Although the Persian Gulf region will remain the world's largest single source of oil, the global energy market is likely to encompass two relatively distinct patterns of regional distribution: one serving consumers (including the United States) from Atlantic Basin reserves; and the other meeting the needs of primarily Asian customers (increasingly China and India) from Persian Gulf supplies and, to a lesser extent, the Caspian region and Central Asia.
  • In contrast to food and energy, water scarcities and allocation will pose significant challenges to governments in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and northern China. Regional tensions over water will be heightened by 2015.

Science and Technology

Fifteen years ago, few predicted the profound impact of the revolution in information technology. Looking ahead another 15 years, the world will encounter more quantum leaps in information technology (IT) and in other areas of science and technology. The continuing diffusion of information technology and new applications of biotechnology will be at the crest of the wave. IT will be the major building block for international commerce and for empowering nonstate actors. Most experts agree that the IT revolution represents the most significant global transformation since the Industrial Revolution beginning in the mid-eighteenth century.

  • The integration—or fusion—of continuing revolutions in information technology, biotechnology, materials science, and nanotechnology will generate a dramatic increase in investment in technology, which will further stimulate innovation within the more advanced countries.
  • Older technologies will continue lateral "sidewise development" into new markets and applications through 2015, benefiting US allies and adversaries around the world who are interested in acquiring early generation ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) technologies.
  • Biotechnology will drive medical breakthroughs that will enable the world's wealthiest people to improve their health and increase their longevity dramatically. At the same time, genetically modified crops will offer the potential to improve nutrition among the world's one billion malnourished people.
  • Breakthroughs in materials technology will generate widely available products that are multi-functional, environmentally safe, longer lasting, and easily adapted to particular consumer requirements.
  • Disaffected states, terrorists, proliferators, narcotraffickers, and organized criminals will take advantage of the new high-speed information environment and other advances in technology to integrate their illegal activities and compound their threat to stability and security around the world.

The Global Economy and Globalization

The networked global economy will be driven by rapid and largely unrestricted flows of information, ideas, cultural values, capital, goods and services, and people: that is, globalization. This globalized economy will be a net contributor to increased political stability in the world in 2015, although its reach and benefits will not be universal. In contrast to the Industrial Revolution, the process of globalization is more compressed. Its evolution will be rocky, marked by chronic financial volatility and a widening economic divide.

  • The global economy, overall, will return to the high levels of growth reached in the 1960s and early 1970s. Economic growth will be driven by political pressures for higher living standards, improved economic policies, rising foreign trade and investment, the diffusion of information technologies, and an increasingly dynamic private sector. Potential brakes on the global economy—such as a sustained financial crisis or prolonged disruption of energy supplies—could undo this optimistic projection.
  • Regions, countries, and groups feeling left behind will face deepening economic stagnation, political instability, and cultural alienation. They will foster political, ethnic, ideological, and religious extremism, along with the violence that often accompanies it. They will force the United States and other developed countries to remain focused on "old-world" challenges while concentrating on the implications of "new-world" technologies at the same time.

National and International Governance

States will continue to be the dominant players on the world stage, but governments will have less and less control over flows of information, technology, diseases, migrants, arms, and financial transactions, whether licit or illicit, across their borders. Nonstate actors ranging from business firms to nonprofit organizations will play increasingly larger roles in both national and international affairs. The quality of governance, both nationally and internationally, will substantially determine how well states and societies cope with these global forces.

  • States with competent governance, including the United States, will adapt government structures to a dramatically changed global environment—making them better able to engage with a more interconnected world. The responsibilities of once "semiautonomous" government agencies increasingly will intersect because of the transnational nature of national security priorities and because of the clear requirement for interdisciplinary policy responses. Shaping the complex, fast-moving world of 2015 will require reshaping traditional government structures.
  • Effective governance will increasingly be determined by the ability and agility to form partnerships to exploit increased information flows, new technologies, migration, and the influence of nonstate actors. Most but not all countries that succeed will be representative democracies.
  • States with ineffective and incompetent governance not only will fail to benefit from globalization, but in some instances will spawn conflicts at home and abroad, ensuring an even wider gap between regional winners and losers than exists today.

Globalization will increase the transparency of government decision-making, complicating the ability of authoritarian regimes to maintain control, but also complicating the traditional deliberative processes of democracies. Increasing migration will create influential diasporas, affecting policies, politics and even national identity in many countries. Globalization also will create increasing demands for international cooperation on transnational issues, but the response of both states and international organizations will fall short in 2015.

Future Conflict

The United States will maintain a strong technological edge in IT-driven "battlefield awareness" and in precision-guided weaponry in 2015. The United States will face three types of threats:

  • Asymmetric threats in which state and nonstate adversaries avoid direct engagements with the US military but devise strategies, tactics, and weapons—some improved by "sidewise" techology—to minimize US strengths and exploit perceived weaknesses;
  • Strategic WMD threats, including nuclear missile threats, in which (barring significant political or economic changes) Russia, China, most likely North Korea, probably Iran, and possibly Iraq have the capability to strike the United States, and the potential for unconventional delivery of WMD by both states or nonstate actors also will grow; and
  • Regional military threats in which a few countries maintain large military forces with a mix of Cold War and post-Cold War concepts and technologies.

The risk of war among developed countries will be low. The international community will continue, however, to face conflicts around the world, ranging from relatively frequent small-scale internal upheavals to less frequent regional interstate wars. The potential for conflict will arise from rivalries in Asia, ranging from India-Pakistan to China-Taiwan, as well as among the antagonists in the Middle East. Their potential lethality will grow, driven by the availability of WMD, longer-range missile delivery systems and other technologies.

Internal conflicts stemming from religious, ethnic, economic or political disputes will remain at current levels or even increase in number. The United Nations and regional organizations will be called upon to manage such conflicts because major states—stressed by domestic concerns, perceived risk of failure, lack of political will, or tight resources—will minimize their direct involvement.

Export control regimes and sanctions will be less effective because of the diffusion of technology, porous borders, defense industry consolidations, and reliance upon foreign markets to maintain profitability. Arms and weapons technology transfers will be more difficult to control.

  • Prospects will grow that more sophisticated weaponry, including weapons of mass destruction—indigenously produced or externally acquired—will get into the hands of state and nonstate belligerents, some hostile to the United States. The likelihood will increase over this period that WMD will be used either against the United States or its forces, facilities, and interests overseas.

Role of the United States

The United States will continue to be a major force in the world community. US global economic, technological, military, and diplomatic influence will be unparalleled among nations as well as regional and international organizations in 2015. This power not only will ensure America's preeminence, but also will cast the United States as a key driver of the international system.

The United States will continue to be identified throughout the world as the leading proponent and beneficiary of globalization. US economic actions, even when pursued for such domestic goals as adjusting interest rates, will have a major global impact because of the tighter integration of global markets by 2015.

  • The United States will remain in the vanguard of the technological revolution from information to biotechnology and beyond.
  • Both allies and adversaries will factor continued US military pre-eminence in their calculations of national security interests and ambitions.
  • Some states—adversaries and allies—will try at times to check what they see as American "hegemony." Although this posture will not translate into strategic, broad-based and enduring anti-US coalitions, it will lead to tactical alignments on specific policies and demands for a greater role in international political and economic institutions.

Diplomacy will be more complicated. Washington will have greater difficulty harnessing its power to achieve specific foreign policy goals: the US Government will exercise a smaller and less powerful part of the overall economic and cultural influence of the United States abroad.

  • In the absence of a clear and overriding national security threat, the United States will have difficulty drawing on its economic prowess to advance its foreign policy agenda. The top priority of the American private sector, which will be central to maintaining the US economic and technological lead, will be financial profitability, not foreign policy objectives.
  • The United States also will have greater difficulty building coalitions to support its policy goals, although the international community will often turn to Washington, even if reluctantly, to lead multilateral efforts in real and potential conflicts.
  • There will be increasing numbers of important actors on the world stage to challenge and check—as well as to reinforce—US leadership: countries such as China, Russia, India, Mexico, and Brazil; regional organizations such as the European Union; and a vast array of increasingly powerful multinational corporations and nonprofit organizations with their own interests to defend in the world.

Key Uncertainties: Technology Will Alter Outcomes

Examining the interaction of these drivers and trends points to some major uncertainties that will only be clarified as events occur and leaders make policy decisions that cannot be foreseen today. We cite eight transnational and regional issues for which the future, according to our trends analysis, is too tough to call with any confidence or precision.

  • These are high-stakes, national security issues that will require continuous analysis and, in the view of our conferees, periodic policy review in the years ahead.

Science and Technology

We know that the possibility is greater than ever that the revolution in science and technology will improve the quality of life. What we know about this revolution is exciting. Advances in science and technology will generate dramatic breakthroughs in agriculture and health and in leap-frog applications, such as universal wireless cellular communications, which already are networking developing countries that never had land-lines. What we do not know about the S&T revolution, however, is staggering. We do not know to what extent technology will benefit, or further disadvantage, disaffected national populations, alienated ethnic and religious groups, or the less developed countries. We do not know to what degree lateral or "side-wise" technology will increase the threat from low technology countries and groups. One certainty is that progression will not be linear. Another is that as future technologies emerge, people will lack full awareness of their wider economic, environmental, cultural, legal, and moral impact—or the continuing potential for research and development.

Advances in science and technology will pose national security challenges of uncertain character and scale.

  • Increasing reliance on computer networks is making critical US infrastructures more attractive as targets. Computer network operations today offer new options for attacking the United States within its traditional continental sanctuary—potentially anonymously and with selective effects. Nevertheless, we do not know how quickly or effectively such adversaries as terrorists or disaffected states will develop the tradecraft to use cyber warfare tools and technology, or, in fact, whether cyber warfare will ever evolve into a decisive combat arm.
  • Rapid advances and diffusion of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and the materials sciences, moreover, will add to the capabilities of our adversaries to engage in biological warfare or bio-terrorism.

Asymmetric Warfare

As noted earlier, most adversaries will recognize the information advantage and military superiority of the United States in 2015. Rather than acquiesce to any potential US military domination, they will try to circumvent or minimize US strengths and exploit perceived weaknesses. IT-driven globalization will significantly increase interaction among terrorists, narcotraffickers, weapons proliferators, and organized criminals, who in a networked world will have greater access to information, to technology, to finance, to sophisticated deception-and-denial techniques and to each other. Such asymmetric approaches—whether undertaken by states or nonstate actors—will become the dominant characteristic of most threats to the US homeland. They will be a defining challenge for US strategy, operations, and force development, and they will require that strategy to maintain focus on traditional, low-technology threats as well as the capacity of potential adversaries to harness elements of proliferating advanced technologies. At the same time, we do not know the extent to which adversaries, state and nonstate, might be influenced or deterred by other geopolitical, economic, technological, or diplomatic factors in 2015.

The Global Economy

Although the outlook for the global economy appears strong, achieving broad and sustained high levels of global growth will be contingent on avoiding several potential brakes to growth. These include:

The US economy suffers a sustained downturn. Given its large trade deficit and low domestic savings, the US economy—the most important driver of recent global growth—is vulnerable to a loss of international confidence in its growth prospects that could lead to a sharp downturn, which, if long lasting, would have deleterious economic and policy consequences for the rest of the world.

Europe and Japan fail to manage their demographic challenges. European and Japanese populations are aging rapidly, requiring more than 110 million new workers by 2015 to maintain current dependency ratios between the working population and retirees. Conflicts over social services or immigration policies in major European states could dampen economic growth.

China and/or India fail to sustain high growth. China's ambitious goals for reforming its economy will be difficult to achieve: restructuring state-owned enterprises, cleaning up and transforming the banking system, and cutting the government's employment rolls in half. Growth would slow if these reforms go off-track. Failure by India to implement reforms would prevent it from achieving sustained growth.

Emerging market countries fail to reform their financial institutions. Many emerging market countries have not yet undertaken the financial reforms needed to help them survive the next economic crisis. Absent such reform, a series of future economic crises in emerging market countries probably will dry up the capital flows crucial for high rates of economic growth.

Global energy supplies suffer a major disruption. Turbulence in global energy supplies would have a devastating effect. Such a result could be driven by conflict among key energy-producing states, sustained internal instability in two or more major energy-producing states, or major terrorist actions.

The Middle East

Global trends from demography and natural resources to globalization and governance appear generally negative for the Middle East. Most regimes are change-resistant. Many are buoyed by continuing energy revenues and will not be inclined to make the necessary reforms, including in basic education, to change this unfavorable picture.

  • Linear trend analysis shows little positive change in the region, raising the prospects for increased demographic pressures, social unrest, religious and ideological extremism, and terrorism directed both at the regimes and at their Western supporters.
  • Nonlinear developments—such as the sudden rise of a Web-connected opposition, a sharp and sustained economic downturn, or, conversely, the emergence of enlightened leaders committed to good governance—might change outcomes in individual countries. Political changes in Iran in the late 1990s are an example of such nonlinear development.

Estimates of developments in China over the next 15 years are fraught with unknowables. Working against China's aspirations to sustain economic growth while preserving its political system is an array of political, social, and economic pressures that will increasingly challenge the regime's legitimacy, and perhaps its survival.

  • The sweeping structural changes required by China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the broader demands of economic globalization and the information revolution will generate significantly new levels and types of social and economic disruption that will only add to an already wide range of domestic and international problems.

Nevertheless, China need not be overwhelmed by these problems. China has proven politically resilient, economically dynamic, and increasingly assertive in positioning itself for a leadership role in East Asia. Its long-term military program in particular suggests that Beijing wants to have the capability to achieve its territorial objectives, outmatch its neighbors, and constrain US power in the region.

  • We do not rule out the introduction of enough political reform by 2015 to allow China to adapt to domestic pressure for change and to continue to grow economically.

Two conditions, in the view of many specialists, would lead to a major security challenge for the United States and its allies in the region: a weak, disintegrating China, or an assertive China willing to use its growing economic wealth and military capabilities to pursue its strategic advantage in the region. These opposite extremes bound a more commonly held view among experts that China will continue to see peace as essential to its economic growth and internal stability.

Between now and 2015, Moscow will be challenged even more than today to adjust its expectations for world leadership to its dramatically reduced resources. Whether the country can make the transition in adjusting ends to means remains an open and critical question, according to most experts, as does the question of the character and quality of Russian governance and economic policies. The most likely outcome is a Russia that remains internally weak and institutionally linked to the international system primarily through its permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In this view, whether Russia can adjust to this diminished status in a manner that preserves rather than upsets regional stability is also uncertain. The stakes for both Europe and the United States will be high, although neither will have the ability to determine the outcome for Russia in 2015. Russian governance will be the critical factor.

The first uncertainty about Japan is whether it will carry out the structural reforms needed to resume robust economic growth and to slow its decline relative to the rest of East Asia, particularly China. The second uncertainty is whether Japan will alter its security policy to allow Tokyo to maintain a stronger military and more reciprocal relationship with the United States. Experts agree that Japanese governance will be the key driver in determining the outcomes.

Global trends conflict significantly in India. The size of its population—1.2 billion by 2015—and its technologically driven economic growth virtually dictate that India will be a rising regional power. The unevenness of its internal economic growth, with a growing gap between rich and poor, and serious questions about the fractious nature of its politics, all cast doubt on how powerful India will be by 2015. Whatever its degree of power, India's rising ambition will further strain its relations with China, as well as complicate its ties with Russia, Japan, and the West—and continue its nuclear standoff with Pakistan.

Key Challenges to Governance: People Will Decide

Global Trends 2015 identifies governance as a major driver for the future and assumes that all trends we cite will be influenced, for good or bad, by decisions of people. The inclusion of the United States as a driver—both the US Government as well as US for-profit and nonprofit organizations—is based on the general assumption that the actions of nonstate actors as well as governments will shape global outcomes in the years ahead.

An integrated trend analysis suggests at least four related conclusions:

National Priorities Will Matter

  • To prosper in the global economy of 2015, governments will have to invest more in technology, in public education, and in broader participation in government to include increasingly influential nonstate actors. The extent to which governments around the world are doing these things today gives some indication of where they will be in 2015.

US Responsibilities Will Cover the World, Old and New

  • The United States and other developed countries will be challenged in 2015 to lead the fast-paced technological revolution while, at the same time, maintaining military, diplomatic, and intelligence capabilities to deal with traditional problems and threats from low-technology countries and groups. The United States, as a global power, will have little choice but to engage leading actors and confront problems on both sides of the widening economic and digital divides in the world of 2015, when globalization's benefits will be far from global.

US Foreign Priorities Will be More Transnational

  • International or multilateral arrangements increasingly will be called upon in 2015 to deal with growing transnational problems from economic and financial volatility; to legal and illegal migration; to competition for scarce natural resources such as water; to humanitarian, refugee, and environmental crises; to terrorism, narcotrafficking, and weapons proliferation; and to both regional conflicts and cyber threats. And when international cooperation—or international governance—comes up short, the United States and other developed countries will have to broker solutions among a wide array of international players—including governments at all levels, multinational corporations, and nonprofit organizations.

National Governments Will be More Transparent

  • To deal with a transnational agenda and an interconnected world in 2015, governments will have to develop greater communication and collaboration between national security and domestic policy agencies. Interagency cooperation will be essential to understanding transnational threats and to developing interdisciplinary strategies to counter them. Consequence management of a biological warfare (BW) attack, for example, would require close coordination among a host of US Government agencies, foreign governments, US state and municipal governments, the military, the medical community, and the media.


Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernment Experts

The international system in 2015 will be shaped by seven global drivers and related trends: population; natural resources and the environment; science and technology; the global economy and globalization; national and international governance; the nature of conflict; and the role of the United States. These trends will influence the capacities, priorities, and behavior of states and societies and thus substantially define the international security environment.

Population Trends

The world in 2015 will be populated by some 7.2 billion people, up from 6.1 billion in the year 2000. The rate of world population growth, however, will have diminished from 1.7 percent annually in 1985, to 1.3 percent today, to approximately 1 percent in 2015.

Increased life expectancy and falling fertility rates will contribute to a shift toward an aging population in high-income developed countries. Beyond that, demographic trends will sharply diverge. More than 95 percent of the increase in world population will be found in developing countries, nearly all in rapidly expanding urban areas.

  • India's population will grow from 900 million to more than 1.2 billion by 2015; Pakistan's probably will swell from 140 million now to about 195 million.
  • Some countries in Africa with high rates of AIDS will experience reduced population growth or even declining populations despite relatively high birthrates. In South Africa, for example, the population is projected to drop from 43.4 million in 2000 to 38.7 million in 2015.

Russia and many post-Communist countries of Eastern Europe will have declining populations. As a result of high mortality and low birthrates, Russia's population may drop from its current 146 million to as low as 130 to 135 million in 2015, while the neighboring states of Central Asia will experience continued population growth. In Japan and West European countries such as Italy and Spain, populations also will decline in the absence of dramatic increases in birthrates or immigration.

  • North America, Australia, and New Zealand—the traditional magnets for migrants—will continue to have the highest rates of population growth among the developed countries, with annual population growth rates between 0.7 percent and 1.0 percent.

Global Population: 1950-2015

Divergent Aging Patterns

In developed countries and many of the more advanced developing countries, the declining ratio of working people to retirees will strain social services, pensions, and health systems. Governments will seek to mitigate the problem through such measures as delaying retirement, encouraging greater participation in the work force by women, and relying on migrant workers. Dealing effectively with declining dependency ratios is likely to require more extensive measures than most governments will be prepared to undertake. The shift towards a greater proportion of older voters will change the political dynamics in these countries in ways difficult to foresee.

At the same time, "youth bulges" will persist in some developing countries, notably in Sub-Saharan Africa and a few countries in Latin America and the Middle East. A high proportion of young people will be destabilizing, particularly when combined with high unemployment or communal tension.

Movement of People

Two major trends in the movement of people will characterize the next 15 years—urbanization and cross-border migration—each of which poses both opportunities and challenges.

Growth in Mega-Cities

The ratio of urban to rural dwellers is steadily increasing. By 2015 more than half of the world's population will be urban. The number of people living in mega-cities—those containing more than 10 million inhabitants—will double to more than 400 million.

  • Urbanization will provide many countries the opportunity to tap the information revolution and other technological advances.
  • The explosive growth of cities in developing countries will test the capacity of governments to stimulate the investment required to generate jobs and to provide the services, infrastructure, and social supports necessary to sustain livable and stable environments.

Regional Population: 1950-2015

Divergent demographic trends, the globalization of labor markets, and political instability and conflict will fuel a dramatic increase in the global movement of people through 2015. Legal and illegal migrants now account for more than 15 percent of the population in more than 50 countries. These numbers will grow substantially and will increase social and political tension and perhaps alter national identities even as they contribute to demographic and economic dynamism.

States will face increasing difficulty in managing migration pressures and flows, which will number several million people annually. Over the next 15 years, migrants will seek to move:

  • To North America primarily from Latin America and East and South Asia.
  • To Europe primarily from North Africa and the Middle East, South Asia, and the post-Communist states of Eastern Europe and Eurasia.
  • From the least to the most developed countries of Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Regional Population by Age Group: 2000 and 2015

For high-income receiving countries, migration will relieve labor shortages and otherwise ensure continuing economic vitality. EU countries and Japan will need large numbers of new workers because of aging populations and low birthrates. Immigration will complicate political and social integration: some political parties will continue to mobilize popular sentiment against migrants, protesting the strain on social services and the difficulties in assimilation. European countries and Japan will face difficult dilemmas in seeking to reconcile protection of national borders and cultural identity with the need to address growing demographic and labor market imbalances.

For low-income receiving countries, mass migration resulting from civil conflict, natural disasters, or economic crises will strain local infrastructures, upset ethnic balances, and spark ethnic conflict. Illegal migration will become a more contentious issue between and among governments.

For low-income sending countries, mass migration will relieve pressures from unemployed and underemployed workers and generate significant remittances. Migrants will function as ethnic lobbies on behalf of sending-country interests, sometimes supporting armed conflicts in their home countries, as in the cases of the Albanian, Kurdish, Tamil, Armenian, Eritrean, and Ethiopian diasporas. At the same time, emigration increasingly will deprive low-income sending countries of their educated elites. An estimated 1.5 million skilled expatriates from developing countries already are employed in high-income countries. This brain drain from low-income to high-income countries is likely to intensify over the next 15 years.

Disparities in health status between developed and developing countries—particularly the least developed countries—will persist and widen. In developed countries, major inroads against a variety of maladies will be achieved by 2015 as a result of generous health spending and major medical advances. The revolution in biotechnology holds the promise of even more dramatic improvements in health status. Noninfectious diseases will pose greater challenges to health in developed countries than will infectious diseases. Progress against infectious diseases, nevertheless, will encounter some setbacks as a result of growing microbial resistance to antibiotics and the accelerating pace of international movement of people and products that facilitate the spread of infectious diseases.

Countries with Youth Bulges in 2000 and 2015

Developing countries, by contrast, are likely to experience a surge in both infectious and noninfectious diseases and in general will have inadequate health care capacities and spending.

  • Tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis, and particularly AIDS will continue to increase rapidly. AIDS and TB together are likely to account for the majority of deaths in most developing countries.

AIDS Public Awareness Poster

AIDS will be a major problem not only in Africa but also in India, Southeast Asia, several countries formerly part of the Soviet Union, and possibly China.

  • AIDS will reduce economic growth by up to 1 percent of GDP per year and consume more than 50 percent of health budgets in the hardest-hit countries.
  • AIDS and such associated diseases as TB will have a destructive impact on families and society. In some African countries, average lifespans will be reduced by as much as 30 to 40 years, generating more than 40 million orphans and contributing to poverty, crime, and instability.
  • AIDS, other diseases, and health problems will hurt prospects for transition to democratic regimes as they undermine civil society, hamper the evolution of sound political and economic institutions, and intensify the struggle for power and resources.

Natural Resources and Environment

Driven by advances in agricultural technologies, world food grain production and stocks in 2015 will be adequate to meet the needs of a growing world population. Despite the overall adequacy of food, problems of distribution and availability will remain.

  • The number of chronically malnourished people in conflict-ridden Sub-Saharan Africa will increase by more than 20 percent over the next 15 years.
  • The potential for famine will still exist where the combination of repressive government or internal conflict and persistent naturaldisasters prevents or limits relief efforts, as in Somalia in the early 1990s and North Korea more recently.
  • Donors will become more reluctant to provide relief when the effort might become embroiled in military conflict.

Global Grain Production: 1971-2015

The use of genetically modified crops has great potential for meeting the nutrition needs of the poor in developing countries. Popular and political opposition in the EU countries and, to a lesser extent, in the United States, however, has clouded the prospects for applying this technology.

Challenged Water Supply

By 2015 nearly half the world's population—more than 3 billion people—will live in countries that are "water-stressed"—have less than 1,700 cubic meters of water per capita per year—mostly in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and northern China.

In the developing world, 80 percent of water usage goes into agriculture, a proportion that is not sustainable; and in 2015 a number of developing countries will be unable to maintain their levels of irrigated agriculture. Overpumping of groundwater in many of the world's important grain-growing regions will be an increasing problem; about 1,000 tons of water are needed to produce a ton of grain.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).