Billed by skeptics as "science fiction"—replete with predictions of "super-villainy" and "superhuman" abilities brought about by technological advances—a report released Monday by the US government predicts that America's economic dominance will be overtaken by China within the next 20 years while opportunities for war will likely grow amid a growing fight over the world's diminishing natural resources.
Predictable in how it frames many issues regarding the noble supremacy of the United States in global affairs, the latest report by the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) is a hodgepodge of neo-liberal economic analysis, foreign policy cold-bloodedness, wishful thinking and sci-fi fantasy.
The report,"Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds," the latest in a series of assessments released every four years by the NIC, warns of certain "black swans"—potential game-changing events such as a global pandemic, the collapse of major economies, or a nuclear war—that could upend global structures and cause havoc for world governments.
Not withstanding its inevitable adherence to notions of 'American exceptionalism,' the report does give collective voice to broadly held views across the US intelligence community, many that speak to troubling developments that could well come to pass.
Included in that list are aspects of the report that predict nearly half of the world's population will likely struggle with shortages of food, water and energy in the coming decades.
As the New York Times notes, the NIC predicts that by 2030 "half of the world’s population will probably be living in areas that suffer from severe shortages of fresh water, meaning that management of natural resources will be a crucial component of global national security efforts."
According to the report itself:
Demand for resources will increase owing to an increase in global population from 7.1 billion today to about 8 billion by 2030. Demand for food set to rise 35 percent; energy 50 percent over the next 15-20 years. Nearly half of world population will live in areas with severe water stress. Fragile states most at risk, but China and India are vulnerable to volatility of key resources. Main questions will be whether there will be more effective management, wider technology use, and greater governance mechanisms.
About 50 countries "will be at risk of internal conflict or wars with neighbors," the study notes, "set off by increasing nationalism and border rivalries fought in the absence of any regional security architecture to resolve them." In addition, continued tensions among nations with atomic weapons could lead to nuclear war.
Writing Monday in The Ticket, Olivier Knox notes that "The 160-page report is a great read for anyone in the business of crafting the script for the next James Bond movie, a treasure trove of potential scenarios for international intrigue, not to mention super-villainy."
The report also sees the potential for "black swan" shocks to the system. These include: A severe pandemic; faster-than-forecast climate change; the collapse of the European Union; the collapse of China (or its embrace of democracy); and a reformed Iran that abandons its suspected nuclear weapons program. They also include a conflict using nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, or a large-scale cyber-attack; solar geomagnetic storms that may knock out satellites and the electric grid; or a sudden retreat of the U.S. from global affairs.
The Times notes that the study acknowledges that "game changes" could affect the outcome of the next two decades: "a crisis-prone world economy, shortcomings in governance, conflicts within states and between them, the impact of new technologies and whether the United States can 'work with new partners to reinvent the international system.'”
Danger Room's Noah Schactman points out how a close reading of the report exposes the US intelligence community's sometimes alarming preoccupation with science fiction, writing: "3-D printed organs. Brain chips providing superhuman abilities. Megacities, built from scratch. The U.S. intelligence community is taking a look at the world of 2030. And it is very, very sci-fi."
Though once a consulant for a previous NIC report himself, Schachtman is largely dismissive of the report. Pausing casually along the way to note that the reports authors are seemingly "well convinced that America is [...] on the decline and that China is on the ascent," Schachtmann sums up by saying:
most of the findings are apolitical bets on which tech will leap out the furthest over the next 17 years. People can check back in 2030 to see if the intelligence agencies are right — that is, if you still call the biomodded cyborgs roaming the planet people.