The U.S. spy agencies predicts an increasingly leaderless and unstable world in the coming decades as trends such as artificial intelligence, digital currencies and climate change reshape the global arena, according to the National Intelligence Council.
The coming decades will be characterized by a mismatch between global challenges and “the ability of institutions and system to respond,” according to “Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World.” The result will be “greater contestation at every level” — especially between the U.S. and China.
Here are some of the trends from the report:
- Debt pressures: National governments will have “reduced flexibility” to deal with challenges such as climate change in the face of growing debt burdens and increasingly diverse trading rules.
- Digital currencies: The U.S. dollar and the euro will face threats from digital currencies such as Bitcoin. “Privately issued digital currencies could add complexity to the conduct of monetary policy by reducing countries’ control over their exchange rates and money supply,” the report says.
- Climate pressure: Climate change will drive social divisions within states and exacerbate international tensions. It will worsen water insecurity as well as increase pressures for migration.
- Assertive China: Although the report says “no single state” will be able to dominate “all regions or domains,” intensified U.S. competition with China runs through its pages. The Asian superpower will look to “assert dominance in Asia,” press U.S. allies to “restrict U.S. basing access,” and move Taiwan “closer to reunification by 2040, possibly through sustained and intensive coercion.”
- New ways of war: Increased competition between states will result in further nuclear proliferation and an increased risk of interstate conflict. Artificial intelligence will “enhance the performance of existing weapons, defenses, and systems.”
- Space race: By 2040, China will be the U.S.’s most formidable rival in space. By that time it’s likely to have its “own set of foreign partners participating in Chinese-led space activities” and its BeiDou satellite navigation system will probably be in use around the world as an alternative to the Pentagon-backed GPS.
- Permanent populism: “Polarization along ethnic, religious, and ideological lines is likely to remain strong,” and this is likely to “reinforce political dysfunction” and “heighten risks of political instability.”
- AI-powered propaganda: The proliferation of digital technologies and advances in artificial intelligence will open the door for both states and non-state actors to “influence populations, including by ratcheting up cognitive manipulation and societal polarization,” the report says.