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Executive Summary



The Contradictions of Globalization

Rising Powers

New Challenges to Governance

Pervasive Insecurity

Policy Implications

Document Cover Image: Mapping the Global Future  

Report of the
National Intelligence Council's
2020 Project


The international order is in the midst of profound change:  at no time since the formation of the Western alliance system in 1949 have the shape and nature of international alignments been in such a state of flux as they have during the past decade.  As a result, the world of 2020 will differ markedly from the world of 2004, and in the intervening years the United States will face major international challenges that differ significantly from those we face today.  The very magnitude and speed of change resulting from a globalizing world-regardless of its precise character-will be a defining feature of the world out to 2020.  Other significant characteristics include:

  • The contradictions of globalization.

  • Rising powers:  the changing geopolitical landscape.

  • New challenges to governance.

  • A more pervasive sense of insecurity.

As with previous upheavals, the seeds of major change have been laid in the trends apparent today.  Underlying the broad characteristics listed above are a number of specific trends that overlap and play off each other:

  • The expanding global economy.

  • The accelerating pace of scientific change and the dispersion of dual-use technologies.

  • Lingering social inequalities.

  • Emerging powers.

  • The global aging phenomenon.

  • Halting democratization.

  • A spreading radical Islamic ideology.

  • The potential for catastrophic terrorism.

  • The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

  • Increased pressures on international institutions.

As we survey the next 15 years, the role of the United States will be an important variable in how the world is shaped, influencing the path that states and nonstate actors choose to follow.  In addition to the pivotal role of the United States, international bodies including international organizations, multinational corporations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and others can mitigate distinctly negative trends, such as greater insecurity, and advance positive trends.

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