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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


To launch the NIC 2020 Project, in November 2003 we brought together some 25 leading outside experts from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds to engage in a broad-gauged discussion with Intelligence Community analysts.  We invited three leading "futurists"-Ted Gordon of the UN's Millennium Project; Jim Dewar, Director of the RAND Corporation's Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future of the Human Condition; and Ged Davis, former head of Shell International's scenarios project [2] -to discuss their most recent work and the methodologies they employed to think about the future.  Princeton University historian Harold James gave the keynote address, offering lessons from prior periods of "globalization."

We surveyed and studied various methodologies (see box on page 22) and reviewed a number of recent "futures" studies.  Besides convening a meeting of counterparts in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to learn their thinking, we organized six regional conferences in countries on four continents-one in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Singapore, and Chile, two in Hungary-to solicit the views of foreign experts from a variety of backgrounds-academics, business people, government officials, members of nongovernmental organizations and other institutions-who could speak authoritatively on the key drivers of change and conceptualize broad regional themes.  Our regional experts also contributed valuable insights on how the rest of the world views the United States.  In addition to the conferences held overseas, which included hundreds of foreign participants, we held a conference in the Washington, DC area on India.

We augmented these discussions with conferences and workshops that took a more in-depth view of specific issues of interest, including new technologies, the changing nature of warfare, identity politics, gender issues, climate change and many others (see box on page 20 for a complete list of the conferences).  Participants explored key trends that were presented by experts and then developed alternative scenarios for how the trends might play out over the next 15 years.  And we consulted numerous organizations and individuals on the substantive aspects of this study, as well as on methodologies and approaches for thinking about the future.

  • The UN Millennium Project-an independent body that advises the UN on strategies for achieving the Millennium development goals-provided invaluable data on cross-cutting issues.  We also consulted the Eurasia Group, Oxford Analytica, CENTRA Technologies, and the Stimson Center.

  • Other individual scholars we consulted included Michael F. Oppenheimer, President, Global Scenarios, who facilitated several of our sessions and informed our thinking on methodologies; Georgetown and now Princeton Professor John Ikenberry, who organized several seminars of academic experts over the course of more than a year to examine various aspects of US preeminence and critique preliminary drafts of the report; Enid Schoettle, who was one of the architects of Global Trends 2015; Professor Barry B. Hughes, Graduate School of International Studies, University of Denver, whose related statistical and scenario work is featured on our Web site; Anne Solomon, Senior Adviser on Technology Policy and Director of the Biotechnology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, who organized several stimulating conferences on S&T topics; Elke Matthews, an independent contractor who conducted substantial open-source research; Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies, Pennsylvania State University, who provided invaluable insights on global trends pertaining to religion; Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy, American Enterprise Institute, who provided us with important perspectives on demographic issues; and Jeffrey Herbst, Chair, Department of Politics, Princeton University, who was instrumental in our analysis of issues pertaining to Africa.

  • The following organizations arranged the regional conferences for the project:  Wilton Park, Central European University, Bard College, the South African Institute for International Affairs, Adolfo Ibañez University, Nueva Mayoria, and the Asia Society.  Timothy Sharp and Professor Ewan Anderson of Sharp Global Solutions Ltd arranged a conference in London of UK experts to critique a preliminary draft of the report.

  • We also want to thank our colleagues in the US Intelligence Community, who provided us with useful data and shared their ideas about global trends.

NIC 2020 Project Conferences and Workshops

Presentation by Joint Doctrine and Concepts Center (MoD/UK)-CIA Headquarters (September 2003)

Conference on Anti-Americanism-Wye Plantation (October 2003)

Inaugural NIC 2020 Project Conference-Washington, DC (November 2003)

Professor Ikenberry's series of International Relations Roundtables-Georgetown University (November 2003-November 2004)

Joint US-Commonwealth Intelligence Officials' Conference -Washington, DC (December 2003)

African Experts' Roundtable-Washington, DC (January 2004)

Middle East NIC 2020 Workshop-Wilton Park, UK (March 2004)

Africa NIC 2020 Workshop-Johannesburg, South Africa (March 2004)

Global Evolution of Dual-Use Biotechnology-Washington, DC (March 2004)

Russia and Eurasia NIC 2020 Workshop-Budapest, Hungary (April 2004)

Europe NIC 2020 Workshop-Budapest, Hungary (April 2004)

Global Identity Roundtable Discussion-CIA Headquarters (May 2004)

Asia NIC 2020 Workshop-Singapore (May 2004)

Conference on The Changing Nature of Warfare-Center for Naval Analysis (May 2004)

Latin America NIC 2020 Workshop-Santiago, Chile (June 2004)

Technological Frontiers, Global Power, Wealth, and Conflict-Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) (June 2004)

Climate Change-University of Maryland (June 2004)

NSA Tech 2020-Baltimore, Maryland (June 2004)

Conference on Muslims in Europe-Oxford, England (July 2004)

Women in 2020-Washington, DC (August 2004)

Business Leader Roundtable Discussion-CIA Headquarters (September 2004)

India and Geopolitics in 2020-Rosslyn, Virginia (September 2004)

Stimson Center-sponsored roundtables on Scenarios-Washington, DC (Spring-Summer, 2004)

Information and Communications, Technological and Social Cohesion and the Nation-State-Washington, DC  (September 2004)

Wrap-Up NIC 2020 Project Workshop-Virginia (October 2004)

Consultation on Preliminary NIC 2020 Draft with UK experts and the International Institute of Strategic Studies-London, England (October 2004)

Scenario Development Process
While straight-line projections are useful in establishing a baseline and positing a mainline scenario, they typically present a one-dimensional view of how the future might unfold and tend to focus attention exclusively on the "prediction."  Scenarios offer a more dynamic view of possible futures and focus attention on the underlying interactions that may have particular policy significance.  They are especially useful in thinking about the future during times of great uncertainty, which we believe is the case for the next 15 years.  Scenarios help decisionmakers to break through conventional thinking and basic assumptions so that a broader range of possibilities can be considered-including new risks and opportunities.

The six international workshops generated an enormous amount of data and analysis on the key drivers that are likely to lead to regional change in the 2020 timeframe.  The NIC 2020 Project staff conducted additional research, drafted papers, and initiated follow-up roundtable discussions and conferences.  We analyzed the findings from the regional workshops, highlighted key regional trends that had global implications, and looked at the regional product in its totality to identify salient cross-regional trends.  These key findings were set aside as the raw material for development of the global scenarios.

To jumpstart the global scenario development process, the NIC 2020 Project staff created a Scenario Steering Group (SSG)-a small aggregation of respected members of the policy community, think tanks, and analysts from within the Intelligence Community-to examine summaries of the data collected and consider scenario concepts that take into account the interaction between key drivers of global change.  SSG examined the product of the international workshops and explored fledgling scenarios for plausibility and policy relevance.

We studied extensively key futures work developed in the public and private sectors that employed scenario techniques, identified the "best practices," and then developed our own unique approach, combining trend analysis and scenarios.  Papers that influenced our work include those produced by Goldman Sachs, the UK Ministry of Defense, and Shell International, Ltd. (see box on page 22).

Scenario and Futures Work That Influenced Our Thinking

Our consultations with Ged Davis, formerly the leader of Shell International's scenario-building effort, affirmed our intent to develop scenarios for policymakers.  Shell builds global scenarios every three years to help its leaders make better decisions.  Following initial research, Shell's team spends about a year conducting interviews and holding workshops to develop and finalize the scenarios, seeking throughout the process to ensure a balance between unconventional thinking and plausibility.  We used a similar approach.  We also benefited from consultations with other organizations that do futures work:

The Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre , an integral part of the UK Ministry of Defense, undertook an ambitious attempt to develop a coherent view of how the world might develop over the next 30 years in ways that could alter the UK's security.  The project-Strategic Trends-was designed to assist the MOD in gaining a strategic understanding of future threats, risks, challenges, and opportunities.

Meta-Analysis of Published Material on Drivers and Trends, produced by the UK Defense Evaluation and Research Agency, reviewed over 50 futures studies.

The RAND Corporation-as part of a parallel, NIC-sponsored effort to update its 2001 monograph The Global Revolution: Bio/Nano/Materials Trends and Their Synergies with IT by 2015-provided substantive guidance by delineating technology trends and their interaction; identifying applications that will transform the future; commenting extensively on drafts; and providing thought-provoking, technology-driven scenario concepts.

Peter Schwartz, Chairman, Global Business Network and author of Inevitable Surprises, provided us with invaluable insights on the nature of surprise, including the use of drivers, the interpretation of insights across disciplines, and the application of scenario work to the private sector.

Toffler Associates contributed ideas at several points, including in association with the NSA Tech 2020 project (see below).  In addition, Drs. Alvin and Heidi Toffler participated in our capstone conference, sharing their insights on understanding the future based on their vast experience in the field.

The National Security Agency's project—Tech 2020—also helped identify key technology convergences expected to impact society between now and 2020.  We have incorporated valuable insights from this project and are grateful to NSA for stimulating a rewarding Intelligence Community dialogue on future trends.

After scenario concepts were explored, critiqued, and debated within the SSG and with other groups that the NIC engaged, eight global scenarios that held particular promise were developed.  The NIC then held a wrap-up workshop with a broader group of experts to examine the eight scenarios, discuss the merits and weaknesses of each, and ultimately narrow the number of scenarios included in the final publication to four.  The scenarios depicted in this publication were selected for their relevance to policymakers and because they cause us to question key assumptions about the future-but they do not attempt to predict it.  Nor are they mutually exclusive.

Interactive Tools
Significantly, the NIC 2020 Project also employs information technology and analytic tools unavailable in earlier NIC efforts.  Its global sweep and scope required that we engage in a continuing, worldwide dialogue about the future.  With the help of CENTRA Technologies, we created an interactive, password-protected Web site to serve as a repository for discussion papers and workshop summaries.  The site also provided a link to massive quantities of basic data for reference and analysis.  It contained interactive tools to keep our foreign and domestic experts engaged and created "hands-on" computer simulations that allowed novice and expert alike to develop their own scenarios. [3]   Much of this supporting material involving the Empirical Web-boxes Scenario capability has now been transferred to the open, unclassified NIC Web site with publication of this report.

[2]   Shell International Limited has for decades used scenarios to identify business risks and opportunities.  Ged Davis led this effort for many years.

[3]   To access these new innovations log on to the NIC website: www.cia.gov/nic.


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