UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


NIC Logo National Intelligence Council banner


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 nation-state will continue to be the dominant unit of the global order, but economic globalization and the dispersion of technologies, especially information technologies, will place enormous strains on governments.  Regimes that were able to manage the challenges of the 1990s could be overwhelmed by those of 2020.  Contradictory forces will be at work:  authoritarian regimes will face new pressures to democratize, but fragile new democracies may lack the adaptive capacity to survive and develop.

  • With migration on the increase in several places around the world-from North Africa and the Middle East into Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean into the United States, and increasingly from Southeast Asia into the northern regions-more countries will be multi-ethnic and multi-religious and will face the challenge of integrating migrants into their societies while respecting their ethnic and religious identities.

Halting Progress on Democratization
Global economic growth has the potential to spur democratization, but backsliding by many countries that were considered part of the "third wave" of democratization is a distinct possibility.  In particular, by 2020 democratization may be partially reversed among the states of the former Soviet Union and in Southeast Asia, some of which never really embraced democracy.  Russia and most of the Central Asian regimes appear to be slipping back toward authoritarianism, and global economic growth probably will not on its own reverse such a trend.  The development of more diversified economies in these countries-by no means inevitable-would be crucial in fostering the growth of a middle class, which in turn would spur democratization.  

  • Beset already by severe economic inequalities, aging Central Asian rulers must contend with unruly and large youth populations lacking broad economic opportunities.  Central Asian governments are likely to suppress dissent and revert to authoritarianism to maintain order, risking growing insurgencies.
".backsliding by many countries that were considered part of the 'third wave' of democratization is a distinct possibility."

Chinese leaders will face a dilemma over how much to accommodate pluralistic pressure and relax political controls or risk a popular backlash if they do not.  Beijing also has to weigh in the balance its ambition to be a major global player, which would be enhanced if its rulers moved towards political reform.

Eurasian Countries:  Going Their Separate Ways?

The regional experts who attended our conference felt that Russia's political development since the fall of Communism has been complicated by the continuing search for a post-Soviet national identity.  Putin has increasingly appealed to Russian nationalism-and, occasionally, xenophobia-to define Russian identity.  His successors may well define Russian identity by highlighting Russia's imperial past and its domination over its neighbors even as they reject communist ideology.

In the view of the experts, Central Asian states are weak, with considerable potential for religious and ethnic conflict over the next 15 years.  Religious and ethnic movements could have a destabilizing impact across the region.  Eurasia is likely to become more differentiated despite the fact that demographic counterforces-such as a dearth of manpower in Russia and western Eurasia and an oversupply in Central Asia-could help pull the region together.  Moreover, Russia and the Central Asians are likely to cooperate in developing transportation corridors for energy supplies.

The participants assessed that among the resource-rich countries, Russia has the best prospects for expanding its economy beyond resource extraction and becoming more integrated into the world economy.  To diversify its economy, Russia would need to undertake structural changes and institute the rule of law, which could in turn encourage foreign direct investment outside of the energy sector.  Knowing that Europe probably would want to forge a "special relationship" with a Russia that is stronger economically, Moscow probably would be more tolerant of former Soviet states moving closer to Europe.  If Russia fails to diversify its economy, it could well experience the petro-state phenomenon of unbalanced economic development, huge income inequality, capital flight, and increased social problems.  

Regional experts were less confident about the potential for significant economic diversification in the other resource-rich countries in Central Asia and the South Caucasus over the next 15 years-in particular, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan.  For countries with more limited natural resources, such as Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyztan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the challenge will be to develop effective project and service industries, requiring better governance.  

Central Asian countries-Kazakhstan, Krgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan-face the stiff challenge of keeping the social peace in a context of high population growth, a relatively young population, limited economic prospects, and growing radical Islamic influence.  Allowing more emigration could help alleviate these pressures in Central Asian countries.  Russia would benefit from migration as a means of compensating for its loss of approximately one million people a year through 2020.  Russia, however, has little experience in integrating migrants from other cultures; Russian nationalism is on the increase as a result of growing ethnic unrest domestically, and our experts believe any efforts to expand immigration policies would be exploited by nationalist politicians.  

Ironically, the experts foresaw more unity if economic conditions worsen globally and Eurasia is isolated.  In that case, a stagnant Russia would be looked to by the others to maintain order along the southern rim as some Central Asian countries-Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan-faced potential collapse.

China may pursue an "Asian way" of democracy that might involve elections at the local level and a consultative mechanism on the national level, perhaps with the Communist Party retaining control over the central government.

  • Younger Chinese leaders who are already exerting influence as mayors and regional officials have been trained in Western-style universities and have a good understanding of international standards of governance.

  • Most of the experts at our regional conference, however, believe present and future leaders are agnostic on the issue of democracy and are more interested in developing what they perceive to be the most effective model of governance.

Democratic progress could gain ground in key Middle Eastern countries, which thus far have been excluded from the process by repressive regimes.  Success in establishing a working democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan-and democratic consolidation in Indonesia-would set an example for other Muslim and Arab states, creating pressures for change.

However, a 2001 Freedom House study showed a dramatic and expanding gap in the levels of freedom and democracy between Islamic countries and the rest of the world.  The lack of economic growth in the Middle East outside the energy sector is one of the primary underlying factors for the slow pace.  Many regional experts are not hopeful that the generational turnover in several of the regimes will by itself spur democratic reform.

  • The extent to which radical Islam grows and how regimes respond to its pressures will also have long-term repercussions for democratization and the growth of civil society institutions, although radicals may use the ballot box to gain power.

  • An extended period of high oil prices would allow regimes to put off economic and fiscal reform.

High-Tech Pressures on Governance.  Today individual PC users have more capacity at their fingertips than NASA had with the computers used in its first moon launches.  The trend toward even more capacity, speed, affordability, and mobility will have enormous political implications:  myriad individuals and small groups-many of whom had not been previously so empowered-will not only connect with one another but will plan, mobilize, and accomplish tasks with potentially more satisfying and efficient results than their governments can deliver.  This almost certainly will affect individuals' relationships with and views of their governments and will put pressure on some governments for more responsiveness.

  • China is experiencing among the fastest rates of increase of Internet and mobile phone users in the world, according to the International Telecommunications Union, and is the leading market for broadband communication.

  • Reports of growing investment by many Middle Eastern governments in developing high-speed information infrastructures, although they are not yet widely available to the population nor well-connected to the larger world, show obvious potential for the spread of democratic-and undemocratic-ideas.

  • Some states will seek to control the Internet and its contents, but they will face increasing challenges as new networks offer multiple means of communicating.

Climate Change and Its Implications Through 2020

Policies regarding climate change are likely to feature significantly in multilateral relations, and the United States, in particular, is likely to face significant bilateral pressure to change its domestic environmental policies and to be a leader in global environmental efforts.  There is a strong consensus in the scientific community that the greenhouse effect is real and that average surface temperatures have risen over the last century, but uncertainty exists about causation and possible remedies.  Experts in a NIC-sponsored conference judged that concerns about greenhouse gases, of which China and India are large producers, will increase steadily through 2020.  There are likely to be numerous weather-related events that, correctly or not, will be linked to global warming.  Any of these events could lead to widespread calls for the United States, as the largest producer of greenhouse gases, to take dramatic steps to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels.

Policymakers will face a dilemma:  an environmental regime based solely on economic incentives will probably not produce needed technological advances because firms will be hesitant to invest in research when there is great uncertainty about potential profits.  On the other hand, a regime based on government regulation will tend to be costly and inflexible.  The numerous obstacles to multilateral action include resistance from OPEC countries that depend on fossil fuel revenues, the developing world's view that climate change is a problem created by the industrial world and one they cannot address given their economic constraints, and the need for significant technological innovation to maximize energy efficiency.

Among reasons for optimism, participants noted that the world is ready and eager for US leadership and that new multilateral institutions are not needed to address this issue.  Indeed, crafting a policy to limit carbon emissions would be simplified by the fact that three political entities-the United States, the European Union, and China-account for over half of all CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.  An agreement that included these three plus the Russian Federation, Japan, and India would cover two-thirds of all carbon emissions.

Growing connectivity also will be accompanied by the proliferation of transnational virtual communities of interest, a trend which may complicate the ability of state and global institutions to generate internal consensus and enforce decisions and could even challenge their authority and legitimacy.  Groups based on common religious, cultural, ethnic or other affiliations may be torn between their national loyalties and other identities.  The potential is considerable for such groups to drive national and even global political decisionmaking on a wide range of issues normally the purview of governments.

The Internet in particular will spur the creation of global movements, which may emerge even more as a robust force in international affairs.  For example, technology-enabled diaspora communications in native languages could lead to the preservation of language and culture in the face of widespread emigration and cultural change as well as the generation of political and economic power.

Populist themes are likely to emerge as a potent political and social force, especially as globalization risks aggravating social divisions along economic and ethnic lines.  In parts of Latin America particularly, the failure of elites to adapt to the evolving demands of free markets and democracy probably will fuel a revival in populism and drive indigenous movements, which so far have sought change through democratic means, to consider more drastic means for seeking what they consider their "fair share" of political power and wealth.

  • However, as with religion, populism will not necessarily be inimical to political development and can serve to broaden participation in the political process.  Few experts fear a general backsliding to the rule of military juntas in Latin America.

The Latin American countries that are adapting to challenges most effectively are building sturdier and more capable democratic institutions to implement more inclusive and responsive policies and enhance citizen and investor confidence.   A sense of economic progress and hope for its continuance appears essential to the long-term credibility of democratic systems.

Rising nationalism and a trend toward populism also will present a challenge to governments in Asia.  Many, such as Laos, Cambodia, and Burma, are unable to deliver on expanding popular demands and risk becoming state failures.

  • Experts note that a new generation of leaders is emerging in Africa from the private sector; these leaders are much more comfortable with democracy than their predecessors and might provide a strong internal dynamic for democracy in the future.

Latin America in 2020:  Will Globalization Cause the Region to Split?

The experts we consulted in Latin America contended that global changes over the next 15 years could deepen divisions and serve to split Latin America apart in economic, investment, and trade policy terms.  As the Southern Cone, particularly Brazil and Chile, reach out to new partners in Asia and Europe, Central America and Mexico, along with Andean countries, could lag behind and remain dependent on the US and Canada as their preferred trade partners and aid providers.  

For Latin Americans, government ineffectiveness, in part, prevented many countries from realizing the full measure of economic and social benefits from greater integration into the global economy in the past decade.  Instead, the gap between rich and the poor, the represented and the excluded, has grown.  Over the next 15 years, the effects of continued economic growth and global integration are likely to be uneven and fragmentary.  Indeed, regional experts foresee an increasing risk of the rise of charismatic, self-styled populist leaders, historically common in the region, who would play on popular concerns over inequities between "haves" and "have-nots" in the weakest states in Central America and Andean countries, along with parts of Mexico.  In the most profoundly weak of these governments, particularly where the criminalization of the society, and even the state, is most apparent, the leaders could have an autocratic bent and be more stridently anti-American.  

The experts made the following observations on regional prospects in other areas:

  • Identity politics.  Increasing portions of the population are identifying themselves as indigenous peoples and will demand not only a voice but, potentially, a new social contract.  Many reject globalization as it has played out in the region, viewing it as an homogenizing force that undermines their unique cultures and as a US-imposed, neo-liberal economic model whose inequitably distributed fruits are rooted in the exploitation of labor and the environment.

  • Information technology.  The universalization of the Internet, both as a mass media and means of inter-personal communication, will help educate, connect, mobilize, and empower those traditionally excluded.

Identity Politics
Part of the pressure on governance will come from new forms of identity politics centered on religious convictions and ethnic affiliation.  Over the next 15 years, religious identity is likely to become an increasingly important factor in how people define themselves.  The trend toward identity politics is linked to increased mobility, growing diversity of hostile groups within states, and the diffusion of modern communications technologies.

  • The primacy of ethnic and religious identities will provide followers with a ready-made community that serves as a "social safety net" in times of need-particularly important to migrants.  Such communities also provide networks that can lead to job opportunities.
"Over the next 15 years, religious identity is likely to become an increasingly important factor in how people define themselves."

While we do not have comprehensive data on the number of people who have joined a religious faith or converted from one faith to another in recent years, trends seem to point toward growing numbers of converts and a deepening religious commitment by many religious adherents.

  • For example, Christianity, Buddhism, and other religions and practices are spreading in such countries as China as Marxism declines, and the proportion of evangelical converts in traditionally heavily Catholic Latin America is rising.

  • By 2020, China and Nigeria will have some of the largest Christian communities in the world, a shift that will reshape the traditionally Western-based Christian institutions, giving them more of an African or Asian or, more broadly, a developing world face.

  • Western Europe stands apart from this growing global "religiosity" except for the migrant communities from Africa and the Middle East.  Many of the churches' traditional functions-education, social services, etc.-are now performed by the state.  A more pervasive, insistent secularism, however, might not foster the cultural acceptance of new Muslim immigrants who view as discriminatory the ban in some West European countries against displays of religious adherence.

Many religious adherents-whether Hindu nationalists, Christian evangelicals in Latin America, Jewish fundamentalists in Israel, or Muslim radicals-are becoming "activists."  They have a worldview that advocates change of society, a tendency toward making sharp Manichaean distinctions between good and evil, and a religious belief system that connects local conflicts to a larger struggle.  

Number of Religious Adherents, 1900-2025

Such religious-based movements have been common in times of social and political turmoil in the past and have oftentimes been a force for positive change.  For example, scholars see the growth of evangelism in Latin America as providing the uprooted, racially disadvantaged and often poorest groups, including women, "with a social network that would otherwise be lacking. providing members with skills they need to survive in a rapidly developing society...(and helping) to promote the development of civil society in the region." [10]   

At the same time, the desire by activist groups to change society often leads to more social and political turmoil, some of it violent.  In particular, there are likely to be frictions in mixed communities as the activists attempt to gain converts among other religious groups or older established religious institutions.  In keeping with the intense religious convictions of many of these movements, activists define their identities in opposition to "outsiders," which can foster strife.

Radical Islam.  Most of the regions that will experience gains in religious "activists" also have youth bulges, which experts have correlated with high numbers of radical adherents, including Muslim extremists. [11]

  • Youth bulges are expected to be especially acute in most Middle Eastern and West African countries until at least 2005-2010, and the effects will linger long after.

  • In the Middle East, radical Islam's increasing hold reflects the political and economic alienation of many young Muslims from their unresponsive and unrepresentative governments and related failure of many predominantly Muslim states to reap significant economic gains from globalization.

The spread of radical Islam will have a significant global impact leading to 2020, rallying disparate ethnic and national groups and perhaps even creating an authority that transcends national boundaries.  Part of the appeal of radical Islam involves its call for a return by Muslims to earlier roots when Islamic civilization was at the forefront of global change.  The collective feelings of alienation and estrangement which radical Islam draws upon are unlikely to dissipate until the Muslim world again appears to be more fully integrated into the world economy.

"Radical Islam will have a significant global impact. rallying disparate ethnic and national groups and perhaps even creating an authority that transcends national boundaries."

Radical Islam will continue to appeal to many Muslim migrants who are attracted to the more prosperous West for employment opportunities but do not feel at home in what they perceive as an alien culture.

Key Areas of Radical Islamic Activities Since 1992

Studies show that Muslim immigrants are being integrated as West European countries become more inclusive, but many second- and third-generation immigrants are drawn to radical Islam as they encounter obstacles to full integration and barriers to what they consider to be normal religious practices.

Differences over religion and ethnicity also will contribute to future conflict, and, if unchecked, will be a cause of regional strife.  Regions where frictions risk developing into wider civil conflict include Southeast Asia, where the historic Christian-Muslim faultlines cut across several countries, including West Africa, The Philippines, and Indonesia.  

  • Schisms within religions, however historic and longlasting, also could lead to conflict in this era of increased religious identity.  A Shia-dominated Iraq is likely to encourage greater activism by Shia minorities in other Middle Eastern nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

EU: Estimated and Projected Ratios of Muslims to Ethnic Europeans, 1985-2025

Fictional Scenario:  A New Caliphate

The fictional scenario portrayed below provides an example of how a global movement fueled by radical religious identity could emerge.  Under this scenario, a new Caliphate is proclaimed and manages to advance a powerful counter ideology that has widespread appeal.  It is depicted in the form of a hypothetical letter from a fictional grandson of Bin Ladin to a family relative in 2020.  He recounts the struggles of the Caliph in trying to wrest control from traditional regimes and the conflict and confusion which ensue both within the Muslim world and outside between Muslims and the United States, Europe, Russia and China.  While the Caliph's success in mobilizing support varies, places far outside the Muslim core in the Middle East-in Africa and Asia-are convulsed as a result of his appeals.  The scenario ends before the Caliph is able to establish both spiritual and temporal authority over a territory-which historically has been the case for previous Caliphates.  At the end of the scenario, we identify lessons to be drawn.

(Click on any image below for scenario text.)

Fictional Scenario: A New Caliphate, Image #1. Click image for full scenario text.

Fictional Scenario: A New Caliphate, Image #2. Click image for full scenario text.

Fictional Scenario: A New Caliphate, Image #3. Click image for full scenario text.

Fictional Scenario: A New Caliphate, Image #4. Click image for full scenario text.

Fictional Scenario: A New Caliphate, Image #5. Click image for full scenario text.

Fictional Scenario: A New Caliphate, Image #6. Click image for full scenario text.

Fictional Scenario: A New Caliphate, Image #7. Click image for full scenario text.

[10]   Philip Jenkins, consultations with the National Intelligence Council, August 4, 2004.

[11]   We define Muslim extremists as a subset of Islamic activists.  They are committed to restructuring political society in accordance with their vision of Islamic law and are willing to use violence.  


Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list