Intelligence experts warn of ‘a dark and difficult future’

NATIONALISM, a backlash against globalisation and the power of social media are shaping a dark and difficult future, a US intelligence report warns.

The Global Trends: Paradox of Progress report released by the US National Intelligence Council overnight warns that the post-World War II era of stability, international co-operation and consensus-building has eroded.

It will be "a dark and difficult near future", the report warns.

"For better and worse, the emerging global landscape is drawing to a close an era of American dominance following the Cold War," it concedes. "So, too, perhaps is the rules-based international order that emerged after World War II."

It also highlights incoming US President Donald Trump, due to take office on January 20, will face a complex and reactive world - and not just the increasing assertiveness of China and Russia.

Economic Stress: "The most significant global economic uncertainty of the next five years will be China's growth ... During (a) slump, many governments would face increasing public pressure for reforms that promote employment and inclusive growth, changes that might threaten their control and ability to provide benefits to political supporters."

Political Stress: "Few governments are poised to make ... political and economic reforms, and many states simply lack the capacity to address the challenges they face."

Societal Stress: "Societal confrontation and polarisation - often rooted in religion, traditional culture, or opposition to homogenising globalisation - will become more prominent in a world of ever-improving communications. The new technologies are also likely to continue fuelling political polarisation and increasing the influence of extreme or fringe groups by improving their presence and reach."

All pose immense challenges to governments around the world.

"It will be much harder to co-operate internationally and govern in ways publics expect," the report says. "Veto players will threaten to block collaboration at every turn, while information "echo chambers" will reinforce countless competing realities, undermining shared understandings of world events."


Paradox of Progress details how US intelligence agencies expect tensions to rise both between and within nations during the next five years.

"These trends will converge at an unprecedented pace to make governing and co-operation harder and to change the nature of power - fundamentally altering the global landscape," it says.

"We are living a paradox: The achievements of the industrial and information ages are shaping a world to come that is both more dangerous and richer with opportunity than ever before. Whether promise or peril prevails will turn on the choices of humankind."

The report into the shape of the world by 2035 has been compiled by the United States' most senior intelligence analysts. The National Intelligence Council was itself created to analyse information gathered by all 17 US intelligence agencies.

It highlights the immense social changes of recent decades, brought about in large part by the growth of social media.

"This same progress also spawned shocks like the Arab Spring, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and the global rise of populist, anti-establishment politics," it reads. "These shocks reveal how fragile the achievements have been, underscoring deep shifts in the global landscape that portend a dark and difficult near future."

At the root of that fragility is the power of social media.

"Advanced information technology will amplify differences over inequality, globalisation, politics, and corruption, while perceived humiliation and injustice will spur protests and violent mobilisation."


The US National Intelligence Council warns loud and aggressive social debate over issues as diverse as the economy, the environment, religion and human rights may spark crises.

"Debates over moral boundaries - to whom is owed what - will become more pronounced, while divergence in values and interests among states will threaten international security," the assessment reads.

Containing such social dissent would be costly, and likely to fail.

"Dominating empowered, proliferating actors in multiple domains would require unacceptable resources in an era of slow growth, fiscal limits, and debt burdens. Doing so domestically would be the end of democracy, resulting in authoritarianism or instability or both."

It also warns Russia's increasingly international propaganda campaign is likely to be highly effective.

"Although material strength will remain essential to geopolitical and state power, the most powerful actors of the future will draw on networks, relationships, and information to compete and co-operate. This is the lesson of great power politics in the 1900s, even if those powers had to learn and relearn it."


Amid this internal dissent, the Intelligence Council warns, will be newly emerging 'spheres of influence' - or international power blocs.

"Uncertainty about the United States, an inward-looking West, and erosion of norms for conflict prevention and human rights will encourage China and Russia to check US influence. In doing so, their "grey zone" aggression and diverse forms of disruption will stay below the threshold of hot war but bring profound risks of miscalculation."

Civil war is also a growing risk around the world, it says.

"While decades of global integration and advancing technology enriched the richest and lifted that billion out of poverty, mostly in Asia, it also hollowed out Western middle classes and stoked pushback against globalisation."

Overcoming such challenges will require careful navigation by those at the helms of ships of state.

"In the emerging global landscape, rife with surprise and discontinuity, the states and organisations most able to exploit such opportunities will be those that are resilient, enabling them to adapt to changing conditions, persevere in the face of unexpected adversity, and take actions to recover quickly. They will invest in infrastructure, knowledge, and relationships that allow them to manage shock - whether economic, environmental, societal, or cyber."

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