US intelligence officials warned in a report issued on Thursday (local time) that the geopolitical environment has become more competitive due to China’s challenge to the United States and Western-led international system.
According to The New York Times, the report titled Global Trends 2040,”China is taking advantage of the West’s troubles to expand its international influence. Many global challenges are unaddressed… The rivalry between the United States and China is likely to set the broad parameters for the geopolitical environment during the coming decades, forcing starker choices on other actors.”“The rivalry between the United States and China is likely to set the broad parameters for the geopolitical environment during the coming decades, forcing starker choices on other actors. States will leverage these diverse sources of power to jockey over global norms, rules, and institutions, with regional powers and non-state actors exerting more influence within individual regions and leading on issues left unattended by the major powers,” it added.
The report compiled every four years by the National Intelligence Council, mixes more traditional national security challenges like the potentially disruptive rise of China with social trends that have clear security implications, like the internet’s tendency to exacerbate political and cultural divisions.
A previous version of the report, released by the Obama administration in 2017, highlighted the risk of a pandemic and the vast economic disruption it could cause — a prescient prediction in hindsight.
“At the international level, the geopolitical environment will be more competitive–shaped by China’s challenge to the United States and Western-led international system. Major powers are jockeying to establish and exploit new rules of the road. This contestation is playing out across domains from information and the media to trade and technological innovations,” the report read further.
The report also warned about the potential fragmentation of society and the global order, holding out the possibility of a world where international trade is disrupted, groups of countries create online enclaves and civic cohesion is undermined.
The latest report said that the coronavirus pandemic showed the weakness of the world order and that the institutions devised to face past crises are inadequate to coordinate a global response to new challenges like the spread of Covid-19. The failure of those institutions deepened public dissatisfaction and further eroded faith in the old order, the report said.The report stated lockdowns, quarantines, and the closing of international borders have catalyzed some pre-existing economic trends, including diversification in global supply chains, increased national debt, and greater government intervention in economies. “Moving forward, the character of globalization may retain some of the changes from this crisis period, and debt, particularly for developing economies, will strain national capacities for many years,” the report read.
According to the report, nationalism and polarization have been on the rise in many countries, especially exclusionary nationalism.
“Efforts to contain and manage the virus have reinforced nationalist trends globally as some states turned inward to protect their citizens and sometimes cast blame on marginalized groups. The response to the pandemic has fueled partisanship and polarization in many countries as groups argue over the best way to respond and seek scapegoats to blame for spreading the virus and for slow responses,” it read.
As per the report, COVID-19 is slowing and possibly reversing some longstanding trends in human development, especially the reduction of poverty and disease and closing gender inequality gaps. The longest-lasting reversals may be in poverty reduction across Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, followed by losses in gender equality.
The intelligence council provides long-term strategic analysis for the director of national intelligence. It also regularly produces reports and assessments for officials and the National Security Council.
According to NYT, the report predicted that current trends would make global politics more volatile. On the international stage, China will continue to challenge the United States and the Western-led world order, and politics in certain countries will become more contentious, officials predicted.
The report also predicts that in the international system, no single state is likely to be positioned to dominate across all regions or domains, and a broader range of actors will compete to shape the international system and achieve narrower goals.
“Accelerating shifts in military power, demographics, economic growth, environmental conditions, and technology, as well as hardening divisions over governance models, are likely to further ratchet up competition between China and a Western coalition led by the United States. Rival powers will jockey to shape global norms, rules, and institutions, while regional powers and non-state actors may exert more influence and lead on issues left unattended by the major powers,” it added.
Climate change was also a focus of the report, which noted the difficult adaptations that countries would need to make, such as building rainwater storage and reinforcing sea walls. Climate change would further drive global migration, which is already increasing, the report predicted. Technological innovation and cooperation between China and the West are keys to adapting to climate change, demographic shifts and other challenges, it said.
As per the report, Income inequality could grow worse, the report said, tying it at times to information inequality. The “trust gap” between an informed public that has faith in a government solution and a wider public with deep skepticism of institutions is growing, the report said.
NYT reported that the global trends report has often looked at possible future situations. In the 2017 report, one example contemplated a pandemic plunging the world into economic chaos. It envisioned nationalistic politicians eroding alliances, a drop in oil prices causing calamity and more isolationist trade practices. It also forecast a pandemic (albeit in 2023, not 2020), which restricted travel, caused economic distress and exacerbated existing trends toward isolation.
The latest report credited the previous documents for highlighting the potential for new diseases and pandemics but acknowledged that “we lacked a full picture of the breadth and depth of its disruptive potential.”
“Much like the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to produce some changes that will be felt for years to come and change the way we live, work and govern domestically and internationally,” the report said. “How great these will be, however, is very much in question.”