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Pandemic ‘a preview of crises to come’: National Intelligence Council

The National Intelligence Council released a bleak report “Global Trends: A More Contested World”

“Global Trends: A More Contested World” is the latest report issued by the council, which is part of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence. They have issued a report every four years since 1997. The council’s Strategic Futures Group assesses key trends and uncertainties expected to shape the strategic environment for the U.S. over the next two decades.

“During the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world of its fragility and demonstrated the inherent risks of high levels of interdependence,” the report states. “In coming years and decades, the world will face more intense and cascading global challenges ranging from disease to climate change to the disruptions from new technologies and financial crises.”

The report states that in this more contested world, communities are increasingly fractured as people seek security with like-minded groups based on established and newly prominent identities. States of all types and
in all regions struggle to meet the needs and expectations of more connected, more urban, and more empowered populations. The international system is more competitive, partly because of challenges from a more powerful China. More risk of conflict as states and nonstates exploit new sources of power and erode longstanding norms and institutions that have provided some stability in past decades.

The intelligence community has warned policymakers that a pandemic could dramatically reshape global politics and U.S. national security. The authors of the report describe the pandemic as “a preview of crises to come.” It has been a globally destabilizing event and “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II.”

The report states that the pandemic “has reminded the world of its fragility” and “shaken long-held assumptions” about how well governments and institutions could respond to a catastrophe.

The report says that the effects of the pandemic will remain and could shape future generations’ expectations of their governments as climate change leads to more human conflicts, including, in the worst-case scenario, global food shortages that spark mass violence.

The National Intelligence Council report predicts the possibility of five scenarios for the world in the coming decades.

One extreme scenario is the “Renaissance of democracies,” with an era of U.S. global leadership. In this scenario, economic growth and technological achievements offer solutions to the world’s biggest problems. Authoritarian countries like Russia and China are left behind. The brightest scientists and entrepreneurs flee to the U.S. and Europe.

Another extreme scenario portrays “tragedy and mobilization,” where the U.S. is no longer the dominant player. A global environmental catastrophe prompts food shortages and a grassroots revolution. Youth, disenchanted by their leaders’ failures during the COVID-19 pandemic, favour policies to address the climate crisis and tackle social inequality. In this scenario, a European Union dominated by green parties works with the United Nations to expand international aid and focus on sustainability. China joins the effort in part to suppress domestic unrest in its cities affected by famine.

Three other scenarios envision: 1) China becoming a leading state but not globally dominant; 2) the U.S. and China prosper and compete as the two major powers; 3) globalization fails to create a single source of power and the world decentralizes into competing coalitions that are concerned with threats to their security and prosperity.