As a part of its new report on global trends, the National Intelligence Council developed four not-so-rosy scenarios that could become reality given major stresses the world faces during the next 20 years.
—Competition among major international powers sharpens as skittish governments, seeking to maintain relevance at home and protect interests abroad, push to widen their spheres of influence. This increases the chance of conflict, yet might coax major powers to employ confidence-building measures to check aggression. Countries become battlegrounds for proxy wars between world powers, nuclear weapons achieve renewed relevancy and cyberattacks, for instance, blur traditional distinctions between war and peace.
—Ominous climate forecasts, severe weather and outbreaks of disease sharply divide countries and groups over how to respond. Extreme temperature change, rainfall and more tropical storms cause humanitarian disasters, overwhelming relief efforts. Infectious disease epidemics prompt a dramatic drop in travel to large parts of the world. While climate issues might lead to international cooperation, it could also cause discord. A few countries invest in projects such as seawalls or desalination, but most take few, if any, steps.
—Governments have so much trouble coping with economic and political instability that criminal syndicates, extremists, business elites and religious groups — all exploiting evolving technology — assert control over core government functions. They use messaging to gain support. Technology enables people to communicate outside their own borders and traditional government structures. Some authoritarian leaders clamp down on citizens to maintain control, but some are taken down by popular movements.
—Slow-to-no economic growth heightens political volatility across the world, causing some countries to turn inward, take on a defensive posture and shore up borders. Nationalist policies flourish, creating a "meaner and more segmented world." States that embrace economic and political reforms and pursue emerging industries, such as robotic and biotech manufacturing, are more likely to emerge in a pro-growth position. China's economic problems are felt worldwide, fostering disorder and instability. Global trade is reduced and high walls are erected to keep out immigrants.
National Intelligence Council global trends report: https://nicglobaltrends.tumblr.com/