Event ReportsPublished on Jan 31, 2017
NIC global trends present bleak, uncertain picture of rising tensions

Presenting a bleak and uncertain picture of rising tensions inside and between countries, harder governance and cooperation and changing nature of power in the latest report of the National Intelligence Council, Robert S. Williams, National Office for South Asia at the National Intelligence Council, said there is a need for states to become resilient in order to face the numerous challenges.

Presenting the Council’s latest report, ‘Global Trends: Paradox of Progress’ at Observer Research Foundation in Delhi on January 13, 2017, Williams said it is those states which can take action and adapt quickly that will be successful. Investments in infrastructure, knowledge and relationship will help states manage shocks, he added.

Dr Shamika Ravi, Senior Fellow in Development Economics at Brookings India and Dr Rajesh Rajagopalan, Professor of International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, provided their insights into the global trends that emerged from the report.  The event was chaired by Dr Samir Saran, Vice President, ORF.

Mr Williams started by explaining that the report is based on data from 36 countries and over 2500 interviews. While these predictions are inscribed in the future tense, they are meant as a guide for policy makers on today’s decisions.

The report anticipates five major trends over the next two decades. The first one foresees extensive global economic shifts. Weak economic growth will persist, major economies will confront shrinking work forces and diminishing productivity gains in a context of high debt and weak demand. Both developed and developing economies will have to face the challenge that automation represents and find services to replace the manufacturing jobs affected by these changes. Furthermore globalization had asymmetrical results: while the developing world will seek to maintain its progress in eradicating abject poverty in the face of lower growth, OECD countries will have to accommodate their rapidly aging population.

The second trend concerns the rapid technological advancement. They empower many actors but also aggravate the gap between winners and losers of globalization by threatening industries and displacing workers noted, Williams.

Ideas and identities were the core of the third global dynamic. It highlights the increasing public distrust of traditional form of authorities which explains partly the rise of the populism and nationalism that we already observe today. More than the rise of old ideologies, this trend envisages a widespread crisis of representation in democracy.

Increased conflicts are the fourth trend. Their rise can be explained by diverging interests among global powers, increased terrorist threat and continuing instability in weaker states. According to Mr Williams a blur between peace time and war time as well as changing means of conflict, with more cyber warfare, are also to be expected.

Finally the fifth trend explores the consequences of climate change. Water and soil stress, food insecurity, sea level rise, pollution and ocean acidification will change living patterns. These phenomena will create public health issues: air pollution, for instance, is set to become the first cause of environment related deaths and half of the world population will experience water shortages.

Exploring India’s position in these on-going dynamics, Dr Shamika Ravi remarked first India has gained a lot since 1991 thanks to globalization and a move towards free market. According to her, it is not the case of OECD countries, they are suffering from the backlash of a globalization that happened in limited and distorted ways. She spoke of the challenge that automation represents in India where abundance of labour is a major natural advantage. Dr Shamika Ravi recommended to develop new technologies like automation in ways that factor in and promote labour intensity as well as incorporating more welfare and social security.

The frustrations of societies raised by the third global trend need to be interpreted differently in India says Dr Ravi. She points to decades of distorted policies as the root of frustrations and seeks good governance on a state and a corporate level as an appropriate answer.

Dr Rajagopalan noted that the current global state of affair is a consequence of United States’s decline or of the US’s unwillingness to play its role of great power. While we saw an over-involved Bush era, the Obama presidency was characterized by a more cautious engagement. For Dr Rajagopalan, the order of today is a multipolar one where balance is much harder to both strike and maintain.

The professor explained that an enterprising global power can be the initiator of great advancements to multilateral cooperation even if these are based on its own interests. An example is how the USSR saw nuclear weapons as a threat to its security and thus pushed for the non-proliferation regime.

Today he sees no immediate replacement to the US. Furthermore the transition from one great power to another is not smooth and can translate into chaos. Dr Rajagopalan concluded by stating that the international order will probably shift back from being global to being a conglomerate of isolated regional systems.

In his closing remarks, Dr Samir Saran questioned the uncertainty of the coming decades: maybe states will not be the primary actors of international relations anymore and private entities like Google will take their seat in future G20 meetings, he remarked.

This report was prepared by Chahrazade Douah, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.