A 121-page assessment by the National Intelligence Council, a body of analysts from across the US intelligence community, paints a bleak picture of the coming two decades. The report has been made ready for assessment by the incoming Obama administration, which is preparing to assume office on 20 January 2009.
The report paints a grim picture of daily threat of nuclear war, environmental catastrophe and the decline of America as the dominant global power, in the coming two decades. "The world of the near future will be subject to an increased likelihood of conflict over resources, including food and water, and will be haunted by the persistence of rogue states and terrorist groups with greater access to nuclear weapons," says the report.
"The likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used will increase with expanded access to technology and a widening range of options for limited strikes," the assessment says.
Global Trends 2025 is an assessment made every four years by the National Intelligence Council and seeks to provide leaders insight into looming problems and opportunities.
Global Trends 2025 is the fourth unclassified report prepared by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in recent years. It offers a fresh look at how key global trends might develop over the next 15 years to influence world events.
The NIC is a centre of strategic thinking within the US Government, reporting to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and provides the president and senior policymakers with analyses of foreign policy issues that have been reviewed and coordinated throughout the intelligence community.
The report points to an already escalating nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and projects that a growing number of rogue states may be prepared to share such technology with terror groups. "Over the next 15-20 years reactions to the decisions Iran makes about its nuclear programme could cause a number of regional states to intensify these efforts and consider actively pursuing nuclear weapons," says the report.
"This will add a new and more dangerous dimension to what is likely to be increasing competition for influence within the region," it said. "If the number of nuclear-capable states increases, so will the number of countries potentially willing to provide nuclear assistance to other countries or to terrorists," it warns.
According to the report, global warming will worsen the scarcity of water, food and energy resources. Citing a British study, it says that climate change could force up to 200 million people to migrate to more temperate zones. "Widening gaps in birth rates and wealth-to-poverty ratios, and the impact of climate change, could further exacerbate tensions," it said.
Reflecting on the changed dynamics prevailing in global power equations, the report says, "The international system will be almost unrecognisable by 2025, owing to the rise of emerging powers, a globalising economy, a transfer of wealth from West to East, and the growing influence of non-state actors. Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor, the United States' relative strength – even in the military realm – will decline and US leverage will become more strained."
With the rise of India and China, the report says, global power will be multi-polar.
The report says that the current financial crisis on Wall Street is the beginning of a global economic rebalancing, with the US dollar's role as the major world currency weakening to the point where it becomes a "first among equals".
"Strategic rivalries are most likely to revolve around trade, investments and technological innovation, but we cannot rule out a 19th-century-like scenario of arms races, territorial expansion and military rivalries."
"The next 20 years of transition to a new system are fraught with risks," it said.
Terrorism and crime
The report also paints a grim security environment prevailing in some parts of the world, with organised crime, of the kind prevailing in Russia, eventually assuming control of the government of an Eastern or Central European country.
It also says that countries in Africa and South Asia may find themselves ungoverned, as states wither away under pressure from security threats and diminishing resources.
The report suggests that terrorism may survive in form till 2025. The al Qaeda "terrorist wave", it says, might be breaking up. "Al Qaeda's inability to attract broad-based support might cause it to decay sooner than people think," it said.
The report is grimmer than earlier such assessments, and about the only silver lining it provides is the hope that an alternative to oil might be in place by 2025.