WASHINGTON – The U.S. will likely be the “first among equals” in 2030 in an increasingly chaotic world where China is the top economy and demand soars for resources, a U.S. intelligence report said Monday.
The National Intelligence Council, in its first assessment in four years aimed at shaping U.S. strategic thinking, said that China will surpass the U.S. as the largest economy in the 2020s, in line with independent forecasts.
The study said that in a best-case scenario, Americans, together with nearly two-thirds of the world’s population, will be middle class, mostly living in cities, connected by advanced technology, protected by advanced health care and linked by countries that work together, perhaps with the U.S. and China cooperating to lead the way.
Violent acts of terrorism will also be less frequent as the U.S. drawdown in troops from Iraq and Afghanistan robs extremists of a rallying cry to spur attacks. But that will likely be replaced by acts such as cyberterrorism, wreaking havoc on an economy with a keystroke, the study’s authors say.
“We do not seek to predict,” National Intelligence Council Chairman Christopher Kojm said. “Instead we provide a framework to think about possible futures.”
The study predicted that Asia’s economy, military spending and technological investment would surpass those of North America and Europe combined by 2030, but warned of major uncertainty over an emerging China.
East Asia is likely to see more intensified nationalism and China’s behavior will be a key factor shaping the region’s political and economic landscape, it said.
“If Beijing fails to transition to a more sustainable, innovation-based economic model, it will remain a top-tier player in Asia, but the influence surrounding what has been a remarkable ascendance will dissipate,” it said.
Titled “Global Trend 2030: Alternative World,” the report also drew a bleak outlook for Japan, saying the rapidly aging population will sap potential for economic growth.
“More than most Western countries, Japan’s rapidly aging and dwindling population is putting the society in a bind, severely undercutting its long-term growth potential,” the report said. “The combination of a long-term deteriorating fiscal situation with a dramatically aging and declining population — roughly one elderly person per two working-age people by 2025 — will limit the government’s maneuvering room to consolidate its fiscal situation.”
Europe and Russia are also expected to maintain slow economic declines through 2030, while a number of middle-tier countries could rise, such as Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey, it said.
The study expected major benefits from technology by 2030, but warned that climate change threatened to pose serious challenges. With a growing population and rising incomes, the planet’s demand for water, food and energy will grow by 35, 40 and 50 percent respectively by 2030, it said.
A wealthier China and India would likely need to rely more on food imports, driving up international prices. Families in low-income nations would feel the pinch hardest on food, likely fueling social discontent.
The National Intelligence Council estimated that the world will have nearly 8.3 billion people in 2030, up from 7.1 billion now, but that the average age will be older — with potentially giant consequences.
The rising populations of disenfranchised youth in places such as Nigeria and Pakistan may lead to conflict over water and food, with “nearly half of the world’s population . . . experiencing severe water stress,” the report said. Africa and the Middle East will be most at risk, but China and India are also vulnerable.
That instability could lead to conflict and contribute to global economic collapse, especially if combined with rapid climate change that could make it harder for governments to feed global populations, the authors warn.
One bright spot for the U.S., at least, is energy independence. “With shale gas, the U.S. will have sufficient natural gas to meet domestic needs and generate potential global exports for decades to come,” the report said.