Trends and Threats: Intelligence Community’s Latest Assessments
The next two decades will see a “More Contested World,” according to Global Trends 2040, the latest quadrennial report of the U.S. National Intelligence Council. The unclassified report on global trends, delivered to Congress at the start of each incoming or returning presidential term, examines the demographic, economic, environmental, and technology trends bearing on future national security.
The report evaluates key trends as “structural forces” and “emerging dynamics,” concluding with five scenarios for 2040 for how these forces and dynamics may evolve. Three of the scenarios—Renaissance of Democracies, A World Adrift, and Competitive Coexistence—focus on alternative impacts and outcomes of the U.S.–China rivalry. The final two scenarios—Separate Silos and Tragedy and Mobilization—arise from severe global discontinuities that force both the U.S. and China to contend with other problems.
The Office of the Director of National Security has also released its latest unclassified report focusing specifically on U.S. threats: “Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community.” Among the threats it cites are China’s push for global power; provocative actions by Russia, Iran, and North Korea; and transnational issues such as COVID-19 and other diseases, climate change and environmental degradation, organized crime, terrorism, and threats from cyber and other emerging technologies. The report also analyzes regional conflicts and instability.
The assessment emphasizes challenges emerging for the intelligence community from the interconnections of these threats. “Ecological and climate changes, for example, are connected to public health risks, humanitarian concerns, social and political instability, and geopolitical rivalry,” the authors note. Similarly, cyber capabilities “are demonstrably intertwined with threats to our infrastructure and to the foreign malign influence threats against our democracy.”
Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World, National Intelligence Council (March 2021).
“Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence (April 9, 2021).
2020 Census Takeaways
Population increases or decreases over the past decade will change the number of representatives some states will have in the next Congress. But beyond the political repercussions of the recently released 2020 Census—which showed the 2010s to have the second-lowest rate of population increase (7.4%) in U.S. history—analysts warn about the longer-term economic impacts of demographic stagnation.
“Much of it reflects the continuing aging of the U.S. population, which has led to fewer births and more deaths than seen in the past,” writes Brookings Institution senior fellow William H. Frey. “We can expect to see an aging population nationally and in most parts of the country, as the large baby boomer generation continued to enter its senior years.” A population that continues to age will further curb natural increase in the future.
The slower growth in the 2010s also reflects restraints on immigration to the United States, Frey notes, suggesting that “the nation will need to increase immigration to keep future growth rates from falling even more starkly.”
“A decline in population growth could be a death knell for some rural American communities,” especially in the Midwest and the South, according to a report from the National Immigration Forum. Stagnant population growth would hurt housing markets, tax revenues (property, sales, and income), and the “pay-as-you-go” Social Security system. Strategic immigration reform is a potential solution, the report suggests.
“Because immigrants tend to come to the U.S. during their prime working and productive years, recruiting and welcoming more of them is an intuitive answer to the problems posed by demographic decline,” according to the report.
“The 2020 Census: Our Growing Nation” by Ron Jarmin, Acting Director, U.S. Census Bureau (April 26, 2021).
“Census 2020: First results show near historically low population growth and a first-ever congressional seat loss for California” by William H. Frey, Brookings Institution (April 26, 2021).
“Room to Grow: Setting Immigration Levels in a Changing America” by Ali Noorani and Danilo Zak, National Immigration Forum (February 3, 2021).
News from the Field
- Addressing existential threats: The Millennium Project (TMP) has launched a campaign urging the United Nations to create an Office on Strategic Threats. While the UN addresses many of humanity’s great challenges, the proposed new office would focus on long-term threats that could lead to humanity’s extinction, such as catastrophic global warming, individuals deploying weapons of mass destruction, or future forms of artificial intelligence going out of control. The initiative came from discussions held during the 2021 World Future Day on March 1, according to TMP CEO and co-founder Jerome C. Glenn. Source: The Millennium Project
- TechCast-Cognis Strategic Forum, June 30 (online): “Planning for Strategic Change” inaugurates a bimonthly virtual Strategic Forum series hosted by TechCast Project and The Cognis Group. Speakers include TechCast founder Bill Halal, Cognis CEO Jess Garretson, and Ethical Markets founder Hazel Henderson. The public forum will be followed by an executive workshop to assist leaders in developing strategies based on intelligence derived from the forum. [Learn more]
- The Evolution of Science Fiction course webinars are now available on a new website under the banner of the Center for Future Consciousness. Center co-founder Tom Lombardo leads participants through the 90- to 150-minute modules based on his book Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future, exploring the development of science fiction from early mythology to contemporary works. The series introduction and first two modules are free, and the subsequent courses are $15 each. [Learn more]
New and Noteworthy Books
- Critical Black Futures: Speculative Theories and Explorations edited by Philip Butler (Iliff School of Theology), Palgrave Macmillan (2021). Butler, an assistant professor of theology and posthuman artificial intelligence systems, has collected essays exploring aspects of Afrofuturism in art, literature, dance, activism, and other realms that challenge readers to push into “a speculative space that looks deeply into the foundations of human belief.” Note, individual chapters may be purchased separately. [Learn more]
- Our Geopolitical Futures 2050 edited by Stephen Aguilar-Millan (European Futures Observatory), Design By Accident Press (2021). Climate change and the restructuring of the global economy are altering the future in ways post–World War II institutions can no longer adequately address. Essays by the Association of Professional Futurists’ 2020 Emerging Fellows (Carl Michael, Johanna Hoffman, Kevin Jae, Kimberly Daniels, Tyler Mongan, Sarah Skidmore, and Travis Kupp) explore China’s Belt and Road initiative, the potential disruptions of climate change and of migration, the geopolitical potentials of Asia and of Africa, and more. [Learn more]
In Memoriam: John Naisbitt
Megatrends author and consultant John Nasibitt died April 8, 2021, at his home in Velden am Wörthersee, Austria, at the age of 92. He was a longtime supporter of the World Future Society and served on its Global Advisory Council, in addition to contributing articles to The Futurist magazine.
While Naisbitt eschewed calling himself a futurist, his work encouraged others to adopt a wide-angle lens in examining forces of change in society and technology and anticipating where these trends may lead. He was also among the leading futurists (which included WFS founder Edward Cornish) invited in 1985 to join President Ronald Reagan for a renowned luncheon meeting at the White House.
Critics cited Naisbitt’s over-optimism and his neglect of environmental problems as a major factor affecting the future. However, Cornish noted that, like the works of Alvin and Heidi Toffler and Marvin Cetron, Naisbitt’s books were readable and designed to “give people a broad overview of world trends and possible future developments.” Cornish regarded Naisbitt as a pioneer “in the art of describing major social and technological trends in a manner accessible to busy people.”
“As for the Future, your task is not to foresee, but to enable it.” Antoine de Saint-Éxupéry, The Wisdom of the Sands