|Spotlight: The End of US Dominance?|
Against a background of shifting geopolitical power, complex patterns of globalisation and mass transfers of international wealth, two new reports highlight how US power will change by 2025, and illustrate the potential for a new multilateral order.
The election of Barack Obama appears to have reignited the hopes of the United States public, as well as global citizens who believe that a new President can reinvigorate US power and solve complex global problems. But with the onset of climate change, natural resource scarcity and a rapid meltdown of the country's financial system, what lies ahead for the US - and is the new President capable of responding to these global challenges?
To answer these questions, the Global Trends 2025 report, produced by the National Intelligence Council, presents a sober assessment of the challenges ahead for President-elect Obama. The authors claim that the power of the US is declining relative to other world powers, with China, Russia and India rapidly challenging the dominant US position in a future multi-polar order.
Looking ahead to 2025, the report posits that climate change, natural resource scarcity and a move to new energy sources could cause havoc in the international system. A huge transfer of wealth from West to East will also shift the tectonic plates of geopolitics. In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa is predicted to lag even further behind despite an increasing world demand for its natural resource base.
In response to these challenges, A Plan for Action: A New Era of International Cooperation for a Changed World by the Brooking Institute suggests that the US should implement sweeping reforms in global governance to tackle shared regional and international threats over the next half century.
To achieve this goal, the US should reengage with the international community by closing down prisons such as Guantanamo Bay, and adhering closely to the norms of international humanitarian law. The country could revitalize international institutions by relinquishing control of the IMF and World Bank. Working cooperatively with other governments to tackle climate change would also signal US willingness to "share the helm of the international system".
21st November 08 - Julian Borger, the Guardian
Link to report: Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World
The United States' leading intelligence organisation has warned that the world is entering an increasingly unstable and unpredictable period in which the advance of western-style democracy is no longer assured, and some states are in danger of being "taken over and run by criminal networks".
The global trends review, produced by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) every four years, represents sobering reading in Barack Obama's intray as he prepares to take office in January. The country he inherits, the report warns, will no longer be able to "call the shots" alone, as its power over an increasingly multipolar world begins to wane.
Looking ahead to 2025, the NIC (which coordinates analysis from all the US intelligence agencies), foresees a fragmented world, where conflict over scarce resources is on the rise, poorly contained by "ramshackle" international institutions, while nuclear proliferation, particularly in the Middle East, and even nuclear conflict grow more likely.
"Global Trends 2025: A World Transformed" warns that the spread of western democratic capitalism cannot be taken for granted, as it was by George Bush and America's neoconservatives.
"No single outcome seems preordained: the Western model of economic liberalism, democracy and secularism, for example, which many assumed to be inevitable, may lose its lustre – at least in the medium term," the report warns.
It adds: "Today wealth is moving not just from West to East but is concentrating more under state control," giving the examples of China and Russia.
"In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, the state's role in the economy may be gaining more appeal throughout the world."
At the same time, the US will become "less dominant" in the world – no longer the unrivalled superpower it has been since the end of the Cold War, but a "first among equals" in a more fluid and evenly balanced world, making the unilateralism of the Bush era no longer tenable.
The report predicts that over the next two decades "the multiplicity of influential actors and distrust of vast power means less room for the US to call the shots without the support of strong partnerships."
It is a conclusion that meshes with president elect Obama's stated preference for multilateralism, but the NIC findings suggest that as the years go by it could be harder for Washington to put together "coalitions of the willing" to pursue its agenda.
International organisations, like the UN, seem ill-prepared to fill the vacuum left by receding American power, at a time of multiple potential crises driven by climate change the increasing scarcity of resources like oil, food and water. Those institutions "appear incapable of rising to the challenges without concerted efforts from their leaders" it says.
In an unusually graphic illustration of a possible future, the report presents an imaginary "presidential diary entry" from October 1, 2020, that recounts a devastating hurricane, fuelled by global warming, hitting New York in the middle of the UN's annual general assembly.
"I guess we had it coming, but it was a rude shock," the unnamed president writes. "Some of the scenes were like the stuff from the World War II newsreels, only this time it was not Europe but Manhattan. Those images of the US aircraft carriers and transport ships evacuating thousands in the wake of the flooding still stick in my mind."
As he flies off for an improvised UN reception on board an aircraft carrier, the imaginary future president admits: "The cumulation of disasters, permafrost melting, lower agricultural yields, growing health problems, and the like are taking a terrible toll, much greater than we anticipated 20 years ago."
The last time the NIC published its quadrennial glimpse into the future was December 2004. President Bush had just been re-elected and was preparing his triumphal second inauguration that was to mark the high-water mark for neoconservatism. That report matched the mood of the times.
It was called Mapping the Global Future, and looked forward as far as 2020 when it projected "continued US dominance, positing that most major powers have forsaken the idea of balancing the US".
That confidence is entirely lacking from this far more sober assessment. Also gone is the belief that oil and gas supplies "in the ground" were "sufficient to meet global demand". The new report views a transition to cleaner fuels as inevitable. It is just the speed that is in question.
The NIC believes it is most likely that technology will lag behind the depletion of oil and gas reserves. A sudden transition, however, will bring problems of its own, creating instability in the Gulf and Russia.
While emerging economies like China, India and Brazil are likely to grow in influence at America's expense, the same cannot be said of the European Union. The NIC appears relatively certain the EU will be "losing clout" by 2025. Internal bickering and a "democracy gap" separating Brussels from European voters will leave the EU "a hobbled giant", unable to translate its economic clout into global influence.
20th November 08 - Jim Lobe, IPS News
Capping a nearly two-year consultation involving dozens of U.S. and international leaders, a new report by three U.S. think tanks is calling on President-elect Barack Obama and other leaders to implement sweeping reforms in global governance to more effectively tackle shared regional and global threats over the next half century.
Global governance is the number one challenge for the world and the number one challenge for the next president," said Strobe Talbott, president of the Washington-based Brookings Institution, one of the think tanks that sponsored the report.
"A Plan for Action: A New Era of International Cooperation for a Changed World", the Managing Global Insecurity (MGI) Project says that such reforms should begin with Washington's own re-engagement with the international community by closing the Guantanamo Detention facility and affirm its commitment to uphold the Geneva Conventions and other laws of war in order to "re-establish itself as a good-faith partner".
But the U.S. and other western powers should also be prepared to give up their monopoly on the leadership of key global financial institutions, notably the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and initiate reforms to the U.N. Security Council, including its expansion, that would both make it more representative and reduce the ability of its permanent members to block action in crisis situations, according to the plan.
It also calls for the creation of a new Group of 16 that would replace the Group of Eight most industrialised countries as the main international forum to forge preliminary agreements on major global challenges, including dealing with the ongoing financial crisis, climate change, nuclear proliferation, and terrorism.
In addition to the G8 members, which include the major western powers, the European Union (EU), and Russia, the G-16 would include Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Mexico -- or what the authors call the "Outreach 5" -- and Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, or Nigeria, according to the plan, which was drafted before last week's summit here of the Group of 20 nations.
The plan also calls for urgent action by both the G16 and Obama to stabilise the Middle East, which it called the world's "most unstable region...and a vortex of transnational threats," through greater reliance on diplomacy, including immediate efforts to support an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.
The plan, whose release was clearly designed for maximum impact on the incoming administration, offers a relatively detailed list of recommendations for U.S. and international policy-makers for action tied to already-scheduled international conferences on climate change, non-proliferation, global finance and security through Obama's first term.
While the MGI project has been directed by three U.S.-based think tanks -- Brookings, New York University's Centre on International Cooperation, and Stanford University's Centre for International Security and Cooperation, it also featured strong foreign participation in both its financing and international advisory board, which included, among others, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Former Organisation of African Unity Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim, and the EU's current foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, who also spoke at the plan's release here Thursday. The project also held consultations in Britain, Singapore, Berlin, Delhi, Beijing, Tokyo, Doha, and Mexico City.
Its U.S. advisory group members included high-level veterans of both Democratic and Republican administrations, including former national security advisers Samuel Berger (Bill Clinton) and Brent Scowcroft (Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush); former secretaries of state Lawrence Eagleburger and Madeleine Albright, who, along with Talbott, who served as deputy secretary of state under Clinton, were also on hand at the Plan's release. John Podesta, who served as Bill Clinton's chief of staff and is currently in charge of Obama's transition team, also served on the U.S. advisory group.
The plan identifies four tracks that should be pursued more or less simultaneously in order to build an "international security system for the 21st century" based on the "principle of responsible sovereignty", or the notion that sovereignty "entails obligations and duties toward other states as well as one's own citizens."
The first track, "restoring credible American leadership", is required because "no other state has the diplomatic, economic and military capacity necessary to rejuvenate international cooperation."
To demonstrate "its commitment to a rule-based international system that rejects unilateralism and looks beyond military might," the new U.S. administration should, in addition to closing Guantanamo and re-affirming its adherence to international human rights treaties, deliver "consistent and strong messages on international cooperation domestically and internationally" in the run-up to major global meetings, begin a major expansion of its foreign service, and elevate development priorities in its foreign aid programme, according to the plan.
The second track focuses on "revitalising international institutions," first, by creating the G16 and the U.S. taking the lead in restraining the use of the veto in the U.N. Security Council -- both steps that could set the stage for expanding the membership of the U.N. Security Council later. At the same time, the governing boards of the IMF, the World Bank, and other international economic agencies would be restructured to reduce western dominance and make them more representative.
Discussion of the latter step is already underway in the context of the ongoing financial crisis and the G20 meeting here last week. Unlike the G20, the proposed G16 does not include Argentina, Australia, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. The plan's authors indicated they had no particular problem with the G20 as a group that could replace the G8.
The third track calls for action on specific global challenges faced by the international community, including the negotiation of an agreement under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to set targets for reducing greenhouse emissions for 2020 and 2050 while securing investments in non-polluting technologies, adaptation, and rainforests; reviving the non-proliferation regime by reducing existing nuclear arsenals, gaining ratification by all states of the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and creating an international fuel bank; and conducting G16 "pre-negotiations" to reduce protectionist pressures and conclude the World Trade Organisation's Doha Round to benefit poor countries.
In addition, global leaders should take major initiatives to build local public health infrastructure in poor countries, build a reserve 50,000-strong international peacekeeping force and a two-billion-dollar peace-building fund; and establish a U.N. High Commissioner for Counter Terrorism Capacity Building.
Track Four focuses on resolving conflicts in the Greater Middle East by intensifying existing diplomatic efforts with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, with the eventual goal of building a new security architecture for the region.
1st December 08 - Michael T. Klare, The Nation
In a remarkable evocation of the strategic environment of 2025, the National Intelligence Council (NIC), a government intelligence service, portrays a world in which the United States wields considerably less power than it does today but faces far greater challenges. The assessment, contained in Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World (dni.gov/nic/NIC_home.html), was released November 20 and is intended to be read by President-elect Obama's transition team as well as the general public. "Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor," the council notes, "the United States' relative strength--even in the military realm--will decline and US leverage will become more constrained."
The report is devoted largely to an examination of the major trends--political, economic, military and environmental--that will shape the world of 2025. Many of these will be familiar to Nation readers: the rise of China and India as major actors in world affairs; Russia's growing significance as a power broker in Europe; the increasing role of corporations, crime networks and other nonstate actors; and the growing impact of climate change. But two key developments, by the council's own admission, stand out above all others: the decline of America's global primacy and the growing international competition for energy.
One can, in fact, read this extraordinary report on two levels: as a forceful indictment of the policies that have governed US foreign and energy policy for the past eight years and as a clear-eyed look at the devastating repercussions of those policies stretching far into the future.
If the Bush/Cheney administration ever stood for anything, it was the perpetuation of America's dominant international role for decades to come. This vision was first articulated during the Bush I administration, when Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz composed the infamous Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) for the fiscal years 1994-99. "Our first objective," the 1992 document affirmed, "is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union."
Although this precept was repudiated by Bush I in 1992 after the DPG was leaked to the press and aroused a storm of international criticism, it was later embraced by his son, who declared in a key 1999 campaign speech that if elected, he would strive to preserve America's paramount position "not just across the world but across the years."
This vision of enduring primacy was sustained, of course, by a belief that US military power was more than sufficient to overcome any conceivable adversary--with or without the support of allies. And it was with this confidence, this swagger, that the Bush/Cheney team initiated the invasion of Iraq. No plans were made for the post-invasion occupation or the possibility of a persistent insurgency, because it was assumed that the "shock and awe" of American power would produce an aftermath conducive to US interests.
Similarly, the reluctance of US allies to join the venture was considered irrelevant, given the overwhelming military advantage enjoyed by American forces and the presumed availability of Iraqi oil to finance the entire operation.
Now, following years of debilitating fighting in Iraq and the systematic depletion of the Treasury, the prospect of extending American dominance "not just across the world but across the years" appears to have vanished for good. "By 2025," the NIC report suggests, "the US will find itself as one of a number of important actors on the world stage," forced to share power with other key players, including China, India and Russia. Inevitably, "the multiplicity of influential actors and distrust of vast power means less room for the US to call the shots without the support of strong partnerships"--which will be that much harder to form, given America's diminished clout and the competing interests of other players, including allies like Japan and Europe.
Another debilitating legacy of the Bush/Cheney years underscored in the NIC report is the nation's continued reliance on imported petroleum. Along with the epochal shift in political and military power from the United States to its competitors, Global Trends 2025 points to the equally momentous shift in wealth taking place from the oil-importing countries to their major suppliers in the Persian Gulf and the former Soviet Union. "
In terms of size, speed, and directional flow, the global shift in relative wealth and economic power now under way--roughly from West to East--is without precedent in modern history." Much of this largesse is being deposited in so-called sovereign wealth funds, huge investment accounts controlled by governments and used (among other things) to acquire large stakes in American banks and corporations--acquisitions that could, in time, provide major leverage over US political and economic policies.
Our continued dependence on imported oil--actively fostered by the Bush/Cheney team in myriad ways--is also contributing to what the NIC report sees as a period of intense geopolitical struggle over diminishing energy supplies. "Perceptions of energy scarcity will drive countries to take actions to assure their future access to energy supplies. In the worst case, this could lead to interstate conflicts if government leaders deem assured access to energy resources to be essential to maintaining domestic stability and the survival of their regime."
Not only will the United States be weaker in 2025 because of the hubris of Bush and Cheney; it will face a world of multiplied dangers, emboldened challengers and a paucity of reliable allies.
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