US intelligence warns of 'dark and difficult near future'

The headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland, USA, on Dec 22, 2013.
The headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland, USA, on Dec 22, 2013.PHOTO: EPA

Report: War may be avoided but risks of miscalculation are high

WASHINGTON • The risk of conflicts between and within nations will increase over the next five years to levels not seen since the Cold War as global growth slows, the post-World War II order erodes and anti-globalisation fuels nationalism, according to a US intelligence report just released.

"These trends will converge at an unprecedented pace to make governing and cooperation harder and to change the nature of power - fundamentally altering the global landscape," said Global Trends: Paradox Of Progress, the sixth in a series of quadrennial studies by the US National Intelligence Council.

The findings published on Monday, less than two weeks before United States President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan 20, outlined factors shaping a "dark and difficult near future", including a more assertive Russia and China, regional conflicts, terrorism, rising income inequality, climate change and sluggish economic growth.

Global Trends reports deliberately avoid analysing US policies or choices but the latest study underscored the complex difficulties Mr Trump must address in order to fulfil his vows to improve relations with Russia, level the economic playing field with China, return jobs to the US and defeat terrorism.

"The next five years will see rising tensions within and between countries," said the report.

"For better or worse, the emerging global landscape is drawing to a close an era of American dominance following the Cold War," it added.

The National Intelligence Council comprises senior US regional and subject-matter intelligence analysts.

BUCKLE UP

The next five years will see rising tensions within and between countries. For better or worse, the emerging global landscape is drawing to a close an era of American dominance following the Cold War.

GLOBAL TRENDS: PARADOX OF PROGRESS, noting the challenges ahead.

It oversees the drafting of National Intelligence Estimates, which often synthesise work by all 17 intelligence agencies.

The study, which included interviews with academic experts as well as financial and political leaders worldwide, examined political, social, economic and technological trends that the authors project will shape the world from now to 2035, and their potential impact.

It said the threat of terrorism will grow in the coming decades as small groups and individuals harness "new technologies, ideas and relationships".

Uncertainty about the US, coupled with an "inward-looking West" and the weakening of international human rights and conflict prevention standards, will encourage China and Russia to challenge US influence, the study added.

It warned that those challenges "will stay below the threshold of hot war but bring profound risks of miscalculation".

"Overconfidence that material strength can manage escalation will increase the risks of interstate conflict to levels not seen since the Cold War."

While "hot war" may be avoided, differences in values and interests among states and drives for regional dominance "are leading to a spheres of influence world", it said.

The report painted a gloomy picture of the challenges pulling at the post-World War II global order, including extreme income disparities, technological dislocation, demographic shifts, the impact of global warming and intensifying communal conflicts.

Moreover, Western democracies will find it harder to stick to their principles and avoid being pulled apart from each other.

More countries will be able to "veto" cooperative efforts and the myriad channels of global communication will leave large numbers of people misinformed and divided.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline 'US intelligence warns of 'dark and difficult near future''. Print Edition | Subscribe