The world in 2025: Awash with weapons of mass destruction

The world in 2025 Awash

chinese army 248.88 AP (photo credit: )
chinese army 248.88 AP
(photo credit: )
Fifteen years from now America is still globally preeminent, yet its relative power is in decline. The US faces multiple threats from state and non-state actors, some of which have superseded their nation states and could be in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Mega-cities forge their own policies and partnerships. Complex threats transcend geographic borders and organizational boundaries, and small local skirmishes quickly escalate into worldwide shooting wars. Asia and the Middle East are awash with WMD; space, the Arctic and cyberspace become increasingly militarized. Governments around the world take a zero-sum attitude to international affairs and retreat from free trade agreements, while simmering competition between nations results in a growing wave of nationalism, reviving historic tensions. This is the bleak picture painted by the US Quadrennial Intelligence Community Review (QICR) 2009, a scenario-based strategic planning activity that looks out to the year 2025 and considers alternative futures or "scenarios," missions the intelligence community might be called on to perform, and the operating principles and capabilities required to fulfill those missions. The insights gleaned are intended to help shape the next US National Intelligence Strategy and other planning and capability guidance documents. The QICR scenarios are currently being reviewed by a panel of outside experts at a conference organized by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in Washington. The QICR document, reported on by, details the geostrategic scenarios that inform the US intelligence community analyses. These scenarios draw heavily on the National Intelligence Council Global Trends 2025 study issued in November 2008. The document is signed by David R. Shedd, deputy director of national intelligence for policy, plans and requirements, and is dated January 2009. The report is divided under four headings: "Politics is not always local," "World Without the West," "Bric's Bust Up" and "October Surprise." Under "Politics is not always local" the report looks at how identity-based groups supplant the authority of nation-states, competing with one another for influence in a chaotic political environment. By 2025 a subtle but unmistakable power shift has enabled identity-centric groups to gradually supplant the authority of traditional nation-states. National leaders frequently find their authority challenged in a variety of indirect ways: mega-cities forge their own policies and partnerships, a multitude of social and political movements lobby for change, and ideologically motivated groups cause violent disruptions. The military capabilities of transnational ethnic, religious, and other identity groups increase dramatically. As a result, many groups operate their own private security forces. As central governments face demands for independence from subregions, particularly those rich in resources, some have no choice but to give in, leading to a decline in traditional state authority. Under the heading "World Without the West" the report looks at how a China/Russia/India/Iran-centered bloc challenges US supremacy and sets the pace for innovation in key technologies. In 2025, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization expands to include Russia, China, India and Iran, creating a fragile new coalition. Antagonism toward Western protectionism and complementary interests drives this coalition. Although the US and its European allies remain an important counterweight, the world focuses on the dynamic of this new coalition, hence a "World Without the West." Framing their cooperation as a new counterbalance to "Washington Consensus" economics and American military preeminence, these countries leverage their vast energy reserves, huge populations and high level of technological development to challenge US economic, military, and technological supremacy. Declining US influence leads to a reassessment and realignment of today's alliances, especially as traditional non-Western partners, such as Japan, reconsider their strategic priorities, given the rise of the Sino-Russian coalition. Both sides look to leverage innovations in science and technology to establish control over nontraditional battlegrounds. This effort leads space, the Arctic, and cyberspace to become increasingly militarized and to emerge as critical venues for competition and conflict. As the world becomes significantly polarized, health care becomes an important front for global competition. Sino-Russian coalition powers gain an edge in fields such as biotechnology, where less constrained ethical models and weaker regulation foster rapid and innovative research and development. Under the heading "Bric's Bust Up" the report takes a look at scenarios where states jockey for resources and adopt mercantilist trade policies in a precarious balance of power. In 2025, a series of energy and resource shortages, particularly acute in Asia, disrupt what had promised to be a steady period of growth led by the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Governments around the world take a zero-sum attitude to international affairs and retreat from free trade agreements, adopting mercantilist economic policies defined by assertive protectionism. Intense energy competition and transient shifting alliances lead to a rise in local skirmishes and an escalating threat of interstate war. This lack of international cohesion allows nuclear weapons to proliferate in Asia and the Middle East, leading to a precarious balance of mutually deterrent powers that in some ways resembles a 21st-century replay of the years before 1914. As a consequence of this retrenchment, international and regional organizations decline in scale and authority. The European Union, which has bucked centrifugal political forces and coalesced as a singular identity, marginalizes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Despite this global retrenchment, the US maintains certain key alliances to protect global sea lanes and to ensure the security of its energy supply. Predictable military doctrines no longer hold as old alliances fracture and weapons of mass destruction proliferate. The global balance of power regularly changes as nations jockey for access to resources. This simmering competition between nations results in a growing wave of nationalism. Virulent nationalists revive historic tensions, particularly among Asian rivals such as Japan, China and India. WMD proliferation among rival states and the absence of strong multilateral institutions raise the possibility that sudden escalations of small conflicts could draw the US into a shooting war - perhaps against a country, or countries, with WMD. Under the heading "October Surprise" the report looks at what happens if and when power shifts to corporations and mega-cities, allowing global ills (from climate change to international crime) to spiral out of control. The decreased power of national government drives the political realities of this decentralized world. Although atomized identity groups cannot cope with transnational problems, they provide many formerly local "state services," create their own international forum and gain seats at organizations such as the UN, the International Labor Organization and the World Trade Organization. International and regional institutions begin to deteriorate, despite attempts to incorporate numerous non-state actors. The decline in traditional state authority also shapes the military environment in this world, as national militaries face weakened support in terms of public backing and the number of volunteers or willing draftees. In contrast, the military capabilities of transnational ethnic, religious and other identity groups increase dramatically. As many central governments face demands of independence from subregions, particularly those rich in resources, some have no choice but to give in, leading to a decline in traditional state authority. These transformational forces also allow diasporas, labor unions, NGOs, ethnic groups, religious factions and others to acquire significant influence and establish formal and informal relationships with states. However, the lack of traditional political authority also results in an abundance of jurisdictionally ambiguous spaces. The proliferation of groups produces fewer shared norms, making negotiation between groups more difficult. Differences of opinion on environmental issues are another basis of competition among fragmented identity groups, hampering the cooperation necessary to address transnational environmental challenges. The office of the Director of National Intelligence will issue a separate classified QICR final report in the coming weeks that summarizes the implications these scenarios will have on the missions, operating principles and capabilities the US intelligence community will use to manage the range of uncertainties in the future. For more of Amir's articles and posts, visit his personal blog Forecast Highs