A new forecast compiled by U.S. intelligence experts foresees China and India spearheading an expansion of Asian political and economic influence throughout the world. It also sees many Arab countries at a crossroads as globalization spreads. VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports.
The report, labeled "Mapping the Global Future," lays out a world 15 years from now in which the United States remains the dominant power, but faces increased competition from growing economic power in Asia and challenges from political Islam.
The long-range forecast was issued by the National Intelligence Council, or N.I.C., a kind of research organization for the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Council regularly compiles reports reflecting the collective views of U.S. intelligence agencies. Officials say the views of more than one thousand political, economic, and social experts around the world were solicited for the new report.
In an interview, N.I.C. chief Robert Hutchings told VOA the United States world role will not be eroded. But, he says, China and India will become increasingly important players on the world stage.
"I wouldn't put it in terms of the erosion of America's role, because we will still be the dominant power. It's really maybe a relative decline. But what we are really identifying is the likely, the almost certain rise of Asia, led by China and India, but including other countries as well, as a major factor in world affairs, a major new factor in world affairs."
The report says China and India will expand their economic clout and likens their heightened status to the ascension of a united Germany as a power in the 1800s and the later rise of U.S. global power.
Looking to global threats, the report says Iraq could well replace Afghanistan as a training ground for terrorists. Mr. Hutchings says it is by no means certain that terrorism will remain as great a threat 15 years from now. But, he adds, Islam will remain a political as well as religious force in the world.
"We simply don't know if global terrorism will be as great a threat in the year 2020 as it is now. It will certainly be a factor in world affairs. One of the broad trends we do identify, though, is political Islam, and probably radical Islam, as a force that has staying power."
Mr. Hutchings says Arab societies are at a fork in the road. Some may take the democratic path, he says, but others that feel left out by the benefits of globalization may feel resentful.
"On the one hand, the opportunities to join a productive global order are greater and more vivid for Arab states who are able to adapt to it. On the other hand, those that are not may feel a sense of exclusion and marginalization and humiliation even more acutely as globalization -- and we're not talking about America here, just the forces of globalization broadly -- push up more and more against traditional societies. That's why so much is at stake in Iraq and the broader Middle East."
There is also a danger, the report notes, that relatively new democracies may backslide toward authoritarianism.
"There is reason for concern in parts of the former Soviet Union, where democracy has yet to put down solid roots. There are worrying signs in parts of Southeast Asia. So I think one has to assume that at least some of those countries that joined the third wave of democratization may fall off and backslide into authoritarian rule."
The good news, Mr. Hutchings says, is that the report says while the threat of war remains, the likelihood of world conflict has receded to its lowest level in one hundred years.