Track Record of Global Trends Works

Before launching work on the current volume, the NIC commissioned an academic study of the four previous Global Trends studies, going to back to the first edition in 1996-97. The purpose of the review was to examine the Global Trends papers to highlight any persistent blind spots and biases as well as distinctive strengths. A subsequent conference focused on addressing shortcomings and improving on the studies’ strengths for the forthcoming work. The academic review and conference were used by us in designing the present project.

The key “looming” challenges that our reviewers cited for GT 2030 were to develop:

  • A greater focus on the role of US in the international system. Past works assumed US centrality, leaving readers “vulnerable” to wonder about “critical dynamics” around the US role. One of the key looming issues for GT 2030 was, “how other powers would respond to a decline or a decisive re-assertion of US power.” The authors of the study thought that both outcomes were possible and needed to be addressed.
  • A clearer understanding of the central units in the international system. Previous works detailed the gradual ascendance of nonstate actors, but how we saw the role of states versus nonstate actors was not clear. The reviewers suggested that we delve more into the dynamics of governance and explore the complicated relationships among a diverse set of actors.
  • A better grasp of time and speed. Past Global Trends works, “correctly foresaw the direction of the vectors: China up, Russia down. But China’s power has consistently increased faster than expected . . . A comprehensive reading of the four reports leaves a strong impression that [we] tend toward underestimation of the rates of change . . . ”
  • Greater discussion of crises and discontinuities. The use of the word “trends’ in the titles suggests more continuity than change. GT 2025, however, “with its strongly worded attention to the likelihood of significant shocks and discontinuities, flirts with a radical revision of this viewpoint.” The authors recommended developing a framework for understanding the relationships among trends, discontinuities, and crises.
  • Greater attention to ideology. The authors of the study admitted that “ideology is a frustratingly fuzzy concept . . . difficult to define..and equally difficult to measure.” They admitted that grand “isms” like fascism and communism might not be on the horizon. However, “smaller politico-pycho-social shifts that often don’t go under the umbrella of ideology but drive behavior” should be a focus.
  • More understanding of second- and third-order consequences. Trying to identify looming disequilibria may be one approach. More war-gaming or simulation exercises to understand possible dynamics among international actors at crucial tipping points was another suggestion. We will let our readers judge how well we met the above challenges in this volume.

For a snapshot of the outline to the Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds, click on “Le Menu”