Author Archive

Trends in the Security Environment

The draft Global Trends 2030 report states that “the risks of interstate conflict are increasing,” partly because “the next 15-20 years will see a wider spectrum of more accessible instruments of war.”  How will this broadening of the spectrum affect how different states approach military competition and conflict?  What will be the impact on the global balance of military power?  The draft report outlines several ongoing competitions – including “anti-access vs. access” and “nuclear disfavor vs. nuclear renaissance” – relevant to the ability of the United States to project force and protect its friends and allies.  This week the blog’s attention turns to the trends underlying these competitions and their implications over the next two decades.

We will hear from a variety of subject matter experts based in the United States and other countries.  All of the contributors will respond to the question of how the diffusion of conventional precision strike capabilities and potential further nuclear proliferation are likely to affect the security environment of 2030.    Some posts will focus on the conventional dimension, and others on the nuclear side; still others will attempt a synthesis, analyzing how conventional and nuclear trends may interact.  Contributors will offer their perspectives as experts on a particular country, military service branch, or domain of conflict.

How should we knit together these contributions into an understanding of the net impact on the security environment?  Integration is more an art than a science.  It is difficult enough to forecast how trends based purely on material factors may interact or be disrupted, but in the case of the future security environment, we are dealing with factors of organizational and strategic culture that, together with technological capacity, will shape how military force is conceived and employed from country to country, in peacetime, during a crisis, or in war.  Unfortunately, there is no simple formula or established methodology for anticipating the outcome of the interaction of the various capabilities and concepts of operation that different states will adopt.  We must also acknowledge that the diffusion of conventional precision strike and nuclear proliferation are not the only trends relevant to the future security environment.  Still, they are at least among the dominant factors that will shape the outcome of military competition and conflict in the coming decades. Even if we can’t give a definitive answer to questions such as how the United States will project power or extend deterrence to friends and allies in 2030, the importance of the subject compels us to do our best to begin to outline the dominant alternative possibilities.

America’s Subversive Soft Power

One other area where the draft GT 2030 could go into greater depth is in analyzing the effect of ideas — the isms that can be motivators of collective action and accelerants to global change.  America’s global role is inextricably linked to the influence of ideas.  America’s global influence turns on its soft power as well as its hard power.

The United States does not confront an ideological enemy with the resources and global appeal that Communism enjoyed at the height of the Cold War, but there are contending isms ranging from militant islamism to authoritarian crony-capitalism (or whatever label one would assign to the middle way approach China and Russia appear to be trying to forge).

The past decade of kinetic war has been directed at the threat from militant islamism, and it is striking how optimistic GT 2030 is about how that contest will unfold in the coming decades.  I think GT 2030 may be too optimistic, perhaps reflecting the difficulty the Intelligence Community has grappling with religious-based movements.

But I agree that the U.S. has the ideological advantage in the long run. Many aspects of American/Western ideology seem destined to subvert the appeal of militant islamism, such as feminism or respect for individual liberty.

Yet I would single out for special consideration religious toleration.  It took the West a long time, too long, to figure this out but after centuries of bloody warfare the West (and especially the United States) has done it.  We have figured out how to be both religiously fervent AND tolerant of other religiously fervent people (provided they are not using coercive means against others). Tolerance does not require abandoning religious, even exclusive religious convictions.  Religious toleration implies believing your religious position to be superior to others — you are right, they are wrong — but it does so in a way that lets them be “wrong.”  It preserves space for proselytizing — there cannot be true toleration if you deny faiths the opportunity to “compete” by trying to persuade/convert others.  But it is proselytizing through the marketplace of ideas, not through the barrel of a gun.

This form of religious toleration is anathema to militant islamists and yet should have a wide appeal for most everyone else.  It is thus quite subversive to others and props up U.S. power.

Perhaps that topic is too delicate for the IC to touch, but with religious revivals spreading across much of sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America, and East Asia, it seems too important to ignore.

By Charles Miller


Imagine this same exercise had been carried out by British strategists in 1930 and they had been asked what the majority of wars would look like in the coming thirty years. Many of them would have answered that they would be ‘North West Frontier’ type campaigns, or what we today would call COIN. And they would have been right. The majority of the wars the British Army fought between 1930 and 1960 were indeed COIN, but one of the two sole wars which were not COIN – World War Two – had an impact which was far greater than any of the rest, bankrupting the country, almost leading to the extinction of national independence and costing over half a million dead.

Conventional wars are a low probability, high impact event – a ‘Black Swan’ as Naseem Nicholas Taleb would have it. Contrary to the beliefs of some, they have always been rare relative to other types of conflict. Conventional war has been getting somewhat rarer over the last few decades, but there have been decades in the past, as measured by the Correlates of War project, in which they have been even rarer, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of all wars. Moreover, in terms of human and financial cost they dwarf non-conventional wars and so prudent decision making would suggest the United States should not neglect conventional war fighting capabilities in order to beef up its COIN capacities.

Proponents of the view that the future should be all about COIN make two arguments. First, they project the immediate past into the future and claim that because most recent wars have been COIN, most future wars will be too. This is not only a great way to end up fighting the last war rather than the next one, but it also could be an example of the ‘availability heuristic’ – a cognitive shortcut which leads us to overestimate the probability of a given event occurring in the future simply because we personally have experienced and can recall it. The second point is that the United States’ overwhelming conventional superiority means that enemy actors will have no choice but to resort to unconventional means to fight it.

This argument is very attractive, however it ignores two points. The first is that America’s conventional superiority may not be as overwhelming in future as it has been in the past, with the rise of other potential great powers. The second is that unconventional warfare is in fact quite difficult to pull off – it requires a very high degree of trust in one’s subordinates to allow them to discard their uniforms and blend into the civilian population where you can no longer monitor whether they are actually fighting or not. This degree of trust eluded Saddam Hussein and could very well also elude Assad or Kim Jong-Un also. In fact, there are surprisingly few examples in history of weaker states foreswearing conventional resistance altogether and opting to fight via unconventional methods immediately.

None of this should be taken as suggesting that a future large scale conventional war is likely, or that significant defense cuts are not necessary. It is simply to remind us all that it would have to be almost certainly extinct for us to stop devoting some part of our capacity to thinking about and preparing for it. We have not reached that point yet and may very well not in the near future.

Mr. Miller is a PhD Candidate in Political Science at Duke University.

Is America’s Decline Really Inevitable?

One of the two “unlikely but possible” scenarios suggested by Peter Feaver in his post below is that of a resurgent United States combined with an implosion of Europe and/or the BRICs. Such an option is not discussed in GT2030, but I would argue that a scenario that challenges the quasi-conventional wisdom in some circles that “the United States’ (and the West’s) relative decline vis-à-vis the rising states is inevitable” (p.82) is well worth discussing in more detail. In this post, I will address some of the factors that might make such a scenario more more probable than the many would expect, and I’ll particularly focus on the US decline side of the equation rather than the possible implosion of the EU or the BRICs.

Several contributors to this blog already highlighted some of the key advantages that the US will continue to have in 2030 relative to China and other emerging powers, and called into serious question the narrative of “decline.”

Among the strategic trends favoring the US, the most often-quoted ones are:


1. Demographic trends, where a combination of higher fertility relative to other potential world powers and immigration continues to give the US an advantage over its potential global competitors


2. Technological trends, where US advantages in nanotechnology and what The Economist recently called a “Third Industrial Revolution” brought about by digital manufacturing is likely to bring the high-tech manufacturing jobs of the future back to developed countries from developing ones


3. Innovation trends, where the uniquely safe and opportunity-rich entrepreneurial environment of the United States continues to remain the breeding ground for the next Apple, Google, or Facebook. Even though China for example invests large amounts of money in R&D, their return on this investment in terms of innovation is questionable. As the consulting firm Booz&Co documented in a series of reports examining the world’s top 1000 biggest R&D spenders,

“Money doesn’t buy results: There is no relationship between R&D spending and the primary measures of economic or corporate success, such as growth, enterprise profitability, and shareholder return.

The comparison of R&D investment with economic performance provides a lens through which we can judge the innovation effectiveness of the Global Innovation 1000. Despite significant variation in innovation investment levels, the sheer magnitude of these companies’ spending leaves little doubt that they are committed to innovation. But the disconnect between R&D investment and performance levels demonstrates that commitment is no guarantee of success”

On the other side of the ledger, how about the worrisome trends referenced by the experts who predict a relative decline? First and foremost, there is the economic argument that China’s overall GDP will surpass the US GDP at some point in the next few decades, perhaps even before 2030, at least at PPP values.  There is a large literature dedicated to speculation about whether the Chinese government will be able to maintain healthy levels of growth while addressing the many political, social and environmental problems it faces, and serious skepticism is in order. Moreover, the PPP (purchasing power parity) measure is only one way to look at GDP, and from a geopolitical vantage point it’s very unclear it is the best one. When measured at market values, the Chinese economy even in the best of circumstances will not catch up for a longer period of time. The same is true for the GDP/capita measure, which could be a proxy for how much Beijing could divert money to foreign affairs as opposed to the domestic concerns of providing for their very large population. After all, as Robert Kagan argues, the relationship between economic growth and geopolitical influence is not nearly as straightforward as we sometimes assume: for example, “It is not clear that a richer India today wields greater influence on the global stage than a poorer India did in the 1950s under Nehru, when it was the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, or that Turkey, for all the independence and flash of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, really wields more influence than it did a decade ago.”

Another worrisome trend mentioned by GT 2030 is the state of the US education system: the report echoes a common theme of the national dialogue on this topic: “without large-scale improvements in primary and secondary education, future US workers – which have benefited from the world’s highest wages – will increasingly bring only mediocre skills to the workplace.” From business leaders to the Gates Foundation to countless task force reports, there is overwhelming concern about the poor performance of US K-12 students on standardized scores compared to their foreign peers, particularly in math and sciences. While I share some of this concern, I do so to a much lesser extent than the GT2030 authors. First of all, this is not a new concern: as even some advocates of the importance of improving K-12 education admit, the US has always been an outlier of sorts in this area: “The United States has never done well on international assessments of student achievement. Instead, its level of cognitive skills is only about average among the developed countries. Yet the country’s GDP growth rate has been higher than average over the past century.” One possible explanation for this is the superior quality of America’s higher education system: as the same study notices, “By most evaluations, U.S. colleges and universities rank at the very top in the world.” Another reason has more to do with other strengths of US economic system not related to education performance, such as less government regulation, openness to free trade, and perhaps most relevant for this debate, high levels of skilled immigration.

Something that is missing from this debate is an acknowledgement that, even though American students in K-12 may not do very well at math and sciences, the US economy as a whole traditionally addressed that problem in a two-pronged approach: allowing American students to “catch up” and develop in college the skills needed to go ahead and become successful when they enter the workforce, and also allowing large numbers of international students to study, and then stay over, in the US to work as scientists and engineers. Therefore, one of the easiest and least costly ways to maintain US dominance in science and technology is to make it easier for international students in these fields to remain in the United States and work for US companies without having to go through the onerous visa process currently in place.

One last note on this supposed lack of educational achievement in math and sciences. American students, while perhaps not as capable of solving abstract problems as well as some of their peers abroad, still have some intangible advantages in terms of transferring their skills to solving real-world problems and inventing new products and services to a degree unmatched around the world. After all, had  conducted such tests been conducted during the Cold War, it is likely that the Soviet block states, with their education systems heavily focused on test-taking and abstract problem solving, would have outscored the US and the Western world in general. Yet of course the US remained the hub of technological innovation and led the way in the information revolution in the 1990s and 2000s, as it continues to do today in the era of social networks, cloud computing, and, well, iPhone apps.

Lastly, there is the thorny issue of rising healthcare costs and, by virtue of how Medicare and Medicaid programs are currently set up, of so-called “entitlements.” (The third leg of this problem, Social Security, is much more readily “fixable” in economic terms and it represents less of a long-term concern than medical costs.) It is true that high levels of government spending, if continued at the present trend, will hurt the overall prospects for economic growth by contributing to large fiscal deficits, and, incidentally, also make it more difficult to fund national defense.  However, the recent political trends in Washington point to a serious bipartisan concern about this matter, and while one’s enthusiasm for “bipartisan efforts to achieve a grand bargain” should always be firmly under control, it is not entirely unrealistic to assume that the US will find its way out of the current fiscal morass sooner than we may think.

I welcome your comments on any one of these trends, and suggestions for other areas of inquiry on the issue of the “inevitability” of US relative decline.

Winning the 21st Century

By Thomas Wright (

Hardly a month goes by without another book or article on whether this century will be Chinese, American, or a free for all. It is a frustrating debate. These arguments all rely heavily on past performance and future projections—especially crude metrics like GDP growth and military spending. They often predict how other states will behave decades into the future when we know from history that intentions can change both from the bottom up and top down.

There is a pre-season mentality to much of this debate. In the pre-season, sports fans and pundits look at past performance and recent trades to predict who will win the Superbowl or the World Series. It’s an entertaining exercise but the favorites usually lose. The season is too long, too contingent upon performance, tactics, and strategy, to be determined by a few basic metrics. One thing is certain: it would be a foolish manager who accepted the pre-season noise as truth.

Accurate long-term predictions about geopolitics are impossible. We have no idea if the 21st century will see the continuation of the American era, a Chinese century, or a multipolar balance of power. All of these scenarios are plausible but it is a mistake to argue that they are inevitable or even likely. The 20th century is proof that geopolitics is inherently surprising. Its outcome was contingent upon strategic decisions, ideas, accidents, and personalities. In 1912, it was not obvious that the next eight decades would be an age of extremes, dominated by ideological movements, punctuated by vast industrial wars, and ultimately constrained by the threat of complete and mutual destruction. Nor was it obvious that the United States, a growing power whose people had little desire to seek global hegemony, would make the century American. There is no reason to believe that the human capacity for foresight has improved over time.

Consider then why the 20th century became known as the American century. Certainly, part of it had to do with projections of economic growth but, decade by decade, strategic planners got the medium term future badly wrong. Other factors were crucial—particularly social and ideological movements inside societies and adaption to technological change. But perhaps most importantly, the struggle for mastery was influenced by the strategic decisions, in wartime and peacetime, taken in Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo, London, and Washington. The 20th century became the American century partly because the United States responded well to the challenges presented to it but also because other states did not do so well and made major mistakes. So, it “won” the century. But it was hardly preordained.

It’s easy to engage in pre-season speculation about the future of U.S. power and the international order. But, ultimately it is a distraction. Understanding how the world is changing in terms of GDP growth is important but it’s not the same as understanding how the game of strategy is changing or how to play it. The real question that foreign policy experts must grapple with is this: how does the rise of the rest change the strategic competition for international influence.

There is little doubt that this will be a new strategic environment.  The United States is economically interdependent with its only potential great power competitor, China. That is new. America’s allies in Asia are increasingly dependent upon China for their economic growth even as they seek to deepen their security ties with the United States.  That is new. The United States will probably be more of a status quo power than it used to be. That too is fairly new.

These changes, and others, will transform how states compete in the coming decades. The state that masters these dynamics will have a much greater chance of coming out on top. For the United States this means understanding how the liberal international order must adapt and change. For others, it may mean something different. But one thing is shared: the state that spends its time and energy building a crystal ball to pick the winner will probably lose.

Thomas Wright is a fellow at the Brookings Institution

A Path to Security Council Reform?

By: William Burke-White

My last post examined three possible scenarios for the shape of the UN Security Council in 2030, suggesting that, but for the possibility of a lucky crisis, Security Council reform remains unlikely and that there is a real possibility that the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Council will wither considerably by 2030. This post seeks to instill a bit more optimism by considering the possible sources of global political leadership for Council reform and ways that existing stalemates might be broken to allow the kind of reform that would lead to what I termed the “Reform and Reinvigoration” scenario in that earlier post.

Part of the challenge of Security Council reform is the lack of global political leadership to drive such a process forward. Existing efforts for Council reform have stagnated, weighted down by UN bureaucratic process, divides among states contending for permanent membership, and an unwillingness of any current permanent members to champion a reform process. While states such as Brazil and India that have a possible claim to permanent seats on the Council invest significant political capital on the issue, they lack the global political influence needed to drive the issue forward and each potential new member has a regional competitor—Mexico or Pakistan, for example—ready to invest equivalent capital. As a result, such states are unlikely to have ability to break existing stalemates or find workable formulas for reform.

Beyond these contender states, there are really only two meaningful sources of political leadership for Security Council reform: the United States and Europe. Both the US and existing European member states have reasons for preferring the current shape of the Council and sitting on the sidelines of reform, but there is also a compelling logic for the US and Europe to show leadership on the issue. Moreover, collectively the US and Europe could find potential break-through solutions to existing logjams in a way that might make the “Reform and Reinvigoration” scenario viable.

Start with the US. Of course, the US benefits form current Council dynamics. The US veto ensures US interests are ultimately protected on the Council. Similarly, the US can usually muster the minimum additional 8 votes needed for a resolution to pass, assuming no other permanent members veto. Yet, the US also has a deeply vested interest in ensuring the long-term effectiveness of the Security Council and, more generally, the post-World War II order, of which the Council sits at the heart. By acting sooner, rather than later, as a leader in Security Council reform, the US will be far better positioned to help define the shape and structure of the reformed Council that emerges. Moreover, by taking a clear leadership role, the US can shift the political costs of opposition to other Permanent Members of the Council who may, in fact, be more reluctant to support reform and who have been able to effectively hide behind the US on the issue. Ultimately, if and when the US is willing to the look at Council reform from a slightly longer time-horizon, the benefits of leadership on the issue are obvious.

Over the past few years, of course, the Obama Administration has shown some willingness to advance the issue. While maintaining redlines on questions such as the expansion of the veto and the total membership of any reformed Council, the US has explicitly backed India’s bid for a permanent seat and given support to Brazil’s claims. Yet, these statements – in the context of presidential trips to both countries—have not been backed by visible diplomatic efforts or by evident changes in approach either in New York or in national capitals. The time may well be ripe for more active US leadership. And while such leadership would certainly not lead to immediate reform, it would put the US in a far better political and diplomatic position to shape reform when and if it ultimately occurs.

The second possible source of global leadership on Security Council reform is Europe.  The logic for issue leadership from Europe is even more apparent than for the United States. Ultimately, Europe seeks three seats on a reformed Council – the existing French and British permanent seats and, presumably, one for Germany as well. In light of Europe’s economic woes, internal challenges, and reduced relative political influence, the longer Europe waits to lead on Council reform, the less likely it becomes that this three-seat goal can be achieved. In fact, the more time that passes before reform occurs, the less likely it is that both France and the UK can reasonably maintain their existing seats. For Europe, early Council reform is far better than Council reform in 2030.

The Europeans may also hold the key to breaking current logjams and finding a mutually acceptable formula for Council reform. Specifically, a key redline for the US is the maximum number of permanent members on any reformed Council. Too large a group and the US (among others), rightly fears that any consensus on the Council will become impossible. Yet, most formulas that would incorporate the new members necessary for the Council’s perceived long-term legitimacy quickly push against that numerical ceiling. What if the Europeans could reach an internal agreement on say two post-reform European seats? Such an agreement might involve, one seat for the EU itself and one that rotates among Germany, the UK, and France.

Admittedly, current political divides within Europe make such compromise seem far-fetched. But if Europe could reach such an agreement, the symbolic value of both internal European compromise on the issue and the slot that such an agreement would free-up might make real reform possible. In light of a European compromise, competitor states to those states with the strongest claims for new seats might have to relax their diplomatic postures. A promise of European magnanimity on the issue could well serve leverage to push for compromises among other contenders. And, of course, the third seat, to which Europe would, essentially, relinquish a claim could be used to enhance the broader legitimacy of the Council, while more easily staying within a fixed maximum number of members.

Perhaps this is a leap too far. Admittedly, the efforts to build a common European foreign policy through the new External Action Service have underperformed. And, while, Europe’s current financial woes seem to occupy all available diplomatic time and energy, a new European bargain (and perhaps identity) that might serve as the solution to the current economic crisis could well be the foundation for a broader political bargain within Europe that might include a new approach to the Council. Even if such an agreement is a stretch, it offers perhaps the best hope for protecting Europe’s long-term interests, finding the global leadership needed for Council reform, and identifying a workable formula for the inclusion of new permanent members. Should the Europeans reach such an agreement and the US be we willing to demonstrate real political commitment to reform, the “reform and reinvigoration” scenario discussed in my last post might not be unattainable.

The Shape of the Security Council in 2030

This week (even if getting a bit of a late start) the blog turns to the shape of international institutions and organizations looking ahead to 2030. This first post starts with a consideration of the future of the United Nations Security Council, while subsequent discussion will examine other institutions, such as the IMF and World Bank. I look forward to a robust discussion.

The Shape of the Security Council in 2030

By William Burke-White

Following the approach of the Global Trends 2030 Report, let us consider three possible scenarios for the Shape of the Security Council in 2030. The first, Stasis, assumes that, in light of the background trends presented in the Global Trends Report, the Council remains essentially unchanged over the next 18 years. The second, the most optimistic but perhaps least likely scenario, termed Reform and Reinvigoration, considers the possibility of meaningful reform of the Security Council and a new role it could play in the global order. The final scenario, termed Crisis and [Reform] or Collapse, explores the possibility of Council confronting or, perhaps, failing to confront, a global crisis and either reforming or rapidly losing its legitimacy and effectiveness.

Assume for a moment that the membership of the UN Security Council, with the US, UK, France, Russia, and China as permanent members and a rotating cast of non-permanent members remains unchanged. In the short term, such stasis is actually relatively favorable to the United States, given both the US veto power and the relative ease of finding 8 concurrent votes when needed to pass a resolution. As a result, the US will likely continue to look to the Council as the primary institution of global governance, at least in the security area. Today, the Council is relatively effective in part because it is still seen as legitimate in the eyes of most states due to its legal grounding in the UN Charter and, in part, because it is able to, at least some of the time, deliver results. Active US commitment, along with support from European states, can maintain the Council’s role for some time, though not indefinitely.

In light however, of the diffusions of power, the rise of regional institutions and groupings, and greater role asserted by newcomers to the tables of global influence – all explored in detail in the Global Trends 2030 report—both the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Security Council will likely decline over time. Without meaningful reform of membership and operating practices, by 2030 the number of states that respect the Council’s decisions as legally binding and authoritative is likely to decline. Neither the political bargain of 1945 nor the Charter’s legal status can carry that legitimacy indefinitely. While lack of reform will, obviously, challenge the Council’s legitimacy, so too will it undermine the Council’s effectiveness. With a diffusion of economic and military power to new states and non-state actors, an ever smaller share of global power, influence, and economic might will be represented on the Council, limiting its ability to deliver results. Simultaneously, the growing role of regional organizations and new regional groupings and the potential of the G20 (at least in the international economic arena) or other ad hoc coalitions of states suggest the likelihood of the continued rise of alternative fora for the coordination (if not legitimation) of global or regional action. And if not embraced by new powers, an active US commitment to the Council could well lead to a backlash from states seeking greater voice at the highest tables.

In this context, stasis will likely lead to an ever shrinking role for the Security Council by 2030. The Council would, of course, continue to meet and would, presumably, carry on a relatively robust agenda. But, the weight of its resolutions would decline and the Council’s ability o deliver on its promises would wither. Under the stasis scenario, by 2030, we would likely see a Security Council that is little more than a “talking shop” in New York, ever-more disconnected from political realities and certainly not the source of solutions to collective global challenges.

Reform and Reinvigoration
Today’s Security Council is, obviously, a product of the 1945 world order. With the Council’s membership and authorities embedded in the UN Charter itself, change is difficult—some might even say impossible. Amendment of the Charter presents a rather extraordinary political and legal challenge. For every state with a claim to a permanent seat on the Council, there is another with equal, if not stronger, opposition. Notwithstanding President Obama’s statements in India and Brazil over the past two years, supporting both countries’ claims to a permanent seat on the Council, there is a dearth of global political leadership driving Council reform forward. Moreover, even if an international agreement on Council reform were reached, the domestic politics of ratification of such an amendment (particularly, though not exclusively, in the United States) make reform all the more unlikely.

Setting aside clear and, perhaps, overwhelming challenges (a subsequent post will consider a possible political path toward reform), lets assume for a moment that reform were possible. What would the shape of such a reformed Council look like? Presumably, the Council would include as permanent members Brazil, China, India, Japan, Russia, the US, one or more European states, and one or more African states. Various formulations have been put forward for the exact allocation of those seats, the status of the veto, and changes to the Council’s non-permanent members. Whichever such formulation is ultimately adopted, the inclusion of these new rising powers will be essential to the Council’s effectiveness.

The inclusion of rising (or, by 2030, fully risen) powers as permanent members of the Council may not, however, be sufficient to preserve or reinvigorate the Council’s legitimacy. With political and economic power continuing to become more diffuse, an ever-greater number of states—far more than could reasonably be accommodated even in an enlarged Council—will demand (and likely have a valid claim to) global voice. The processes of non-permanent membership in the Council will have to come to reflect that diffusion of power.

Perhaps even more critical will be the inclusion of global voice beyond the nation state. As showcased in the Global Trends 2030 report, power and influence will continue to reach above and below the nation state by 2030. And while the UN is, and presumably will remain, the exclusive domain of states, reform will have to include new ways of reaching out to and partnering with a growing array of non-state actors—individuals, NGOs, INGOs, regional organizations, and cooprations. Their inclusion, not as members of the Council themselves, but as key partners in its work can go far to addressing the democratic deficit so well documented in the Global Trends report and to enhancing the Council’s effectiveness as its work within states, rather than just between them, continues to grow.

Ultimately, for the Council to ensure its long-term survival as the primary institution of global political governance, new states – beyond the US and Europe – will need to turn to it in times of need and as their roles in collective problem solving expand. Similarly, it will have to develop new-tools, likely rooted in partnerships beyond just with states, to respond to global threats and challenges. Such reinvigoration is only possible with a reformed Council that reflects new power distributions among and beyond states.

Crisis and [Reform or] Collapse
A third possibility for the Security Council by 2030 is crisis followed by collapse or, perhaps, reform. Should a crisis of extraordinary magnitude come to the Council and the Council fails to address it, the UN may face a true test of its legitimacy and effectiveness. As we saw so evidently in 2008 and 2009 when the global financial crisis gave rise to the G-20 as the preeminent forum for international economic cooperation, such moments present opportunities for institutional reform, but can also serve as the death-blow to institutions whose ineffectiveness is exposed for all to see. Given the challenges of Security Council reform, it is likely that a crisis of extraordinary magnitude may be necessary to galvanize the political will to actually drive Council reform forward.

Yet, while in the most optimistic scenario, such a crisis could be the catalyst for reform, the Council’s failure to respond to such a crisis or, equally likely, the unwillingness of states to follow the Council’s decisions in such a crisis, could well lead to its collapse. With limited legitimacy from emerging powers and other states excluded from the Council and only relatively weak or imperfect tools available to it, a crisis which truly exposed the Council’s lack of representativeness or limited effectiveness could well spark a broader and potentially rapid turn away from the Security Council as an meaningful institution for global political governance. In short, the Council could wither away quickly as both its legitimacy and effectiveness were called into question in the wake of crisis and failed response.

Looking Ahead
There is, unfortunately, little reason for optimism as to the Council’s shape in 2030. Given the challenges of reform and in light of the trends outlined in the Global Trends 2030 Report, Stasis seems the most likely outcome. Yet such stasis will likely involve a gradual withering of the Council with an ever more diminished role – and hence expanding governance gap – by 2030. Perhaps the best hope for the Council’s future lies in a crisis that prompts reform, rather than collapse. While waiting for such crisis and hoping for an outcome of reform is a high-risk gamble, it appears most unlikely that the political will can be found to take a more activist approach to Council reform without the imperative and urgency a true crisis could create.

(Washington, DC: The German Marshall Fund of the United States, 2010)


By Ashley Tellis

Simply stated, the success of the current wave of globalization, like the one that preceded it in the 19th century, is owed fundamentally to the existence of a hegemonic power. Since the end of the Second World War, American preponderance has underwritten many of the key components—from the dollar as a global reserve currency to the rules of the international order to the defense of the commons—which have made a successful open trading system possible.

Should the American economy weaken inexorably over time, there is every likelihood that the current successful phase of globalization, although often assumed to be a permanent reality, could atrophy and eventually collapse. Mercifully, such dangers are neither immediate nor inevitable because the U.S. economy, whatever its current troubles, is not enervated by any terminal illness.

In fact, by the canons of contemporary growth accounting, the United States is better positioned relative to most other countries to sustain over the long term the high levels of capital accumulation, labor-force growth, and technological innovation necessary to maintain economic strength because of its size and natural resources, its demographic profile and access to immigration, its wealth and material well-being, its open economic and political systems, and its social and institutional adaptability.

America’s chief weaknesses in this context are twofold: its problematic model of capital formation, which is as much a product of domestic choices as it is a consequence of larger international economic imbalances, and its dysfunctional national decision-making institutions, which although appearing to satisfy its founding fathers’ objective of preventing tyranny have engendered a paralyzing inability to think strategically and act coherently.

While the latter problem is something that must be overcome unilaterally, the former can be most effectively solved collaboratively, at least, if there is to be any orderly solution to the vexed problem of “global rebalancing.” Both the transatlantic and Asian partners of the United States, not to mention China, have great stakes in a successful transition, but this will require all parties to either share the pain collectively or else risk a convulsive dénouement that imperils both globalization and the emerging Asian century.

Even as the United States and its partners hopefully work toward cooperative exits from the increasingly unsustainable current global codependency—where the United States propels world economic growth through continued consumption utilizing resources loaned by others—Washington also needs to pay attention to renewing its military power. Such a requirement may appear odd at first sight, given that the U.S. military remains superior to all others by many metrics of comparison. Yet, on closer examination, American military strength is hobbled by serious challenges including budgetary constraints, unacceptable weapons cost growth, rising personnel costs, strained procurement and research and development budgets, difficult force structure dilemmas, and wily asymmetric threats, all of which—if left unaddressed—could undermine the current security environment that sustains globalization.

The best studies of the regional military balances in the Asia-Pacific, in fact, suggest an erosion of U.S. military superiority and, in particular, a diminishing capacity to protect the Asian allies in the face of rising Chinese power. The importance of arresting these adverse trends cannot be understated. They directly engage the question of whether the Asian miracle can be sustained over the secular period (with all the resulting benefits for American and transatlantic prosperity) and without any compromises in the security and autonomy of America’s regional allies and important neutrals (with all the concomitant gains for American and transatlantic interests).

Addressing these challenges requires the United States and its democratic partners in the East and the West to think about defense research and development, weapons procurement, and technology flows in new and more creative ways. It also requires greater agreement on issues relating to the legitimacy of the use of force. Above all else, however, it requires a greater European appreciation of how U.S. military superiority contributes to protecting a secure and stable Asian geopolitical order that ultimately redounds to the common advantage of both sides of the Atlantic and why that dominance, accordingly, must be preserved indefinitely.

The emerging Asian century undoubtedly represents a great opportunity for sustaining global prosperity. Yet because this era will be fundamentally different from the first iteration of the Asian miracle, in that allies and competitors are now inextricably entwined in a dense web of transactions which increase absolute gains but unevenly, the United States and its partners face many more challenges in maintaining a stable geopolitical order.

In such circumstances, the most effective strategy for Washington, as the leader of the transatlantic community, is not to retrench from its commitment to expanding the open economic system, but to maintain in good repair its own national power and its constituent military prowess in order to mitigate any tensions that may arise either regionally or globally between economic gains and international security.

Ashley Tellis is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

A Snapshot of the Global Trends 2030 Report

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”