Saturday, April 17, 2021

Gloom from the CIA

From the assessment of the world situation the US intelligence agencies issue every 4 years:

During the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world of its fragility and demonstrated the inherent risks of high levels of interdependence. In coming years and decades, the world will face more intense and cascading global challenges ranging from disease to climate change to the disruptions from new technologies and financial crises.  These challenges will repeatedly test the resilience and adaptability of communities, states, and the international system, often exceeding the capacity of existing systems and models. This looming disequilibrium between existing and future challenges and the ability of institutions and systems to respond is likely to grow and produce greater contestation at every level.

In this more contested world, communities are increasingly fractured as people seek security with like-minded groups based on established and newly prominent identities; states of all types and in all regions are struggling to meet the needs and expectations of more connected, more urban, and more empowered populations; and the international system is more competitive—shaped in part by challenges from a rising China—and at greater risk of conflict as states and nonstate actors exploit new sources of power and erode longstanding norms and institutions that have provided some stability in past decades. These dynamics are not fixed in perpetuity, however, and we envision a variety of plausible scenarios for the world of 2040—from a democratic renaissance to a transformation in global cooperation spurred by shared tragedy—depending on how these dynamics interact and human choices along the way.  

Here's an interesting observation:

Large segments of the global population are becoming wary of institutions and governments that they see as unwilling or unable to address their needs. People are gravitating to familiar and like-minded groups for community and security, including ethnic, religious, and cultural identities as well as groupings around interests and causes, such as environmentalism.

Of course one factor driving ethnic conflict is migrant flows; as of 2020, 270 million people are living in states they migrated to, 100 million more than in 2000.

So at the CIA they think 

1) Globalization, technological change and climate change are going to keep throwing crises at us,

2) while our confidence in governments to solve these problems declines, leading more and more people to turn toward other sorts of solutions, such as ethnic separatism,

3) and the old-fashioned threat of Chinese nationalism simmers.

Have a nice day!


David said...

I'm impressed at how sensible and realistic this CIA assessment is.

John said...

Honestly that's what gives me pause; that these are exactly the issues I would point to. So is this just the American elite consensus? And what are we missing?

David said...

If someone issued a warning that didn't fit the consensus, how could we tell, or who would there be to say, if they were a wayward genius with an insight, a fanatic with an agenda, or a fool?

And, maybe the consensus is simply right.

John said...

It is interesting to contemplate when the elite consensus was right. To my understanding, in 1935 many people in the US, Britain, and France believed war with Hitler was coming. On the other hand, in the US many did not expect Japan to start a war with the US, at least until 1941.

What do you suppose a British assessment of 1908 would have said? Or a Russian assessment?

In 1960, how many in Britain or America would have said that getting sucked into an unwinnable third world proxy war was a major danger?

I could have fun with this all day.

David said...

Perlstein and others depict an optimistic elite consensus of the early 1960s, expressed in works like "The Vital Center," that the US had left ideology and ideological conflict behind, that in the future our politics would only be about finding practical solutions, etc. Perlstein certainly has a lot of fun showing how wrong this was.

I suppose you could say that it's always only a matter of time before something bad happens, so any broadly optimistic prediction can be relied upon sooner or latter to fail. Lots of folks have enjoyed watching the tech elite's optimism about social media fall flat. And remember that feeling c. 1998 that we had reached a state of permanent economic prosperity?

Perhaps the question we should be asking is, what does Zeynep Tufekci think?