Every four years, the U.S. intelligence community, led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, publishes its Global Trends report looking ahead 20 years into the future. As efforts to identify far-horizon threats today, the reports usually make for fairly gloomy reading. This year’s “Global Trends 2040” report is no exception.
It describes the ongoing pandemic as “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political and security implications that will ripple for years to come.” Worse still, it warns of “more intense and cascading global challenges” ahead. Though he is not cited by the report’s authors, Leonard Cohen might have inspired their conclusions with the lyrics to his song, “The Future”: “I’ve seen the future, Baby. It’s murder.”
The report outlines five potential future scenarios, beginning with “a world adrift,” in which the international system is “directionless, chaotic and volatile as international rules and institutions are largely ignored.” Others are entitled “tragedy and mobilization,” and “separate silos.” Even the comparatively upbeat “renaissance of democracies” and “competitive coexistence” are based on an assumption of a new world order where authoritarian states—China and Russia—have attained ascendancy if not yet outright domination.