How to Read the National Intelligence Council’s Latest Global Trends Report

How to Read the National Intelligence Council’s Latest Global Trends Report
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testifies on Capitol Hill, Washington, Jan. 5, 2017 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

This week, the National Intelligence Council released its quadrennial report about global trends, and it’s a sober read. Governance is getting harder, and the nature of power is changing. While the report doesn’t predict major power conflict, it sees Russia and China both exploiting the erosion of confidence in the West to expand their influence in the international system. One policy-relevant judgment is about resilience: Countries that invest in infrastructure, innovation and relationships will fare better in this unstable future.

Every four years, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) produces an unclassified, broad-gauged assessment of long-term global trends. The work of engaging hundreds of experts in and out of government, in the U.S. and abroad, is completed before the result of the U.S. presidential election is known. But the report is released after the election and is intended to provide a global baseline for the new administration. It is not a policy report and steers clear of explicit recommendations, but it is full of insights, warnings and opportunities for policymakers who understand how to use it.

This week, the NIC released the report, entitled “The Paradox of Progress,” at the Newseum, a private museum in Washington whose mission is to “promote, explain and defend” the freedoms of speech and political expression enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment.* At first glance, the intelligence community and the freedom of expression folks might seem like an odd couple, but each in their own way cares deeply about information as a fundamental tool of democracy.

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