The next two decades will see a world living with the daily threat of nuclear war, environmental catastrophe and the decline of America as the dominant global power, according to a frighteningly bleak assessment by the U.S. intelligence community.
"The world of the near future will be subject to an increased likelihood of conflict over resources, including food and water, and will be haunted by the persistence of rogue states and terrorist groups with greater access to nuclear weapons," said the report by the National Intelligence Council.
The analysts said that the report had been prepared in time for Barack Obama's entry into the Oval office on January 20, where he will be faced with some of the greatest challenges of any newly-elected president.
"The likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used will increase with expanded access to technology and a widening range of options for limited strikes," the 121-page assessment said.
The analysts draw attention to an already escalating nuclear arms race in the Middle East and anticipate that a growing number of rogue states will be prepared to share their destructive technology with terror groups.
"Over the next 15-20 years reactions to the decisions Iran makes about its nuclear program could cause a number of regional states to intensify these efforts and consider actively pursuing nuclear weapons," the report Global Trends 2025 said. "This will add a new and more dangerous dimension to what is likely to be increasing competition for influence within the region," it said.
The spread of nuclear capabilities will raise questions about the ability of weak states to safeguard them, it added. "If the number of nuclear-capable states increases, so will the number of countries potentially willing to provide nuclear assistance to other countries or to terrorists."
The report, a year in the making, said that global warming will aggravate the scarcity of water, food and energy resources. Citing a British study, it said that climate change could force up to 200 million people to migrate to more temperate zones. "Widening gaps in birth rates and wealth-to-poverty ratios, and the impact of climate change, could further exacerbate tensions," it said.
The report says the warming earth will extend Russia and Canada's growing season and ease their access to northern oil fields, strengthening their economies. But Russia's potential emergence as a world power may be clouded by lagging investment in its energy sector, persistent crime and government corruption, the report says.
"The international system will be almost unrecognizable by 2025, owing to the rise of emerging powers, a globalizing economy, a transfer of wealth from West to East, and the growing influence of non-state actors. Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor, the United States' relative strength -- even in the military realm -- will decline and US leverage will become more strained."
Global power will be multipolar with the rise of India and China, and the Korean peninsula will be unified in some form. Turning to the current financial situation, the analysts say that the financial crisis on Wall Street is the beginning of a global economic rebalancing.
The U.S. dollar's role as the major world currency will weaken to the point where it becomes a "first among equals."
"Strategic rivalries are most likely to revolve around trade, investments and technological innovation, but we cannot rule out a 19th-century-like scenario of arms races, territorial expansion and military rivalries." The report, based on a global survey of experts and trends, was more pessimistic about America's global status than previous outlooks prepared every four years. It said that outcomes will depend in part on the actions of political leaders. "The next 20 years of transition to a new system are fraught with risks," it said.
The analysts also give warning that the kind of organized crime plaguing Russia could eventually take over the government of an Eastern or Central European country, and that countries in Africa and South Asia may find themselves ungoverned, as states wither away under pressure from security threats and diminishing resources.
The intelligence community expects that terrorism would survive until 2025, but in slightly different form, suggesting that Al Qaeda's "terrorist wave" might be breaking up. "Al Qaeda's inability to attract broad-based support might cause it to decay sooner than people think," it said.
On a positive note it added that an alternative to oil might be in place by 2025.
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