Harris and Burrows, 9 – *counselor in the National Intelligence Council, the principal drafter of Global Trends 2025, **member of the NIC’s Long Range Analysis Unit “Revisiting the Future: Geopolitical Effects of the Financial Crisis”, Washington Quarterly, http://www.twq.com/09april/docs/09apr_burrows.pdf)
Increased Potential for Global Conflict
Of course, the report encompasses more than economics and indeed believes the future is likely to be the result of a number of intersecting and interlocking forces. With so many possible permutations of outcomes, each with ample opportunity for unintended consequences, there is a growing sense of insecurity. Even so, history may be more instructive than ever. While we continue to believe that the Great Depression is not likely to be repeated, the lessons to be drawn from that period include the harmful effects on fledgling democracies and multiethnic societies (think Central Europe in 1920s and 1930s) and on the sustainability of multilateral institutions (think League of Nations in the same period). There is no reason to think that this would not be true in the twenty-first as much as in the twentieth century. For that reason, the ways in which the potential for greater conflict could grow would seem to be even more apt in a constantly volatile economic environment as they would be if change would be steadier.
In surveying those risks, the report stressed the likelihood that terrorism and nonproliferation will remain priorities even as resource issues move up on the international agenda. Terrorism’s appeal will decline if economic growth continues in the Middle East and youth unemployment is reduced. For those terrorist groups that remain active in 2025, however, the diffusion of technologies and scientific knowledge will place some of the world’s most dangerous capabilities within their reach. Terrorist groups in 2025 will likely be a combination of descendants of long established groups inheriting organizational structures, command and control processes, and training procedures necessary to conduct sophisticated attacks and newly emergent collections of the angry and disenfranchised that become self-radicalized, particularly in the absence of economic outlets that would become narrower in an economic downturn.
The most dangerous casualty of any economically-induced drawdown of U.S. military presence would almost certainly be the Middle East. Although Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is not inevitable, worries about a nuclear-armed Iran could lead states in the region to develop new security arrangements with external powers, acquire additional weapons, and consider pursuing their own nuclear ambitions. It is not clear that the type of stable deterrent relationship that existed between the great powers for most of the Cold War would emerge naturally in the Middle East with a nuclear Iran. Episodes of low intensity conflict and terrorism taking place under a nuclear umbrella could lead to an unintended escalation and broader conflict if clear red lines between those states involved are not well established. The close proximity of potential nuclear rivals combined with underdeveloped surveillance capabilities and mobile dual-capable Iranian missile systems also will produce inherent difficulties in achieving reliable indications and warning of an impending nuclear attack. The lack of strategic depth in neighboring states like Israel, short warning and missile flight times, and uncertainty of Iranian intentions may place more focus on preemption rather than defense, potentially leading to escalating crises.
Types of conflict that the world continues to experience, such as over resources, could reemerge, particularly if protectionism grows and there is a resort to neo-mercantilist practices. Perceptions of renewed energy scarcity will drive countries to take actions to assure their future access to energy supplies. In the worst case, this could result in interstate conflicts if government leaders deem assured access to energy resources, for example, to be essential for maintaining domestic stability and the survival of their regime. Even actions short of war, however, will have important geopolitical implications. Maritime security concerns are providing a rationale for naval buildups and modernization efforts, such as China’s and India’s development of blue water naval capabilities. If the fiscal stimulus focus for these countries indeed turns inward, one of the most obvious funding targets may be military. Buildup of regional naval capabilities could lead to increased tensions, rivalries, and counterbalancing moves, but it also will create opportunities for multinational cooperation in protecting critical sea lanes. With water also becoming scarcer in Asia and the Middle East, cooperation to manage changing water resources is likely to be increasingly difficult both within and between states in a more dog-eat-dog world.
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