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Originally published December 10, 2012 at 7:58 PM | Page modified December 11, 2012 at 5:55 AM

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Report foresees more urbanite, middle-class world by 2030

The United States could see its standing as a superpower eroded and Asian economies will outstrip those of North America and Europe combined by 2030, according to a forecast by the U.S. intelligence community.

The Washington Post

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WASHINGTON — By 2030, for the first time in human history, a majority of the world's population will not likely be impoverished and a politically powerful global middle class could total 3 billion people, up from 1 billion today.

These citizens, many from what are now developing countries, are likely to be healthier, better-educated and connected to the Internet. They would be the critical social and economic sector in most countries.

And they would be urbanites; 60 percent of the world's population of 8.3 billion in 2030 will likely live in metropolitan regions, some of which will probably sprawl across three national borders.

These are among the findings of a quadrennial report, "Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds," by the National Intelligence Council, which reports to the director of national intelligence. The report advises incoming or returning presidential administrations on multiple — sometimes contradictory — prospective scenarios so that policymakers can attempt to shape the future.

"We do not seek to predict," said Christopher Kojm, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council. "Instead we provide a framework to think about possible futures."

The world the council foresees is one in which the United States is no longer a uniquely dominant global power but remains pre-eminent because of its legacy strengths, its ability to form coalitions and the reluctance of China to assume a global role.

"No other power would be likely to achieve the same panoply of power in this time frame under any plausible scenario," the report concluded, even though China is expected to surpass the United States as the largest economic power in the 2020s.

The report noted that the way in which the United States evolves, and whether it can exploit potential energy independence and solve its fiscal problems, is "a big uncertainty."

"An economically restored U.S. would be a 'plus' in terms of the capability of the international system to deal with major global crises during this long transitional period," the report said, comparing the current period to seminal moments such as the end of the Napoleonic wars and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The world envisioned by the report is one in which Islamist terrorism, following the trajectory of earlier waves of violence from 19th-century anarchists to the New Left in the 1970s, would exhaust itself and ebb. But the tactics of terrorism would persist. And new actors, whatever their motivation, could shift their focus from mass casualties to massive economic disruptions through cyber attacks.

Moreover, the overall risk of conflict is rising because the most sophisticated weapons of war — including precision-strike capabilities and bioterror weaponry — are likely to spread to more and more governments and even nonstate actors.

The world of 2030 would be one in which the greatest strain both within and between countries could be the struggle for resources — food, water and energy — and climate change could severely affect the ability to produce sufficient quantities of each.

"Demand for food, water and energy will grow by approximately 35, 40 and 50 percent respectively owing to an increase in the global population and the consumption patterns of an expanding middle class," the report said.

For these levels of growth to be sustainable, new technologies would have to be married to the careful shepherding of resources. "Water management will become critical to long-term food security," the report concluded.

Food security already has been affected by climate change, particularly in poorer regions of the world, because droughts and other severe weather events have degraded agricultural productivity. Accelerating global warming could deepen shortages.

"We are not necessarily headed into a world of scarcities but policymakers and their private sector partners will need to be proactive to avoid such a future," the report said. "Many countries probably won't have the wherewithal to avoid food and water shortages without massive help from outside."

Among the countries at high risk of failure by 2030 are some familiar names — Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Yemen, Uganda and Afghanistan.

If overall trend lines prove benign, and internal governance improves, countries that have the potential to become significant regional economic powers include Turkey, Vietnam, Egypt, Colombia and Nigeria.

Overall, the report said the rise of Asia, and particularly China, would continue, and there would be "a shift in the technological center of gravity from West to East and South" as "companies, ideas, entrepreneurs and capital" flow from the developed to the developing world.

The ability of the United States and China to manage their relationship would be critical to the stability of the global system.

Under its most optimistic scenario of a strong international partnership, the report finds that "the global economy nearly doubles by 2030 to $132 trillion annually," benefiting the United States and Europe as well as China and the developing world.

But any number of game-changers could undermine that rosy scenario — economic crises, pandemics, regional conflicts and more rapid climate change. The intelligence analysts, however, said they do not see a "full-scale conflagration" along the lines of world war.

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