The US National Intelligence Council on the Changing Geopolitical Landscape


The National Intelligence Council, a body reporting to the Director of National Intelligence, draws on expertise from within and outside the US intelligence community to assess strategic developments bearing on national security. In addition to its classified reports (notably the National Intelligence Estimates) the Council also issues unclassified versions of some of its work. In December 2004 it released a report, Mapping the Global Future, the outcome of a year-long study known as the 2020 Project, looking at geopolitical trends in the world over the medium term. Robert L. Hutchings, the NIC's then chairman, writes in a preface that this report “offers a range of possibilities and potential discontinuities, as a way of opening our minds to developments we might otherwise miss.” It differs from a preceding NIC exercise, Global Trends 2015 (2000), in the wider range of experts consulted—preparatory workshops were conducted in a number of countries—and in the heavier store it places on formal scenario development. While the underlying scenario-building techniques employed are not spelled out in the document (some are described elsewhere on the NIC's website), four specific “fictional scenarios” are selected to enliven the report:

Davos World—illustrating “how robust economic growth, led by China and India, … could reshape the globalization process”;

Pax Americana—“how US predominance may survive the radical changes to the global political landscape and serve to fashion a new and inclusive global order”;

A New Caliphate—“how a global movement fueled by radical religious identity politics could constitute a challenge to Western norms and values as the foundation of the global system”; and

Cycle of Fear—proliferation of weaponry and terrorism “to the point that large-scale intrusive security measures are taken to prevent outbreaks of deadly attacks, possibly introducing an Orwellian world.”

(The quotes are from the report's executive summary.)

The excerpt reproduced below comprises the section of the report headed “Rising Powers: The Changing Geopolitical Landscape,” omitting text boxes and charts. The summary table appended is taken from the beginning of the document. The full report is available at