Alexander Dynkin, Director of the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations, and Mathew Burrows, Director of the Strategic Foresight Initiative at the Atlantic Council, explain the ideas behind the new joint study of the world as it could be in 2035: Global System on the Brink: Pathways Towards A New Normal

The co-authored report was funded in part by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.  The English-language version of the executive summary is available on the websites of the Carnegie Corporation and the Atlantic Council. The full report, in English and Russian, will be published in early 2016.    

Q: What prompted both the Atlantic Council and IMEMO to do a joint global outlook assessment?

A: Initially we wanted to update our previous assessments focused on the world in 2030.  For a decade I (Burrows) had worked at the National Intelligence Council authoring the Global Trends works. IMEMO had also decades-long experience of long-term forecasting based on original statistical methodology.

The most recent IMEMO outlook, Strategic Global Forecast to 2030, was published in 2013. Then the Ukraine crisis hit and, if anything, understanding the trajectory of the global order became even more urgent. We could see our countries on a collision course if our governments and societies got stuck in near-term differences while ignoring the future.  

Moreover, as we discovered, the crisis in US-Russian relations is only one facet of a world at an increasingly dangerous inflection point. Despite the rapid globalization of the past few decades, which promised cooperation and integration, the potential for major state conflict is on the rise due to deep fragmentation within and between societies. The old confrontation between capitalism and communism has given way to conflicts of moral values with nationalist, religious identity, and historical-psychological overtones.   

Q: The title of the report seems bleak.  Are there any bright spots for the world in 2035?

A: The crisis in relations between Russia and the West in 2013-15, as well as other conflicts in the world, show that economic interests and cooperation can be sacrificed for the sake of political, geopolitical, and ideological ambition.  In other words, we need to work at developing cooperation on shared interests such as climate change, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism.

The report focuses on the many opportunities — everything from further arms control and preventing an arms race in space, to the need for developing a multi-tier, polycentric system of financial regulation. 

For all the possible worst-case outcomes described in the report, there was as much space given to the opportunities for cooperation. 

Q: Are you saying we should overlook the differences the United States and Russia have, such as over Ukraine?

A: Not at all.  But a world in which there is no agreement among the major powers would be harmful to everyone’s interest and future.  We need to recognize the growing risks of fragmentation and the potential of sliding into a new bipolar division with countries like Russia and China on one side and the United States and Europe on the other.     

Q: You say the Middle East will be the region that will be the most unrecognizable in 2035. Why?

A: We envision major changes undoing the political, economic, and social fabric to such an extent that the formation of new political entities, along with the fragmentation of existing states, is inevitable. 

By 2035, fossil fuel use may be peaking. This end of growth in fossil fuel use will eliminate a key revenue source for a large number of Middle Eastern states.  Ironically, an all-out Middle East conflict might have the effect of cementing closer ties among the great powers. 

Q: You talk about four potential “new worlds” by 2035.  What are they, and which one do you think is the likeliest?

A: The worst outcome would be the emergence of a new bipolarity, pitting a grouping around China and Russia against the United States.  In this scenario, major state-on-state conflict is no longer unthinkable.  Multilateral institutions like the United Nations or the G-20 would be completely paralyzed.  Globalization would itself be threatened. 

Another bad scenario looks at the internal decay within all states. The wrecking ball is not a war with one another, but internal decay. Technological revolution is taking away jobs, and governments are not seen as dealing with the real challenges in the eyes of the citizenry.  The advanced democracies prove just as vulnerable as the emerging democracies. 

Another sees a developing Eurasia as cementing Russian and Chinese cooperation.  Beijing and Moscow use their successes there to showcase the non-Western model of state-centric capitalism. 

The final scenario describes a new global concert, which is obviously the optimistic scenario.  However, we don’t see it happening without intervening crises in Middle East or South Asia — in this case the threat of nuclear war — pulling together the great powers to start a new a global concert. Such a rosy future is attainable, but we are realists, believing crises will be needed to jolt the international community towards sustained cooperation. 

Related Experts: Mathew Burrows