Presenter: Dr. Mathew J. Burrows, Counselor, US National Intelligence Council; Principal Drafter, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds
Keynote Response: Frederick Kempe, President and CEO, Atlantic Council
Moderated by David Ignatius, Associate Editor, Washington Post
This panel focused on presenting the megatrends, game-changers, and four potential future scenarios that the NIC identified in the Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report.
Explore the other panels from the Global Trends Conference
Read the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report
Read the Atlantic Council’s Envisioning 2030: US Strategy for a Post-Western World report
Dr. Burrows initiated the panel by discussing the rise of individual empowerment, the proliferation of high technology, a rapidly aging world, and increased urbanization processes. After exploring some of the big question marks of the next two decades, Dr. Burrows discussed the relevance of the future of the United States as a determining factor in shaping the global future. As the nexus of power shifts from the West to multiple poles around the world, the United States will have to work in an environment where old alliances made in the first half of the 20th century will not be as relevant. Current US policymakers will also need to develop a deeper understanding of different sources of conflict such as resource deprivation from the growing demands of a larger middle class moving to urban centers. Regionally, though the Middle East will become more stable, instability in South Asia might be the next flashpoint for conflict, forcing new alliances to come into place to tackle a multi-faceted security threat.
Federal News Service
DAVID IGNATIUS: So my name is David Ignatius. I’m a columnist at The Washington Post. It’s my pleasure to introduce and moderate this discussion of “Global Trends 2030.” And I’m simply going to present our speakers and then let them explain the report, and in Fred’s case his careful critique of it.
We’ll start with Dr. Mathew Burrows, who is a counselor for the U.S. National Intelligence Council and was the principal drafter of this report. He has many distinctions in his biography, that I’m sure you’ve read. The one that struck me most, as a failed Cambridge research student – (laughter) – was that he has a doctorate in European history from Cambridge University.
He’ll be followed by Fred Kempe, who, as you all know, is the president and CEO of the Atlantic Council and our host here. He is one of my oldest friends in the world. Fred and I grew up as journalists together. And it’s amazing to see a journalist actually go out into the real world and make good and run something big and powerful. (Laughter.) So I love being here with Fred.
So let me just ask Mat Burrows to begin by explaining what’s in this report. He’ll take about 20 minutes to do so. And then he’ll be followed by Fred, who will offer a critique. I’ll have a couple of questions of my own and then we’ll quickly turn to you in the audience. So be thinking, please, of your questions about this material. And we’ll have, I’m sure, a lively discussion. But Mat, go ahead.
MATHEW BURROWS: OK, well, thank you, David. And I just wanted to use my time here to talk about what is new and kind of give an idea of the whole body of the work. There’s quite a bit in the report, and obviously for 20 minutes you have to be selective. But what I thought I’d focus here is what is new, what was surprising, what are the things that came out of this report that we didn’t look at when we did previous Global Trends reports?
And I wanted to begin first with reiterating the quote that we have at the very beginning of the work. And I just read it here because I think it sums up very much the spirit with which we approach this report. And this is Maynard Keynes in 1937. And he’s saying, “The idea of the future being so different from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behavior that we, most of us, offer a great resistance to acting on it in practice.”
And I think that is our – it’s an inspiration but it’s also a concern that in many ways we are in a period of – and Fred and Chris have mentioned this, and Senator Hagel previously, that we’re in this era of rapid change. And I can’t underline that too much. We began Global Trends over 15 years ago, and when we wrote those original volumes we talked about continuity and we talked about the U.S. as being “the” unipolar power forever, practically. There was no period in which we saw that changing.
And so we’ve lived in the past decade with 9/11, with the 2008 financial crisis, and in many ways, you know, those have created their own realities. And somebody, when they were evaluating, actually, the previous edition, said: Well, you have a kind of a misnomer here. You have “global trends,” which in many ways implies continuity. And actually he’s right. Over this time period we’ve come to see that actually this is much more of a period of change and very rapid change.
And I think if you do read the executive summary, you notice that we have two boxes in there. One is of tectonic changes. And I can’t underline this too much that, you know, we can actually see this happening, that you are entering a period really of unchartered territory, when we’re talking about aging. We’ve never seen a world this old. Also, we’ve never seen a world this prosperous. We’re entering a period when the middle class is going to be the majority in most of the countries.
We’ve also now – you know, our Asian friends will say we did see a world when Asia was where the world’s economic weight was located, and we’re returning to that world in many ways but it isn’t just Asia. It is really the developing world – Africa, Latin America, Middle East, others that are also coming to the fore during this period, and so to the point that the traditional West is actually in many ways – demographically, increasingly economically – in the minority. Now, that’s huge change.
Then we have a box of black swans. And if you’ll notice, most of them have very negative consequences. There are a few that we see with extremely positive ones. But the one I would just identify is the climate change one, because I think that is the one that we have less of a fix on. We’re already seeing very rapid change there. We don’t actually know what it means. And that is something that could change a huge amount of the calculations that we have here.
So let me get into the volume. The first megatrend – and megatrends are what we say are relative certainties. The first megatrend is individual empowerment. Now, that is something that we never – a concept which we did not have in our previous works. We usually began with the state. And we’re saying in this volume: Look, the biggest megatrend is the individual empowerment. It’s what underlies all the other trends. It has huge implications for the role of the individual, the role of the state. We’ll talk more about that in this conference.
But you have, you know, four different underlying trends here. One is the middle class – growth of middle class, which I just mentioned. Others are education, where you’re actually beginning to see the end of the gender gap on education in all regions in the world. Health, where we see incredible improvement so that now most of the world is focused on chronic diseases instead of – whereas Africa was still, and will be for most of this period, but will getting out of the focus on communicable diseases.
And then the fourth one is something that again we understood in a way when we wrote previous editions but we didn’t really have a sense, I don’t think, until the past couple years, is this IT revolution and what it means, and the fact that when you are in Africa you understand – you know the smartphone is everywhere. You have 70 percent now have access to it. They are using it to access the Internet. They’re using it for banking in ways that we don’t use it in the West. They are connecting globally and connecting with the marketplace. This I think is a huge psychological change.
Now, the interesting thing about the individual empowerment concept is when we took it around the world with the Atlantic Council everybody said, yes, yes, this is what’s happening, but I don’t agree – in most cases they thought this has a lot more negative implications. And it’s something to really talk about here because I think in most of the world – and you can say even in the advanced world – they saw that, A, it puts a huge amount of pressures on governance. The strain is even in Europe.
And this was at the Internet Foundation, some politicians talking about how much strain – we’re living in this 24/7 world; we can’t get anything done; we can’t think about the long term anymore. You know, this is a surprise because you thought here, of all audiences, they would be favoring this. Elsewhere, I think in the Middle East, in Asia, they’re thinking about this individual empowerment is strengthening identities, breaking down countries, leading to a lot more fragmentation.
And in the intelligence community we’re thinking about the number – the explosion in the number of individuals, small groups you’re going to have to track, because the individual empowerment is, of course, also empowering the bad guys in ways of having much greater access to more lethal, more disruptive technologies, and not necessarily being very organized. So this I think I can’t stress enough is something that is very new to the work.
Now, the second megatrend there that was really new was the aging. And so, you know, we projected the time frame out another five years. When you do that, you’re getting to a point that in many countries, in Europe and Japan, you’re aging quite quickly; you’re getting into this unchartered area of medium age being 45-plus. No one knows if you can – how you run the economy, how you fund entitlements, how you have the same quality of life as you did before.
You also have this – in the developing world. China is obviously a case I think that we’re more familiar with, the fact that you have this very rapid aging that will be going on in the mid-2020s. But you also have a lot of other developing states, and the ones that are emerging now – you know, Turkey, by the end of this period, will also be aging; South Korea, Taiwan obviously even farther along on the process.
It’s not as if you’re leaving behind the youthful bulges. I mean, we talked a lot in previous editions about youth bulges. You still have those 26, 27 countries’ high birth rates, a lot in Sub-Saharan Africa, a lot in Central Asia, Middle East to an extent. It’s the areas, you know, again where we’re very concerned – the Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Horn of Africa – these places which are still not able to accommodate their very youthful population. They can’t use it to create the demographic dividend.
The other final megatrend is looking at resources. So there we have, one thing I’d say, increasing concerns on the water/food side. A lot of it is because of the growing prosperity, so middle class – surprise, surprise – want a better diet. There are going to be more of them, but more in the world as well, so putting an increasing pressure.
But the other really positive surprise, particularly for the U.S., is the energy independence. And so you’re looking at – you know, we looked at shale gas, but I think the even more intriguing question is on shale oil. So what does it mean if the U.S. becomes a big exporter? And we talk in one scenario about that even affecting the global price, bringing it down.
But you can see a lot of impact both good and bad if you’re – as we briefed in Russia or Nigeria – you’re thinking, if the global price comes down, how can you balance your budget, how can you fund your social programs? But in other places, which are suffering from high oil prices, there’s actually hope. Now, one of those places would be Pakistan.
We have six megatrends. I won’t go through all of them because, again, I think, you know, as we say in the work, we really want to get discussion on it, but I’ll just jump to the six game changers. So just jump to the regional. And this was a section we actually put in as we were finalizing the draft. We actually went around and talked in those regions with players.
So what is new here I’d say is, one thing, increased worries, particularly on South Asia; Middle East obviously worries, but also I would say we have a hopeful scenario there, and one that I’m not sure got a lot of traction when we briefed it, but I would stand by it. It’s linked, again, with I think over a longer-term rise of middle classes, but that was one area where we got a lot of reaction and a lot of people saying more negative than positive in the year or so since the Arab Spring.
The new regional area that we did put in, worried about insecurity, Europe. Obviously, you know, when we’re sitting here in the Atlantic Council a big concern, but new worries about fragmentation, both on a political, economic level, what that means in terms of the partnership with the U.S., obviously seeing that, you know, you could have a renaissance scenario, and we’ve put one in, but one that I think is, at this point, a bridge too far.
We also looked at Asia, the competition between U.S. and China. I would say that here our worries actually would be not that you’d have a strong China, a strong Asia; it is more of a weak China, what that means, if it can’t make that transition into an advanced economy where, as we were told in China, you know, you would have to have a certain amount of political reform. If that doesn’t go well, what does that mean about its behavior with its neighbors? And we’ve seen some – we’ve gotten some taste of that in the past few years, much more of aggressive domineering. So that is an increasing worry.
Oddly enough, I’d say Latin America came out as one of the areas that we were far more hopeful than we would have been 10 years ago if we were writing about it. Obviously still problems in Central America, Caribbean; worries about the drug trafficking. But, you know, it is a success story in terms of where we were starting 20, 30 years ago. There are still pockets of concern, but in terms of development of a middle class, in terms of even beginning to grapple with its inequality issues.
Africa, again there are pockets where we saw a real bright future, obviously worries I’d say particularly on the resource side, climate change side, governance, which is very involved with all these issues, but nevertheless I think a different sort of future than we envisioned five, 10 years ago.
I want to say a few words on the technology side because we spent quite a bit of time – and with the help of some of the people you’ll be talking with, or will be talking here – Paul Saffo from Stanford and Tom Finger, who helped us arrange meetings out in Silicon Valley – it is something that we saw as a weakness in our previous editions. I think here we were looking particularly how technology connected with some of these other trends that we’re talking about.
And we were particularly wondering when we were writing this, you know, not just about the future of the technologies but how fast it could be implemented, where it could be implemented, what are the impediments? In many ways the impediments are more on the governance, more on regulation side, less on the actual science and on the technical side.
An example would be on looking at water. You know, most of the technologies exist or can easily be developed dealing with this issue, but a lot of it is key to, can you get countries to price in water; can you get countries to do the financing for some of these new technological instruments, that sort of issue, which I think is the case – you know, when you’re looking at technology it’s not so – as I said before, not so much the technology itself but what are the conditions, what are the circumstances that favor or disfavor its implementation?
One issue – I mean, we were wowed by obviously advanced manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics, just how fast this is sweeping, changing manufacturing to the point that you’re really talking about a third industrial revolution. But the downside on this is it’s not going to deal with, you know, the joblessness necessarily. You are actually going to be putting out of work semiskilled, unskilled workers. This is going to be, you know, a huge issue.
It’s an interesting contrast with the earlier, when you’re talking about growing prosperity, but you are going to have a segment that is going to see actually more hopelessness in this. And this is a very dangerous situation where, you know, expectations are being raised, but obviously in certain areas with certain – particularly those who don’t have the skills of this new world, they’re going to be hurt by it.
So the scenarios – and going back to quotes, again we have one at the beginning, a much more common one, “A Tale of Two Cities,” Charles Dickens, best of all worlds, the worst of all worlds. And in many ways that’s what we’re trying to get that notion across that starting from here you can go in vastly different directions.
Now, again, oddly enough the reaction was a lot of people pulling much more in the negative direction, particularly with U.S. audiences, with European audiences, thinking that you could have a much bleaker, at least – you know, we have a scenario that’s called “stalled engines,” which means you bring globalization to a halt but you don’t end it.
We couldn’t see our way to a duplication of the 1920s, 1930s. There just is too much – particularly on the IT side, too much interconnection, too much interdependence. You know we tried our best with the pandemic where you bring these – put these barriers up, at least temporarily, but I don’t think you actually can go the way of, fortunately, the 20th century. But there was push-back on that.
The fusion one, which is, you know, the optimistic one, that one was seen with some audiences as being overly optimistic. This is where you actually get the U.S., China and Europe together on a new, much higher cooperation level. The ironic thing there is when you have too good of a world, then you really put the strain on resources, so you have to have this technological revolution and you have to put it in place.
The other scenario is one dealing with inequality. Again, struck a big chord; lots of audience seeing equality, opportunity, all the impediments to that like corruption, as being the new ideology for the future. So it’s very conceivable seeing, you know, whole regions being fragmented because of the inequalities – so China, rural, urban, but also Europe, Northern and Southern. It was a lot of fun writing that scenario because it’s a neo-Marxist world is being reestablished.
And then finally the nonstate world, where in many ways you do have a lot of progress. You have a lot of – these are including the megacities, the nonstate actors stepping to the fore, actually getting things done, getting solutions, but you also – technology is a huge driver here. You’re also empowering these other criminal terrorist networks. And the insecurity issue is rising higher, and the fact that governments aren’t dealing with this is making this world also insecure.
So I will leave it there. As we’ve all underlined, the actual discussion, the actual process of getting people to think is what our real aim is on this. So obviously hopefully this volume is a good starting point, but it shouldn’t be the ending point, and it shouldn’t be in the sense of getting policymaker – and policymaker, I’m saying this in a broad way, those in government but also those outside – begin to take these decisions with a mind to future trends.
Thank you, David.
MR. IGNATIUS: Mat, thank you.
Having given this report a first read, that is a taste of how provocative and rich with intellectual content this study is. You sometimes hear people in the intelligence world talk about secrets that intelligence agencies try to steal, and then mysteries that they ponder that are more exotic, and this report is – I think you’d have to invent a third category for it. I was trying to think of what a good word would be and I can’t come up with anything better than “ruminations.” You know, in thinking about the future, Matt has really helped us to think about the present and the way in which current trends might play out.
One of the most interesting things about this process has been the way in which the National Intelligence Council has sought to ventilate these ideas to seek comment and criticism, and also I think just get other people thinking about the same questions that we’re puzzling over.
Matt mentioned a number of the places that he’d taken this on the road. One of the most interesting and creative aspects of that process is the way in which the National Intelligence Council has partnered with the Atlantic Council, with Fred Kempe and his group, in hosting a series of discussions. It’s a wonderful new role for the Atlantic Council, outside observers would agree, and Fred has taken this very seriously, to the point of preparing his own formal response and critique.
And, Fred, I hope that in addition to responding to what Matt said in laying out the report, you’ll also give us the flavor of the Atlantic Council’s own deliberations as it thought through these ideas.
FREDERICK KEMPE: Thank you, David.
I’ve often told Matt – and we’ve been at this now five of six years and this is the first year where we have stood up our own initiative alongside this where we wanted to produce work as well. And I’ve often told Matt that this is the U.S. government in its best mode, which is in listening mode. And a lot of our international friends don’t get us in that mode all the time. And so it’s been terrific to be with the NIC on the road and to hear the great experts of the world responding to the ideas that they’re hearing, and in many respects shaping the final outcome.
I’m not going to try to critique this rich report. I’m going to do something a little bit different, and to a certain degree that’s what we’ve done in our report, and that’s read between the lines of it.
The National Intelligence Council does not have a policy-making mandate. It does not make recommendations and policy to the Obama administration. So what we’ve tried to do, and what I’ll try to do right here, is extract those recommendations. And we may be wrong, we may be right, but it could at least generate a little bit of a conversation: What are they really trying to tell the Obama administration with this report? So let me be a little bit provocative in that respect.
But before I get into it, let me also just thank four people. As Senator Hagel mentioned before he so kindly plugged my book – and for that I’ll be eternally grateful to the chairman of the Atlantic Council. (Laughter.) What he mentioned was there are dozens of people involved in anything like this, so I’m just going to thank four people:
And Barry Pavel, who runs the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security and oversees this.
Banning Garrett, who has been the director of the Strategic Foresight Initiative, and really started this with Tom Finger when Tom was heading up the NIC and has been on all of these trips all over the world, animating the conversation, et cetera.
And Carles Catchot was working with Nick Burns at the Aspen Institute. And you can imagine how difficult it is to manage all these people going around the world and turning out all these great thoughts, and Nick told me he could handle it at Aspen and we brought him on and he’s just done – he’s just done a really rich job.
And then Bob Manning, who is the principal author of the report that you’ll see, and I’ll speak to in a second.
So in our view, my view, the underlying message from the U.S. intelligence community for President Obama, courtesy of this quadrennial report, is clear enough and twofold, and I’m not going to deal with all the aspects of the report. I’m going to zero in on these sort of two aspects.
Number one, we are at a critical juncture in human history. This is what Chris Kojm says in his letter; that’s what almost every page of the report says. And the NIC has powerfully compared where we are to 1815, 1918, 1945, 1989.
To me what that says – and Chris said this when outcomes were uncertain – but what drove the outcomes? Well, it was political leadership, and political leadership did much to dictate positive and negative results. There are other factors as well, but at these sorts of historic inflection points, political leadership, strategic thinking is absolutely crucial.
Number two, the United States, rare perhaps among great powers, has a second chance. A second chance at what? A second chance at molding the international system during a new historic period where it can secure its long-term interests.
So we provocatively, the Atlantic Council, have made our report envisioning 2030 U.S. leadership for a post-Western world, but we don’t necessarily think the U.S. and the trans-Atlantic relationship in Europe can’t be leaders as well in this post-Western world. But for the Atlantic Council to call something a post-Western world is something of a departure, and we did a lot of thought before we put that on the cover.
Another key reading between the lines is the margin of error, Mr. President, is much smaller than it was after World War II and during the Cold War for the United States and its leadership. A number of factors for that: the shift of economic and political influence, the certainty of relative economic decline of the United States and Europe, the structural weakness of Europe, where I think we’ll do a lot more work.
I think we are underestimating the threat to our interests from the eurozone crisis and from what you refer to as a possibility going to the future, which is even if the European Union stays together, it could be an empty shell in which you have a fragmented community that’s really not expressing itself as a strategic ally of the United States.
The fusion of power, unprecedented rapidity of change. So it’s going to be harder to lead, but the U.S. ability to lead remains significant due to its unique hard-power/soft-power assets – economic, social, military – and the fact that no single country or group of countries is determined or willing to supplant it.
So there’s a lot of importance in the report. I do think it’s the most sophisticated – I’m an avid reader – I’ve been an avid reader of all five since 1996, but I think it’s the most sophisticated and fascinating and multifaceted of the reports. I think David is absolutely right, and I think we do have to search for a word for it.
But for me, nothing is as compelling as the section on the United States. Nothing. And that’s partly because how the U.S. turns out between now and 2030 will affect all your other game changers. It will affect the global economy. It will affect regional instability. It will affect – and there isn’t any one of the other game changers that will affect all of them, I don’t think.
The other thing is the fact that the intelligence community has looked at this at all because of the reluctance, the understandable reluctance, of the intelligence community to turn its sights on America itself. But all the work on the previous reports I understand why went in this direction, is you couldn’t not do it. And in most of our meetings for the 2008 people kept asking us, well, what about the U.S., what about the U.S.? So the fact that you’ve picked the U.S. as one of the six most critical game changers – and I would use the word “wild cards” – at a critical juncture in human history, to me that’s the takeaway.
Very quickly, the future. Many of the trends, as you’ve said, are favorable to U.S. leadership. What you talked about a lot, Matt, individual empowerment, I do find that fascinating both in its negative and its positive issues as the megatrend you’ve put first, accompanied by the doubling of the size of the global middle class. And you, the NIC, called this a “tectonic shift” as in 2030, for the first time, the majority of the world’s population will not be impoverished. So absolutely crucial, and we’ll talk about that more here.
Now, that’s not a guarantee as a move toward Western values – democracy, free markets, good governance – but it is a predictor of greater demands that could lead in that direction – individual rights; good, accountable, responsive, transparent governance. So I think I’m more on the optimistic side about individual empowerment and the growth of the middle class.
Technological revolution. The one thing one should note in the report – I think this is also a really interesting thing – on the one hand it would really serve to the benefit of the United States. On the other hand, the technological center of gravity – innovation, investment, et cetera, et cetera – is moving away from the United States even as we speak, and you say this in the report, shifting from West to East and South, but the U.S. still has outsized benefits given the nature of our system, dynamism, freedom for immigration – you know, the role we’ve played so far.
You talked already about shale gas, tight oil, and the manufacturing revolution. I’ll just say that would – this could help unleash the American economy. The National Intelligence Council has to be very careful about writing about things like political paralysis and polarization. You used the word “domestic politics.” But domestic politics plays a key role at these sorts of historic inflection points, and obviously this is not work for you to do, but I do think it’s work for our legislators to do on what kind of role they can play or not play at this historic inflection point.
Now to our report. As I said, Bob Manning is the principal author, had input from many quarters. Our report suggests six elements of strategy that you could draw out of our accompanying report for the Obama administration.
First, the administration should frame its second-term agenda in the context of the magnitude of the historic moment and that decisions now can have generational outcomes.
Second, the Obama administration is right to focus on nation building at home as a historic imperative. U.S. economic and innovative strength is the foundation for any global leadership role. You can forget everything else if we don’t have that.
Third, a revitalized U.S. economy is necessary but not sufficient to secure the global future. If the U.S. remains status quo-oriented or doesn’t engage in the world in significantly different ways, it’s likely to lose its global leadership position. The U.S. will either dynamically shape global trends through 2030 or will be unfavorably shaped by them.
Fourth, the U.S. must come to terms with another one of the NIC’s megatrends, the diffusion of power, by pursuing more collaborative forms of leadership, both in formal and informal networks. We have – and Mat and I have talked a lot about this – the U.S. has unique capabilities as a convening power and it has to use those. At the same time, however, it has to deepen current alliances.
And this gets to what Senator Hagel was talking about, because the trans-Atlantic bonds remain, as the Obama administration has said itself, the cornerstone of our engagement with the world, and this cornerstone is in a certain amount of danger right now. So we have to take care of this if we want to shape the global future positively.
Number five, U.S. strategy 2030 must deepen cooperation with China. I won’t go into any depth in this, but it is the crucial single new factor that’s going to shape the international system in 2030. It’s hard to think of an issue where this bilateral relationship – and I would say trilateral if we can make it thus with Europe – isn’t crucial: global financial systems, cybersecurity, nuclear future, outer space, resource scarcities, anything you look at.
And then finally, U.S. leaders must creatively address the focus of instability in the 21st century: the Greater Middle East from North Africa to Pakistan, threats to the international order, nuclear-armed regional powers. Failed nuclear states and terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction could lead to vast and violent instability across a broad swath of the planet. So that’s us reading between the lines and adding our own analysis to this.
In conclusion, I don’t think we should rule out that we’re at another – they’re at the creation moment. The U.S. was decisive in shaping the current international order in 1945. It’s not unimportant that we, the Atlantic Council, were cofounded by Dean Acheson and were very active in the years after that.
If we should be at another inflection point – 1815, 1918, 1945, 1989 – what are the lessons from then to today? And I think that could be a rich part of the underlying discussion for most of the panels in the next day and a half.
Let me just close, David, by tipping my hat to Chris Kojm and Matt. This has been such an intellectually stimulating project. And I think Chris said very clearly in the report, and Matt said this as well, that you’re not trying to predict the future. And the report shouldn’t be seen in that light, but as Chris said at the front of the report, what you’re trying to do is stimulate decision makers in and out of government to think and plan for the long term.
Leon Fuerth, Banning Garrett on our team really want us to work to maybe even find a way of institutionalizing that kind of strategic thinking within government. I know Steve Hadley worked hard at this as well when he was running the National Security Council. And I think only by doing that can we ensure that negative futures do not occur and positives ones have at least a better chance.
MR. IGNATIUS: So I want to ask two questions of my own and then turn to the audience for your questions. And these are each questions that I hope Matt and Fred will both briefly take a shot at.
When I think about predictions about the future, I sometimes remember Herman Kahn, the great so-called “wizard of Armageddon” – strategist, futurologist with the RAND Corporation – who was supposed to have remarked at one point that he could see the ways in which a bipolar world was stable; he could see the ways in which a unipolar world would be stable; he could see the ways in which a genuinely multipolar world of the sort that you’re hypothesizing would be stable. What he thought would be unstable would be the transition, and in particular the transition that we’re now experiencing from what was briefly a unipolar world to what we posit will be a multipolar world.
So I want to ask you if you’d focus a little bit more – in particular you, Matt, because Fred began to address this – on the security implications of the exercise that you’ve been through. I mean, you’re describing a stressed transition with all these different vectors intersecting the process, and I’d like to ask you just bluntly, to seek greater stability and security in this transition, what should the U.S. do more of and what should the U.S. do less of?
MR. BURROWS: I think the U.S. has to do, one thing, a lot more thinking about the future and incorporating that – again, what Fred was talking about – in the decision-making process, because you can’t – if you go from crisis to crisis, you increase your risk of going off the rails. Because I think Herman Kahn is right; I mean, you’re in this transition and it’s a much greater transition than I think even he imagined, and for all the reasons, you know, I’ve laid out – the tech changes and the huge social changes and all this happening at once.
So if you don’t have some constant idea of where you want to get to and what are the problems, where you could go off the rails and kind of the scenario-driven and constantly thinking about needs to be done, I think then you have a greater chance of really going off the rails. So that’s the first thing.
The other is the engagement. And I think, you know, this is a developing strategic partnerships, but strategic partnerships for thinking about global problems. Because, you know, what Fred mentioned, and we have in the draft, is that I don’t think there’s a threat of some other power, namely China, taking over the U.S. I mean, I think that’s – in this period I think that’s kind of preposterous. But what you do have a threat is of an overstretched U.S. and one in which it can’t handle all these issues. So in some way you have to be thinking about how you can enlist others to help with this transition.
MR. IGNATIUS: Fred, do you want to amplify your earlier comments? I hope you will.
MR. KEMPE: Let me just give two examples, because, you know, leadership is real and there in the White House they have to make decisions every day.
You know, one of the most intriguing seminars we ever had at the Atlantic Council was with young leaders, where they were all drilling down on Henry Kissinger on Vietnam. And he went around the room and asked each of them, how would you have handled it? And it was just a wake-up call for them because he’s saying, look, your professors, the media, they can do whatever they want, but if you’re sitting in the White House you actually have to deal with issues. So if you take a larger strategic view – let me just take two issues and how you’d look at it differently.
Afghanistan. You know, Afghanistan isn’t a withdrawal-in-2014 issue or a domestic-political-vote issue. It’s a huge global strategic issue. It sits between Pakistan and Iran. You have two nuclear states, Pakistan and India, faced off against each other. In some ways it’s a danger area like Europe was during World War II, but you haven’t had the world war there.
So it seems to me that one could use this Afghan moment to enlarge the issue and think in strategic terms and realize the huge benefits one could get out of getting all the parties together and coming up with something really interesting. I don’t know what that is because I’m not that kind of thinker, but if I were sitting in the White House I’d say, let me look at this not just as getting my troops out.
Eurozone crisis. If you do believe this is a strategic imperative that Europe – you know, even in the report you’re saying the best outcome of the global economic section is another decade of problems. I mean, that’s pretty troubling.
But if you’re looking at the eurozone crisis in that sense, then you look – and you look at the trans-Atlantic alliance as something you just can’t afford to lose at this inflection point of history, then you approach NATO in a much different way and you approach a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement, which you’ve written about in your column, David, really well, in a much different way. You start seeing it as a strategic imperative and not as a trade agreement.
So those are the two points that I would make.
MR. IGNATIUS: The second question that I want to ask may sound perverse, but it’s the opposite of the critique that you seem to have gotten as you took us around the world. My question is whether you’re being too pessimistic about the U.S. And let me frame it again in terms of another savant, namely Warren Buffet. I have two favorite quotes from Warren Buffet.
One is he’s supposed to have answered a question about what his business strategy was by answering, “My strategy is to answer the phone.” And I love that because it says you really can’t predict what’s going to come along. And when you try to do strategic predictions and have your – you know, your strategy vice president brief you, the predictions are often likely to be wrong, but you can respond in a very dynamic, aggressive way to opportunities that present themselves.
And the second thing that he often says is that if you had bet against the United States at any time in our history – and that includes some pretty bleak moments – you would have been wrong. It would have been a bad bet.
When I think about this report – and you may remember that I made this same point when we gathered at Fred’s offices many months ago for a preliminary cut and I was asked to be one of the discussants – I wonder if you’re not giving adequate weight to what I would say is the demonstrated fact about the United States, which is that relative to other countries, it’s more adaptable. You can never be sure what it is that we’ll have to adapt to, but the U.S. has proven itself to be adaptive, for all sorts of interesting reasons.
So I want to put that to both of you briefly. Are you being too pessimistic? And are you overlooking in this dynamic process the factor that adaptability might play in ending up giving the United States a better and more satisfactory course than you might otherwise think?
MR. BURROWS: Well, I guess I approach it as, you know, I hope that’s true. And, you know, you may feel it in your gut as an American that that’s the way things are going to work out. And I would agree – underline that I think socially and as a society we’re still very, you know, vibrant and dynamic. I think particularly the degree to which we remain the magnet for the world’s talent is probably the number-one priority if you had to put anything out there, you know, solely as what you should do.
But, you know, I think you also have to think of – look at this in the historic context, you know, is, you know, other powers have risen and fallen. You know, other powers looked, you know, when they were near or around their apogee like they were invincible too. You know, there has been tragedy in American history – the Civil War – in the last century.
You know, I don’t think – I guess I don’t believe enough in exceptionalism to think that, you know, all these factors won’t affect the U.S. in some way. And the best protection against that is, I think, thinking about what could happen and taking some steps before the telephone rings.
MR. IGNATIUS: Fred.
MR. KEMPE: This isn’t quite the telephone ringing, but I asked General Jones what it was like being the national security adviser while he was national security adviser. And he said, have you ever been to a circus where you’ve seen the plate-spinner? And there are just – you’ve just got to keep all those plates from falling, but then you have to recognize which are the most important. And that’s what I was doing with South Asia and the eurozone crisis is, you know, you’re going to get a lot of phone calls, but some of the phone calls are going to be Mr. Buffet for, you know, a huge multibillion-dollar deal and some of them are going to be, you know, can you come speak at the Atlantic – no, never mind. (Laughter.) Although that’s just as important.
Here’s what I would say very briefly on – I’m hugely, hugely optimistic about the U.S. future because of just what you said, but it’s partly because we over-exaggerate the dangers and then we adjust with our dynamism. The Sputnik moment was an over-exaggeration of the Soviet danger. I think we may be underestimating the dangers right now. And that bothers me because we’re less likely to adjust if we don’t actually recognize the dangers we face.
I mean, if you just look at some of the statistics in the report – you know, the fact that our health care spending is 50 percent higher per capita than the rest – any other OECD country; the fact that, you know, we’ve lost our educational advantage relative to the rest of the world as being cut in half in 30 years – the fact that we’re 31st of 65 countries in mathematics and 22nd in science, huge drops.
I mean, you’ve got to look at these things and say, yeah, I guess we’re adaptable and I hope we’ll be dynamic, but, you know, as I said in my earlier comments, our margin for error is just a lot smaller.
MR. IGNATIUS: So let me turn to the audience. I would ask you please to identify yourselves and keep your questions, comments brief.
Let me start here. Yes, ma’am? Yeah, Barbara.
Q: Thanks very much. Barbara Slavin from the Atlantic Council.
I guess the question is to you, Dr. Burrows, and that’s about even though you’re not predicting the future, you’re talking about trends that suggest that the world is going to be much less rich in water than oil come 2030, and I wondered if you could talk a little bit more about the ramifications of that in terms of instability in the region that produces most of the oil, or at least does now.
Are you going to see massive increases in the number of climate refugees leaving the areas where there is little water, where agriculture has problems? Is technology going to the fix? We’ll be able to desalinate enough water for all these places? How are we going to deal with this kind of world? Thanks.
MR. BURROWS: Yeah, I mean, this is a very important issue, and I think it’s one that, you know, we’re just understanding now the full dimensions of it. So, you know, I would say yes to all of what you said is possible implications, you know, in terms of climate change refugees, in terms of water being a much bigger issue. Even in societies where they can handle it, which is probably China and India, I mean, these are bigger issues.
On the technology side I would say that, yes, you know, it’s important to have those technological improvements and advances. We actually have a lot of technology, like the drip irrigation and so on that, you know, already existing. As I said earlier, it involves a lot of upfront costs that so far, you know, a lot of countries are not prepared to do or can’t do. And there is a huge amount of waste of water, and that is really something that we can tackle.
The unknown is more on the climate change, which – and the scary part of that is that you could see rapid changes in the supply of water in various regions. And when you’re talking about – and we have a graphic in the work – I mean, when you’re talking about this water issue, I mean, it is a huge swath, you know, which really covers, you know, most of going from Southern Europe, Africa, through Middle East into Asia. Now, there is a bit of the U.S. too, Southwest U.S., which is expected to have drought.
But this is an issue too of, you know, where there’s a lot of shared rivers. And again, I see Ambassador Yates shaking her head. We did some work actually when she was strategic advisor in the White House on this issue in where you have to update an enormous number of agreements. And the importance of doing this before the crisis happens – because it’s very hard to hammer out those agreements during a crisis.
And so this gets me back a little to the climate change. If you have very rapid changes, this is where you really want to have those agreements in place, you really want to have those understandings in place. And, you know, so many of the major rivers you don’t really have up-to-date sharing agreements, understandings.
MR. IGNATIUS: Fred, do you want to add to that?
MR. KEMPE: No, thank you.
MR. IGNATIUS: So let me turn to Harlan Ullman and then the two gentlemen here on the – Gary Mitchell and the gentleman behind him.
Harlan? If there’s a mic-runner? Yes.
Q: Am going to yell?
MR. IGNATIUS: Here in the second row.
Q: Thank you. I’m Harlan Ullman with the Atlantic Council. I’ve got a question for Matt and a question then for Fred and David, if I may.
The dates you picked, your inflection dates, beginning with 1815, are interesting. I wondered why you chose those dates as opposed to 1789, 1914, 1929, 1939 and 2001. That would show a –
MR. KEMPE: Or 1961 for heaven’s sakes. (Laughter.)
Q: You’ve got too much for that, Fred.
Why did you pick those particular dates, because they suggest – your dates suggest an end point rather than a start point? And I would argue this could easily be July 1914 in slow motion looking at events.
For David and Fred, it seems to me that what is inevitable in the United States has got to be a decline in expectations and standards of living, possibly for a decade and maybe much shorter. I wondered, as journalists, how you would interpret that and what the impacts may be.
MR. BURROWS: So on the dates, you know, we were trying to get the idea of inflection points, but you could equally go the other way and talk about the start dates, as you put it. And in fact, you know, we do have, you know, the “Tale of Two Cities” set during the French Revolution, and give the sense that you are going into whole new eras.
MR. IGNATIUS: Fred?
MR. KEMPE: You go first. (Laughter.)
MR. IGNATIUS: Well, I guess, Harlan, I don’t – in line with my earlier perverse comments about the optimistic possibility, I don’t think a decline in U.S. standards of living is inevitable or even likely. Decline in U.S. standards of living relative to the wide gap that’s existed between our standard of living and that of the Chinese, let’s say, I think is almost a certainty. So, you know, the relative gap narrows.
I mean, when I look at the evidence that suggests the U.S. competitive position may in fact be entering a period of becoming somewhat stronger, both because of significant new energy resources and because, for all sorts of reasons, it’s going to make more sense to manufacture things here than some other place that people might have chosen 10 or 20 years ago, at the very least I want to be skeptical about the argument that we’re going to go off a cliff and standards of living are going to go down.
MR. KEMPE: The only thing I’d add to that is there is no doubt that there’s stress on the American middle class and, you know, two-job families and people taking on two or three jobs at the same time. You know, anyone knows that looking at statistics and talking to one’s friends and family members. But, you know, we wanted this world where more people would have a share of the wealth, and so we should pat ourselves on the back and look at it.
I think the most important thing in the report about this, that I find quite interesting, is it underscores what David’s said, which is the U.S. could have a real economic renaissance rebound et cetera, et cetera, but it might be without jobs and it might be with a whole class of America not having the skills to take advantage of it, and then what do we do? So I think I am concerned about that.
MR. IGNATIUS: So Gary and then – yes, the gentleman behind him.
Q: Thanks very much. I’m Garrett Mitchell and I write the Mitchell Report. And I want to come back to David’s question and turn it around, and that is to – as I listen to this conversation I’m reminded of a quote that AJP Taylor offered in studying the revolutions of 1848 that goes something like, this was a moment at which history was supposed to turn and it didn’t.
And I’m wondering if, A, in the process that you describe – that was described earlier about the tremendous traveling around the world and getting input, whether you feel there was an opportunity to think in depth about the enormous challenges that the two largest players in world politics, U.S. and China, face today with respect to governance.
I don’t think we – I think we’ll use the shorthand of fiscal cliff. I think we shouldn’t because it’s a lot – it’s a lot broader and deeper than fiscal cliff but that’s a good metaphor. But if there’s anything that is of concern over time about the U.S., it seems to me, it’s the serious questions that are being raised about whether we are able to govern ourselves in a way that we have been able to.
By the same token, Chinese have just completed their 18th party congress. They’ve elected new leadership and the challenges that they face are probably – make ours look small. Just on the issue of developing their new economic model, which they’ve got to do, as Ken Lieberthal the China expert says, that is, among other things 60,000 Chinese bureaucrats who have profited greatly from the system that got them where they are today are going to have to be persuaded to buy into a new model.
So you have these steep governance challenges in these two major countries and I’m wondering, A, whether you had an opportunity to think about that in this process, and B, if in the process of doing that you considered that, not unlike AJP Taylor’s comment, that neither the U.S. or China are going to be able to successfully grab the governance challenges and move ahead.
MR. BURROWS: Well, I think, you know, if you’re – for the Chinese government, I mean, what we’re saying here about individual empowerment is really bad news. I mean, I think, you know, all governments face, you know, greater pressures and strains but here, you know, the individual empowerment, growth of middle class, that correlation that we talk about with interest in more participation in government, with rule of law, these things that eventually come about.
I think, you know, this is a very – really bad-news report and you know, if you want to put it more in historic, you know, parallels, you know, the July 14th, 1789, I think is more apt there. I’m not saying it’s going to be immediate revolution, but I mean, this is, as you were talking to, kind of fundamental challenge.
Now, I don’t think, you know, the challenge is the same on the U.S. I do think that – and we talk a little bit about the fact you don’t have a domestic consensus. You can’t make, you know, the big decisions. And given, too, Fred brought up about health care costs, about the education, some of these big-ticket issues, if you don’t have the consensus, it’s going to be very hard to make those decisions. And that’s the sort of challenge that we face.
I think, oddly enough, there’s, you know, a different imbalance. I think the Chinese, you know, realize this is their chance. There’s enormous amount of, you know, pressure within the society that they need to prove that what happened a couple of centuries back was a complete injustice on where they should stand in the international system. I am not sure that – and, you know, this is one of our reasons – that the American public quite understands what the stakes are and, you know, what are the challenges. And that’s, I think, a little bit – I guess if I had a personal worry, I mean, that’s what I would worry about on the U.S. side.
MR. IGNATIUS: So I want to recognize the gentleman who has a microphone in his hand. And I want to ask – Fred, I didn’t clear this with you beforehand, but because this is a long, thin room, I don’t want to penalize people who have seats in the back who I’m never going to see to call on.
So I’m wondering if it might be easier, Fred, to ask people if they have a question, especially in the back two-thirds of the room, just if they’d form a line behind one of the microphone runners. Does that make sense as a way to do this? I don’t want to miss people who have good questions. So yes, sir, and then if people would just – yes.
Q: My name is Alvorfaz Gonzales (ph). I have read the European Union Report on Global Trends 2030. We have collaborated very closely with Mat Burrows and Atlantic Council. And a very interesting thing as we read the European report and we read the American report now is that we have arrived more at less to the same conclusions, and that could mean something interesting for the European Union and the United States as we face the need to engage with other partners in a more complex and polycentric world.
However, there is a basic problem that I think we can take from both reports. We have both identified as a megatrend, main megatrend, the empowerment of the individuals and the rise of middle class. But when we went around the world writing our report and discussing, the perception of this rise of middle class was quite different in Europe and the United States and elsewhere.
Elsewhere there was a lot of optimism about the rising of middle class. In Europe and the United States there was also concern about the rise of other middle classes. Here in America we have Atlantic Council debate we have organized, that the end of American economic predominance was a threat to the American middle class. And someone said, now we are moving toward a clash of middle class. Note that our middle class in Europe and the United States are not prepared to accept the rise of a global middle class.
So my question is, what are the implications of this clash of middle class for our common ability, Europeans, Americans, to lead a more inclusive multilateral system?
MR. IGNATIUS: It’s very interesting. Mat?
MR. BURROWS: Well, first, I mean, if you haven’t read the European report, I would read it. I mean, I think there was, you know – this is what Chris was talking about, the fact that, you know, you now have these other reports – the Russians have done a wonderful, actually, report, and Chinese and so on. So it makes this job actually incredibly interesting.
I think where I would come down on that is that this is the importance of, you know, economic growth, continuing economic growth in U.S. and Europe and making sure that you deal also with the inequality issue. And you know, I think – I guess I have some concerns as Fred was talking about, about the U.S. and particularly as you get into these advanced manufacturing, that’s not going to help with a whole bunch of workers who feel left behind already, are not going to have the skills necessarily.
I think in Europe you actually have an even greater challenge, and that is from aging of society, this crisis in which some of the structural problems beginning to be tackled, but one in which I think the crisis also makes it difficult to get to some of the underlying ones.
I think, you know, what we want to be aiming for, and we do have this in one of the scenarios, is where you actually – even though the relative gap between the developed and developing world is narrowing, you still have the middle classes in the U.S. and Europe, their standard of living rising. So you actually – if you look on the very, the best scenario in the fusion, and we have McKinsey doing some of the economic modeling, you have this paradox of U.S. per capita income is rising very quickly, and – but our share of world GDP is also falling because in that sort of world you actually have also other boats rising.
And you know, but it’s a huge issue and something that’s on the pessimism, I think that is where the pessimism is rooted, which is what you were saying.
MR. IGNATIUS: Fred, do you want to speak to –
MR. KEMPE: I don’t say – one thing – not to this but just to the EU-ISS cooperation with the Atlantic Council, and obviously with the NIC. This is great because what you’re doing is you’re doing a net strategic assessment with a key ally. And we’ve also – we’re working on that sort of project right now with some Chinese partners.
And if you – as I said in my opening comments, if you think strategically with each other, you hit a crisis, you’re just going to be able to deal with it better. So I hope we’ll go to other issues with this as well with the EU and maybe North Africa and Middle East next – you know, how do we work together, how do we work together long-term. You know, this is also crucial to us.
MR. IGNATIUS: So there was a gentleman – yes, sir.
Q: Thank you for using my name in the midst of this discussion. I really appreciate it, and I’ll respond by not turning it into a speech, I promise you. The point I’d like to make is that I don’t think we are doing as well as we need to as a government in converting foresight into strategic behavior or policy, whichever way you want to call it. I’ve been in so many meetings with so many of you where the central issue has been how to arrange government so that it does a better job of soliciting foresight and of turning it to useful account.
My own view, which I’ve now completed my research on, is that this is partly a political issue, and it’s hard to touch that, but it’s also now deeply a systems issue and we can do better in terms of essentially encouraging fact-making, fact-based decision and fact-based design of policy and execution of policy by improving the systems that we have for drawing forth foresight, correlating it to policy, networking it across the government, and systematically assessing how it is doing once policies have been launched.
MR. IGNATIUS: Matt, do you want to respond to that?
MR. BURROWS: No. I have, you know, been in some of Leon’s seminars as well. I mean, I think that is the big issue. As I say, I think that’s very important to us maintaining our position in the world, is understanding and trying to get ahead of the curve.
MR. IGNATIUS: I’d like to pose a question myself that takes off from that and then I’ll come back to the gentleman in the third row who had his hand up. If I was an American taxpayer responding to this, not as a journalist at an event convened by the Atlantic Council but, you know, in an authentic citizen way, I’d say, holy smokes. The CIA’s National Intelligence Council just issued a report saying that in a little more than 15 years, you know, three of their scenarios are for a stall-out of globalization and the genie out of the bottle and every kind of crazy thing happening or non-state actors taking over, and what I want is protection.
You know, you’re telling me that the world, you know, is heading for trouble probably, and so do something about it. And it’s sort of like, you know, the ordinary citizen who says, I don’t like the way the future looks. I’m going to go buy a gun, and I’m going to stock up, you know, as much supplies – I mean, that’s an authentic and entirely rational response to what you’ve produced. And if that began to cascade in the United States and around the world, the effects could be quite unpleasant, to put it mildly.
So what about that? Suppose people really take this seriously and then begin to act on it and demand that the government act?
MR. BURROWS: Well, I – you know, I don’t think they’re reading the work – (laughter) – if they take that, going out and buying a gun, if that is – I mean, I think there is, you know, a bigger point here is that in some ways we did that with Iraq, right?
MR. IGNATIUS: In some ways. I don’t think you want to compare this fine analytical work to the —
MR. BURROWS: No, but in the sense of shooting from the hip. (Laughter.)
MR. IGNATIUS: Yeah?
MR. BURROWS: And it has certain consequences. I mean, you can make situations worse.
MR. IGNATIUS: Yes.
MR. BURROWS: And so the value of foresight is the thinking out all the possible ramifications of what could happen, and obviously then thinking about what are the policy options to avoid those, and not making the mistake of digging a deeper hole for yourself.
MR. IGNATIUS: Fred, do you want to respond to my –
MR. KEMPE: The only thing I would say is that what I draw from it is not to get a gun but write your legislator and say, look, if human agency is going to shape a good or a bad outcome, and if political consensus and actually working toward handling these issues is going to give us a better outcome then let’s work toward fusion.
And the other thing is, you know, instead of making China or anyone else a bogeyman, in the fusion scenario so much of this is, can China – can the rising power and the incumbent power work it out? I mean, history hasn’t had some good examples of that. You talked about the problems in the transition – (inaudible). That to me is a crucial moment, is this transition moment, can we communicate well enough with each other because, you know, some of the – some of the more problematic moments arise out of a rise in nationalism in China if things go sour.
So I actually would look at this and not buy a gun but I might write my legislator.
MR. IGNATIUS: Well, you know, that sensible response, I fear, would not be universally mirrored. So let me turn first to – then the gentleman here who had his hand up, and there was a woman who just raised her hand further back, I believe. Yes. I don’t know whether you’re – forgive my gender. Too much distance, but the person back there. So yes, is that Bob? You had your hand up.
Q: Robert Hunter. First let me just comment on what Leon said before—first just comment on what Leon said. Another consequence of what happened in 2000 with the election is we didn’t get him and his good sense to be national security adviser and we’re paying the price ever since for that.
Look, when Dickens talked about the best of times, the worst of times, he was kind of posing an existential question and letting people muse about it, quite different from where Edmund Burke was in terms of saying the French Revolution being all bad, which helped to work the Brits not to go in that direction.
But in terms of judging the best of worlds, the worst of worlds, you’ve got to have some criteria of what does it mean to you, particularly as an official of the United States government, where protection of the American people and figuring out how we’re going to prosper in this world are the particular things you’re charged with.
In other words, there is a perspective implied in what you’re doing. It’s not what’s the best thing for humankind, but what’s the best thing for us. And hence, what are your priorities? Do we really have to have – to go to Fred’s and the Atlantic Council thing – do we have to have U.S. leadership? Do we have to look at all of the things you are, or is there a particular perspective coming out of this of how do we as Americans maximize what’s good for the average American? And maybe some of this stuff we don’t even have to worry about.
MR. BURROWS: Well, I think, you know, it is very difficult and we don’t say exactly what would be the best or the worst. I mean, we’re using that to show that there is a huge, you know, spread there between, you know, one scenario and the other. That’s, you know, what we’re talking about when we’re talking about alternative worlds. But I think, you know, first, you know, we are living in a very interdependent world, so in many ways what is good for the U.S. has to do with how other people are doing.
So it’s not a matter just of maintaining your leadership but it actually is beneficial if others in the world are doing well. And we know – I mean, one of the lessons from 9/11 is the fact that things happening in another part of the world, small group, they can’t be segregated out, you can’t protect yourself completely. So what does happen elsewhere you have to be thinking about.
And, you know, if there is a perspective it is that you are trying to get into the point that all boats do rise, because in the end I think that does benefit the U.S. the most.
MR. IGNATIUS: Fred, do you want to speak to that?
MR. KEMPE: (No audible response.)
MR. IGNATIUS: So the gentleman here who had his hand up, yes. Right there.
Q: My name is – (inaudible) – Press. I have been for many, many meetings and also meeting people, average people in the streets as well all over places, from Russia to China to United States. What puzzles me, that a politician looks like a rocket scientist and they don’t understand one thing, that people need to trust them. And average citizen in the United States has a hard time to trust the politicians. They say something, they do something else.
And the other side is, what the media role is playing in that situation, because they complain also they don’t trust the media at all. And you know as a journalist and you can question yourself: how come the media cannot trust us?
MR. IGNATIUS: Let me underline that and slightly add on something. In this world of citizen empowerment and ever greater dissemination of information, I’m curious, Mat and Fred, whether you see that as a stabilizing force in the sense that, you know, more people have more information and therefore can make more rational choices, which is – this is the premise of certainly of my business, that we give information to people so that they can make good choices.
Or do you see that as a destabilizing factor, that certainly there’s a lot in the way in which the Internet is working that – I’ve sometimes said it’s, you know, an opinion accelerator. If you’re angry when you start the day, you go online and you’re really angry at the end of the day.
So what about that? How does that factor work?
MR. BURROWS: Well, I don’t think the two things you were talking about of, you know, gaining better knowledge and actually instability are mutually exclusive. I mean, I think, you know, this is part of this raising expectations. I think people understanding what is the norm elsewhere, what could be the case, how people are treated in other countries – I mean, is at that moment, and maybe for the short to medium term, very destabilizing. But you can also see it as a way of working towards a better future.
And I do think, again, it goes back to your Herman Kahn notion that this is a transition and you are opening up a can of worms in a way. But I guess I’m, you know, enough of an optimist to believe that better knowledge, more knowledge will help you get to a better future.
MR. IGNATIUS: Fred, do you have a view about that?
MR. KEMPE: Well, I have a short view and I wouldn’t mind, as we both are really media people, whether you can share as well what advice you now give to people who want to go into journalism on this basis, looking at the world we’re going, because it’s a very interesting question.
But here is my short answer, which is, it makes it a lot easier to shout fire in crowded theaters, but the crowded theater can be the world. It can be the Islamic world. And that’s frightening and it’s irresponsible and it’s much easier to be responsible. We’ve always had nutcases in the world but individual empowerment gives the nutcase more of a megaphone and ultimately perhaps even greater access to weapons of mass destruction. So you know, that’s scary.
The other thing is, you know, you can get educated in backwaters of the world better than you ever could. You have better access to information, better access to health care, better all of that. So it’s a really mixed bag but it’s a dramatically mixed bag. That’s why I like alternative worlds, because there is a worst case and a best case.
MR. IGNATIUS: I’ll just briefly speak to this, since it is in my area. As I’ve looked at the effect of this fantastic digital revolution on the news business, the information business, I have become concerned that the more successful media outlets are the ones that essentially tell you that what you think is correct. In other words, rather than challenging your prejudices, your assumptions, which is what Fred and I were taught to do when we became journalists with mainstream – you now have to put quotation marks around that – media organizations, rather than challenging, you reinforce.
And I think that’s a very, very dangerous tendency. You can see the dangers. You don’t have to look to Egypt. You just look in the United States. But it’s just a fact that Fox News does an awful lot better than CNN, which is trying to be in that kind of middle space. And you see the same thing on the Internet. You know, the sites that do well that seem to be turbocharged tend to have a political perspective and that’s part of why people feel comfortable with them: it’s my place because it has my political marking.
So I feel this is – you know, it’s our job in my business to make the benefits of powerful, independent, you know, traditional mainstream media – let’s take The New York Times as an example – to make that overwhelmingly attractive to people. I mean, I used to be the editor of the International Herald Tribune and I could tell the difference between the kind of news coverage we did and that of any local paper. You know, Figaro or Corriere della Sera, go around the globe, because they were more in the business of reinforcing what you already think from your particular perspective. So I do think it’s a really dangerous trend and it’s one that I hope as you think about, you know, this future that you’ll bear in mind.
There’s a gentleman just – yes, sir. And then I want to go all the way back to the person that – yes, who had his hand up before.
Q: Thank you. Tom Finger (sp), Stanford University. Terrific, terrific piece of work, Mat, really is. And the Atlantic Council’s follow-on. What I’d like to focus on, a question, is whether Mat and any of the around-the-world kind of conversations you had insight into what I would condense as a key message being what the United States does and how the United States does over the next decade, decade and a half, will be critical to how the world evolves. That’s a pretty strong message that comes through, that one would think that would make it easier for you as leadership, would invite others to cooperate on it.
And yet it has a little bit of a – this is the constructed rationale to perpetuate American hegemony. How does a declining power regroup? So construction analysis that becomes the basis for policy decisions that is going to look something like that to the extent that David in his Joe six-pack role here, that tell me what is good for Americans. Construct the argument politically to emphasize how America benefits without downplaying the all boats will rise from this strategy eliciting cooperation.
MR. IGNATIUS: Thank you, Tom. Matt?
MR. BURROWS: Well, you know, it is very hard to get out of your role as an American. What I’ve been struck by more is that first, I remember at the workshop you were at – I mean, we discussed this – is actually that others are more concerned, even more concerned than Americans about what happens to America. And that includes – I mean, you were on the trip to China – the message in China that we got continually was, you know, we’re not your peer competitor and, you know, more concern about where the U.S. is going to be.
So I think, you know, obviously a lot of people – and this is maybe what is very special about the U.S. and special about the U.S. as, you know, this major power, is that a lot of people identify with the U.S. And I think this gets to a point too that Fred was making. If the U.S. wants to continue this leadership position, you know, we can’t appear as the status quo. We need to appear much more as a champion for this rise of new states. But if you get much more into the status quo then I think you are replicating what other great powers did before.
So obviously, you know, it’s important, and this is why it’s important for others to also begin to think about global trends, develop their own, because I think we need to learn from them. And you know, for most, you know, most of the ones that we talk to – I mean, they think this is a very credible, it’s not biased. It’s, you know, we try to have it as a framework so that we can show what are the reasons why we believe what we believe in.
MR. KEMPE: Yes. I would only say that this could be skewed because we’re talking to elites when we go on these trips. But to my great surprise where I was present – and I wasn’t present at all these stops – we heard more often that we want more American leadership, but starkly different American leadership. So one stop that we went to, and I probably shouldn’t say the country right now, but did we really hear, you know – it’s really all the same to us whether you’re around or not. But that could also have been the people in the room on that day.
But by and large there was a desire for a reassertion of a different kind of American leadership, and that certainly was what I came away from. With.
MR. IGNATIUS: By my watch – wait. Sir, you’re rising. I did call you. Yes, the gentleman who just was – OK.
So by my watch we are past closing time. I want to make just a final comment summing up my own reaction, especially to Mat and Fred’s answer to this last question, but really to all of this conversation. Which is that in the simplest human terms we know that leadership in good times and in bad times is basically about getting other people to believe that their interests will be advanced by working with you rather than against you. I mean, it’s just as simple as any playground in America.
But I do think that whichever of these hypotheses that Mat and his team have spun out in such interesting ways actually arrives, or whatever combination, that’s a good simple precept, that you’ll do better – China, you know, go down the list – to the extent that you’re working in partnership with the United States and that’s what we have to somehow be ready to do.
So forgive that final comment. I found this whole exercise from beginning to end fascinating, but more to the point, if you were to imagine what you’d like the U.S. intelligence community to be doing and how it should do it, this would pretty much fit my bill. So let’s thank everybody involved. (Applause.)