Picture a world with competing power centers, an unstable Russia stumbling into its post-Putin era, a nuclear-armed Iran emerging in the midst of an unruly nuclear age, and a United Nations incapable of carrying out its core functions—including convening the world’s countries to tackle problems, such as climate change, that no one state can solve and that pose a grave threat to global security and prosperity.
That’s just a glimpse into the future that leading global strategists and foresight practitioners forecast when the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security surveyed them in November on how they expect the world to change over the next ten years.
If this sketch leaves you gloomy, you’re in good company: Sixty percent of the experts who participated in our annual Global Foresight survey think the world will be worse off a decade hence. But despite the pessimism about the overall direction of global affairs that many expressed, their responses also turned up cause for hope when we asked more specific questions regarding geopolitics, the environment, disruptive technology, the global economy, and other domains.
The 288 respondents were mostly citizens of the United States (60 percent of those polled), with 17 percent from Europe and 11 percent from Latin America and the Caribbean. In total, respondents’ nationalities were spread across forty-eight countries.
Respondents also work in a variety of fields, including the private sector (27 percent), nonprofits (18 percent), academic or educational institutions (16 percent), government (16 percent), independent consulting (14 percent), and multilateral institutions (4 percent). They are dispersed across age ranges as well, with 10 percent between eighteen and thirty-five, 23 percent between thirty-six and fifty, 37 percent between fifty-one and sixty-five, and the remaining 29 percent aged sixty-six or older.
So what do these seasoned forecasters of the global future expect over the coming decade? Below are the survey’s ten biggest findings.
1. The outlook for normal relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia remains positive—and a Palestinian state may be more likely than it seems
Could the current convulsions in the Middle East portend major transformations in the decade ahead? A remarkably high percentage of respondents think so, given that the survey was fielded after the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel and in the throes of the ensuing war in Gaza.
The outbreak of hostilities seemed to deal a big blow to progress that Saudi and Israeli leaders had been making toward a historic agreement to normalize relations between their countries. Some experts, in fact, have argued that one of the main goals of the October 7 attacks was to derail the deal.
Nevertheless, a clear majority of respondents—around 60 percent—expect Israel to have normalized diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia by 2034, suggesting that the underlying conditions that had been drawing the two countries together prior to war engulfing the region could outlast the fighting and remain salient.
Perhaps even more surprising, nearly one in five respondents believes that by 2034 Israel will have normalized diplomatic relations with an independent, sovereign Palestinian state. While this was a minority view, it indicates an alternative reading of the devastation of the last few months: that in the long run the violence that makes peace seems such a remote possibility could ultimately reinvigorate calls for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A slightly smaller percentage of respondents also anticipate normalized relations between Israel and Lebanon a decade from now.
Even if all this were to occur, however, don’t expect peace to break out all over the region. Few experts believe that Israel will have normalized relations with Syria (4 percent) or Iran (2 percent) by 2034.
2. There are growing doubts about China seeking to forcibly seize Taiwan
Those surveyed are more convinced of ongoing political stability in China than in other world powers. For example, 86 percent believe that the Chinese Communist Party will still be in power by 2034, while only 3 percent expect the opposite. Only one respondent thinks that the country will become a failed state over the coming decade, a figure that rounds down to 0 percent of the total. For the United States, that figure is 5 percent. For Russia, it’s 11 percent.
This expert consensus cuts against speculation among some observers that recent developments such as the country’s economic struggles and the protests that brought Xi Jinping’s “zero COVID” policy to an abrupt end could threaten the regime.
Yet the survey results also cast doubt on another narrative about China—more prominent earlier this century—as the unstoppable future global hegemon. Perceptions of Beijing could be starting to shift.
On one of the most pressing issues on the horizon—whether China will attempt to retake Taiwan by force in the coming years—respondents expressed some notable skepticism. While half expect this to occur within the next ten years, the proportion who foresee such a military operation has gone down substantially from 70 percent of respondents when we asked this same question in last year’s survey. Also significant: One of the big changes from 2022 to 2023 is an increase in the percentage of experts who state that they “don’t know” whether China will try reunification by force.
One potential explanation for these shifts is that experts are reassessing either China’s intentions or its capabilities regarding Taiwan in light of developments over the past year. The difficulties Russia has faced in its war against Ukraine or China’s economic troubles, for example, might make Beijing more reluctant to assume the risks of major military action.
The survey pool also seemed split over China’s wider global role in the coming decade. For example, 44 percent think that the world will largely divide into China-aligned and US-aligned blocs over that period, ushering in a bipolar world, but 39 percent disagree. Similarly, 33 percent agree that China and Russia will become formal allies by 2034, cementing the less formal “no limits” partnership the two countries currently have, but 37 percent say the opposite. Are we headed for a new cold war? Our respondents aren’t so sure.
3. Brace for upheaval in Russia, including a possible Russia-NATO conflict
Mark your calendars: Sometime in the next decade, according to many respondents, a new leader will likely assume control of Russia—under unknown circumstances and amid potential turmoil. In December Vladimir Putin, who has dominated Russian politics since 1999, announced plans to do what he has twice altered Russia’s constitution to make possible: seek more time in power. He is widely expected to win the country’s March presidential election, but the experts we surveyed do not expect his rule to last the decade: 71 percent say that he will not still be president of Russia by 2034, and a further 22 percent are not sure.
Will age end Putin’s rule—he will be eighty-two in 2034—or will political events intervene? A large number of survey respondents expect substantial turmoil in Russia over the next decade. In a similar result to one of the biggest findings from last year’s survey, 35 percent of respondents believe that Russia will break up internally in the coming ten years because of developments such as revolution, civil war, or political disintegration. For those who think that Putin will no longer be president in 2034, this figure rises to 40 percent. Even among those who think Putin will still rule Russia in 2034, nearly one quarter nevertheless expect the country to break up.
Around 11 percent of respondents cited Russia as the country that is not currently a failed state but is most likely to become one within the next ten years—lower than in last year’s survey and a small minority, but still the highest percentage that any country received.
Only 6 percent of respondents believe Putin will be able to achieve his war aim of turning Ukraine into a Russian client state within the next decade. But how any failures in Ukraine affect his political longevity remains to be seen. Even the June march on Moscow by Wagner Group commander Yevgeniy Prigozhin ultimately has not seemed to endanger Putin’s grip on power, given the swift suppression of the mutiny and Prigozhin’s death two months later in a plane crash.
Those who expect Russia to break up are more likely to foresee Moscow engaging in worrisome activity: Thirty-eight percent believe that the country and NATO will fight a war in the next ten years, compared with 25 percent of other respondents, and 20 percent think that Russia will use a nuclear weapon in the decade ahead, compared with 11 percent of other experts.
Overall, in another significant finding, nearly one in three respondents (29 percent) at least somewhat agree that Russia and NATO will engage in a direct military conflict over this timeframe—a slightly higher percentage than in last year’s survey.
4. US military dominance will endure and prospects for other elements of its power are looking up, with diplomatic clout an exception
By 2034, according to a large majority (73 percent) of respondents, the world will be multipolar, with multiple centers of power, in contrast to the unipolar moment that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaving the United States as the last superpower standing.
But at the same time, most also expect the United States to retain a preponderance of power across several key dimensions. Eighty-one percent of respondents expect the United States to remain the world’s dominant military power in 2034. A similarly large majority (79 percent) anticipate that US security alliances and partnerships in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, forged over the course of the Cold War and unipolar moment, will endure—a notable expectation given that these alliances and partnerships could be a major subject of debate during the 2024 US presidential election. Notably, a smaller majority—63 percent—believe the United States will be the dominant source of technological innovation by 2034, and just over half (52 percent) say it will be the dominant economic power.
This level of confidence in the longevity of US power is, in fact, greater than the level respondents expressed when we conducted our last survey at the end of 2022. The exception is in the diplomatic realm, where once again only one third of respondents expected the United States to be the world’s dominant diplomatic power in ten years.
Even experts who expect the United States’ global military dominance to endure don’t think that will be enough to sustain a sole superpower status. Those who envision the United States as the dominant military power of 2034 are just as likely to anticipate that the world will be multipolar in that year (73 percent) as those who do not believe US military dominance will last the decade (72 percent). And while those who foresee future US military dominance are more likely to also expect the United States to maintain its European, Asian, and Middle Eastern security alliances and partnerships, it’s important to keep in mind that sustaining those alliances and partnerships also requires the kind of US diplomatic clout that respondents are less sanguine about going forward.
With these dynamics at play in the coming decade, will Europe turn all the talk about “strategic autonomy” into action by taking more responsibility for its own security? Only 31 percent of respondents believe that the continent will have achieved “strategic autonomy” by 2034. Even Europeans themselves are largely split: Forty percent think they will have such autonomy but 36 percent disagree. Among non-European respondents, half don’t see it happening while only 29 percent do.
The overall survey data also reflects mostly US perspectives. Sorting respondents by country of citizenship reveals more diverse views on the nature and longevity of US power. For example, while respondents from Latin America and the Caribbean are slightly more likely than respondents overall to expect US military dominance to remain in 2034, they are far less likely than other survey takers to say the same about US power in other domains.
A startling 30 percent of Latin American respondents also predict that the United States will break up internally in the coming decade for reasons such as revolution, civil war, or political disintegration (compared with 9 percent among other respondents).
That speaks to a broader potential vulnerability for the United States over the coming decade that doesn’t fit neatly into a single category of power: its domestic political divisions and challenges. Nearly 12 percent of respondents overall expect the United States to break up by 2034—a much lower percentage than those who thought the same about Russia, as noted above, but a higher percentage than those who said the same about other powers such as China (7 percent) and India (6 percent). Around 5 percent of respondents identified the United States as the country that is not currently a failed state but is most likely to become one within the next ten years—fewer than those who pointed to Russia (11 percent) and Pakistan (8 percent), but roughly on par with the percentage of respondents who cited Afghanistan, Argentina, and Lebanon. Only small minorities are expressing these views, but they are nevertheless worth heeding.
5. Respondents have low confidence in the United Nations
While many respondents expect the world in ten years to be multipolar, they also foresee challenges with the international organizations that could mediate among competing centers of power. The multilateral institutions established after World War II—the United Nations (UN), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), among others—were designed in part as places for rival powers to hash out their differences without resort to military force. The experts we surveyed, however, don’t expect these institutions to be fully capable of playing this role over the coming decade.
The most striking lack of confidence is in the United Nations. A mere 2 percent of respondents say that by 2034 the organization as a whole will be entirely capable of solving the challenges core to its mission, with a further 23 percent stating that it will be somewhat capable of doing so. As for the UN Security Council, nobody—literally zero respondents—believes that it will be entirely capable, and just 17 percent expect it will be somewhat so. This contrasts with 68 percent who think that the Security Council will display varying degrees of incapacity.
This lack of confidence holds across survey demographics. What seems to set apart those with at least some confidence in the Security Council is a conviction that it will reform itself: Seventy-six percent of those who think that the Security Council will be somewhat capable of executing on its mission in 2034 also believe that at least one new permanent member will be added to the body within the next ten years (the most likely candidates: India, Germany, and Japan). Among those who say the Security Council will be incapable of carrying out its functions, only 53 percent think at least one new permanent seat will be added.
The United Nations is just the clearest example of muted faith in multilateral institutions. Very few respondents expect any of the major international bodies we asked about to be entirely capable of doing their jobs. Nevertheless, over half of the experts we surveyed believe that the IMF, World Bank, and Group of Seven (G7) will be at least somewhat capable of doing so. Even this confidence, though, may reflect the largely Western perspective of our survey pool rather than a wider global consensus. Only 36 percent of respondents from Latin America think that by 2034 the IMF will be at least somewhat capable of addressing challenges central to its mission, and just 35 percent say the same of the G7.
6. The next nuclear age will be an ungoverned one—with more weapons, fewer guardrails, and the resurgent threat of nuclear terrorism
We appear to be entering a third nuclear age following those that occurred during the Cold War and post-Cold War periods. And a lack of international governance is likely to be one of the new nuclear age’s defining features, as geopolitical competition intensifies and nuclear arms-control treaties unravel. What happens when the guardrails for limiting the buildup, spread, and use of nuclear weapons are removed?
A huge majority of respondents foresees proliferation: Eighty-four percent say that at least one currently non-nuclear state will obtain these weapons by 2034. The most likely country, cited by 73 percent of experts, is Iran, but considerable numbers also expect Saudi Arabia (40 percent), South Korea (25 percent), and Japan (19 percent) to join the nuclear club. These numbers are similar to the results from last year’s survey, but one difference is worrying. In the survey conducted at the end of 2022, on average respondents thought that 1.4 new actors would have nuclear weapons within a decade. This has now risen to 1.7. Though this may seem like a small increase, it suggests that compared with 2022, experts now believe nuclear weapons will spread more quickly—about 21 percent more quickly, in fact.
When asked about which actors they expect to actually use a nuclear weapon within the next ten years, 20 percent of our experts said a terrorist group—up from just 3 percent last year. In this year’s survey we included terrorist groups explicitly among our multiple-choice options whereas in last year’s we included a more general “other state or a non-state actor” option, which may account for some of the year-over-year difference. But the fact that one in five respondents is forecasting such an alarming scenario is still noteworthy and concerning. Around 14 percent of respondents expect Russia to use a nuclear weapon by 2024, while roughly 15 percent forecast that North Korea will do so. But on a more positive note: More than 60 percent of respondents believe nuclear weapons won’t be used over the coming decade.
Even if international institutions were capable of restraining nuclear proliferation, our respondents see little demand for them to do so. Only 3 percent think that the greatest expansion of global cooperation over the next ten years will occur in the realm of nuclear nonproliferation.
7. Neither Russia nor Ukraine is likely to achieve all its war aims, but many see a future for Ukraine in the European Union and NATO
Among Ukraine’s primary objectives in its war with Russia is to retake the territory in the eastern part of the country and the Crimean peninsula that Russia seized during its first incursion into the country in 2014 and second invasion in 2022. While only 12 percent of survey respondents expect Ukraine to regain control of its pre-2014 territory by 2034, just under half (48 percent) anticipate that it will reassert authority over the Ukrainian territory it held prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022.
As for Putin’s effort to subjugate Ukraine, the long-term outlook for Moscow doesn’t look good: A mere 6 percent of respondents think that Ukraine will end up dependent on Russia or otherwise in its orbit by 2034.
Ukraine’s goals also include joining NATO and the European Union as a means of integrating with the West and ensuring its future security. A slight majority of respondents (54 percent) expect to see Ukraine in the European Union in the next ten years—a process, in fact, that Kyiv and Brussels have already set in motion (though plenty of hurdles remain). Forty-four percent also anticipate that Ukraine will have joined NATO during this period, with this prospect likely to be debated at the Alliance’s upcoming summit in Washington, DC this summer. These expectations overlap with views about Ukraine’s future independence and territory in perhaps predictable ways. For example, among respondents who believe that Ukraine will be a sovereign, independent state a decade from now, 64 percent say that Ukraine will also be an EU member by that time, compared with 40 percent for other respondents.
8. Climate change is the greatest threat to global prosperity—and a decline in emissions could still be far off
The single biggest threat to global prosperity over the coming decade is climate change, according to a plurality of respondents, with 37 percent selecting it as their main concern—significantly ahead of war between major powers (25 percent), the second-most-cited option. Climate change is also by far the most frequently cited field in which respondents expect the greatest expansion of global cooperation over the next ten years (49 percent), well ahead of technology governance and public health as the next-most-identified areas at roughly 14 percent each. Notably, when we asked this question in 2022 a significantly higher 25 percent of respondents picked public health. As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, the priority placed on this domain may be lessening even though the risk of more pandemics, which climate change may exacerbate, hasn’t diminished.
Views on risk and response are connected. Those who see climate change as a more serious threat expect more growth in international collaboration to counteract it, with 63 percent of them identifying the issue as the one that will generate the greatest increase in global cooperation; the inverse is also true. In one interesting wrinkle in the data, respondents who work in the private sector, which will have to create or commercialize the technology needed to mitigate climate change, seem less concerned about the potential impact of climate change on global prosperity: Only 23 percent identify it as the top risk, relative to 32 percent who point to a major-power war.
The relative optimism about countries’ ability to work together to address climate change is tempered by relative pessimism about how much that cooperation will achieve in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Fifty-three percent of respondents do not believe that global greenhouse gas emissions will have peaked and begun to decline by 2034, compared with 44 percent who think they will. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak before 2025 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The later emissions peak, the more sharply they will need to fall if countries want to meet targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Perhaps in recognition of these considerations, more than half of respondents think that by 2034 humans will have begun deliberate, large-scale geoengineering of the planet to reduce the impacts of climate change or achieve other goals.
9. As social media continues its descent into toxicity, the AI age is dawning (with those under fifty markedly more concerned)
Here’s the big picture on our findings regarding technology: Respondents overall have a very negative view of social media and a somewhat positive view of artificial intelligence (AI). But zoom in and the picture gets more complicated.
The wariness of social media that experts expressed in last year’s survey is as widespread as ever: This year, eight in ten respondents (81 percent) say that social media will, on balance, have a negative impact on global affairs over the coming ten years.
As for AI, despite a year of high-profile speculation about today’s helpful chatbot becoming tomorrow’s superintelligent force beyond human control, respondents feel reasonably good. Fifty-one percent believe that AI will have a somewhat or very positive effect on global affairs in the next decade, relative to 38 percent who say the opposite.
Behind these numbers, however, are notable disagreements on AI within demographic groups. Men, for example, are more likely to envision AI having a positive impact (53 percent positive versus 36 percent negative), with women evenly split (44 percent for both positive and negative). Those who work in the private sector are much more positive about AI; all other respondents from employment groups with sufficient replies to analyze are negative or roughly evenly split.
More striking is the division between age groups, with the watershed at around fifty years old. Fifty-six percent of those over fifty forecast AI having good effects and 33 percent bad ones. The figures are almost exactly the reverse among those under fifty: Thirty-nine percent of younger respondents expect AI to have good effects over the next decade, while 52 percent expect bad effects.
Twenty-four percent of respondents under fifty also say that technology governance will be the area that experiences the greatest expansion of global cooperation over the next decade, underscoring the greater degree of concern among younger generations. Among older respondents, this figure drops to just 9 percent.
Why might this gap in perceptions between age groups exist? It’s not clear from the data, but it’s possible that digital natives are more able to see the dangers of new technology. Or perhaps since younger people tend to be at lower levels of seniority in the workplace, they may be more worried about automation jeopardizing their own employment opportunities.
10. Experts are decidedly pessimistic about the decade ahead—no matter their age, gender, or country of citizenship
This year, for the first time, we posed a question that we hope to now ask on an annual basis as a means of tracking sentiment on the global outlook: “Generally speaking, do you think the world a decade from now will be better off or worse off than it is today?” Our baseline results reveal a pool of expert respondents who are more concerned than hopeful: Sixty percent say the world will be worse off while 40 percent expect it to be better off. This ratio is surprisingly widespread, with no statistically significant difference discernible when sorting the sample by gender, age, country of citizenship, or field of employment.
It’s a sobering assessment—and an indicator we’ll plan to monitor year after year to better understand which way the world is tending.