December 2, 2011

On December 2, the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative and the US National Intelligence Council hosted a workshop entitled “The United States and the Global Future” to inform the upcoming Global Trends 2030 report.

The event explored the following questions: How will the US economy evolve over the next 20 years and what might be the impact of various US economic scenarios on the global system? Will the US have a Japan-like decade of anemic growth? Would this lead the US to reduce its foreign involvement and commitments, become more protectionist, and focus on its internal problems? Or will the US solve its fiscal and debt problems, reinvigorate innovation, and return to sustainable economic growth? Would this underpin a renewed commitment to active US global leadership in mobilizing international cooperation to manage security, economic prosperity, and global challenges?

Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, and Mat Burrows, counselor at the National Intelligence Council, opened the workshop with initial comments on the importance of US leadership in addressing the challenges ahead, and the urgent need to understand the way in which the US must prepare and adapt to its changing role in the international community.

The workshop discussion, framed by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Senior Associate and Director of the International Economics Program Uri Dadush, focused on good and bad scenarios for the US economy looking towards 2030 and their implications for the future of the international system. These scenarios examined a wide range of factors influencing future US economic growth, from investment in infrastructure, education, and innovation to political consensus building. The two scenarios also looked at developments in the broader international economy, including the future of the Eurozone, and global cooperation and conflict, which could affect the US economic future.

The subsequent discussion, which included presentations by former Deputy Secretary of State and current Dean of Syracuse University James Steinberg, and Washington Post Associate Editor and Columnist David Ignatius, examined the relationship between potential US economic growth and future US global leadership. Participants debated the centrality of US economic strength to the willingness, capacity, and international acceptance of US leadership in the international system in the decades to come. Some participants maintained that although continued slow US economic growth will impact the US ability to project power in the long run, that slow growth would not necessarily be a determining factor leading to the end of US military predominance and active global engagement in the near and medium term. Even if the US economy continues to falter, according to this view, the US will still be the dominant military power in the world for a long time and in a position to continue to play a central role in the international community’s ability to forge robust and dynamic solutions to global challenges, including in the security and economic realms. Other participants were not as sanguine about the US ability to sustain a leading global role in the “bad” economic scenario, especially if the US public turns inward and protectionist and is thus unwilling to support the sinews of US global power projection and leadership.