WASHINGTON, DC – Atlantic Council report projects that the risk of global conflict is at the “highest level since the Cold War.”

Today, September 22, the Atlantic Council released a report on major global risks leading up to 2035. The world of 2035 will be fraught with risks both international and internal, as the breakdown of the post-Cold War security order is accompanied by the internal fraying in the political, social, and economic fabric of practically all states. The report is authored by Dr. Mathew J. Burrows, director of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative and formerly the principal drafter of the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends series, including the highly influential Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.

Given these trends, Dr. Burrows writes that, “in the best case, the world is looking at multipolarity with limited multilateralism…in the worst case, the multipolarity would evolve into another bipolarity—with China, Russia, and their partners pitted against the United States, Europe, Japan, and other allies. In that scenario, conflict would be almost inevitable.”

“The world certainly faces challenges, and Global Risks 2035, one of the most important documents about our global future written in recent years, describes this darkness in detail,” writes Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, former national security advisor and chairman of the Atlantic Council’s International Advisory Board. “Reading this Atlantic Council Strategy Paper, and the following two in this series which will outline a strategy for the twenty-first century and how best to implement strategic plans, is where all leaders—including our own—should begin.”

Internationally, the report projects that “virtually any part of the post-Soviet space and surrounding regions, as well as the western part of the Asia-Pacific region and northern part of the Indian Ocean, could become the site of serious competition between the main power centers.” The current situation is “more dangerous than the second half of the Cold War era.”

Regionalized conflict has grown. For the Middle East, “the sources of economic and political instability for the region are unlikely to end soon,” and a growing number of countries including Central and Southeast Asia, and equatorial Africa could be drawn into conflict between Muslim and Christian populations. For the United States and the West, discontent from decreasing economic opportunities has led to increasing hostility toward globalization.

Internally, the report projects that “significant unraveling of societies” could result from new demographic challenges and the technological revolution. In the next decade, higher-income economies are facing rapidly aging populations, with unsustainable health and pension costs, while lower-income economies will suffer youth bulges, overpopulation, and scarcity. The technological revolution will bring with it increasing risks, as the “job churn moves up the skills ladder”, and terrorists move into higher technology, with devastating effects.

The report also outlines five “Alternative Worlds”:

  1. In a Fragmented World, a dysfunctional Europe is absorbed in regional threats; the United States gives up on the policeman role; protectionism provides an initial domestic economic boost, but leads to lower global growth over the medium term; and Russia and China become regionally dominant.
  2. In a New Cold War, East and West square off after China suffers an implosion and ramps up nationalism. Conflict is only matter of time. The threat spurs Western solidarity and a Russo-Chinese military alliance.
  3. In an Ageless World, life expectancy reaches ninety years in Western countries. Human enhancement breakthroughs mean middle age begins at sixty. Retirement ages rise. The young are not being promoted with everyone working longer.
  4. In Strange Bedfellows, high-tech terrorism leads to a rebirth of state power, and the United States and China unite to combat the threat.
  5. In an Urban Oasis, as in the Middle Ages, cities rapidly assume increased importance, as national governments cannot deliver on overall economic growth. Cities are a magnet for the brightest and most talented. Well-run cities spawn and use new technologies, helping to make them self-sufficient in terms of resources. They seek special political privileges and autonomy.

The flagship report was officially launched at a public event on September 22, featuring Mathew Burrows; Samantha Vinograd, millennium leadership fellow at the Atlantic Council; Earl Anthony Wayne, former US ambassador to Mexico and Argentina; and Erin McPike, director of communications at 1776.

An interactive version of the report will available at http://www.acstrategy.net/global-risks-2035.

You can find more from the report at ACStrategy.net and on iTunes, Medium, YouTube, and Twitter using #Lifein2035.

Related Experts: Mathew Burrows