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What to Expect in the Next Decade: A Survey of 300 Strategists and Foresight Practitioners




The Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security conducted a survey in November 2023, asking nearly 300 global strategists and foresight practitioners to share their predictions on the major trends and challenges that will shape the world in the next decade. The survey covers topics such as geopolitics, the environment, disruptive technology, the global economy, and more. The results reveal a mix of optimism and pessimism, as well as some surprising insights. The survey’s ten biggest findings are:


  • The outlook for normal relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia remains positive—and a Palestinian state may be more likely than it seems. Despite the recent war in Gaza, most experts expect Israel and Saudi Arabia to normalize relations by 2034, and a Palestinian state to be more likely than not. This reflects the underlying strategic alignment between the two countries against Iran and other regional threats, as well as the growing recognition of the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  • China is the most influential country in the world, but also the most likely to trigger a conflict over Taiwan. China is seen as the dominant power in Asia and the main challenger to the US-led international order. However, its assertiveness and ambition also make it the most likely to spark a war over Taiwan, which could escalate into a major confrontation involving the United States and its allies. Experts are divided on whether China will succeed in reunifying with Taiwan by force or persuasion, or whether Taiwan will maintain its de facto independence.

  • Russia is unstable and declining after Putin leaves power, while Ukraine has a chance to join the European Union and NATO. Russia is expected to face political and economic turmoil after Putin’s departure, which could lead to its fragmentation or failure as a state. Ukraine, on the other hand, is seen as having a realistic opportunity to join the EU and NATO by 2034, if it can overcome its internal challenges and resist Russian aggression.

  • The United States is still regarded as a powerful and indispensable actor, but its credibility and leadership are questioned by many, especially on climate change and human rights. The United States is seen as having a strong military, economic, and technological edge over its rivals, but also as facing domestic polarization, social unrest, and institutional decay. Many experts doubt the US commitment and ability to uphold the liberal international order, and call for more cooperation and dialogue with other actors, such as China and the European Union.

  • The United Nations and other international institutions are seen as ineffective and in need of reform, while regional organizations and non-state actors are seen as more influential and innovative. The United Nations is seen as failing to fulfill its core functions, such as maintaining peace and security, promoting human rights, and addressing global challenges. Many experts suggest that the UN should be reformed to reflect the changing power dynamics and interests of the world, and to enhance its legitimacy and accountability. Meanwhile, regional organizations, such as the African Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and non-state actors, such as civil society and private sector, are seen as playing a more important role in shaping the global agenda and solving problems.   

  • The world is entering an ungoverned nuclear age, with Iran and North Korea posing the greatest threats, and cyberattacks and terrorism remaining high risks. The experts expect Iran and North Korea to acquire nuclear weapons by 2034, and to use them as a deterrent or a bargaining chip in their regional conflicts. They also worry about the proliferation of nuclear materials and technologies to other states or non-state actors, and the lack of effective arms control and verification mechanisms. Cyberattacks and terrorism are seen as persistent and evolving threats, especially in the domains of critical infrastructure, biotechnology, and space.

  • Climate is seen as the most urgent and important challenge facing the world, but also the one with the least progress and cooperation. The experts agree that climate change is a existential threat to humanity and the planet, and that it will have severe and widespread impacts on the environment, society, economy, and security. However, they also express frustration and pessimism about the slow and insufficient action taken by governments, corporations, and individuals to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. They call for more ambitious and coordinated efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in clean energy and innovation, and support the most vulnerable and affected communities.

  • Artificial intelligence is seen as having a transformative impact on society, economy, and security, but also raising ethical and regulatory dilemmas. The experts recognize that artificial intelligence will bring many benefits and opportunities, such as improving health, education, and productivity, and enhancing human capabilities and creativity. However, they also warn that artificial intelligence will pose many challenges and risks, such as displacing workers, increasing inequality, undermining privacy and security, and creating moral and legal quandaries. They urge for more responsible and inclusive development and governance of artificial intelligence, and for more education and awareness of its implications and consequences.

  • The global economy is expected to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to face new disruptions and uncertainties. The experts are optimistic that the global economy will bounce back from the devastating effects of the pandemic, thanks to the widespread vaccination, fiscal stimulus, and digital transformation. However, they also anticipate that the global economy will face new shocks and stresses, such as trade wars, debt crises, supply chain disruptions, and social unrest. They suggest that the global economy should become more resilient and inclusive, and that the international financial system should be reformed to better reflect the diversity and needs of the world.

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The global outlook is pessimistic, with 60 percent of experts thinking the world will be worse off in 2034, and only 15 percent thinking it will be better off. The experts express a gloomy view of the future, citing the multiple and interconnected challenges and threats that the world faces, and the lack of effective and cooperative leadership and solutions. They also highlight the uncertainty and volatility that characterize the global environment, and the potential for unexpected and disruptive events. However, some experts also point out the opportunities and possibilities that the future holds, and the agency and responsibility that individuals and communities have to shape it.

The survey results offer a valuable perspective on the future, but also a reminder that the future is not predetermined. It depends on the choices and actions of leaders and citizens today. As the authors of the report conclude, “the future is ours to shape.”


 

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