Emerging Global Trends and Potential Implications for National Security

May 8, 2009

Since the end of the Cold War, many political scientists, economists and observers of international affairs have attempted to theorize about what the future will hold. Some have predicted an “end of history” wherein democracy and free markets would reign supreme, while others foresee a “clash of civilizations” under which cultural-religious blocs would determine the order of the world. Meanwhile, the ascendance of China, Russia and other illiberal states suggests that a strong authoritarian state may better enable national development than an open, free-market, democratic government. A corollary to this argument, known as the “China threat,” is that China will overtake the United States in economic and military power and impose a new world order. On the other hand, some theorists of globalization suggest that in a “flatter,” more globalized world, people, multinational corporations and technology, rather than states, will be the determining factors of the future.

Unlike science and mathematics, which are predicated on a set of fixed principles and laws, international politics is the result of human decisions informed by personal judgments, perceptions and other external factors. While it is possible to generalize about why world leaders make certain decisions, it is not possible to scientifically map what they would do in any given situation. Thus, rather than attempting to arrive at an all-encompassing theory on the future of the world or the international relations between states, it is more useful to look at future global trends that will emerge. These trends—demographics, the environment, technology, energy and other external factors—can, unlike human behavior, be scientifically and statistically tracked and modeled. It is these trends, and the behavior taken in anticipation of or as a result of these trends, that will impact the future course of international affairs.