WASHINGTON (AFP) – The world faces a growing risk of conflict over the next 20 to 30 years amid an unprecedented transfer of wealth and power from West to East, the US intelligence chief has said.
Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence, predicted rising demand for scarce supplies of food and fuel, strategic competition over new technologies, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
“What I’m suggesting — there’s an increased potential for conflict,” McConnell said in a speech Thursday to intelligence professionals in Nashville, Tennessee.
“During the period of this assessment, out to 2025, the probability for conflict between nations and within nation-state entities will be greater,” he said.
Conditions for “large casualty terrorist attacks using chemical, biological, or less likely, nuclear materials” also will increase during that period, he said.
McConnell described a multi-polar world in 2025 shaped by the rise of China, India and Brazil, whose economies will by then match those of the western industrial states.
“In terms of size, speed, and directional flow, the transfer of global wealth and economic power, now underway, as noted from West to East is without precedent in modern history,” McConnell said.
Territorial expansion and military rivalries are not likely, but cannot be ruled out, and the perception that oil is scarce could trigger conflicts between states, he said.
“We judge these sweeping changes will not trigger a complete breakdown of the current international system, but the next 20 years of transition to a new system are fraught with risks and many, many challenges,” he said.
By 2025, China is likely to have the world’s second largest economy and to have emerged as a major military power, the largest importer of natural resources and the largest contributor to world pollution.
“China is poised to have more impact on the world over the next 20 years than any other country,” he said.
India will have either the third or second largest economy and will press to become “one of the significant poles of this new world,” he said.
Russia also will be part of that group, but only if it expands and diversifies its economy and integrates it with the world global economy, he said.
“Strategic rivalries are most likely to revolve around trade, demographics, access to natural resources, investments and technological innovation. There will be a struggle to acquire technology advantage as the key enabler for dominance,” he said.
Other parts of the world face a more vulnerable future as rising demand for food, fuel and other resources outstrip supply.
McConnell said US intelligence estimates that 1.4 billion people in 36 countries are likely to suffer from a lack of access to water for drinking and agriculture.
“Now, just think about it: 1.4 billion people without these basic necessities will create significant tensions on the globe, tensions that world bodies and larger states will have to contend,” he said.
“Based on the many estimates, climate change is expected to exacerbate these resource scarcities,” he said.
Lack of access to water will be “devastating for many of the countries because agricultural (output) accounts for a large share of their economies and many of these citizens live close to the subsistence level.”
The economy will be in the midst of a transition from oil by 2025 but moving in the direction of natural gas and coal, according to McConnell.
New technologies and innovations could provide solutions but existing technologies “are inadequate for replacing the traditional energy architecture on the large scale in which it’s needed,” he said.
Unless economic and political opportunities improve, conditions in the Middle East will be ripe for growing radicalism and recruitment of youths into terrorist groups, he said.
“The expansion of technologies and scientific knowledge by 2025 will place some of the world’s most dangerous capabilities within the reach of terrorist organizations, whatever their cause,” he said.
“One of our greatest concerns continues to be that a terrorist group or … some other dangerous group might acquire and employ biological agents or less likely a radiological device to create casualties greater than 9/11,” he said.