U.S. Intelligence Sees Gloomy Global Trends for Next Five Years

  • American dominance ‘drawing to a close,’ report suggests
  • China, Russian ambitions will rise to ‘gray zone’ aggression

James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

U.S. intelligence officials paint a dreary next half-decade for incoming President Donald Trump that will see waning American power amid slow growth while China and Russia are emboldened to counter U.S. influence, according to a new global trends report.

The National Intelligence Council, under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, produces the report every four years following the presidential election. This year’s 240-page report, released Monday, provides predictions on a range of themes from the economy and energy to war and climate change. 

“The next five years will test U.S. resilience,” the report said. “For better and worse, the emerging global landscape is drawing to a close an era of American dominance following the Cold War.”

The pessimistic forecast is at odds with the campaign vows of Trump, who pledged in his campaign to “Make America Great Again,” and suggested beefing up the U.S. military including a major round of ship-building and a larger active-duty Army, even as he called for less U.S. intervention abroad.

Outside observers wonder if Washington has the “will and the means to continue exercising broader international leadership,” the report said, adding that the “rules-based international order” is also at risk, which will make it harder to cooperate internationally and govern. That in turn creates an opening for other countries and non-state actors to pursue their interests.

Miscalculation Risks

“Uncertainty about the United States, an inward-looking West, and erosion of norms for conflict prevention and human rights will encourage China and Russia to check U.S. influence,” the report said. “In doing so, their ‘gray zone’ aggression and diverse forms of disruption will stay below the threshold of hot war, but bring profound risks of miscalculation.”

U.S. intelligence officials released their declassified findings of Russian hacking around the 2016 election campaign on Friday, saying President Vladimir Putin personally ordered cyber and disinformation interference. In the next five years, the global trends report said Putin’s government will continue to prioritize military spending, even if the country faces economic stagnation or recession, and its aggressive foreign policy will be a source of “considerable volatility.”

“The next five years will see the Russian leadership continue its effort to restore Russia’s great-power status through military modernization, foreign engagements that seek to extend Russian influence and limit Western influence, nuclear saber-rattling and increased nationalism,” the report said. “Moscow remains insecure in its worldview and will move when it believes it needs to protect Russia’s national interests.”

Rising Terrorism

Intelligence officials also foresee the global economy continuing to struggle in the next five years, as “most of the world’s largest economies are likely to experience, at least in the near term, performance that is sub-par by historical standards.” At the same time, populism will increase on the right and left of the political spectrum, “threatening liberalism.”

Other threats cited include rising terrorism and regional rivalries, such the “ongoing proxy war” between Saudi Arabia and Iran that fuels Sunni-Shiite sectarianism in the Middle East, a schism the report finds is likely to worsen in the short term and may not cease by 2035.

The trends report is based on meetings with more than 2,500 people in 35 countries, including those in government, business and academia.

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