“The present recalls past transition points —such as 1815, 1919, 1945, and 1989—when the path forward was not clear cut and the world faced the possibility of different global futures.” The recently published “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds” report from the National Security Council does indeed make for interesting reading, full of interesting tidbits of information—global GDP is $70 trillion—along with skyline projections out to 2030. Acknowledging the fact that the U.S. post-War II global governance paradigm is under strain from a mixture of globalization, domestic political inertia in developed economies resulting in a deficit of global leadership, and emerging powers that seek greater input on the global stage, the report is well worth the time to read.
The fundamental question raised is what exactly does this mean for the United States in 2030, when it is possible, though not a foregone conclusion, that China’s economy will be number one. Looking at the current state of the US economy there is certainty much to be concerned about including the tragic fact that almost 30 percent of US high school students fail to graduate, the United States ranks “27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science and engineering” and “36 percent of physics PhDs and 63 percent of engineering PhDs are awarded to foreign students” according to a companion report by the Atlantic Council of the United States entitled “Envisioning 2030: US Strategy for a Post-Western World.” The $15 trillion national debt, a budget deficit in 2012 that was 7 percent of US GDP and escalating health care costs continue to portray a gloomy outlook. Not to mention the fact that the U.S. fiscal cliff while momentary averted, still remains a potential economic nightmare both for the United States and the global economy. Bob Woodward’s book “The Price of Politics” portrays a sad account of opportunities lost partly due to simple miscommunications and understandings, right across the spectrum to fundamental political ideologies that were so entrenched that stakeholders were prepared put in jeopardy the entire global economic system, beginning with the reputation of the United States of America as creditor of last resort. The first 2013 issue of The Economist entitled “America Turns European” speaks for itself.
Looking ahead to 2030, the NIC report identifies “individual empowerment, the diffusion of power to multifaceted networks and from West to East and South, demographic patterns highlighted by aging populations and exploding middle classes, and natural resource challenges” as the current trend. The global outlook is for a system where the United States is not the sole driver or detriment of the international order. Examples are cited of glimpses of this already occurring: the 2010 Brazil-Turkey attempt at offering a solution to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, the unfolding crisis in Syria today and continuing political turmoil in Egypt. However, the United States, if the correct polices are implemented now, will remain the one indispensable protagonist working with other state and non-state actors addressing issues of global concern.
The good news is that “The United States—unlike other great powers in history—has a second chance at molding the international system to secure its long-term interests,” according to the ACUS report. The Great Recession has resulted in a reduction of private debt and personal debt in the United States, U.S. banks have cleansed their accounts of bad loans and raised new capital. The shale revolution could result in the U.S. surpassing Saudi Arabia by 2020 in oil production and a net energy exporter by 2030. U.S. companies have reserves of $2 trillion in cash just waiting to be unleashed in new investment projects, and U.S. exports of high value goods and services including aircraft, machinery, pharmaceuticals and entertainment have strong growth potential in emerging markets.
The point is that the United States needs to address it own domestic balance sheet while working with a diverse set of traditional allies, partners and emerging powers to create a global system that is not zero-sum, but does still look to the United States for leadership. It is worth noting that the current global system was essentially designed, created and protected by the United States with the end goal of a global middle class that is mutually beneficial for the US and the world. For all the protests that others make about this paradigm—and no doubt it is not perfect—a better one has yet to be proposed, along with the responsibility of protecting that structure in a rules-based and transparent order. Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has commented that “The United States is one budget deal away from restoring its global preeminence.” US domestic legislation and foreign policy in 2013 has serious implications and ramifications for the US foreign policy and standing in the world right through to 2030. The final word is from the ACUS report: “The direction the United States decides to take will be a critical factor for this strategic landscape, yet the United States’ margin for error is greatly reduced in a complex operating environment of rising powers, critical uncertainties, and fiscal constraints.”
Damien Tomkins is Project Assistant at the East-West Center office in Washington, D.C. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and not of any organization with which he is affiliated.