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Global Threats Against U.S. Will Rise, Report Predicts

By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
December  18, 2000

The risk of a missile attack against the United States involving chemical, biological or nuclear warheads is greater today than during most of the Cold War and will continue to grow in the next 15 years, according to a new global threat assessment by the National Intelligence Council.

The report, scheduled for release today, also concludes that terrorist attacks against the United States through 2015 "will become increasingly sophisticated and designed to achieve mass casualties. We expect the trend toward greater lethality . . . to continue."

Nevertheless, the United States will remain "unparalleled" in its economic, technological, military and diplomatic influence by 2015, the report states, remaining in "the vanguard of the technological revolution from information to biotechnology and beyond."

The 68-page document, "Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue about the Future with Nongovernmental Experts," represents an attempt by the U.S. intelligence community to look beyond its secret sources and involve academia and the private sector in forecasting world trends over the next decade and a half.

The 15-member NIC is based at CIA headquarters under Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet and focuses on broad strategic assessments.

"This is the most we have done with outside engagement," NIC Chairman John Gannon said in an interview. "When you get into issues like natural resources, demographics, science and technology, we really had to depend upon a lot of expertise out there."

Gannon said the combined thinking of outside experts and U.S. intelligence has left him generally optimistic about the next 15 years, despite what the report identifies as key uncertainties – including China, Russia, the Middle East, Japan and India.

"The United States is going to be in a very strong position in 2015," Gannon said. "The global economy driven by information technology clearly benefits the United States. The major challenge is how you manage the downside of globalization – how do we deal with the countries that feel they're being left behind, particularly in regions of the world like the Middle East."
A robust global economy coupled with greater international cooperation could reduce armed conflict and help alleviate the effects of population growth, poverty and water shortages by 2015, the study says.

But in a section that presents alternative scenarios, the study says it is also possible that globalization could divide the world into haves and have-nots, fueling "frustrated expectations, inequities, and heightened communal tensions" while triggering the spread of organized crime and weapons of mass destruction.

"The networked global economy will be driven by rapid and largely unrestricted flows of information, ideas, cultural values, capital, goods and services, and people," the report concludes. "In contrast to the Industrial Revolution, the process of globalization is more compressed. Its evolution will be rocky, marked by chronic financial volatility and a widening economic divide."

Developed in the past 15 months at a series of conferences held by universities, corporations and think tanks, the report is most provocative in its inclusion of eight "significant discontinuities" that the experts considered unlikely, but possible. Among them:

A "de facto geo-strategic alliance" between China, Russia and India to counterbalance U.S. influence.

A collapse in the U.S.-European alliance as a result of trade disputes, political differences and conflict over how to handle global security issues.

Formation of an international terrorist coalition with "diverse anti-Western objectives" and access to chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons.

Serious upheaval in the Middle East, caused by deteriorating standards of living in major Arab nations and a failure by Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peace accord.

Far more likely is a "cold peace" between Israel and a new Palestinian state, said the experts, who also predict that Japan's economic influence will wane and that Russia will struggle on virtually all fronts as it drifts toward authoritarianism.

In stark demographic terms, the report paints what is in many ways a distressing portrait of planet earth in 2015, with the world's population having surged from 6.1 billion people today to 7.2 billion. Ninety-five percent of the growth will be in developing nations, with nearly all of that occurring in urban areas, the report says. The population of mega-cities larger than 10 million will double to 400 million.

"Divergent demographic trends, the globalization of labor markets, and political instability and conflict will fuel a dramatic increase in the global movement of people through 2015," the report says.

"Legal and illegal migrants now account for more than 15 percent of the population in more than 50 countries. These numbers will grow substantially and will increase social and political tension and perhaps alter national identities even as they contribute to demographic and economic dynamism."

Food supplies will be adequate to feed the world's population, though famine will persist because of politics, war and poor distribution systems, the report says. Energy demands will increase by 50 percent, but supplies will be sufficient, with 80 percent of the world's oil and 95 percent of its natural gas still in the ground untapped.

Water supplies will be far more problematic, with 3 billion people living in "water-stressed" countries, mostly in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and northern China. Because more than 30 of the world's 191 nations receive more than a third of their water from outside their borders, water shortages could trigger conflict among states, the report says.

The report is perhaps most dire in its predictions about the spread of terrorism aimed at U.S. interests and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction  among terrorists and adversary states.

The increased threat of a missile attack involving chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons is more likely to come from short- and medium-range missiles than intercontinental ballistic missiles. "The goal of the adversary would be to move the weapon within striking distance by using short- and medium-range missiles deployed on surface ships or covert missions using military special operations forces or state intelligence services," the report says.

The report also predicts that chemical and biological threats to the United States will increase. "Some terrorists or insurgents will attempt to use such weapons against U.S. interests – against the United States itself, its forces or facilities overseas, or its allies."

In assessing the potential for future conflict, the report focuses on China as a growing global power in military and economic terms.

"Some projections indicate that Chinese power will rise because of the growth of its economic and military capabilities," the report says. "Other projections indicate that the array of political, social, and economic pressures will increasingly challenge the stability and legitimacy of the regime. Most assessments today argue that China will seek to avoid conflict in the region to promote stable economic growth and to ensure internal stability."

Russia's future is much bleaker. "Besides a crumbling infrastructure, years of environmental neglect are taking a toll on the population, a toll made worse by such societal costs of transition as alcoholism, cardiac diseases, drugs, and a worsening health delivery system," the report says.
"In macro economic terms Russia's [gross domestic product] probably has bottomed out. Russia, nevertheless, is still likely to fall short in its efforts to become fully integrated into the global financial and trading system by 2015," the report continues. "Even under a best case scenario of 5 percent annual economic growth, Russia would attain an economy less than one-fifth the size of that of the United States."

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 © 2000 William S. Donaldson III.  All rights reserved