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as climate change. Seeing a more inward West, Russia and China might feel less threatened, and their defensiveness could ease. For the Chinese, a less assertive United States on the world stage might give them hope that they could strike a deal with the United States regarding the South China Sea. Over time, as domestic problems are tackled, there may be more appetite in Western and developing states to boost cooperation. With the growth of inward-looking regional blocs, there is always the risk that Fragmented World would get catapulted into a New Cold War scenario. US isolationism and the protectionism of the 1930s increased distrust and suspicion and laid the groundwork for the outbreak of the Second World War. Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan miscalculated Allied reaction to their aggression. A Russia, China, or Iran that sought its own revisionism with a slowly declining West might come in for a rude awakening. Certain sets of conflicts—China vs. the United States, Russia vs. NATO, or Western and Sunni powers vs. Iran, Russia, and China—would greatly accelerate the breakup into bipolar camps. A United States that slaps high tariffs on Chinese goods, breaks with its EU and NATO partners, and picks a fight with its neighbors over immigration could also trigger a more rapid reversal of globalization and an ending of multilateral cooperation. Nations in any variant of this conflict scenario would wage economic war, if not indulge in more kinetic varieties. Cyberspace would be turned into a key battleground, where states and terrorist groups would seek advantage by taking out key infrastructure in each other’s territory. There would always be the chance that hybrid warfare would escalate into full-scale conventional or nuclear exchange. With the rising terrorist capacity for lethality, it is worthwhile to think about the possibility of Strange Bedfellows, in which states are forced to band together to counter the growing power of terrorist and criminal groups that are greatly empowered with high-tech weaponry, such as cyber and biotech. In a high-tech world in which the bar to entry has been lowered and the focus of terrorist groups gradually turns from high-casualty events to disabling critical infrastructure, the fight might turn into one between states and nonstate actors. It would be in all states’ interests to see high-tech capabilities under their control. Suddenly, the world would see state-run labs having monopolies on bio or cyber technology. This would be close to a Hobbesian world in which security, much more than economic growth, becomes the overriding goal for all regimes. While states may still worry about threats from one another, there would be a big incentive for them to cooperate on a selected basis against nonstate targets, mitigating their differences elsewhere. Each of the above worlds would be colored, if not driven, by two key social and economic trends. First, as life expectancy reaches ninety years for advanced economies, how to pay for pensions and healthcare programs will increasingly become the state’s focus. Aging and aged societies tend to be conservative ones; a rapidly aging world would favor a West that turns more inward and is hostile to the changes that come with globalization. Brexit, for example, was supported by the older generation. Aging societies are less likely to be interested in going to war, which might prevent the slide into major stateon-state warfare. And all the major powers—the United States, Russia, China, and Europe—will be aging rapidly by the 2020s. There may still be a battleground, but it will be one at home between the young and old. Wealth and income will be concentrated in the older generation. Over time, more intergenerational distribution of wealth may become the norm, in order to avoid an escalation in social tensions and a burst of youthful frustrations. Growing urbanization may be another feature, adding to the power diffusion in the base scenario, even while moderating any bipolar divisions in the second and third scenarios above. As in previous eras, cities are the focus of technological development and a source of economic growth. Youths are attracted to cities because of the economic opportunities they offer. For as long as cities have been in existence, they have been the places with the most diversity and acceptance of the foreign or “the other.” In the most stressful international environments, major cities would band together in a modern-day Hanseatic League, maintaining levels of cooperation on technology, resource management, and free exchange of people and immigration. Cities may never be able to prevent regions’ downward spirals into conflict, but they could act as the source for regeneration or renaissance. Given that metropolitan cities encompass many more people than ever before, their clout would be greater, and they could be more efficacious in braking the slide into full-scale protectionism or state-on-state conflict.

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Global Risks 2035  

Authored by Dr. Mathew J. Burrows, director of the Strategic Foresight Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on Intern...

Global Risks 2035  

Authored by Dr. Mathew J. Burrows, director of the Strategic Foresight Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on Intern...