- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 4, 2003


It’s 2020 and the United States, Europe and Japan struggle to maintain a decent quality of life for masses of elderly people.

China faces a choice between belligerence and joining Western nations as an economic superpower. India, Brazil and Indonesia are emerging powers.

That’s one future being contemplated by U.S. intelligence officials as part of a long-range forecasting endeavor just getting under way. The effort, called the National Intelligence Council 2020 Project, aims to come up with a range of scenarios the world could face.

The product will be unclassified, which is unusual for the U.S. intelligence services. Council Chairman Robert L. Hutchings, in a recent interview at CIA headquarters, said he expects to publish the paper in December 2004, timed between the presidential election and the beginning of either President Bush’s second term or a new administration.

“It’s a time when people inside government are more ready to think very broadly,” Mr. Hutchings said.

With so much of the nation’s intelligence community focused on the next car bomb, Mr. Hutchings said looking years ahead would help policy-makers navigate what he described as a “period of profound flux in world affairs.”

The council is made up of senior analysts who advise Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet. It is not part of the CIA but is located at the agency’s headquarters.

The project held its first conference in November. Over the next year, it will bring together specialists on demographics, technology and regional affairs. Foreign scholars will be consulted for their views on their home regions as well as the United States.

At the start, Mr. Hutchings and his colleagues have mostly questions:

• Will mass retirements in North America, Europe and Japan strain national economies to the point there’s a global slowdown?

“That’s not inevitable,” Mr. Hutchings said. “It’s possible that these creative societies will be able to take policy measures to accommodate an aging work force and move toward a new era of economic growth.”

• What countries are most likely to fall apart and become potential terrorist havens?

• Will poorer nations create a backlash that undermines the global trading system?

• Will economic forces lead to major change in China, the world’s most populous nation?

“What would it take for the Chinese Communist Party to evolve so much that it could accommodate all these new political, economic and social forces that have been unleashed by economic growth?” Mr. Hutchings asked. “What other forms of political expression might pop up? Greater regional identity? New social movements? Even new political parties?”

Whatever happens, Mr. Hutchings said the nation is unlikely to be just like the China of today.

“I’m personally attracted by the theory that China can either become aggressive or powerful, but not both,” Mr. Hutchings said. “A China that was reverting to threatening behavior would be a closed China that wouldn’t be open enough for economic growth.”

The aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq will still be felt in the Persian Gulf region in 2020, he predicted.

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