One expectation of leaders is that they take uncertainty out of an uncertain world. They must know what lies ahead and act on it - first using a crystal ball, then a tool kit.
The US government's intelligence community, working with outside experts, just issued a set of forecasts for 15 years hence called "Global Trends 2015." Their projections of current trends reveal more foresightedness than foreshadowing, more hope than dire warnings. The nation's top analysts know they have a responsibility and an opportunity to create a better future.
The report foresees a robust global economy and greater international cooperation. Economic growth rates will be close to those of the 1960s. That in turn will reduce armed conflict and ease the effects of population growth and water shortages.
But trends also point to more movement of people, driven by globalization of labor markets and political instability. Already, legal and illegal migrants account for more than 15 percent of the population in more than 50 countries.
"The very concept of 'belonging' to a particular state will probably erode," the report states. But globalization "will not lift all boats." Governments will have less control over the flows of people, arms, information, and money. Food stocks and energy supplies will be plentiful, but bureaucratic bottlenecks and poverty will hinder their distribution. Just under half the world's population will live in "water-stressed" areas of Africa, the Mideast, Asia, and China. Conflicts between states over water may rise.
Russia, at best, will have an economy less than one-fifth that of the US. China will likely avoid regional conflict for the sake of growth and internal stability.
Conflicts, the report says, will be mostly within states, and terrorists will be more free-wheeling and capable of chemical, biological, or nuclear attacks.
All this puts more responsibility on what the report predicts will continue to be the world's "preponderant" nation: "The United States, as a global power, will have little choice but to engage leading actors and confront problems on both sides of the widening economic and digital divides in the world of 2015, when globalization's benefits will be far from global."
Charged with foreseeing threats, the intelligence community nonetheless has offered a clear vision for how a smaller world can be a better one.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society