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2015 Outlook: Enough Food, Scarce Water, Porous Borders


WASHINGTON, Dec. 17 – In a sweeping projection of what the world will look like in 2015, the intelligence community has concluded that issues like the availability of water and food, changes in population and the spread of information and disease will increasingly affect the national security of the United States.

The assessment, contained in an unclassified report called “Global Trends 2015,” also makes a number of predictions about the political landscape of the world.

Russia, for example, will continue to become weaker – economically, militarily and socially, the report predicts. China will be faced by political, economic and social pressures that will “increasingly challenge the regime’s legitimacy, and perhaps its survival.” And Israel “at best” will conclude a “cold peace” with its adversaries.

In addition, the report lays out a number of what it calls unlikely but nevertheless “possible” scenarios.

One is that strategically important countries like Iran and Nigeria and even strategic allies of the United States like Israel could fall victim to internal religious or ethnic divisions, “and crisis ensues.” Another is that China, India and Russia “form a de facto geo-strategic alliance in an attempt to counterbalance U.S. and Western influence.”

In terms of global resources, the report concludes that by 2015, nearly half of the world’s population – more than three billion people – will be in countries lacking sufficient water, and that even more genetically modified crops or projects to desalt sea water will not substantially help.

The 70-page report is one result of an unusual 15-month collaboration between the National Intelligence Council, a sort of analytical think tank of senior intelligence officials that works alongside the C.I.A., and dozens of outside scientific, diplomatic and corporate experts. It is not a traditional intelligence report based on classical intelligence sources and methods.

“This was a serious effort to provide a context to discuss opportunities as well as threats to the U.S. national security community,” said John Gannon, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, in an interview. The purpose, he said, is to get policy makers to focus on long- term global trends and to think beyond the ordinary concerns of the intelligence community.

An advance copy of the report, which will be released on Monday, was made available to The New York Times. Copies of the report were delivered late last week to the White House, other agencies of government and members of the team of President-elect George W. Bush.

Some intelligence officials are concerned that persuading the Bush national security team to look beyond traditional threats will be particularly challenging.

In an article in Foreign Affairs, written during the campaign, Condoleezza Rice, who will be Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, argued, for instance, that “national interest” was too often replaced by “humanitarian interest” or the interests of “the international community.”

Instead, she suggested, the United States should promote what is in its own interest – democracy or free trade, for example.

But other intelligence officials say a greater problem is that the structure of the national security bureaucracy leads it to look at the world first country by country and then in terms of geographical regions.

“You try to tell people that disease is rising in four out of five continents – well, the regional assistant secretaries have to be persuaded to put it on their agendas first,” said one senior intelligence official.

Although the conventional wisdom in Washington, particularly on Capitol Hill, is that China will become more of a regional military threat, the report concludes that modernization of the country’s agricultural and national infrastructure will be higher priorities than military investment.

“The evidence strongly suggests” that China’s new leaders “will be even more firmly committed to developing the economy as the foundation of national power and that resources for military capabilities will take a secondary role,” it says.

Despite all the intelligence resources devoted to China, the report states repeatedly that it cannot say with any certainty what the Chinese state will look like in 15 years.

While most of those taking part in the study concluded that economic growth would continue, the report acknowledges that it will be difficult to meld the openness that growth requires with political control. “Estimates of developments in China over the next 15 years are fraught with unknowables,” the report bluntly states.

The outlook for Russia, particularly its economy, is bleak. “Besides a crumbling physical infrastructure, years of environmental neglect are taking a toll on the populations, a toll made worse by such societal costs of transition as alcoholism, cardiac diseases, drugs and a worsening health delivery system.”

The Russian population, which will become more sickly, may shrink in size from 146 million to 130 million in 15 years, the report says. Even under a best-case scenario of 5 percent annual economic growth, Russia would attain an economy less than one-fifth the size of the United States’.

In the Middle East, by 2015, there will be a Palestinian state, the report says, but “Israel will have attained a cold peace with its neighbors, with only limited social, economic and cultural ties.”

A key driving trend for the Middle East in the next 15 years will be population pressures. Even now, in nearly all of the Middle Eastern countries, more than half of the population is under 20 years of age. “In much of the Middle East, populations will be significantly larger, poorer, more urban and more disillusioned.”

The report concludes that the population of the world will grow from the current 6.1 billion to 7.2 billion by 2015. Ninety-five percent of that growth is expected to occur in the developing world, and nearly all of it in rapidly expanding urban areas.

“Megacities” of more than 10 million people will continue to grow, straining or even crippling roads, bridges and sewerage and electrical systems. The population of Jakarta will more than double, from 9.5 million to 21.2 million; Lagos will double from 12.2 million to 24.4 million.

The good news is that there will be enough energy resources in 2015, despite a 50 percent rise in global demand, the report says. It also predicts that there will be enough food to feed the world’s growing population, although “poor infrastructure and distribution, political instability and chronic poverty” will lead to malnutrition in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The main resource problem will be water, the shortages so acute that they could cause regional instability. Problems could include Turkey’s construction of new irrigation projects on the Tigris and Euphrates, which would reduce the water flowing into Syria and Iraq, and ambitious projects in Ethiopia and Sudan that could divert water from the Nile and reduce the flow into Egypt.

In terms of disease, the report underscores earlier intelligence projections that AIDS and tuberculosis are likely to account for the majority of deaths in most developing countries in 15 years. In some African countries, average life spans will be reduced by as much as 30 to 40 years, leaving more than 40 million children orphaned and contributing to poverty, crime and instability.

In many cases the report makes stark predictions without offering specific evidence or footnotes. These are some of its other judgments:

¶Japan will have “difficulty” maintaining its current position as the world’s third-largest economy.

¶India “most likely” will expand the size of its nuclear-capable force.

¶Pakistan’s nuclear and missile forces will continue to increase.

¶Russia will not join the European Union.

¶The very concept of “belonging” to a particular state will probably erode.

In one of its most sweeping conclusions, the report says governments will have less and less control over flows of information, technology, diseases, migrants, arms and financial transactions, whether legal or illegal, across their borders.

“States with ineffective and incompetent governance not only will fail to benefit from globalization,” it says, “but in some instances will spawn conflicts at home and abroad, ensuring an even wider gap between regional winners and losers that exists today.”

Globalization, the report said, “will not lift all boats.”