ABUJA – Two important documents that help shape worldview and influence policymaking across the globe have been published. The office of the United State Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released declassified versions of its quadrennial Global Trends (GT-2040) report for the National Intelligence Council on April 8, and the Annual Threat Assessment (ATA) document on April 9.
These reports, famed for their precision in assessing key trends and uncertain scenarios for the Intelligence Community (IC) in the United States, stimulate discussions in the strategic environment by pinpointing threats and trends. This year, a noticeable shift to name-dropping countries like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea as “threats”, culminated in the GT-2040 document boldly forecasting a ‘possible military crash between the United States and China’ based on its analysis of Sino-American relations.
Why should the world concern itself with America and China’s brouhaha in the midst of a global disruption ushered by the COVID-19 pandemic? A 2008 version of these reports warned about the “potential emergence of a pandemic originating in East Asia and spreading rapidly around the world,” but I was wrapped up in O-Level examinations at the time and oblivious to such a memo.
Inside America’s Intelligence reports
Typically, at the genesis of a new administration, American intelligence agencies aggregate information on global challenges that are subconsciously known and make them conscious for greater emphasis. For a document that accurately predicted the ongoing pandemic, it is imperative to pay extra attention to its contents, noting that they hold premonitions about our collective futures. My approach to doing this is hearing what’s being said, then listening for conversations outside the scope of both documents to reconcile facts in their entirety.
The Annual Threat Assessment (ATA) report is a dossier of worldwide threats to the national security of the United States. It responds to Section 617 of the FY21 Intelligence Authorization Act (P.L. 116-260) to “provide nuanced, independent, and unvarnished intelligence for the protection of American lives and American interests.” The Global Trends (GT-2040) document is intended to “help policymakers and citizens see what may lie beyond the horizon and prepare adequately.”
Already, Dr. Mattews Burrows, a former editor of previous versions of both reports, published a critique on the documents for the Atlantic Council. He cited shortcomings in the documents based on outward expectations at the C.I.A and National Intelligence Council. Apparently, America’s ‘not-so-subtle effort to bury the discussion of terrorism in the back of the report’ while cold calling China in the opening paragraph of the ATA, did not get the attention the Intelligence Community (IC) had hoped for.
It’s almost as if the US wrote a list of problems, dashed hopes about solutions, then passed it around to helpless dependents and empowered competitors. “It’s a shame,” Dr. Burrows appraised the itemized format and shallow context of the documents that did little to reassure the world of US leadership.
“It is structured as a laundry list of threats and allows little room for exploring how the threats compound one another. Instead, the ATA seems to be designed for letting the public know the priority of threats in the IC’s mind. When I drafted the report, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction topped the list. Now China is first and terrorism takes a real back seat, coming at the end of transnational threats such as climate change, cyber, and migration,” he wrote. It is important to note that, these documents by law, cannot prescribe solutions or coerce policy recommendations – they are simply alarmist in nature.
Both documents are packed, and they require careful effort to unpack. The ATA addressed provocative actions, COVID-19 and transnational issues, global terrorism, conflicts, and instability. But obvious is the absence of rigor on the many challenges facing dependent regions of the world, and even America’s own challenges.
For example, the 27-paged ATA drafted a single paragraph about ethnic conflicts and contentious elections as ‘threats to stability’ in Africa. It also contained three lines that attributed protests in Asia to the Burmese military’s seizure of power. The Global Trends assessment, on the other hand, predicts stagnation for poor regions of Africa, with GDP for South and North-East Asia spiking rapidly. What got the most attention, however, is China.
World power tussle and the future of global governance
Throughout my childhood up to adolescence, America has been described as World Power – a country that has significant influence in international affairs. I have seen this to hold truth under multilateralism and global governance, where the US asserts its leadership by serving as coordinator and center for knowledge in political cooperation among transnational actors. This effort is aimed at negotiating responses to problems that affect more than one state or region, and has worked fairly well. But when the global pandemic happened, many countries turned to America for answers, but shockingly met a deluge of questions.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many countries to turn around, and for the first time, look inwards to solve problems with minimal external support and maximum localized effort. It was under these working conditions that decentralization was born. But before I get anyone excited about atomizing society as a model for the future of global governance, let me invite caution on the fresh set of consequences awaiting the world in this new order.
America clearly has bigger fish to fry. It is evident in these documents and the FBI director, Christopher Wray, posits this in his commentary about China’s push for world power. “I don’t think there is any country that presents a more severe threat to our innovation, our economic security and our democratic ideas,” he said. The spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, responded to the commentary saying that “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail – The U.S intends to maintain its global hegemony forever and to dominate international rules, so it sees challenges and threats everywhere.”
The United States and China have become the proverbial elephants fighting, while relegating nations of the world to the role of the ground that suffers. But suffering is not an option given these difficult times. People around the world are slowly but surely moving on. Humans by design will continue to evolve, and the polarity of ideas presented by the top-two economic giants, have broken a hedge and birthed decentralization as the future model for global governance.
The flaws of American leadership is China’s advantage
The global pandemic plugged a hole in America’s air-inflated balloon under President Donald Trump’s administration and its notorious #AmericaFirst agenda. After setting very high standards, one must equally work to live up to it.
As world power, the U.S suffered great reputational damage, including losing credibility in the eyes and minds of nations that have long held her up as the ideal. The effects of her inability to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, America’s top ranking in the list of worst-hit nations despite forecasting the pandemic a decade ago, and a tumultuous presidential election that birthed the unprecedented attack on Congress, can be likened to a child discovering that their Nobel Laureate parent cannot spell Photosynthesis.
Although kids are perpetually respectful to parents due to the obvious power distance in parental relations, things are just not the same on a mental and psychological level when a kid peeps such an anomaly.
The Trump administration viciously sought to hold China accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic, since the virus originated in Wuhan in December 2019. China however took a higher moral ground to claim responsibility by its non-response and advancement to proffering solutions and PPE supplies for struggling nations at the crux of the pandemic.
China became the bigger person in a fight that left America discombobulated.
A bleak future: From globalization to decentralization
During the World Policy Forum, the future of multilateralism and global governance were dissected to partners at the global table. Globalization and current forms of global governance were described as ‘infringing on national sovereignty and constraining democratic decision-making.’ Simply put, heads of government are now growing weary from actively seeking seats at America’s table, as under-developed and developing nations are building their own tables.
This move for decentralized leadership will abolish the need to groan about institutional diversity or demand for political autonomy. It will also isolate the stifled relationship between the United States and China, to where it can fairly resolve itself. Quite honestly, as America anticipates a future even more chaotic and divided, this ‘diverse array of threats’ are centered around domestic terrorism in Washington, and the devolution of world power to Beijing. The ATA report opened with a decry that China is ‘challenging the United States in multiple areas while pushing to change global norms’ so it’s safe to say that the U.S knows that much.
In the future, no one nation will dominate the world with its ideals. Larger economies will serve as blackboards from which lesser economies will learn, and grow intelligently. The pandemic is easily a measure of true strength, and nations have shown resilience in their individual responses to the pandemic. When borders shut down to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, countries sought internal cohesion and self-sustenance. Africa as the aid-dependent weaker vessel, surprised everyone.
America and China as determinants
The Biden administration has however shown signs of mending fences at home by undoing Trump’s touch in America with a rush of Executive Orders. There has been a refreshing show of empathy in Washington through quality representation in the Biden-Harris cabinet for policymaking. Some successes include rejoining the Paris Agreement for combating climate change, ramping up COVID-19 vaccinations across the US for reopening the economy and handing down justice in the trial of Police Officer Derek Chauvin – a case that sparked the #BlackLivesMatter protests and a global outrage on systemic racism in the U.S.
Despite these efforts, there’s a flurry of issues yet to be addressed in America, from deepening student debt and the opioid crisis to recurring gun violence.
For its approach to finding common grounds with China through improved foreign relations, the Biden administration is still getting negative reviews from Beijing. According to China Daily, a joint statement from the U.S and Japan badmouthed China on the Taiwan question. “Each of the two has its evil ideas. The US hopes to launch its New Cold War for which reason it sends warships to the South China Sea in order to stir up trouble…The Taiwan question is China’s domestic affair, and anyone trying to intervene in it will only end up harming himself/herself,” the report clamored. China has also accused the US of “pretending to treat allies as friends but uses them as a cannon fodder in hopes of profiting from their sacrifice.”
When other forecasted trends from the intelligence community like mass protests erupted in different parts of the world, the response differed from antecedents where the U.S throws its weight by means of strategic intervention and ultimatums. Instead, countries acted upon the positives learned from America’s #BlackLivesMatter protests, then contextualized their approach to match local rules and evade repression.
In February, the “HK19Manual” – a global playbook for organizing, executing, and sustaining a mass protest emerged in Hong Kong. It holds strategic instructions for leaderless protest coordination. Such protests like those in Myanmar and Nigeria heralds a significant achievement in decentralizing global governance by the gradual transvaluation (and eventual break down) of globalization.
Notice the pattern of interconnection amongst activists in the various countries – ‘leading a resistance without leading it’. With the internet and communication technology playing a critical role in the future, a decentralized network, where each node serves as a purveyor of willpower, cannot be stopped.