Economic, political, and social changes — including increases in radical extremism — over the next 15 years are likely to hold “a bumpy ride” for the nations of the world. Those are among forecasts in one of the more readable and interesting documents to come out of Washington. The just-released report of the National Intelligence Council's Project 2020 features the consensus of 1,000 or so international experts who contributed thoughts on what may happen to the world over the next decade and a half.

The NIC reports directly to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (though it maintains separate status) and this unclassified report is something of a departure from the usual top secret stuff.

Integrating 1 billion low-paid workers into a globalized economy will cause worldwide shifts in both rich and poor countries, says NIC Vice Chairman David Gordon. “The U.S. is in good shape to participate in this world,” he says, “but it will be a world that is much more competitive for us.”

Among some of the forecasts in the 120-page report:

  • By 2020, China's gross national product (GNP) will exceed that of Western economic powers, except for the U.S. India's GNP will have overtaken, or be on the threshold of overtaking that of European economies.

  • The emergence of China and India as new major global players will transform the geopolitical landscape. The economies of other developing countries, such as Brazil, could surpass all but the largest European nations, as could that of Indonesia. These rising nations “have the potential to render obsolete the old categories of East, West, North, and South.”

  • Globalization will be a force “so ubiquitous that it will substantially shape all other major trends” (although this could be slowed or stopped by catastrophic war or global economic depression).

  • However, benefits of globalization won't be global. Some First World countries may see their power status declining. “The U.S. will see its relative power position eroded, though it will remain in 2020 the most important single country across all the dimensions of power.”

  • The greatest benefits of globalization will go to those countries that can best access and adopt new technologies. “China and India are well-positioned to become technology leaders.” Benefits will also accrue to those utilizing genetically-modified organisms or other methods that lead to breakthroughs in food production.

  • Firms operating globally will become “more Asian and less Western in orientation” and by 2020 “globalization could be equated in the popular mind with a rising Asia, replacing its current association with Americanism.”

  • An expanding global economy will increase demand for many raw materials, such as oil. Total energy use will probably rise by 50 percent over the next 20 years and disruption of oil supplies remains “a key uncertainty.”

The transition to a global economy “will not be painless,” the report notes. “Globalization will profoundly shake up the status quo, generating enormous economic, cultural, and political convulsions… and will hit the middle classes of the developed world in particular, bringing more rapid job turnover and requiring professional retooling.”

The complete report can be downloaded at http://www.cia.gov/nic/NIC_2020_project.html, where hardcover copies may also be ordered.