Tomorrow’s Tapestry: A Futuristic Analysis of Global Technology, Security, and Diplomacy Landscaped Security
July 15, 2022 | Expert Insights
The year 2035 beckons a future defined by unprecedented challenges and opportunities, urging a collective examination of the forces shaping our global landscape. A comprehensive understanding of the prevailing dynamics and what lies beyond the horizon is paramount for policymakers, businesses and citizens alike.
However, while outlining the key elements that will mould the contours of the future, we should avoid falling into the cognitive trap of focusing too much on high-profile events. More important is the need to concentrate on long-term trends and interdependencies. It is crucial to recognise the interconnectivity of various domains of geopolitics, security, economy, energy, environment and technology and adopt a cross-domain cum reductionist approach to scan the horizon. In this era of rapid transformation, a multitude of factors will converge to influence the trajectory of international affairs. From geopolitical shifts to technological breakthroughs, the world is poised at a crossroads. Increasing geopolitical polarisation, power shifts, realignments based on national interests, widening conflicts, unequal economic growth, growing centrality of digital technologies and a looming environmental crisis have been the dominant trends over the last few years.
Today, the world is at a stage of transition between an existing world order in decline and the emergence of a new world order. As Antonio Gramsci had averred, the said ‘morbid symptoms of the interregnum’ seem to be playing out around us today making forecasting and understanding of the future even more complex. There has been a pronounced power shift from the Global North to the Global South and from developed economies to emerging economies. There also seems to be an emerging trend of shift in power from state entities to Big Tech Corporations.
While globalisation, in addition to being securitised, is fragmented and multilateralism is on the wane, there is also a strong global sentiment for the revival and strengthening of these two pillars. International organisations and institutions have been slow in adapting and transforming to meet the emerging global and regional challenges, leading to questions on their relevance and a shift towards alternate groupings.
Countries are prioritising national interests over values and are focussing on preserving their strategic autonomy to retain the flexibility to make policy decisions in their national interest. The resultant shifts in issue-based cooperative mechanisms driven by evolving geopolitical interests and regional dynamics are increasingly becoming the norm.
Warfare of the future will continue to address both ends of the spectrum of conflict, as is evident from the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas confrontations. Conflicts are going to be characterised by grey zone, hybrid, information and technological warfare with an increasing focus on cyber, space and cognitive domains. While conflicts along traditional fault lines cannot be ruled out, the increasing competition for influence in the Indo-Pacific region makes it the potential flash point of the future. India will find itself in the centre of all such possible threat scenarios.
The relentless march of technology in the domains of Artificial Intelligence (AI), quantum computing, blockchain technology, metaverse, synthetic biology and aerospace will usher in a new era. Strategic competition in the development and application of AI and quantum computing, ethical and geopolitical implications of rapid advancements in biotechnology, the politics of data governance and control impacting national sovereignty and global debates on privacy and data protection are some of the dominant narratives. In fact, the new ‘cold war’ tensions are ranged around the intensifying race between global powers to achieve technological superiority. History is witness to the fact that technological supremacy is the key to economic and geopolitical global primacy. Those who become stragglers in this race can never hope to sit at the global high table.
The global economy will continue to be a crucial driver, with nations closely intertwined through trade, investment, and financial systems. Economic dynamics will be characterised by a delicate balance between interdependence and nationalist impulses. Global supply chains will face disruptions, prompting a re-evaluation of resilience strategies. With all countries prioritising economic growth as their core national interest, the economic growth differential between countries, especially between the USA, China and some of the emerging economies, will be a decisive factor in the global power shifts. The ascendancy of the digital economy will not only reshape markets but also redefine economic power structures.
In view of the growing global realisation of the existential environmental threat posed by fossil fuels, the transition to renewable energy sources is a given. This will challenge traditional energy geopolitics and nations will vie for control over strategic resources, vital for the production of renewable technologies. Nations like China that have taken the lead in battery technology will enjoy the advantages of a first responder. Simultaneously, ensuring a smooth transition without adversely impacting the economic growth of countries will be critical for stability in the short and mid-term. This is especially true for emerging economies like India, where an energy transformation would require an immense amount of investment far beyond its own national coffers.
A Few Continuities
Some continuities in global trends are clearly established. The first is a Demographic Shift. Population dynamics, including ageing populations in some regions and youth bulges in others, will influence economic productivity, social stability, resource availability and migration patterns, contributing to geopolitical shifts. We are already seeing this as a record number of economic migrants assail the walls of the U.S. and Europe in their desperate quest for a better life. The second and more important is Climate Change, which is fast turning into a reality that is hard to push back. The consequences of climate change persist, with rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and resource scarcity becoming more pronounced. These environmental challenges will amplify existing geopolitical tensions or force the world to unite to meet the existential threats.
Key Drivers of Global Change
The future is going to be largely driven by the global quest for power, fear of common threats and the realisation of the potential of technological innovations. Having studied the cross-domain relationships and clubbed together the interrelated trends, the distilled key drivers of change that will shape the future in 2035 could be as under: -
• Diffusion of Power: There is clearly an irreversible trend of increasing diffusion of power, enabled by a combination of demographic dynamics, economic growth differential and globalisation. The future is going to be decided by how the West responds to the loss of power and how the emerging powers assume and execute global responsibility. This could establish a road map to transition from a unipolar to bipolar to a multipolar world order. If we go back to first principles, it is going to be about the tension between decentralisation of the emerging order and recentralisation of the old order and how much the global South will be incorporated as a partner in global decision making.
• Global Approach to Challenges: There is a growing realisation for a holistic global approach to address the existential threats of climate change, widening conflicts, technology disruptions, diseases and financial crises. The global consensus in addressing environmental degradation and preventing conflict escalation has been evident in the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts also, although the jury is still out on how robust and successful it has been. The future is going to see intense contestation in three critical areas: gaining influence in the Indo Pacific, leveraging resources for alternate energy and in the domain of technology.
• Tech Innovations: The relentless pace, digital interconnectedness, convergence of technological developments and increasing centrality of technology as a measure of power are changing geopolitical dynamics. Technological innovation is increasingly being seen as the panacea to most of the world’s challenges because it has the potential to transcend the space and time constraints that circumscribe the future. The global ‘will’ to harness this force-multiplier constructively and collectively rather than using it to compete against each other will, in many ways, decide our future trajectory.
Few Alternate Plausible Scenarios
Based on the key drivers of change, the following are the possible global scenarios of the future: -
• The Eagle Soars Again: This scenario envisages a return to the unipolar world with the resurgence of the USA along with its democratic allies and a decline of China and Russia. This is characterised by an economic revival and explosion of technological innovations in these conducive open societies of the USA, Europe and its democratic allies.
Simultaneously, China faces overwhelming headwinds due to its economic decline post the pandemic and the resultant breach of social contract with its people, leading to social unrest and political disunity. It also leads to inconsistency and aggressiveness in its relationship with other countries. Russia is drained out by the stalemate of the Ukraine war and the consequent political instability, especially if President Putin departs from the scene.
• Technological Cold War: A scenario where the world moves towards a bipolar contestation in which a technological Cold War takes centre stage, with major powers engaging in intense competition for dominance in emerging technologies. This could lead to the fragmentation of the global technological landscape, posing challenges to cooperation and standardisation. Simultaneously, the military jostling for power in the Indo-Pacific intensifies, sparking fears of a flashpoint.
• The Great Divide: This scenario envisages the rapid rise of China and Russia while the USA is slowed down by its internal politics and “American First” mentality. This preoccupation reduces its focus towards world affairs, facilitating the creation of an alternate economic and technological ecosystem by China through its BRI, GSI, GDI, GCI and Standards 2035 initiatives. China strengthens its hold over the Indo-Pacific region by integrating Taiwan and leveraging its economic heft. The world is segregated into two silos with impermeable ecosystems leading to a fragmented approach to addressing the common threats.
• Multipolar Equilibrium: In this scenario, power is distributed among multiple major players, including the Global South, and multilateralism takes centre stage. This could foster a more balanced and collaborative international system, albeit with its own set of challenges in managing diverse interests. It would also envision a renaissance in global governance, marked by effective international cooperation to address shared challenges.
• United Response to Crisis: This depicts a world that, after having faced a grave existential environmental crisis, discards its differences and comes together to face common challenges and threats. This would need transformation to more representative global and regional institutions, a cooperative approach in leveraging technological innovations, ensuring equitable economic growth and focussing on sustainable development. It sounds Utopian, but it remains a possibility.
In navigating the uncertainties of Global Futures 2035, stakeholders must remain vigilant, adaptive and cooperative. The outlined key drivers and alternate scenarios provide a framework for anticipating and responding to the multifaceted challenges that lie ahead. By embracing a holistic approach to global dynamics, we can collectively strive for a future that is resilient, equitable, and forward-looking.
• India’s core strategy will address the common elements of all scenarios, its basic strategy will be aligned to the preferred scenario and its contingency strategy needs to address the other alternate scenarios.
• From amongst the array of possible futures it is quite clear that the most preferred scenario for India is ‘United Response to Crisis’. We need to look at how we can back cast this scenario and take steps towards achieving the preferred scenario, while also monitoring global shift towards any of the other alternate scenarios to facilitate agility in adopting the relevant contingency strategy.
• The world order is in the process of transition and the future, in many ways, will depend on the path the world charts out for itself today. It is also quite evident that Asia and the Global South will spearhead the changes of tomorrow. It is therefore important for India to increase its focus on building relationships in Asia, improving connectivity & trust in its neighbourhood and championing the cause of the Global South.
• In this rapidly transforming world the key to our success is going to be ‘Diplomatic Agility and Internal Resilience’. In the short term we need to continue to focus on our economic development and national interests with a view to building our ‘National Power’. We need to leverage opportunities through a flexible foreign policy for which we need to preserve an optimal amount of strategic autonomy.
• India’s macroeconomic success is going to depend on its ability to change its traditional uneven growth into a high and stable one, its ability to leverage its window of demographic dividend and its ability to ensure equitable growth for its population. To have the required gravitas to be at the high table, it will need to have a sustained GDP growth rate of above 6.5% till 2035 and also have to find innovative ways to leapfrog over conventionally established models of economic growth. We also need to focus on health, education, skill development and employment generation for the population. This tailor-made approach to sustainable economic development that India follows could also provide the guardrails for the trajectory of the Global South.
• In view of the key role of technology, India needs to craft a National Technology Strategy that identifies technological gaps to be addressed indigenously and those that need foreign collaboration. It is also mandatory to synergise the efforts of academia, R& D organisations, users and manufacturers through greater integration and information sharing.