The US will likely be the “first among equals” rather than a lone superpower by 2030, in an increasingly chaotic world where China is the top economy, a US intelligence report said on Monday.
The National Intelligence Council (NIC), in its first assessment in four years aimed at shaping US strategic thinking, said China would surpass the US as the largest economy in the 2020s, in line with independent forecasts.
However, the US, while weaker, will probably remain the top player in two decades thanks to its role in resolving global crises, its technological prowess and its “soft power” that attracts outsiders, the 137-page report Global Trends 2030 said.
“The US most likely will remain ‘first among equals’ among the other great powers in 2030 because of its preeminence across a range of power dimensions and legacies of its leadership role,” it said.
“Nevertheless, with the rapid rise of other countries, the ‘unipolar moment’ is over and Pax Americana — the era of American ascendancy in international politics that began in 1945 — is fast winding down,” it said.
The study predicted that Asia’s economy, military spending and technological investment would surpass those of North America and Europe combined by 2030, but warned of major uncertainty over an emerging China.
“If Beijing fails to transition to a more sustainable, innovation-based economic model, it will remain a top-tier player in Asia, but the influence surrounding what has been a remarkable ascendance will dissipate,” it said.
China’s global power is likely to keep rising, but at a slower rate — a phenomenon of easing growth that, according to historical precedent, makes countries “likely to become fearful and more assertive,” the study said.
If tensions keep rising in Asia, more nations will embrace US leadership and China “can be its own worst enemy,” the report’s lead author Mathew Burrows told reporters.
Tensions between the US and China — possibly involving Taiwan — will probably grow, the report said.
“The United States’ historic role as a security guarantor in Asia, including its substantial on-the-ground military presence, puts it in a competitive position with rising Asian states — particularly China — who desire greater regional roles for themselves,” the report says.
Continued US protection of the sea lanes are likely to be welcomed by most countries, it said, but Chinese strategists already worry that Beijing’s dependence on the US for sea lane security will become a “strategic vulnerability.”
China is concerned that in a future conflict “such as over Taiwan” the US might impose an oil embargo, which is why China is now building its naval power and developing land-bound energy transportation routes to diversify its access to energy, the report said.
The persistence of conflicts on the Korean Peninsula and in the Taiwan Strait have led to historical grievances festering and intensifying, it said.
“Fear of Chinese power, growing nationalism across the region and possible questions about US staying power will fuel these tensions over the coming decades,” the report said.
Should Asia become divided by power struggles and rivalries, the US would be called to be a “balancer” ensuring regional stability.
“Potential crises that could occur in the 2030 time frame,” says the report, “ such as Korean unification or a tense standoff between the US and China over Taiwan probably would lead to demands for sustained US engagement at a high level.”