The global order will shift dramatically over the next two decades as US hegemony wanes and eastern powers emerge as key players in a world that will be increasingly torn by conflicts over land, water and food. By the year 2025, China, India and Russia will join the United States as major economic powers, according to a report released by the US-based National Intelligence Council. It will also provide opportunities for Gulf countries, such as the UAE, to play a pivotal role in world politics.
The 121 page report, entitled Global Trends 2025 - A Transformed World, is intended to provide a basis for policy assessment for the White House and intelligence community. "The unprecedented shift in relative wealth and economic power roughly from West to East now under way will continue," the report said. "The United States will remain the single most powerful country but will be less dominant."
It also warned of a rise in organised crime, a growing likelihood of nuclear conflict and resource grab as countries try to shore up supplies of scarce commodities. In a world where the US will no longer be able to act unilaterally, the Gulf could see itself in an important position, acting as a bridge between East and West, according to Mark Allworthy, a Dubai-based research analyst for the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
"The Gulf countries will become increasingly influential, with India and China and the West almost battling to strengthen relationships with the region," he said. "I think they will be in a strong brokering position." The global financial crisis may further cement the importance of states on the Arabian peninsula which have benefited from "windfall profits" after high oil prices, the report said. "If China, Russia, and Mideast oil exporters can avoid internal crises, they will be in a position to leverage their likely still sizeable reserves, buying foreign assets and providing direct financial assistance to still-struggling countries for political favours or to seed new regional initiative."
By 2025, an alternative and viable energy source to oil and gas is likely to have been discovered, the report said. It highlighted Saudi Arabia as the biggest loser in a "post-petroleum world" as it will be forced to tighten up on costs of the royal establishment and could face tension from some factions if it tries to implement economic reforms. The smaller Gulf states, which have been diversifying their economies, are likely to manage the transition well, it said.
Heavy investment in renewable energy programmes may also mean the Gulf is cushioned against the shift away from oil, Mr Allworthy said. "The Gulf is one of the regions in the world taking the lead on alternative energy. For example, Abu Dhabi has invested huge amounts of wealth around the world; they are prepared for this." The scarcity of such resources as food, water and energy poses a major challenge to all the GCC countries, as their total population is set to double to nearly 60 million by 2030 from 30m in 2000. The UAE imports nearly 85 per cent of its food and is already looking overseas to boost its reserves.
The report predicts a world where there is a higher risk of nuclear conflict and non-Arab Muslim states such as Iran, Turkey and Indonesia may be central players. It said that although Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons was not inevitable, worries about a nuclear Iran might spark an arms race in the region. Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, on Thursday urged a high-powered audience at the annual conference of the Middle East Institute in Washington, to include the UAE in what may become the biggest foreign policy shift of Barack Obama's administration: resuming diplomatic relations with Iran.
firstname.lastname@example.org * with additional reporting by Steven Stanek in Washington