Report Predicts Future Global Arms Trends

Kirsten McNeil

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) released its fourth Global Trends report on Nov. 20, timed to correspond every four years to the period of transition between presidential administrations. Chaired by Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis Thomas Fingar, the NIC is within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which sits atop the sprawling U.S. intelligence community. The "Global Trends 2025" report aims to identify key strategic drivers in the global system that could shape the issues facing the new administration and to guide policymakers toward a broad view of the world.

The report addressed weapons proliferation as well as other global issues, such as climate change and economic trends. Broadly speaking, the report predicts that China and India will see an increase in their relative power, shifting the international system to a multipolar scheme rather than the current unipolar one. The United States will continue to remain the most powerful country but will see a relative decrease as these other states rise in stature. Up-and-coming states such as Indonesia, Iran, and Turkey will also be major drivers in the system.

At a Nov. 20 press conference, Fingar warned that "[i]f Iran were to go nuclear, there could be a regional arms race. If one of the states that has the capability elects to proliferate...we could have a problem. And it's not too hard to imagine regimes having access to a weapon without the kind of fail-safe controls that we have [and] the Russians have."

More broadly, the report goes on to state, "[f]uture asymmetries in conventional military capabilities among potential rivals might tempt weak states to view nuclear weapons as a necessary and justifiable defense in response to the threat of overwhelming conventional attacks."

During the period, conventional weapons are predicted to be of increasing importance for terrorists, who are expected to seek advanced tactical weapons, such as anti-tank missiles and man-portable weapon systems. The current spread of improvised explosive devices and inexpensive robotics and sensors is expected to continue. The study characterizes warfare in the year 2025 as increasingly asymmetric, nonmilitary, and reliant on information.

Overall, the report tells a cautionary tale based on the spread of different kinds of weapons systems in conjunction with expanding and evolving reasons for conflict to occur among states. As the report notes, "[T]raditional security concerns are declining in importance but may be replaced by new issues, such as competition over resources."