US influence will be increasingly challenged by China, India and Russia, according to a new US intelligence report on global trends.
Over the next two decades, US economic, military and political dominance is likely to decline.
The report also says that the dollar may no longer the world’s major currency, while food and water shortages will replace fuel conflict.
But these outcomes are not inevitable, concedes the report, adding that they will depend on the actions of world leaders.
As the report paints a bleak picture of the future of US influence and power, it will make a sombre reading for president-elect Barack Obama, says the BBC’s Jonathan Beale in Washington.
“The next 20 years of transition to a new system are fraught with risks”, says Global Trends 2025, the latest of the reports that the NIC prepares every four years in time for the next presidential term.
Though Washington will retain its considerable military advantages, it will lose its scientific and technological advances, as well as the use of “irregular warfare tactics”, the proliferation of long-range precision weapons and the growing use of cyber warfare “increasingly will constrict US freedom of action”, it adds.
However the report concludes : “The US will remain the single most important actor but will be less dominant.”
The picture painted by the NIC’s 2004 study was rosier, as it expected the country’s dominance to continue.
But rising economies such as China, India, Russia and Brazil will offer the US more competition at the top of a multi-polar international system, says the latest Global Trends report.
Meanwhile, the report predicts that the EU will become a “hobbled giant”, unable to turn its economic power into diplomatic or military muscle.
The report also indicated that there will be more potential for conflict, as there will be more power centres, creating a world less stable than one with one or two superpowers.
Natural resources will be under additional strains because of global warming, the rising of populations and economic growth, which will fuel conflict around the globe while countries compete for them, warns the report.
‘Conflict not seen for a while’
“Strategic rivalries are most likely to revolve around trade, investments and technological innovation and acquisition, but we cannot rule out a 19th Century-like scenario of arms races, territorial expansion and military rivalries”, says the report.
“Types of conflict we have not seen for a while – such as over resources – could re-emerge.”
The report adds that such conflicts and resource shortages could lead to the collapse of governments in Africa and South Asia, and the rise of organised crime in Eastern and Central Europe.
The use of nuclear weapons will grow increasingly likely, as “rogue states” and militant groups gain greater access to them, says the report.
But citing al-Qaeda’s growing unpopularity in the Muslim world, the report says that the group could decay “sooner than people think”.
“The prospect that al-Qaeda will be among the small number of groups able to transcend the generational timeline is not high, given its harsh ideology, unachievable strategic objectives and inability to become a mass movement”, it says.
Yet the NIC gives some scope for leaders to take action in order to prevent the emergence of new conflicts.
“It is not beyond the mind of human beings, or political systems, [or] in some cases [the] working of market mechanisms to address and alleviate if not solve these problems”, said Thomas Fingar, chairman of the NIC.
But US intelligence has been wrong before.