Global Trends 2040 (US Director of National Intelligence)


In 2040, the world is in the midst of a resurgence of open democracies led by the United States and its allies. Rapid technological advancements fostered by public-private partnerships in the United States and other democratic societies are transforming the global economy, raising incomes, and improving the quality of life for millions around the globe. The rising tide of economic growth and technological achievement enables responses to global challenges, eases societal divisions, and renews public trust in democratic institutions. In contrast, years of increasing societal controls and monitoring in China and Russia have stifled innovation as leading scientists and entrepreneurs have sought asylum in the United States and Europe.


The successful development and worldwide distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2020-21 focused global attention on the importance of scientific research, innovation, and technological development to address emerging global challenges. Networks of research institutes, governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private corporations operating in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries ramped up information-sharing and developed coordinated approaches for research and development focused on artificial intelligence, biotech, and other technologies critical to revitalizing economies and addressing societal needs. During the succeeding 10 years, these efforts produced a series of groundbreaking advances, enhancing productivity and leading to an economic boom. Technological advances and economic growth combined to improve government capacity, enabling democratic governments to deliver services and provide security more effectively.

With greater resources and improving services, these democracies launched initiatives to crack down on corruption, increase transparency, and improve accountability worldwide, boosting public trust. These efforts helped to reverse years of social fragmentation and to restore a sense of civic nationalism. The combination of rapid innovation, a stronger economy, and greater societal cohesion enabled steady progress on climate and other challenges. Democratic societies became more resilient to disinformation because of greater public awareness and education initiatives and new technologies that quickly identify and debunk erroneous information. This environment restored a culture of vigorous but civil debate over values, goals, and policies.

In contrast to the culture of collaboration prevailing in open societies, China and Russia failed to cultivate the high-tech talent, investment, and environment necessary to sustain continuous innovation. For China, the complete crackdown on Hong Kong in 2022 launched a decade of even greater repression, limiting any semblance of free expression or action. While they remained strategic military powers, both China and Russia were bogged down by domestic strains. China’s aging population, high public and private debt, and inefficient state-directed economic model blocked the country’s transition to a consumer economy, and by 2029 China was stuck in the middle-income trap and had alienated populations in developing countries. Russia declined because of a stagnating workforce, overreliance on energy exports, and post-Putin elite infighting.

By the mid-2030s, the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia were the established global leaders in several technologies, including AI, robotics, the Internet of Things, biotech, energy storage, and additive manufacturing. Democracies joined forces to set international standards to limit the negative consequences of technologies, including disinformation that had previously been so divisive in open societies. Multilateral cooperation spilled overinto other areas, including cyber security, climate change mitigation, and rules for managing the seabed, the Arctic, and space.

Technological success fostered a widely perceived view among emerging and developing countries that democracies were more adaptable and resilient and better able to cope with growing global challenges. Years of unfulfilled Chinese promises also pushed some of the most populous countries, including Brazil, Indonesia, India, and Nigeria, to fully embrace transparent democracy. The rapid diffusion of advanced technologies to developing economies enabled faster than expected improvements in education and job skills, building on remote learning platforms developed during the pandemic. With China’s rise no longer seen as inevitable, leading states and investors turned to more rapidly growing economies with robust private sectors and innovation systems.

Autocratic regimes tried but failed to push back against the growing strength of democratic allies. Russia threatened to intervene on behalf of ethnic Russian minorities in several of the non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) post-Soviet states, a move widely seen as a desperate last attempt by Moscow to divert attention from its domestic problems. China took threatening steps in the South China Sea. Both invested in asymmetric weapons systems and disinformation technologies to counter US advantages while avoiding the costs of direct violence.


In 2040, the international system is directionless, chaotic, and volatile as international rules and institutions are largely ignored by major powers such as China, regional players, and nonstate actors. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries are plagued by slower economic growth, widening societal divisions, and political paralysis. China is taking advantage of the West’s troubles to expand its international influence, especially in Asia, but lacks the will and military might to take on global leadership, leaving many global challenges, such as climate change and instability in developing countries, largely unaddressed.


Many of the world’s advanced and emerging market economies never fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, which was prolonged by a slow and inefficient vaccine rollout. By the late 2020s, high national debt, the costs of caring for aging populations, and repeated climate events strained government budgets and crowded out other spending priorities, like education, infrastructure, and scientific research and development. Environmental, health, and economic crises had emerged gradually and sporadically over the decade, limiting political support and resources for governments to take action beyond emergency relief and short-term economic stimulus. Economic hardships widened societal divisions and made it harder to reach political compromise on domestic and national security priorities.

Public frustrations and protests grew in many countries, but fragmented and competing opposition movements were unable to agree on clear demands and goals. Polarized societies, shaped by social media, led to more political deadlock and wild policy swings. These factionalized communities, primarily in democratic countries, were unable to take effective action on the economy, the environment, migration, and foreign policy. Uncertainty surrounding crises and erratic government responses suppressed investment and job creation, plunging North America and Europe into a period of sluggish growth that many likened to Japan’s “lost decade” in the 1990s. Developing countries stagnated, with some turning to China and several suffering state failure, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. International challenges festered, ranging from terrorism to declining human development. Waves of migrants fled conflict, environmental disaster, and economic decline and sought entry to wealthier countries in Europe, Asia, and North America.

During this period, China experienced many of the same environmental and societal problems but was better able to adapt because of stronger social cohesion and trust; agile direction from centralized authority; a proven ability to deliver jobs, goods, and services; and a political system that repressed competing voices. Although to a lesser degree than the growth in the boom years of the 1990s and 2000s, domestic demand generated gross domestic product (GDP) growth sufficient to allow China to surpass the United States to become the world’s largest economy by 2030. Huge infrastructure projects aimed at managing the effects of climate change, like the great Shanghai sea wall, became the envy of the world. Similar infrastructure development programs and steady foreign investment and assistance helped China gain influence in the developing world.

Despite these gains, China continued to focus on countering perceived security threats around its periphery and at home. Beijing remained wary of international entanglements and leadership roles outside its immediate region. Rather than attempting to fashion a new global order, China concentrated on promoting industries and setting technology standards that advanced its development goals.

Many governments were content to profit from China’s large market and to pocket other benefits, like Chinese assistance with domestic surveillance and security systems, but few wanted to live under a China-led international order. The United States attempted to preserve ties to remaining allies in the region, but Japan and South Korea pursued increasingly independent military modernization programs and even their own nuclear weapons programs, in part out of concern about the reliability of the US security umbrella against China and North Korea.

By 2035, China’s position in Asia became unassailable, especially after it successfully compelled the Government of Taiwan to come to the table for talks on unification. The triumph of China’s economic and military coercive power was a turning point for the region, signaling Beijing’s ability to intimidate a close US partner and forcing China’s neighbors to worry that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army would turn its focus to settling other regional scores. No other states put themselves in a position to challenge China’s rise in the region. Russia generally aligned with China but became a lesser partner with each passing year. Although India benefited from growth in Asia, it could take years for it to be able to take on, much less contain, its more powerful neighbor.


In 2040, the United States and China have prioritized economic growth and restored a robust trading relationship, but this economic interdependence exists alongside competition over political influence, governance models, technological dominance, and strategic advantage. The risk of major war is low, and international cooperation and technological innovation make global problems manageable over the near term for advanced economies, but longer term climate challenges remain.


After a slow recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and an extended US-China trade war, by the late 2020s, pent-up demand and widespread popular frustration with underperforming economies led to a revival in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries of market-driven economic policies to stimulate growth. Meeting in Canada in 2031, the G7 endorsed plans for economic stimulus payments, liberalized trade and investment, streamlined taxes, and decreased regulations. Memories of an overbearing European Union (EU) having faded, Europeans agreed to a new round of trade liberalization, somewhat paradoxically under strengthened EU institutions. Weakened by years of depressed oil prices, post-Putin Russia supported the new G7 economic consensus, and emerging economies, including Brazil and India, joined with important economic reforms.

China rejected the OECD model and adhered to its closed state-directed system but prioritized economic growth and trade. Beijing and Washington took steps to stabilize economic relations, despite their mutual suspicion and contrasting political-economic models. The relationship has been fraught with disagreements on core security issues and values, but seeking relief from the tight trade and investment restrictions of the 2020s led each side to conclude that they need each other to prosper; the two sides agreed in the 2030s to protect their most vital common economic interests.

China and the United States formed rival “communities of common values” that compete for markets and resources under opposing domestic systems, one based on state direction, autocratic control, and public surveillance technologies and the other on private enterprise, democracy, personal freedom, and open information flows. The competition somewhat dampened fragmentation within countries as populations rallied to support their countries and leaders. Much of the work of managing the flow of trade and information was done by large corporations doing business globally. The United States, China, and like-minded states belonging to their respective camps intervened to prevent small conflicts from escalating to the point that they would threaten global economic progress and stability. Nevertheless, geopolitical competition, such as in the South China Sea, remained a persistent threat to economic relations, and many internal conflicts in poor countries festered with little international effort to intervene.

Rising commodity prices and demand for foreign workers stimulated an economic recovery that improved prospects for growing middle classes in some developing countries. Several advanced economies with aging populations set up guest worker programs, filling important service jobs while reducing uncontrolled migration using biometric tracking programs. Rising wages in China led to outsourcing and income gains in India, Southeast Asia, and parts of Africa. Nonetheless, large youthful populations in the developing world, especially in Africa, did not benefit from the reviving global economy.

Advances in renewable energy generation and storage and in carbon capture technologies dampened the growth of emissions but not fast enough to prevent some catastrophic impacts. Wealthy countries were able to invest in adaptation measures at home to protect at risk populations, but developing countries lagged behind and suffered the most from increased disasters, presenting second-order security challenges.


In 2040, the world is fragmented into several economic and security blocs of varying size and strength, centered on the United States, China, the European Union, Russia, and a few regional powers, and focused on self-sufficiency, resiliency, and defense. Information flows within separate cyber-sovereign enclaves, supply chains are reoriented, and international trade is disrupted. Vulnerable developing countries are caught in the middle with some on the verge of becoming failed states. Global problems, notably climate change, are spottily addressed, if at all.


By the early 2030s, cascading global challenges from decades of job losses in some countries in part because of globalization, heated trade disputes, and health and terrorist threats crossing borders prompted states to raise barriers and impose trade restrictions to conserve resources, protect citizens, and preserve domestic industries. Many economists thought that economic decoupling or separation could not really happen because of the extensive interdependence of supply chains, economies, and technology, but security concerns and governance disputes helped drive countries to do the unthinkable, despite the extraordinary costs.

Countries with large domestic markets or sizeable neighbors successfully redirected their economies, but many developing economies with limited resources and market access were hit hard as both import and export markets dried up. Economic stagnation fostered widespread insecurity across Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, fueling a retreat to subnational ethnic and religious identities, strained societies, fragmented states, and spreading instability. New waves of migrants headed to the developed world hoping to escape poverty, poor governance, and increasingly harsh environmental conditions. Their hopes were dashed when political pushback prompted destination countries to block most migration.

As physical barriers went up, dependence on digital commerce and communications soared, but a combination of information management challenges and repeated data security breaches led those states with strong cyber controls, like China and Iran, to reinforce their cyber barricades. Then states that once advocated for an open Internet set up new closed, protected networks to limit threats and screen out unwanted ideas. By 2040, only the United States and a few of its closest allies maintained the semblance of an open Internet while most of the world operated behind strong firewalls.

With the trade and financial connections that defined the prior era of globalization disrupted, economic and security blocs formed around the United States, China, the EU, Russia, and India. Smaller powers and other states joined these blocs for protection, to pool resources, and to maintain at least some economic efficiencies. Advances in artificial intelligence, energy technologies, and additive manufacturing helped some states adapt and make the blocs economically viable, but prices for consumer goods rose dramatically. States unable to join a bloc were left behind and cut off.

Security links did not disappear completely. States threatened by powerful neighbors sought out security links with other powers for their own protection or accelerated their own programs to develop nuclear weapons, as the ultimate guarantor of their security. Small conflicts occurred at the edges of these new blocs, particularly over scarce resources or emerging opportunities, like the Arctic and space. Poorer countries became increasingly unstable, and with no interest by major powers or the United Nations in intervening to help restore order, conflicts became endemic, exacerbating other problems. Lacking coordinated, multilateral efforts to mitigate emissions and address climate changes, little was done to slow greenhouse gas emissions, and some states experimented with geoengineering with disastrous consequences.


In 2040, a global coalition, led by the European Union (EU) and China working with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and revitalized multilateral institutions, is implementing far-reaching changes designed to address climate change, resource depletion, and poverty following a global food catastrophe caused by climate events and environmental degradation. Richer countries shift to help poorer ones manage the crisis and then transition to low carbon economies through broad aid programs and transfers of advanced energy technologies, recognizing how rapidly these global challenges spread across borders.


In the early 2030s, the world was in the midst of a global catastrophe. Rising ocean temperatures and acidity devastated major fisheries already stressed by years of overfishing. At the same time, changes in precipitation patterns depressed harvests in key grain producing areas around the world, driving up food prices, triggering widespread hoarding, and disrupting the distribution of food supplies, leading to global famine. A wave of unrest spread across the globe, protesting governments’ inability to meet basic human needs and bringing down leaders and regimes. In one of many incidents in the Western world, thousands of people were killed in three days of violence in Philadelphia triggered by social media rumors about bread shortages.

The ongoing famines catalyzed a global movement that advocated bold systemic change to address environmental problems. Across the world, younger generations, shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and traumatized by the threat of running out of food, joined together across borders to overcome resistance to reform, blaming older generations for destroying their planet. They threw their support behind NGOs and civil society organizations that were involved in relief efforts and developed a larger global following than those governments that were perceived to have failed their populations. As the movement grew, it took on other issues including global health and poverty.

After Green parties swept democratic elections in several European countries between 2034 and 2036, the EU launched a campaign within the United Nations (UN) to greatly expand international aid programs and to set a new target date for meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2050. Hurt badly by the famine and hoping to quell unrest in its major cities, China announced its support for the EU effort, which the Chinese Communist Party portrayed as a new national patriotic mission and the kind of global restructuring it had long advocated. Others, including Australia, Canada, and the United States, slowly joined the movement as environmentally focused parties gained political strength, winning several elections, despite strong continued resistance from some domestic groups arguing that their countries were better positioned to adapt to a changing climate and should prioritize domestic industries and constituencies.

The EU initiative resulted in the creation of a new international organization, the Human Security Council, in cooperation with developing countries, which focused on 21st Century transnational security challenges. Open to both states and nonstate actors, membership required a commitment to verifiable actions to improve food, health, and environmental security, even if these were perceived as painful for wealthier states and groups. Members could easily be expelled for noncompliance, and face grassroots, popular backlashes and boycotts, similar to the Anti-Apartheid Movement of the last century. By 2038, global attitudes about the environment and human security were being transformed by growing recognition of the unsustainability of past practices.

States and large corporations concentrated investments to advance technological solutions to food, climate, and health challenges and to provide essential aid to the hardest hit populations. Corporate goals expanded to embrace serving a wider range of stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, and communities.

Not everyone has come on board. Russia and some states in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries resisted change, and some communities found the new global ethos threatening to traditional values and patronage systems. Extremists resorted to cyber attacks and terrorism to draw attention to their causes. States with powerful energy interests, such as Iran, Russia, and some Gulf Arab states, faced disruptive political movements that threaten to lead to a prolonged period of political and social conflict.