1. “GLOBAL TRENDS 2040” — TOWARDS A SCARY FUTURE? Intelligence reports — the rare ones that are unclassified and officially made public — aren’t always very helpful in explaining an issue or concern. They usually are cryptic and sanitized, and not very readable. But let me highly recommend one released April 8, 2021 by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) that is different. The 144-page Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World is a frank, highly readable assessment of the forces and dynamics that the NIC expects will likely shape and strain the national security environment for the next 20 years.
The latest edition of the report, which NIC releases every four years, is a “must-read” for PD practitioners and anyone else interested in where our increasingly complex, volatile world might be headed. The document identifies four “structural forces” that will shape the future — demographics, the environment, economics, and technology — and then assesses how they affect decisions and outcomes. Also, it describes five “potential scenarios” for the world in 2040, based on “different combinations of structural forces, emerging dynamics, and key uncertainties.” By law, however, the intelligence community is prevented from making policy recommendations. It can only assess.
Spoiler alert: Much of the report is a story of gloom and doom, from China to climate change, from technologies to diseases. Some of the possible futures can be seen as pretty bleak (one positive scenario could be “Renaissance of Democracies”), but that is all the more reason to give the NIC’s analysis careful attention. It can serve as a wake-up call for serious, long-term planning by policymakers and greater public attention to the shifting national security environment. The full report — based on input from an impressive variety of U.S. and international experts — is available at: dni.gov/files/ODNI/documents/
2. REVITALIZING DEMOCRACY AT HOME AND ABROAD: Anyone following U.S. and international developments cannot help but notice an alarming decline in democracy and a rise in authoritarianism that are endangering national security. Yet another high-powered report is out — this time from a bipartisan task force formed by Freedom House, CSIS, and the McCain Institute — offering a number of actionable recommendations for “a U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy that prioritizes the advancement of democracy.” CSIS CEO John Hamre explained:
“The warning signs have come and gone — authoritarianism is gaining ground worldwide, and quickly. As the world’s leading democracy, the United States has a responsibility to bolster our own democracy to set an example for aspiring democracies and freedom movements. Our recommendations to the Biden administration are necessarily ambitious. Our nation was founded on the ideals of freedom and democracy, and we must treat them as such.”
Released on April 14, 2021, Reversing the Tide: Towards a New U.S Strategy to Support Democracy and Counter Authoritarianism should be helpful as the Biden Administration convenes allies for a Summit for Democracy, and as a U.S. domestic and foreign policy strategy is developed to support democracy and counter the rising tide of authoritarianism. Public diplomacy practitioners will find the report useful in identifying the realities they need to face with new budgets, priorities and programs.
The task force recommends issuance of “a Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) declaring support for democracy at home and abroad as a core value and core national interest” and the development of a National Democracy Strategy. Other recommendations include establishment of a National Democracy Council; a dramatically increased investment in free and fair elections, independent media, and a vibrant active civil society; creation of a Center for Integrity in Elections; investment in a large-scale Enterprise Fund for Independent Media; creation of a Women’s Political and Civic Leadership Initiative; and launching a Young Leaders Coalition for Democracy. For a strategic digital technology policy, the report proposes “appointing an ambassador-at-large for technology diplomacy, creating a Bureau of Cyber Security and Emerging Technologies, and establishing a State Department office in Silicon Valley.”
For details about the report, go to: https://freedomhouse.org/
3. CIVICS — ITS IMPORTANCE AT HOME AND ABROAD: Public diplomacy practitioners are rarely surprised when they learn how little foreigners really know about the U.S. government and democracy. But recent trends within the United States suggest that Americans, too, don’t always know very much about the rights and duties of a citizen.
These trends are of growing concern to many parents, teachers, and government officials, including U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil M. Gorsuch, who feel young Americans have a poor understanding of our democratic institutions. In a rare public conversation, the two justices largely agreed on “the importance of civic education as a national security imperative” and on the fact that in today’s global environment authoritarian regimes are threatening the foundational premise of the rule of law.
Their joint appearance at an April 14, 2021 CSIS virtual event was sponsored by the Defending Democratic Institutions Project of CSIS and the National Security Institute at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. In her remarks, Justice Sotomayor noted her long-time support of iCivics, the nation’s leading nonprofit
civic education provider of free resources to middle and high-school students. Founded in 2009 by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, iCivics works to “ensure every student in America receives a quality and engaging civic education and graduates from high school well prepared and enthusiastic for citizenship.” The target is to achieve this goal by 2026, when our nation celebrates its 250th anniversary. Justice Sotomayor serves on the organization’s governing board.
To view the CSIS program, visit: https://www.csis.org/events/
4. MOVING CHINA’S 2022 WINTER OLYMPICS? Politics often impacts the Olympics. Who, for example, can forget the iconic photos from the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City when two Black American athletes raised their fists in support of Black power during the awards ceremony, or President Carter’s decision to pull the United States out of the 1980 Summer games in Moscow as a protest against Soviet troops in Afghanistan? And, currently, the pandemic is threatening Tokyo’s hosting of the foreign visitor-less Olympics, still set to open July 23, 2021 (Japanese Prime Minster Suga would love to have President Biden attend). Also, there is increasing talk about the United States protesting China’s human rights abuses in connection with Beijing’s hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Michael Mazza, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), makes the case that the 2022 games should be moved “given China’s atrocious human rights record, mendacious mishandling of COVID-19 during the outbreak’s early stages, and external hostility.” For his April 2021 AEI article, Move the Games: What to Do about the 2022 Beijing Olympics, go to: https://www.aei.org/wp-
5. HELPING TROUBLED AUB IN BEIRUT: Many American-linked universities abroad are having problems coping with not only the usual security and other local problems but also the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest example of a troubled educational institution is the respected private, non-sectarian American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon.
Established in 1866 and chartered in New York, AUB has long been “a beacon of hope and liberal values” in the Middle East, but it now is facing tough times. According to the International Advisory Council of AUB, in the past 12 months alone, Lebanon and AUB have had to face: the August 4, 2020 Beirut Port explosion, the country’s economic collapse, the pandemic, and nation-wide civil unrest.
A full-page ad in the April 11, 2021 New York Times — placed by the Council — urges “foundations, alumni, and those who share our values to advocate for and to support this threatened but irreplaceable institution.” The ad emphasized: “We believe AUB transcends ethnic, religious, and political divisions in Lebanon. Its continued existence and strength are essential to meeting the needs of Lebanese society and retaining and rebuilding the country’s scientific, educational and economic infrastructure. “
The Council, chaired by retired Ambassador Frank G. Wisner, includes such other prominent persons as Ambassador Ryan Crocker; cellist Yo-Yo Ma; former Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen; Carnegie Corp. President Vartan Gregorian; SAIS Professor Vali Nasr; and New America CEO Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter. For the text of the ad and information about AUB, go to: https://aub.edu.lb.
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.