Every few years, the U.S. National Intelligence Council, or NIC, gazes into its crystal ball and imagines the world 20 years hence. The latest installment, released on April 8, is a harrowing read. “Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World” anticipates an era even more chaotic and divided than our own, in which institutions at all levels struggle to adapt to abrupt demographic shifts, economic turbulence, runaway climate change and technological innovation. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has left governments thrashing and multilateral institutions flailing, is the shape of things to come.

“Global Trends 2040” is the seventh in a series of reports dating back to 1997 and the most explicit in conceding the arrival of a post-American world.* Going forward, it states, no single nation will be able to dominate “across all regions or domains.” Rather, “rival powers will jockey to shape global norms, rules, and…

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