Titled "Global Trends 2025: A World Transformed," the 121-page report by the U.S. National Intelligence Council has been prepared in time to warn U.S. President-elect Barack Obama about the challenges his administration will face after it takes over the White House on January 20.
It says the international system will be almost unrecognizable by 2025 because of the rise of emerging powers, a globalizing economy, the transfer of wealth from West to East, and the growing influence of nonstate actors.
It concludes that although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor in the global community, its relative strength -- even in the military realm -- will decline and U.S. leverage will become more strained.
'First Among Equals'
The report predicts that the role of the U.S. dollar as the major world currency will weaken to the point where it becomes a "first among equals."
It says strategic rivalries are most likely to revolve around trade, investments, and technological innovation. But it says a "19th-century-like scenario of arms races, territorial expansion, and military rivalries" cannot be ruled out.
The forecast identifies China and India as rising heavyweights in a world that is no longer dominated by one or two economic or military superpowers. And it says U.S. security and economic interests could face new challenges if China becomes a "peer competitor" with a strong military and a dynamic, energy-hungry economy.
"Few countries are poised to have more impact on the world over the next 15 to 20 years than China," the report says. "If current trends persist, by 2025 China will have the world's second-largest economy and will be a leading military power. It could also be the largest importer of natural resources and an even greater polluter than it is now."
The report says India will probably continue to see relatively rapid economic growth, but the growing gap between rich and poor will become a more acute political issue there. It says the leaders of India do not see Washington as a military or economic patron and now believe the international situation has made such a benefactor unnecessary.
Still, the report concludes that New Delhi will pursue favorable relations with the United States as a hedge against the possibility of hostile relations with China.
The U.S. intelligence report also identifies three potential up-and-coming powers from the Muslim world -- Indonesia, Turkey, and Iran.
It says political and economic reform in Iran, along with a stable investment climate, "could fundamentally redraw both the way the world perceives the country and also the way in which Iranians view themselves."
"Under those circumstances, economic resurgence could take place quickly in Iran and embolden a latent cosmopolitan, educated -- at times secular -- Iranian middle class," the report says.
But the analysts also warn about an escalating nuclear arms race in the Middle East. They anticipate that a growing number of "rogue states" will be prepared to share destructive technology with terrorist groups.
"Over the next 15 to 20 years, reactions to the decisions Iran makes about its nuclear program could cause a number of regional states to intensify these efforts and consider actively pursuing nuclear weapons," it says. "This will add a new and more dangerous dimension to what is likely to be increasing competition for influence within the region."
The report concludes that if the number of nuclear-capable states increases, there will also be an increase in the number of countries potentially willing to provide nuclear assistance to other countries or to terrorists.
The analysts also warn that the kind of organized crime plaguing Russia could eventually take over the government of an Eastern or Central European country. It says countries in Africa and South Asia may find themselves ungoverned, as states wither away under pressure from security threats and diminishing resources.
On the issue of the environment, the report says global warming will aggravate the scarcity of water, food, and energy resources. It cites a British study and says climate change could force up to 200 million people to migrate to more temperate zones.
The description of the United States as a country with declining global dominance comes as no surprise to observers of the global financial crisis and the declining value of the U.S. dollar in recent years.
Still, the U.S. National Intelligence Council assessment does give some scope for the world's leaders, for political system, or even the working of market mechanisms to alleviate or solve the worst problems.