The world risks sleepwalking into widespread chaos or major war

With the world contemplating another year of geopolitical uncertainty and the international security landscape in flux, urgent action to improve governance at the international and national levels and the involvement of a wider cross-section of stakeholders could prevent the international security landscape from taking a dystopian turn in the next 15 years.

Without improved governance at the global and national levels, the world risks sleepwalking into widespread chaos or major war, warns the Security Outlook 2030 and presents three scenarios of how the international security landscape could look in 2030:

The Walled Cities scenario foresees widening inequalities continuing to pull communities apart, with the wealthy retreating to privately-secured gated communities as public services fracture and chaos and lawlessness spread.

Strong Regions paints a picture of stable geopolitics with several seats of power. Mutual respect among strong leaders holds the system together, which emphasizes the pursuit of narrowly defined national interests over global commons.

War and Peace envisages two powers drifting into major conflict as they dispute responsibility for a devastating cyberattack on critical infrastructure, ultimately resulting in a reworking of a stripped-down global system and greater agency of more sectors in international security.

The report describes these potential evolutions of the international security landscape to 2030 as a call to action for the development of more adaptable and resilient response systems.

Two main phenomena characterizing the current international security landscape: strategic competition among strong states and an increasing number of weak states. The weakness of some states has left a governance vacuum that is being filled by armed non-state actors, from violent extremist groups such as ISIS to organized criminal gangs. Meanwhile, after 25 years of relative tranquillity following the end of the Cold War, strategic competition among the great powers is again on the rise, from Eastern Ukraine to the Middle East to the South China Sea.

Looking ahead over the next 15 years, the international security landscape is likely to be profoundly affected by increasing competition for resources, such as water and land, due to climate change. Likewise, technological innovations could revolutionize the nature of conflict, from autonomous weapons systems to 3D-printed weaponry to genetically engineered biological weapons. Understanding these changes and formulating responses to the risks they represent will be essential for leaders when contemplating the years ahead.

The report argues for action to manage evolving international security risks, from rethinking social contracts and global governance mechanisms to finding new ways of engaging the private sector. We cannot afford to wait for crises to shock us into action. We need to identify potential inflection points and focus on finding solutions rather than just containing problems.