Friday, 15 Oct 2021

U.S. Intelligence Report Warns of Global Consequences of Social Fragmentation

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted weaknesses of the international order, said the report, which is issued every four years.


By Julian E. Barnes

WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence officials warned in a report issued on Thursday about the potential fragmentation of society and the global order, holding out the possibility of a world where international trade is disrupted, groups of countries create online enclaves and civic cohesion is undermined.

The report, compiled every four years by the National Intelligence Council, mixes more traditional national security challenges like the potentially disruptive rise of China with social trends that have clear security implications, like the internet’s tendency to exacerbate political and cultural divisions.

A previous version of the report, released by the Obama administration in 2017, highlighted the risk of a pandemic and the vast economic disruption it could cause — a prescient prediction in hindsight.

The new report said that the coronavirus pandemic showed the weakness of the world order and that the institutions devised to face past crises are inadequate to coordinate a global response to new challenges like the spread of Covid-19. The failure of those institutions deepened public dissatisfaction and further eroded faith in the old order, the report said.

“Efforts to contain and manage the virus have reinforced nationalist trends globally, as some states turned inward to protect their citizens and sometimes cast blame on marginalized groups,” the report said. The response to the pandemic has fueled partisanship and polarization in many countries as groups argue over the best response and seek scapegoats to blame for spreading the virus and for slow mitigation efforts.

The global trends report — unlike the intelligence agencies’ annual threat assessment — is not supposed to look at immediate challenges. Instead, the report takes a longer-term, strategic look, trying to peer 20 years ahead to examine how current changes could transform the world of the future.

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