Before considering the world in 2025, 14 years from now, it is worth remembering the world 14 years ago, in 1997. Back then, the United States was the sole superpower, its immensity and dominance of the international system so evident as to trigger the resentful label of "hyperpower" from the French foreign minister. The American economy was expanding fast enough to leave the country a healthy and growing surplus by the end of Bill Clinton's presidency three years later. The European Union, then still only four years old, had just 15 members; the euro did not exist. The wars dominating the headlines were in Europe: Bosnia, Croatia, and, soon, Kosovo. The term BRICs -- the Goldman Sachs label attached to the fast-growing emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- had not yet been invented. The Internet was booming, but social media did not exist.
You get the point: A lot can change in 14 years, and rarely in ways foreseen. In the spirit of proper humility, then, here's my take on what the landscape of global diplomacy will look like a decade and a half from now:
For starters, the world will be much more multilateral. By 2025 the U.N. Security Council will have expanded from the present 15 members to between 25 and 30 and will include, either as de jure or de facto permanent members, Brazil, India, Japan, South Africa, either Egypt or Nigeria, and either Indonesia or Turkey. At the same time, regional organizations on every continent -- the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, some version of the Organization of American States -- will be much stronger. Each will follow its own version of economic and political integration, inspired by the European Union, and many will include representation from smaller subregional organizations. In the Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey could provide the core of a new Middle East free trade area; alternatively the European Union could be interlocked with an emerging Mediterranean Union.
Driving this massive multilateralization is the increasingly global and regional nature of our problems, combined with an expanding number of countries splitting off from existing states. National governments will remain essential for many purposes, but managing bilateral relations and engaging in successful global negotiations with nearly 200 states will become increasingly unwieldy. So we'll negotiate territorial disputes in the South China Sea in a regional framework and deal with crises in Ivory Coast or Guinea through the African Union or even smaller subregional forums. At the global level, the speed and flexibility necessary to resolve crises require smaller groups like the G-20, while long-term legitimacy and durability still require the representation of all countries affected by a particular issue through large standing organizations.
As for individual countries, the states that will be the strongest in 2025 will be those that have figured out how to do more with less. They will be those governments that have successfully embraced radical sustainability -- maintaining vibrant economies through largely renewable energy and creative reuse of just about everything. The leader will be Japan, a great civilization that has for centuries pioneered spectacularly beautiful ways of appreciating and coexisting with nature. As China's youth seek more of everything, Japan's are prepared to embrace a far more sustainable path. Scandinavia, Germany, New Zealand, and possibly South Korea will also be strong; many emerging or even less developed economies have real potential, if they can tap into their indigenous habits of conservation. Embracing sustainable growth will challenge the United States; its national renewal will depend on connecting its traditions of innovation, decentralization, and liberty with a narrative of protecting America's natural bounty. Think America the Beautiful more than the Star-Spangled Banner.