But there are also developments that are difficult to imagine in 2015: a new state of Palestine; Iraq acquiring nuclear weapons; Japan losing its position as the world's third-largest economy. Instead of a country reeling from 13 years of war, the study envisioned an "internationally isolated" Afghanistan offering "a haven for Islamic radicals and terrorist groups" (Osama bin Laden was holed up there at the time). Instead of forecasting grinding conflict between pro-Russian and pro-Western forces in Ukraine, U.S. officials wrote that "Ukrainians of all political stripes [are] likely to opt for independence rather than reintegration into Russia’s sphere of influence." They prophesied that "most technological advances in the next 15 years ... will not have substantial positive impact on the African economies," missing the role that, say, cell phones have played in stoking economic dynamism in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2015, they noted, "Europe's agenda will be to put in place the final components of EU integration"—integration that is now threatened by the region's ongoing economic crisis. The report also posited bolder, alternative scenarios that it admitted were unlikely: Korean unification; the emergence of an "international terrorist coalition with diverse anti-Western objectives and access to WMD;" China demanding that Japan dismantle its nuclear program, prompting the U.S. to come to Tokyo's aid as the world powers hurtle toward "a major war."
The study's overarching theme was "globalization," that contentious catchphrase of the late 1990s. The globalized economy would, on balance, make the world a more politically stable place in 2015, according to the report, which relied on the intelligence community's consultations with outside experts. But globalization, and attendant technological advances, would also shatter the very nature of power.
"States will continue to be the dominant players on the world stage, but governments will have less and less control over flows of information, technology, diseases, migrants, arms, and financial transactions, whether licit or illicit, across their borders," U.S. officials predicted. So-called "non-state actors"—ranging from companies to nonprofits to narcotraffickers to "free-wheeling, transnational" terrorist networks—would "play increasingly larger roles in both national and international affairs." The "quality of governance, both nationally and internationally, will substantially determine how well states and societies cope with these global forces," they added.
This vision of the fragmented future of power was still blurry; the report, for example, did not mention al-Qaeda or bin Laden. But media coverage of the study at the time nevertheless picked up on the insight. "The world is on the brink of a new era that may resemble the script of a James Bond film in which international affairs are increasingly determined by large and powerful organisations rather than governments," The Telegraph observed.