296. Information Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Solomon) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Global Trends and Future U.S.-Soviet Relations

SUMMARY: S/P has identified five emerging global trends which, in part, derive from Information Age technological advances (and the subsequent reordering of domestic and world economic patterns). These trends are creating a more fluid and complex international system which will, on the one hand, diminish the individual superpowers’ ability to influence world events, but, on the other, will provide opportunities (if not incentives) for new forms of U.S.-Soviet cooperation to counter growing instability at the start of the 21st Century. These trends are:

An end to the post-WWII bipolar world and the emergence of a multipolar world system as some of today’s rising economic powers gradually assume greater political (and military) responsibilities;
Shifts in the international economic order;
A rise in political tensions between—and within—developing, industrial and post-industrial countries will occur as a consequence of the increased economic interaction between companies, industries and nations;
A destabilizing diffusion of increasingly destructive high-tech armaments among nations which will increase the likelihood and violence of localized regional conflicts and concurrent threats to superpower interests; and
Globalization of media and information, which is not only altering economies, but transforming the way governments rule and societies respond.

If your dialogue with Soviet leaders on global trends is sufficiently promising, you might propose to Foreign Minister Shevardnadze convening a small bilateral group of “futurologists” to discuss the implications of these trends on future U.S.-Soviet relations.2 END SUMMARY.

I. An Emerging Multipolar International System

The 21st Century world order will be more fluid and complex. More states will be reaching a basic economic level and, overall, the relative economic power of nations will shift rapidly, based upon their ability to acquire and exploit new technologies. In turn, as more nations develop, some will seek to exert a greater political voice.

In Asia, Japan is leading the way, and perhaps will reach superpower status. While Japanese development to date has largely been based on commercializing the scientific innovations of the West, the country seems poised for a new creative era. Tokyo seeks to become the 21st Century’s equivalent of Paris in the 19th Century or New York in the 20th Century. Japan’s growing economic and technological preeminence could lead to its reemergence as a political and military power.

Key questions regarding Japan’s future world position will be its relationships with the U.S. and China: will Japanese-American relations continue to be one of alliance, or of emnity? And if the U.S.-Japan relationship sours, will Tokyo turn to China as a new international partner?

Overall, the emergence of more assertive regional power centers and alliances is likely. India could play one in South Asia; Brazil in Latin America. Likewise, a central European political, cultural and security entity could emerge—complete with a process of “Finlandization.”

Implications for the U.S. and U.S.S.R.: A multipolar system will reduce the superpowers’ absolute power, prestige and influence. The power that is wielded will be exercised more subtly and the bilateral competition will increasingly be played out through economic, public diplomacy and traditional diplomatic channels. While the superpowers will retain military superiority, the continued belief that nuclear war [Page 1318] cannot be used to advance their respective positions will limit superpower influence. Meanwhile retention of military superpower status will continue to be a costly proposition, requiring the continued diversion of resources away from the U.S. and Soviet domestic and international economic agendas.

II. Shifts in the International Economic Order

The new economic era will be characterized by scientific and technological advance; broad ability to absorb and use these advances through new production processes; and global telecommunications systems that link economies, firms and individuals. Technological advances increasingly will be initiated in the civil (as opposed to military) sector. Therefore, commercial technological innovation will become an important determinant in world technological leadership. Differences in global competitiveness will lead to shifts in relative economic power. This will not change significantly the absolute relations among the 10 largest world economies, although their share of global GNP (except for Japan and China) will decline. Today’s NICs (especially Korea and Brazil) will gain in stature as the smaller OECD and Eastern European countries drop. Among the LDCs, “new” NICs (e.g. China and India) will emerge. Productivity and demographic trends, as well as technological advance per se, will influence relative economic positions.

Implications: Both countries will see their relative economic strength decline, and both will be under tremendous pressure to restructure their economies to compete in the global market place. Because of the closed nature of the Soviet system, Moscow will be less successful than the United States in reforming its economy sufficiently so that it can apply technology to produce world-class goods and services. This will lead to a greater incompatibility of U.S. and Soviet economic interests than exists today.

III. Growing Inter- and Intra-National Political Tensions

Countering the rise in global economic interaction will be the exacerbation of a wide range of political tensions among nations, along with the resurfacing of traditional historic, security, and ethnic clashes both between—and within—countries.

In the West-West context, key developments are likely to include:

Continuing and politically debiliating technology competition and trade disputes with ongoing battles over protectionist measures;
Growing political competition with the superpowers, as some of the new economic powers begin to translate economic interests into broader political goals.

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In the North-South context, features of this growing discord include:

Tensions resulting from discrepancies in levels of growth, standards of living and the developing nations’ aspirations (and impatience) to share the benefits of economic wealth;
Pressure to preserve national identities in the midst of the drive to compete in the global marketplace. Diffusion of the ideological character of development as so-called Marxist or socialist states across the globe discard the statist centrally planned economic model and move toward free market reform. This “end to ideology” will intensify as the NICs and reform-bent Communist countries offer development alternatives, compromising both “pure” capitalism and socialism.

In addition, irredentist movements of political and religious character are likely to grow. Prompted by discrepancies in standards of living and opportunities for advancement, ethnic and religious groups will grow restive with colonial-era national boundaries and will press for communal self-assertion.

And there will be an intensification of anti-change, anti-technology movements including peace, environmental and religious groups and others who believe that a return to traditional and moral solutions—not more technology—is needed to solve global problems. The election gains of the Greens in West Germany, the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, and the growth of nuclear freeze zone proponents are three current manifestations of this trend.

Implications: Here again, the 21st Century’s version of the superpower rivalry will continue on basically the same terms—without either side significantly advancing its position.

The U.S. will continue to see in the rise of trading states and the sweep of free market reforms across the globe proof of the vitality of the capitalist system, while the Soviet Union will view growing trade and debt tensions as proof of the Marxist-Leninist theory of contradictions and destructive competition within the capitalist camp. The U.S. will continue working to control economic tensions and nurturing the rise of democratic political and economic institutions, while the Soviet Union will continue exploiting instability to advance its own agenda.

Yet, the rise of nationalism and economic/political alternatives to the U.S. and Soviet systems will undermine the superpowers’ ability to find a responsive chord; development assistance will be available elsewhere, and so will high-tech weapons systems. In addition, the fear of becoming the site of a superpower regional confrontation will increase the desire of many countries to form “independent” regional, security alliances.

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IV. Weapons Proliferation and Growing Political Instability

Whether or not the U.S. and Soviet Union agree to substantial reductions in their strategic nuclear arsenals, we are likely to see the continuation, and even acceleration, of existing trends toward proliferation of sophisticated conventional and nuclear weaponry: they will become more lethal in their effects; more flexible in their potential use; and more available.

Implications: Both NATO and the Warsaw Pact will continue modernizing their military forces. Faced with budgetary and demographic constraints, the U.S. and its allies will face the recurring need to counter or redress specific military asymmetries in the East’s favor. We will look to high-tech as a basic means of doing so—though this will become increasingly difficult given the Soviet Union’s own progress in upgrading its weaponry. That said, the most likely scenario is that the application of these new technologies will not decisively alter the fundamental military balance between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

But many of these sophisticated weapons systems will become increasingly available to medium-sized and even smaller states—through sales from larger states as well as through the increasing sophistication of indigenous arms industries. In addition to the longstanding dangers of nuclear proliferation and (more recently) of CW proliferation, the U.S. and Soviet Union will worry about the spread of ballistic/cruise missile technology, high performance aircraft, chemical and bio-technology with military applications, and so on.

The ready availability of increasingly more sophisticated weaponry to large numbers of nations will mean that local and regional conflicts will grow progressively more dangerous. They will not only involve greater casualties and destruction, but may become far less easy to contain or isolate in their effects on, and expansion to, third parties (witness the dangers of the Iran-Iraq war). The spread of such weapons will also give internal resistance movements the means to escalate guerrilla warfare. And the availability of highly-destuctive weapons for the individual (e.g. backpack nukes in the most extreme case) will provide the means for a dramatic intensification of subnational violence, as we are already witnessing in international terrorism. All these developments will increase the risk and danger of Soviet-American confrontation.

V. Globalization of Media and Information

Telecommunication and computer advances will have profound effects on the world—increasing information flows and speeding them up in the process. Governments will communicate faster, and public [Page 1321] diplomacy campaigns will become increasingly sophisticated, with world leaders “talking” directly to foreign audiences. Gorbachev’s own personalized style of public diplomacy clearly foreshadows this trend.

For developing nations, the most immediate applications of such technological advances will be improvements in health care and education because of the ability to extend the delivery of services to remote regions.

Implications: As already noted, Information Age technologies are profoundly altering economic relationships and prompting reform/efficiency drives within the U.S. and U.S.S.R. They are also changing the way the two countries govern. In the West, the rise of these technologies could result in a trend away from representative toward broader-based popular participation in government, with electronic referendums and instant electronic polling feedback.

In the East, these advances will have a decentralizing affect on power and decision-making and force an opening of closed societies: advanced technologies will reduce the effectiveness of jamming and wiretapping, and more and more people will be able to communicate freely at times and to audiences of their own choosing. Hence, in addition to resulting in a competitive economic disadvantage for the Soviet Union as well as escalating the contradiction between economic efficiency and political control. Information Age advances will at once, and contradictorily, promote the spread of scientific/rational thinking and “non-rational” attitudes (religion, traditional morals, etc.).

In the time remaining before your Moscow trip, S/P will expand the list as needed and prepare revised talking points for your global trends discussion.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/P Files, Memoranda and Correspondence from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff to the Secretary and Other Seventh Floor Principals: Lot 89D149, S/P Chrons MARCH 1987. Confidential. Drafted by Galatz.
  2. Presumable reference to Shultz’s impending talks with Soviet leaders in Moscow; see footnote 4, Document 292.
  3. Solomon provided Shultz with revised talking points under cover of an April 6 information memorandum. He also sent Shultz another iteration of the talking points under an April 10 information memorandum. Copies of the revised points are in Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/P Files, Memoranda and Correspondence from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff to the Secretary and Other Seventh Floor Principals: Lot 89D149, S/P Chrons APRIL 1987.