In any attempt at theorizing upon the future, a given amount of uncertainty exists; and as the theory becomes more specific or forecasts further into the future, that amount of uncertainty increases. Certainties and uncertainties come mainly through analysis of current trends, laws of society, and laws of nature.

Key Scenario Variables


In scenario planning relative uncertainties are often thought of as key drivers or variables that may shape the future. They also represent variables or unknowns about the future that are typically adjusted to one extreme or the other to enrich a set of strategic planning scenarios.

This page contains a list of "Relative Uncertainties" for strategic planning scenarios out to 2020. For purposes of this page, these relative uncertainties are presented in two tiers. The first tier (thirteen) is composed of the most important uncertainties for the future out to 2020. They are not listed in any specific order. The second tier (ten) is another set of certainties, but of lesser importance.

The original thirteen certainties were extracted from the National Intelligence Council 2020 project -- "Mapping the Global Future." Please feel free to edit either tier, and move an item from one tier to another. If you do elect to edit the first tier, please post the rationale for your change in the discussion section of this page and provide references, or supporting material to explain or justify your suggested changes.

First Tier, out to 2020

  • Will globalization pull in lagging economies; and to what degree will Asian countries set new “rules of the game?"
  • What will happen to the gaps between "haves" and "have-nots", will there be backsliding by fragile democracies; can the international system manage or contain financial crises?
  • Will increased connectivity challenge governments?
  • Will the anticipated rise of China/India occur smoothly?
  • Will the EU and Japan be able to adapt work forces, welfare systems, and integrate migrant populations, will the EU integrate to become a superpower?
  • Will political instability in producer countries cause major supply disruptions?
  • How willing and capable are states and international institutions to accommodate emerging actors?
  • Will religiosity challenge the unity of states and be a source for potential conflict, how will jihadist ideology grow?
  • Will there be more or fewer nuclear powers, will terrorists be able to acquire biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear weapons?
  • What precipitating events leading will lead to the overthrow of regimes?
  • How robust will the ability of international actors/institutions be to manage flashpoints and competition for resources?
  • Will new technologies create or resolve ethical dilemmas?
  • Will other countries more openly challenge Washington, and will the US lose its scientific and technological edge?

Second Tier, out to 2020

  • Will there be very high demographic perturbations (either high or low) from expectations?
  • Will the frequency and importance of shocks to the physical environmental be significant?
  • Will world economic growth be much higher or lower than expected?
  • Will there be broad global religious or ethnic conflicts?
  • Will the level of technology diffusion (know how and distribution) be greatly increased or collapsed?
  • Will state stability increase or decrease significantly?
  • Will the state alliance and partnership increase or decrease radically?
  • Will the US foreign policy engagement philosophy shift radically to either aggressive or passive for the majority of the period?
  • Will the level of terrorism grow or subside radically?
  • Will the US and developed states face a radical increase or decrease in asymmetric security, economic, and political threats?
  • Will the level of regional threats (regional tensions) that must be dealt with grow or fall radically from recent historical norms?
  • Will multilateral institutions become very strong or very weak in the future?