2021 U.S. Threat Assessment Includes Climate Change, Migration, and “Emerging Tech”

by ian

Ian Patrick, FISM News


On April 9, U.S. Intelligence released its annual assessment on national threats that America faces. Coming from the Office of the Director for National Intelligence, Avril Haines, the report says that it “focuses on the most direct, serious threats to the United States during the next year.”

In the coming year, the United States and its allies will face a diverse array of threats that are playing out amidst the global disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and against the backdrop of great power competition, the disruptive effects of ecological degradation and a changing climate, an increasing number of empowered non-state actors, and rapidly evolving technology. The complexity of the threats, their intersections, and the potential for cascading events in an increasingly interconnected and mobile world create new challenges for the IC.

The report focuses first on four countries who “have demonstrated the capability and intent to advance their interests at the expense of the United States and its allies, despite the pandemic.” These countries are China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

China is slowly but surely becoming an increasingly threatening competitor, “especially economically, militarily, and technologically.” Russia is becoming an adversary to the U.S. by “employing techniques up to and including the use of force.” Iran and North Korea are designated as mostly “regional” menaces with greater influence.

Other nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America were also mentioned, typically in the sense that they could disrupt and influence American persons and interests. For instance, the report assumes that there is a “low” chance for a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Intelligence goes on to list COVID-19 as one of the worst influences as it fuels “humanitarian and economic crises, political unrest, and geopolitical competition as countries…seek advantage through such avenues as ‘vaccine diplomacy.'”

Climate change is seen to have both indirect and direct influences on the U.S. Indirectly, Intelligence says it could have “political and economic” impacts. At the same time, warmer weather could “generate direct, immediate impacts – for example through more intense storms, flooding, and permafrost melting.”

The border crisis is also given a mention, although it is not specified as a “crisis.” Instead, Intelligence believes that Central Americans will be migrating more and more to the U.S. due to the pandemic, as well as “economic disparities and the effects of extreme weather and conflict” in those countries. The report suggests that these conditions will “heighten humanitarian needs, increase the risk of political upheaval, exacerbate other health crisis risks, and aid recruitment and radicalization by militant groups.” Intelligence also believes that narcotics and drug trafficking will be a major problem for this year.

The report also assumes that cyber technology will be a major threat in 2021 as well. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. has seen several highly publicized hacks and leaks. Cyber threats from the four major countries listed above are Intelligence’s major concerns, but the report says that the overall “increasing use of cyber operations as a tool of national power, including increasing use by militaries around the world, raises the prospect of more destructive and disruptive cyber activity.”