The United States is expected to face a “complex” security environment and will need to work to confront two “critical” strategic challenges—rising powers, like China, seeking dominance in the global order— and challenges like climate change—which could “intersect” and intensify their national security implications, the U.S. intelligence community assessed.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Wednesday released its 2023 annual threat assessment, which warned of threats against the U.S. posed by China, Russia, North Korea and Iran. It also warned of global challenges like climate change and evolving technologies that could have the potential to “disrupt” traditional business and society, while creating “unprecedented vulnerabilities.”
“These two strategic challenges will intersect and interact in unpredictable ways, leading to mutually reinforcing effects that could challenge our ability to respond, but that also will introduce new opportunities to forge collective action with allies and partners, including non-state actors,” the report states.
As for China, the U.S. intelligence community said the Chinese Communist Party will continue its efforts to make China the “preeminent power in East Asia and a major power on the world stage.”
Officials said that Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his third term, will work to press Taiwan on unification and will seek to “undercut U.S. influence” by driving “wedges between Washington and its partners.”
“At the same time, China’s leaders probably will seek opportunities to reduce tensions with Washington when they believe it suits their interests,” the report states.
The intelligence community warned that Beijing is “increasingly” combining its growing military power with its economic, technological, and diplomatic influence to “strengthen CCP rule, secure what it views as its sovereign territory and regional preeminence, and pursue global influence.”
With regard to Taiwan, the intelligence community warned that the PRC is using “coordinated, whole-of-government tools” as it seeks to assert sovereignty over Taiwan. Officials warned that China may build on its actions from 2022, and include more Taiwan Strait centerline crossings or missile overflights of Taiwan.
Officials also warned that if China succeed in gaining control over Taiwan, it would have “wide-ranging effects, including disruption to global supply chains for semiconductor chips because Taiwan dominates production of cutting-edge chips.”
As for China’s military, the intelligence community said Beijing is “accelerating” the development of key capabilities that it believes the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) needs to “confront the United States in a large-scale, sustained conflict.” The PLA efforts are designed to “deter U.S. intervention in a future cross-Strait crisis,” officials said.
Officials also warned that Beijing is bolstering its domestic defense production capabilities for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and advanced conventional weapons. The intelligence community also warned that China is building hundreds of new ICBM silos.
“Beijing worries that bilateral tension, U.S. nuclear modernization, and PLA’s advancing conventional capabilities have increased the likelihood of a U.S. first strike,” the report states. “Beijing’s heightened confidence in its nuclear deterrent is likely to bolster its resolve and intensify conventional conflicts.”
Meanwhile, the intelligence community assessed that China will remain the “top threat” to U.S. technological competitiveness.
“China is central to global supply chains in a range of technology sectors, including semiconductors, critical minerals, batteries, solar panels, and pharmaceuticals,” the report states. “China’s dominance in these markets could pose a significant risk to U.S. and Western manufacturing and consumer sectors if the Government of China was able to adeptly leverage its dominance for political or economic gain.”
As for China’s malign influence operations, the U.S. intelligence community explained that the CCP uses a “sophisticated array of covert, overt, licit, and illicit means to try to soften U.S. criticism, shape U.S. power centers’ views of China, and influence policymakers at all levels of government.”
And with regard to cyber and technology, the U.S. intelligence community assesses that China represents the “broadest, most active, and persistent cyber espionage threat to U.S. Government and private-sector networks.”
“China’s cyber pursuits and its industry’s export of related technologies increase the threats of aggressive cyber operations against the U.S. homeland, suppression of the free flow of information in cyberspace—such as U.S. web content—that Beijing views as threatening to the CCP’s hold on power, and the expansion of technology-driven authoritarianism globally,” the report states.
Officials warn that China is “capable of launching cyberattacks that could disrupt critical infrastructure services within the United States, including against oil and gas pipelines, and rail systems.”
“China leads the world in applying surveillance and censorship to monitor its population and repress dissent,” the report states.” Beijing conducts cyber intrusions that are targeted to affect U.S. and non-U.S. citizens beyond its borders— including journalists, dissidents, and individuals it views as threats—to counter views it considers critical of CCP narratives, policies, and actions.”
Officials also warned that China is rapidly expanding and improving its artificial intelligence and big data analytics capabilities, which could expand beyond domestic use.
Shifting to Russia, the U.S. intelligence community warned that Moscow will remain a “formidable and less predictable challenge to the United States in key areas during the next decade but still will face a range of constraints.”
“Russia probably does not want a direct military conflict with U.S. and NATO forces, but there is potential for that to occur,” the intelligence community assessed. “Russian leaders thus far have avoided taking actions that would broaden the Ukraine conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders, but the risk for escalation remains significant.”
Officials assess that Russia will continue to employ military, security, malign influence, cyber and intelligence tools to “undermine the interests of the United States and its allies.”
As for the relationship between China and Russia, the intelligence community assesses the two states will “maintain their strategic ties driven by their shared threat perceptions of the United States.”
Officials warn the relationship between China and Russia creates “potential threats in areas such as security collaboration, specifically arms sales and joint exercises, and diplomacy, where each country has used its veto power on the UN Security Council against U.S. interests.”
The intelligence community said Russia maintains the “largest and most capable nuclear weapons stockpile, and it continues to expand and modernize its nuclear weapons capabilities.”
Russian nuclear material security also remains a concern, despite improvements to material protection, control, and accounting at Russia’s nuclear sites since the 1990s,” the report states.
And while China represents one of the greatest threats to U.S. national security, officials said Russia, too, presents “one of the most serious foreign influence threats to the United States” due to its intelligence services and influence tools that seek to sow discord in the United States and influence U.S. voters and decision-making.
Iran also remains a threat to the United States, as it seeks to erode U.S. influence in the Middle East.
Officials said Iran will continue to threaten U.S. persons directly and via proxy attacks, particularly in the Middle East, and remains committed to developing “surrogate networks inside the United States, an objective it has pursued for more than a decade.”
Officials say Iran is “not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that would be necessary to produce a testable nuclear device,” but warned Tehran has “accelerated the expansion of its nuclear program.”
“If Tehran does not receive sanctions relief, Iranian officials probably will consider further enriching uranium up to 90 percent,” the report states.
Iran also represents a “major threat” to U.S. networks and data, due to its capabilities and willingness to conduct “aggressive cyber operations.”
The U.S. intelligence community assessed that North Korea is continuing its efforts to enhance its nuclear capabilities, targeting the United States and its allies.
Officials warned that North Korea’s military “will pose a serious threat to the United States and its allies by continuing to invest in niche capabilities” designed to provide Kim Jong Un with a “range of options to deter outside intervention, offset enduring deficiencies in the country’s conventional forces, and advance his political objectives through coercion.”
Kim Jong Un remains “strongly committed” to expanding North Korea’s nuclear weapons arsenal and maintaining nuclear weapons as a “centerpiece of his national security structure,” the report states.
Officials also warned that North Korea’s chemical or biological weapons “remain a threat.”
The report states that the intelligence community is “concerned” that North Korea “may use such weapons during a conflict or in an unconventional or clandestine attack.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.