USA, Liberal International Order, Challenges of 2021, and Georgia
David Natroshvili, Contributor, International Security and Defence Studies, Caucasus University
The U.S. National Intelligence Agency, which coordinates the activities of 18 agencies (the so-called Intelligence Community), released its annual threat assessment report on April 9, 2021. The 27-page document outlines all possible security challenges the United States may face over the next year.
It is important to understand that these threats challenge not only the national security of the United States, but also the stability of the liberal international order as a whole, the main guarantor of which is currently the United States.
There is no doubt that the weakening of the liberal international order, amid the intensification of negative trends described in the document, will have a negative impact on all actors for whom international institutions, liberal rules and norms are some sort of a security guarantee, including those countries which acquired and maintain their independence through the aforementioned order.
If we observe it from this perspective, the threat assessment document of the National Intelligence Service will contain many issues that are also relevant for the national security of Georgia. Besides them threatening Georgia's main supporter in international relations, its strategic partner the United States, and seeking to weaken its influence in the international system, these threats also bring about significant changes to the security environment, which may be shaped in such a way as to complicate the realization of our national goals and tasks.
Threats and challenges in 2021
The range of threats presented in the intelligence document is wide, and includes both traditional and non-traditional forms of threat: from the contemporary authoritarian regimes of the world and their revisionist foreign policy, to transnational challenges and regional instability and conflicts.
According to intelligence analysts, the number one challenge for the United States and the liberal international order today is the People's Republic of China and its quest for global power. Washington is facing the growing military-political and economic influence of China, both at the regional and global level. The document indicates that in 2021, China will continue to demonstrate its strength in the region to show the neighbors its own superiority. As a result of this policy, China's neighborhood may witness new hotspots of tension emerging, or existing ones exacerbated.
In addition to military-diplomatic leverage to increase regional and global influence, China, in its arsenal, also has so-called "Vaccine Diplomacy" and the "One Belt, One Road Initiative", which helps increase China's economic, political, and military strength oversees. China’s strength is also becoming more and more tangible in the field of space and cyber technology. China is actively using these tools inside and outside the country for ideological control and to strengthen its technology-based authoritarianism. It is noteworthy that China is actively seeking to establish new international human rights standards aimed at justifying human rights abuses in the eyes of the international community, through the excuse of “national interest” (Raison d’état).
Another revisionist state seeking to transform the existing international order is Russia, which is trying to assert its role as the creator of the global agenda and one of the major players in the multipolar world. According to the authors of the document, to achieve this end, Russia will use a variety of tactics in 2021 – it will try to undermine US influence in the world, establish new international norms, acquire new allies, isolate Western countries, and weaken Western ties. Moscow will try to reach an agreement with Washington on non-interference in internal affairs and recognition of spheres of influence, particularly in the territory of the former Soviet Union.
In order to strengthen its position at the regional and global levels, Russia will try to use influence operations, intelligence, joint military exercises, volunteers, assassinations, arms trade, manipulation with energy resources, and more. The chosen focus for the aforementioned activities is the Middle East; North Africa, where Moscow seeks to emerge as an irreplaceable mediator (Syria, Libya); Latin America, where it seeks to penetrate through the arms trade and energy deals; and within the territory of the former Soviet Union, where, according to the authors of the document, Russia has favorable positions to increase its influence, especially in the Caucasus, Belarus, and Ukraine.
Russia poses a serious threat to the United States in intelligence. According to the document, Moscow is actively using its intelligence services and various mechanisms of influence to create a schism between the Western allies, as well as to maintain its influence in the post-Soviet space and increase its authority in the world at the expense of weakening America's positions.
Iran and North Korea
The intelligence document also discusses Iran and North Korea as regional threats. The document reads that in 2021, Iran and the North Korea will continue to seek to undermine American influence via direct and indirect means, including through military threats against US allies and by taking anti-American positions in the ongoing conflicts. Both countries, especially Iran, will try to use cyber technologies and intelligence to damage the critical infrastructure of the United States and its allies, acquire the necessary information, and influence the decision-making process in Washington.
Unlike Iran, North Korea poses an additional significant nuclear threat to the United States and its allies. The North Korean leader is convinced that nuclear weapons are a guarantee of ensuring the sovereignty of his state, and he continues to work on the development of long-range missiles.
The document also addresses transnational threats and challenges that, due to their scale, could alter the agenda of international relations.
The Covid-19 pandemic is listed as the number one transnational threat, which is characterized by far-reaching consequences and, in addition to direct health problems, also raises geopolitical tensions between large states, who compete to acquire advantage and influence in the face of difficulties caused by the pandemic.
In some countries, the economic problems caused by the pandemic are creating or exacerbating already existing instability. Some countries are facing financial and humanitarian crises, which in turn amplifies the risks of migration, collapse of government, and internal conflicts.
The pandemic also affects the security agenda and priorities. The reduction in defense spending has a negative impact on UN peacekeeping operations, counter-terrorism measures, and so on, which, according to the authors of the document, will complicate conflict management in future.
Among other transnational threats and challenges, climate change, organized crime, migration, global terrorism, and the development of cyber-technologies by authoritarian states are noteworthy. These threats carry the risks of social and economic inequality, mass displacement, deepening geopolitical tensions among large states, the rise of extremism, and increased intra-state conflicts, as well as tightening control over populations.
Armed conflicts will remain one of the main challenges for the US and the liberal international order in 2021. Struggles for power and resources, as well as ethnic and ideological strife may lead to conflicts within countries and civil wars, while conflicts between countries may be triggered by border disputes, such as the tension seen between China and India in the last year. This carries a high risk of military confrontation. The geographical area of the aforementioned threat is wide and covers virtually the entire world: Afghanistan, India-Pakistan, the Middle East, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Asia, Latin America, a,nd Africa.
In summary, we will note that the US National Intelligence Agency's 2021 Threat Assessment Document contains at least two notable points for Georgia:
First - the weakening of the influence of its main ally, the United States, in the international system will have a negative impact on such important areas of Georgia's foreign and security policy as the policy of non-recognition, de-occupation, and NATO and EU membership.
Second - the disruption of the liberal order and the growing influence of authoritarian states in the international system will significantly change the security environment in the future, posing existential challenges to many states, including the post-Soviet ones.
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