HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE U.S. INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY’S ANNUAL 2021 THREAT ASSESSMENT
One of the unique aspects of the United States Intelligence Community is that it often publishes its collective thinking in the public domain. Each year, for instance, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence produces an unclassified version of a report of worldwide threats to the U.S. which reflects the collective insights of the Intelligence Community concerning the most direct, serious threats to the nation over the coming year.
In this year’s report, which was publicly released on 9 April (ATA-2021-Unclassified-Report.pdf (dni.gov), China ranked high in Community interest. The report characterized China as an “increasingly…near-peer competitor, challenging the United States in multiple arenas – especially economically, militarily, and technologically – and [as]…pushing to change global norms.”
Key points from the China section of the report, headlined “China’s Push for Global Power” (with some light editing for wording and order of presentation), included the following:
• China is increasingly combining its growing military power with its economic, technological, and diplomatic clout to preserve the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), secure what it views as its territory and regional preeminence, and pursue international cooperation at the United States’ expense. The CCP will continue its whole-of-government efforts to spread China’s influence, undercut that of the U.S., drive wedges between Washington and its allies and partners, and foster new international norms that favor the authoritarian Chinese system.
• China has been intensifying efforts to shape the political environment in the United States to promote its policy preferences, mold public discourse, pressure political figures whom the CCP believes oppose its interests, and muffle criticism of China on such issues as religious freedom and the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong.
• China will remain the top threat to United States technological competitiveness as the CCP targets key technology sectors and proprietary commercial and military technology from U.S. and allied companies and research institutions associated with defense, energy, finance, and other sectors. China uses a variety of tools, from public investment to espionage and theft, to advance its technological capabilities.
• China is building a larger and increasingly capable nuclear missile force that is more survivable, more diverse, and on higher alert than in the past, including nuclear missile systems designed to manage regional escalation and ensure an intercontinental second-strike capability. China will continue the most rapid expansion and platform diversification of its nuclear arsenal in its history, intending to at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile during the next decade and to field a nuclear triad. China is not interested in arms control agreements that restrict its modernization plans and will not agree to substantive negotiations that lock in U.S. or Russian nuclear advantages.
• China is working to match or exceed U.S. capabilities in space to gain the military, economic, and prestige benefits that Washington has accrued from space leadership. Counterspace operations will be integral to potential military campaigns by the People’s Liberation Army, and China has counterspace weapons capabilities intended to target U.S. and allied satellites.
• China presents a prolific and effective cyber-espionage threat, possesses substantial cyber-attack capabilities, and presents a growing influence threat. China’s cyber pursuits and proliferation of related technologies increase the threats of cyber attacks against the U.S. homeland, suppression of U.S. web content the CCP views as threatening to its internal ideological control, and the expansion of technology-driven authoritarianism around the world.
• China will continue expanding its global intelligence footprint to better support its growing political, economic, and security interests around the world, increasingly challenging the United States’ alliances and partnerships.