US intelligence warns of mounting challenges to current world order

Spy chiefs say threats from China and Russia threaten US primacy, war on Gaza could spread insecurity.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines testifies at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats to US security, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC [Julia Nikhinson/Reuters]

United States intelligence agencies have warned that the country faces an “increasingly fragile world order”.

The alarm was sent through the 2024 Annual Threat Assessment report issued on Monday. The document on worldwide threats to US national security cautions that China, Iran and Russia are challenging the current international rules-based order.

The report, outlining the collective insights of the US intelligence community, says the country “faces an increasingly fragile global order, strained by great power competition, transnational challenges and regional conflicts”.

Focusing on threats from China and Russia, the report notes the latter’s invasion of Ukraine. It also points at the risk of broader conflict related to Israel’s campaign against Hamas in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by the Iran-aligned movement that governs the enclave.

“An ambitious but anxious China, a confrontational Russia, some regional powers, such as Iran, and more capable non-state actors are challenging longstanding rules of the international system as well as US primacy within it,” the report reads.

Chinese war support

China is providing economic and security assistance to Russia as it wages war in Ukraine, supporting Russia’s industrial base, the report said.

The report notes that trade between China and Russia has been increasing and that Chinese exports of goods with potential military use have risen more than threefold since 2022.

In a testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington, DC, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines urged lawmakers to approve more military assistance for Ukraine.

It was “hard to imagine how Ukraine” could hold territory it has recaptured from Russia without more assistance from Washington, she said.

The report also warned that China could use technology to try to destabilise the US directly.

“[China] may attempt to influence the US elections in 2024 at some level because of its desire to sideline critics of China and magnify US societal divisions,” it reads.

Republican House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, an ally of former President Donald Trump, has so far refused to call a vote on a bill that would provide $60bn more for Ukraine. The measure has passed the Democratic-run Senate.

Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns told the upper house that continuing support for Ukraine would also send a message to China about aggression towards Taiwan or in the South China Sea.

‘Generational impact on terrorism’

Haines noted concern that the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas threatens to spread global insecurity.

“The crisis in Gaza is a stark example of how regional developments have the potential of broader and even global implications,” she said.

“While it is too early to tell, it is likely that the Gaza conflict will have a generational impact on terrorism. Both al-Qaeda and ISIL [ISIS], inspired by Hamas, have directed supporters to conduct attacks against Israeli and US interests,” she added, also noting the attacks by Yemen’s Houthis on shipping.

Haines, who will also report to Congress on Tuesday, added that US intelligence assesses that Hezbollah and Iran “do not want to cause an escalation of the conflict that pulls us or them into a full-out war”.

After a protester interrupted the hearing with shouts about the need to protect civilians in Gaza, Burns was asked about children in the Palestinian enclave.

“The reality is that there are children who are starving. They’re malnourished as a result of the fact that humanitarian assistance can’t get to them. It’s very difficult to distribute humanitarian assistance effectively unless you have a ceasefire,” he said.

Regarding Israel, the report noted that “Netanyahu’s viability as leader as well as his governing coalition of far-right and ultraorthodox parties that pursued hardline policies on Palestinian and security issues may be in jeopardy.

“Distrust of Netanyahu’s ability to rule has deepened and broadened across the public from its already high levels before the war, and we expect large protests demanding his resignation and new elections. A different, more moderate government is a possibility,” it said.

Emotions rose in the hearing as some senators discussed immigration across the US border with Mexico, which Trump has made a focus of his campaign to defeat Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election.

FBI Director Christopher Wray expressed concern about the “terrorism implications from potential targeting of vulnerabilities at the border”, noting rising threats from US nationals inspired by armed groups and other foreign fighters since Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7.

“The threat has gone to a whole new level,” Wray said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies