Annual Threat Assessment Of The U.S. Intelligence Community published on February 6, 2023 by the U.S. government’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence covers worldwide threats to the United States and is a summary of the collective insights of the United States Intelligence Community (IC).
While the threats are envisaged from the US perspective yet there is reason to believe that quite a few of these directly or indirectly impact India.
Importantly of the three inter state conflicts that have been included in the DNI Report two involve India – that is with Pakistan and China, the third one being in the South Caucasus between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The nuances of the inter state conflicts that have been covered in the report will be examined separately.
The broader security issues which will need the attention of the Indian strategic and intelligence community in India are covered herein.
International Security Environment
Two critical strategic challenges that have been identified which are seen as, ”complex and pivotal international security environment,” which intersect each other and are set to intensify as per the DNI assessment.
First is geopolitical and regional competition mainly emerging from the United States and China/Russia and as a subset – India- China in the bilateral and regional domain.
Consequences of the war in Ukraine will remain of concern to India as well with the proximate relations with Russia on one hand and the evolving nature of the conflict with possibility of escalation.
The second set of challenges which can be categorised as in the non-traditional security domain include “climate change, and human and health security,’ in addition to economic, energy and food insecurity. Technology is an additional element.
While these domains have been prevalent in the security discourse over the years, the war in Ukraine has only expanded the envelope in terms of the number of geographies and people impacted and deepening of insecurity.
Political security is has been identified in the DNI report in terms of “Russia, China, and other countries,” promotion of “authoritarianism and spread disinformation,” leading to what is said as, “democratic backsliding, threats of political instability, and violent societal conflict through misinformation and disinformation”.
Clearly these are when taken in context will also impact India through surge of disinformation.
Given that China has been identified by the United States as a major challenger, there is a special section devoted to the same. The relevant factors with reference to India are summarised as given below:-
Expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Global Development Initiative (GDI) and the Global Security Initiative (GSI) for promotion of Chinese interests in the Indian Neighbourhood.
While BRI has been used thus far GDI and GSI are two addendums giving additional focus for influence of Beijing in South Asia and the Indian Ocean periphery of main interest to India.
The future of BRI is envisaged as, “clean energy, electric vehicles, and climate change” which will also be employed to sustain Beijing’s political influence from the Indian perspective in the Neighbourhood.
Importantly China’s reorienting of nuclear posture with reference to strategic rivalry with the United States may in turn have an obvious impact on India with reports of, “hundreds of new ICBM silos”.
In conventional terms the expanding capability of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will also be of concern to India.
Meanwhile Chinese domination of the global supply chains, semiconductors and chips, batteries and pharma are expected to continue. This is as much a risk to the United States as India.
The direction of Chinese cyber operations is expected to target critical infrastructure including oil, gas and transportation. Military domain will also be impacted by cyber surge by the PLA’s Strategic Support Forces (SSF).
China Russia Relations
Growing China Russia relations identified in the DNI Report will have ramifications for India in terms of fealty of Moscow to New Delhi particularly given the perception of growing proximity to India United States relations.
For China relations with Russia would be essential to strengthen the coalition against the United States – a common friction point for both. This in turn will test India Russia relations.
Mr Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia speaking in the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi on March 02, this year outlined an attempt to activate the Russia India China or RIC forum while seeking the two – New Delhi and Beijing to resolve the differences.
The DNI believes that “a direct military conflict with U.S. and NATO forces”, is unlikely but there is a possibility in case the Russian military fails in a way that hurts President Putin’s image in Moscow.
An escalation in Europe and between Russia and the United States/NATO including a shooting war will pose significant challenges to India apart from rest of the World and some thought needs to be given to the same even though the probability appears low for now.
Greater focus of Russia on “nuclear, cyber, and space capabilities,” is another factor with the decline of conventional military potential. How this will impact India’s military technical dependency on Russia needs to be understood.
Non Traditional Security Challenges
The DNI states that China and India will contribute and thus play critical roles in global warming. Dependency on coal is a factor in this rise which is unlikely to go down as per DNI assessment due to economic, employment and political constraints.
The impact of climate change on “human health,’ and “rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and increased frequency and severity of weather events are likely to intersect with environmental degradation, pollution, and poor water governance to exacerbate food and water insecurity, malnutrition, and overall burden of disease”.
India’s planners need to pay close attention to these emerging sub critical threats.
COVID 19 impact is expected to continue in the form of economic and human security and in combination with climate change could result in, “public discontent and societal divisions will grow, and risks to democratic governance, political stability, and migration fluctuations,” aspect which have been deliberated from time to time but needing special attention today.
Of critical concern is a “novel pathogen,” leading to a devastating pandemic which has been predicted by some due to a number of factors such as, “climate change, deforestation, human encroachment into previously undisturbed habitats, wildlife harvesting and trade, mass food production, and lack of international consensus on biosafety norms”.
Health and Disease Surveillance
Health and disease surveillance including disinformation, and straining of the health system are issues which implies that overall surveillance for virus trends needs to be continued.
In addition there is the issue of AI and biotechnology the proliferation of which is rapid and security challenges emerging from which are said to be beyond the spectrum of the knowns today.
Cyber, Food Etc
Cyber is the known tool amongst these technologies. While multilateral agreements will be important in this sphere, these are said to be unlikely thus the threat in being will remain.
Food security and livelihood which has been impacted by the war in Ukraine is expected to add to the poverty and unemployment burden having socio economic consequences and law and order issues.
Migration and displacement is another issues particularly as the ability to sustain humanitarian aid and assistance will increase migrant flows.
This phenomenon is existent in India’s periphery as well in Afghanistan and the Rohingya efflux from the camps in Bangladesh. With reduction of funds for the Rohingya’s in Bangladesh more may go in for “boat,” option attempting to escape by sea despite the threat to lives.
Transnational Crimes, Extremism
Transnational crime, “illicit drug production and trafficking, human trafficking, human smuggling, money laundering and financial crimes, and cybercrime,” are as much a threat to the United States and India.
Finally what the DNI Report calls, “Transnational Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists,” which are prevalent in this part of the World and are manifesting in varied ways globally, regionally as well as internally.