Mon, Feb 18, 2019 - Page 7 News List

US intelligence leaders believe Russia and China are getting closer

By Hal Brands  /  Bloomberg Opinion

Those anxieties predate Trump, although they have been exacerbated by him. For years, US allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific alike have worried that the US’ will and ability to defend the international order it created is declining.

Incidents such as the “red line” fiasco in Syria in 2013 and China’s success in gaining control over large swaths of the South China Sea have fed concerns about US intentions; shifting military balances in Eastern Europe and the Western Pacific have fueled fears about declining US capabilities.

More recently, Trump’s anti-ally rhetoric, his penchant for waging trade wars against the US’ closest friends, and his generally erratic behavior have led a number of US partners and allies to consider whether they need a geopolitical backup plan — even as the US has increased defense spending and ramped up efforts to deter Russia in Eastern Europe.

What political scientists call “hedging” is becoming more common: Countries from Australia and Japan to France and Germany are trying to develop new partnerships that would soften the blow if it turns out that Washington can no longer be counted on.

Talk of an EU army, Japan’s efforts to cultivate closer ties with Australia and India, and the Philippines’ shift toward accommodation of China are all part of this pattern. These tendencies could become more pronounced if Trump or another skeptic of US globalism is elected next year.

Finally, there is the role of advanced and emerging technologies. The intelligence community provides some assessments and predictions in this area. China now has the ability to launch cyberattacks that could cripple US critical infrastructure for days or even weeks; Russia is “staging cyberattack assets” that would allow it to severely disrupt US society in a crisis; even relatively unsophisticated competitors will use cyberattacks against the US in the coming years.

More broadly, the international economy and global politics will be profoundly shaped by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology. Whatever nation seizes the commanding heights in these areas will have enormous advantages over its competitors.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) have been saying this for years; the US intelligence community is now saying it publicly, as well.

It is far from guaranteed that the US will come out ahead in this rivalry. The US’ intellectual leadership in science and technology has eroded. US researchers accounted for more than 50 percent of academic citations in those fields in 1996, compared to less than 35 percent today.

China’s share has risen from virtual insignificance to more than 20 percent. Beijing might well be ahead when it comes to artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies, and its ability to access vast troves of data gathered from its 1.4 billion people will provide further advantages.

For decades, the US has considered technological dominance to be its geopolitical ace in the hole, but now technological breakthroughs are threatening to erode US power and take the world toward a darker destination.

Spies get paid to worry about the scary possibilities, of course; it is the job of policymakers to ensure that the US effectively deals with them.

However, the intelligence community’s assessment is a reminder that while Trump and his antics capture the attention, there are bigger global changes afoot.

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