To identify ways in which social and behavioral sciences (SBS) research can be useful to the Intelligence Community (IC), the committee needed to have a clear, current picture of the potential sources of risk to the security of the United States. Security risks grow out of complex, interacting trends and developments around the world, including political, economic, and social developments; threats to infrastructure and stability posed by rogue, nonstate actors (see Box 3-1) or the effects of global climate change; and technological developments, such as social media, big data, and artificial intelligence (AI), that are changing the ways people work and communicate. Given the extreme complexity of the subject, we sought a range of perspectives on the highest-priority challenges and risks. We looked at several documents produced by entities of the U.S. government that include assessments of global risks and challenges. To counter the U.S. perspective reflected in these documents, we also reviewed summaries of global trends and risks produced by two international organizations—the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Economic Forum. This chapter summarizes the persistent themes and emerging threats identified in these expert assessments and offers our thoughts about the role of SBS research in understanding them.
U.S. government entities have reasons, because of their responsibilities, to develop regular assessments of risks and challenges around the world.
This section reviews several of these assessments to provide perspective on the breadth of concerns identified and themes that run across them.
The National Intelligence Council (NIC) is an interagency intelligence analysis unit working for the director of national intelligence. Its primary function is to provide to the president and senior officials strategic thinking, based on interagency assessments, which is virtually always classified. An important product of the NIC is the Global Trends report prepared for incoming presidents, which is a widely known and respected source on primary trends in security. To develop this report, the NIC brings together experts from government, academia, and the private sector to produce unclassified strategic analyses of the forces and choices likely to shape the world over the next two decades (National Intelligence Council, 2017, p. vi). The most recent report, published in 2017, identifies seven global trends and presents an assessment of both how these trends are affecting power dynamics and how those changes, in turn, may contribute to specific rising tensions.1 The report summarizes the seven global trends and their implications as follows (p. 6):
The rich are aging, the poor are not. Working-age populations are shrinking in wealthy countries, China, and Russia but growing in developing,
1 For a detailed discussion of the methodology used to develop the assessment, see pp. 7–71 of the report.
poorer countries, particularly in Africa and South Asia, increasing economic, employment, urbanization, and welfare pressures and spurring migration. Training and continuing education will be crucial in developed and developing countries alike.
The global economy is shifting. Weak economic growth will persist in the near term. Major economies will confront shrinking workforces and diminishing productivity gains while recovering from the 2008–2009 financial crisis with high debt, weak demand, and doubts about globalization. China will attempt to shift to a consumer-driven economy from its longstanding export and investment focus. Lower growth will threaten poverty reduction in developing countries. [Figure 3-1 from the report illustrates the predicted trends.]
Technology is accelerating progress but causing discontinuities. Rapid technological advancements will increase the pace of change and create new opportunities but will aggravate divisions between winners and losers. Automation and artificial intelligence threaten to change industries faster than economies can adjust, potentially displacing workers and limiting the usual route for poor countries to develop. Biotechnologies such as genome editing will revolutionize medicine and other fields, while sharpening moral differences.
Ideas and identities are driving a wave of exclusion. Growing global connectivity amid weak growth will increase tensions within and between
societies. Populism will increase on the right and the left, threatening liberalism. Some leaders will use nationalism to shore up control. Religious influence will be increasingly consequential and more authoritative than many governments. Nearly all countries will see economic forces boost women’s status and leadership roles, but backlash also will occur.
Governing is getting harder. Publics will demand governments deliver security and prosperity, but flat revenues, distrust, polarization, and a growing list of emerging issues will hamper government performance. Technology will expand the range of players who can block or circumvent political action. Managing global issues will become harder as actors multiply—to include nongovernmental agencies, corporations, and empowered individuals—resulting in more ad hoc, fewer encompassing efforts.
The nature of conflict is changing. The risk of conflict will increase due to diverging interests among major powers, an expanding terror threat, continued instability in weak states, and the spread of lethal, disruptive technologies. Disrupting societies will become more common, with long-range precision weapons, cyber, and robotic systems to target infrastructure from afar, and more accessible technology to create weapons of mass destruction.
Climate change, environment, and health issues will demand attention. A range of global hazards pose imminent and longer-term threats that will require collective action to address—even as cooperation becomes harder. More extreme weather, water and soil stress, and food insecurity will disrupt societies. Sea-level rise, ocean acidification, glacial melt, and pollution will change living patterns. Tensions over climate change will grow. Increased travel and poor health infrastructure will make infectious diseases harder to manage.
The report makes clear that these trends are interrelated and that their convergence may amplify tensions that are rising in both the near and longer terms (5 years into the future and beyond). It notes, for example, a number of reasons why terrorism is likely to be a growing threat, including technological advances that increase the capacity of states and other actors to recruit and inflict harm; a context of deterioration in state governance structures, particularly in the Middle East; economic dislocation for many groups; and the spread of extremist ideology. The report also describes the geopolitical outlook for world regions and highlights profound changes occurring in the international order established following World War II. The report closes with a discussion of ways leaders and nations might be able to increase their resilience and respond to recognized risks—for example, by taking advantage of advancing technologies and other developments to improve cooperation and flexibility in response to shifts such as those in power dynamics.
Presidential administrations, by statute, regularly produce summaries of their strategies for national security that identify broad goals and specific approaches for achieving those goals (The White House, 2017).2 The frequency of release of these documents varies among administrations, from once during an administration to annually.3 The intended audience is the American people, U.S. allies and partners, and federal agencies. The Office of President Donald Trump published its most recent national security policy document in December 2017 (President of the United States, 2017). It identifies four broad pillars of the current national security strategy: protecting the homeland, promoting U.S. prosperity, preserving international peace, and advancing U.S. influence around the world. The document focuses on specifying those actions that will have the highest priority for pursuing goals encompassed by each of these four pillars; discussion under the first and fourth pillars identifies specific risks to be mitigated.
Under the first pillar—protecting the homeland—the document points to five primary areas of risk (President of the United States, 2017).
- Weapons of mass destruction. The report notes that the “danger from hostile state and non-state actors who are trying to acquire nuclear, chemical, radiological, and biological weapons is increasing” (p. 8).
- Biothreats and pandemics. The report cites both outbreaks of viruses and deliberate biological attacks.
- Insufficient border control and immigration policy. The report cites risks from “terrorists, drug traffickers, and criminal cartels [that] exploit porous borders and threaten U.S. security and public safety” (p. 9).
- Jihadist terrorists and criminal organizations. The report notes that “the primary transnational threats Americans face are from jihadist terrorists and transnational criminal organizations,” which “rely on encrypted communication and the dark web,” “thrive under conditions of state weakness,” and in many cases are “sheltered and supported by states” (p. 10).
- Cyberattacks. The report notes that “cyberspace offers state and non-state actors the ability to wage campaigns against American political, economic, and security interests without ever physically crossing our borders” (p. 12).
The document also addresses more specific challenges facing the United States in each of six regions: Africa, Europe, the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and the Western Hemisphere. It identifies as consistent priorities across all regions strengthening partnerships, taking actions to encourage economic growth in the regions, and maintaining global security.
A similar document is produced regularly by the U.S. Department of Defense to articulate the U.S. military’s “strategy to compete, deter, and win” in current circumstances (U.S. Department of Defense, 2018, p. 1). This unclassified synopsis of the classified National Defense Strategy describes the strategic environment in which the U.S. military must develop its plans for protecting national security (U.S. Department of Defense, 2018). This report, referred to historically as the National Military Strategy, has been issued periodically since 1991, and was last produced in 2018.
The description in this document of the strategic environment in which the military is operating highlights areas of risk regarded by military leaders as paramount. The unclassified version of the 2018 strategy identifies the “central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security [as] the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers” (U.S. Department of Defense, 2018, p. 2 [italics in original]). It argues that China and Russia “want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions” (p. 2). The document also identifies other significant risks in the strategic environment (pp. 2–3):
- a “resilient, but weakening, post-WWII international order,” the guiding principles of which are being undermined by China and Russia;
- “rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran,” which are seeking new types of weaponry, sponsoring terrorism, and seeking “coercive influence”;
- challenges to the U.S. military’s advantage;
- “rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war”;
- “terrorists, trans-national criminal organizations, cyberhackers, and other malicious non-state actors,” which have increasingly sophisticated “capabilities of mass disruption”;
- direct targeting of the U.S. homeland via cyber activity and political and information subversion, as well as the possibility of direct attacks on critical defenses or infrastructure; and
- weapons of mass destruction in the possession of rogue regimes.
In addition, the director of national intelligence provides a regular update on the National Intelligence Strategy, also assembled by the NIC. The most recent version was presented by Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats in January 2019 (Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2019). It identifies priorities for the IC and describes the strategic environment in which the IC will be pursuing its objectives. The document notes that “while the IC remains focused on confronting a number of conventional challenges . . . posed by our adversaries, advances in technology are driving evolutionary and revolutionary changes across multiple fronts” (p. 4). It highlights several key threats (pp. 4–5):
- Traditional adversaries will continue attempts to gain and assert influence, taking advantage of changing conditions in the international environment—including the weakening of the post-WWII international order and dominance of Western democratic ideals, increasingly isolationist tendencies in the West, and shifts in the global economy.
- Adversaries are increasing their presence in [space] with plans to reach or exceed parity in some areas. . . . Many aspects of modern society—to include our ability to conduct military operations—rely on our access to and equipment in space.
- As the cyber capabilities of our adversaries grow, they will pose increasing threats to U.S. security, including critical infrastructure, public health and safety, economic prosperity, and stability.
- Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, automation, and high performance computing . . . enable new and improved military and intelligence capabilities for our adversaries . . . the development and spread of such technologies remain uneven, increasing the potential to drastically widen the divide between the so-called “haves” and “have-nots.”
- Exponentially growing amounts of information . . . [are challenging] the IC’s ability to collect, process, evaluate, and analyze such enormous volumes of data quickly enough to provide relevant and useful insight to its clients.
- The ability of individuals and groups to have a larger impact than ever before—politically, militarily, economically, and ideologically—
is undermining traditional institutions. This empowerment of groups and individuals is increasing the influence of ethnic, religious, and other sources of identity, changing the nature of conflict, and challenging the ability of traditional governments to satisfy the increasing demands of their populations. . . . Some violent extremist groups will continue to take advantage of these sources and drivers of instability.
- Increasing migration and urbanization of populations are . . . further straining the capacities of governments around the world and are likely to result in further fracturing of societies, potentially creating breeding grounds for radicalization. Pressure points include growing influxes of migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons fleeing conflict zones; areas of intense economic or resources scarcity; and areas threatened by climate changes, infectious disease outbreaks, or transnational criminal organizations.
The United States is not the only country concerned with social, economic, and technological trends. The OECD and the World Economic Forum both provide assessments of global trends and risks that are intended to reflect the concerns of many countries.
OECD, an independent, nonprofit organization, regularly assesses issues likely to directly affect its 34 member countries, as well as the rest of the world. Its assessments are intended to be useful for government policy makers, industry, and analysts. In 2003, OECD’s International Futures Pro-gramme issued a summary of major risks for the 21st century. The report notes that a spate of large-scale disasters—including severely damaging weather patterns, emerging diseases, terrorism, and cyber-based disruption of critical infrastructure—indicate not only that “the nature of major risks . . . seems to be changing . . . but also [that] the context within which they appear and society’s capacity to manage them” seem to be changing as well (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2003, p. 4). The report identifies four primary forces that are driving these developments:
- demographic changes, including population growth and migration;
- environmental change, including global climate change, loss of biodiversity, and water shortages;
- technological changes, which may “reduce some risks while aggravating others or even creating new ones” (p. 12); and
- socioeconomic changes, including those in governments’ role in managing economies, globalization, poverty, and income gaps.
The report includes recommendations with respect to forecasting and managing risks associated with these forces.
Every other year, OECD issues a similar report describing the implications of these trends for national- and international-scale policies related to science, technology, and innovation. The most recent of these reports (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2016) reinforces the messages of the 2003 summary of major risks, noting that the above four “megatrends raise urgent issues,” but that “the capacities of governments to intervene will likely face major constraints, including high public debt, increasing international security threats, a possible erosion of social cohesion, and the rise of influential non-state actors that challenge their authority and ability to act” (p. 17).
The World Economic Forum, an independent, nonprofit organization, also produces regular assessments of global challenges, which are based on surveys of experts from around the world in sectors that include economics, technology, geopolitics, and the environment (OECD contributes to the development of the report). The assessments are also intended to be useful to leaders in politics, business, and other sectors focused on global, regional, and industrial agendas, and it serves as a basis for debates at the Forum’s annual meeting. The 2019 report (World Economic Forum, 2019) identifies broad themes that align with many of the concerns addressed in the U.S. government assessments discussed above. Like the report prepared by the NIC for the director of national intelligence, it synthesizes five areas of concern (paraphrased from pp. 10–17):
- Economic vulnerabilities, including market volatility, slowing economic growth, the global debt burden, rising income and wealth disparities, and other strains on the global economy increase the risk of economic confrontations between major powers and erosion of multilateral rules and agreements.
- Geopolitical tensions and deepening fissures in the international system, as well as polarization and weak governance, bring risk as inter-country relations are reconfigured and progress on other global challenges, particularly protecting the environment, is hampered. This environment is inauspicious for the resolution of emerging crises.
- Societal and political strains within countries, including increased polarization, political fragmentation, and identity politics, undermine stable and effective governance. Diminishing social cohesion places strain on political institutions and undermines their capacity to anticipate challenges and work multilaterally with international partners.
- Environmental fragilities, including rising sea levels, extreme weather, and threats to biodiversity and the food chain, pose grave risks to health, well-being, and socioeconomic development and environmental policy failure. The failure of environmental policies threatened international capacity to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
- Technological instabilities, including data fraud, cyber attacks, fake news, identity theft, threats to privacy, and data breaches all contribute to the overall vulnerability of critical infrastructure and have the potential to significantly disrupt business and government.
The report emphasizes the interconnected nature of these challenges, highlighting the potential for “threshold effects,” where change in one area triggers “dramatic deteriorations and cause cascading risks to crystallize” (p. 7). Figure 3-2 illustrates the complex connections among risks and trends identified in the report.
These assessments are developed for different purposes and audiences and cover different time spans, and each provides a somewhat different framing of the issues that influence national security. Nevertheless, they highlight some consistent themes.
One shared concern is that the distribution of power among and across state and nonstate actors has been changing and is likely to continue to do so. Individuals and small groups continue to be empowered, opening up new opportunities but also posing new challenges, from the threat of terrorism to the increased intricacy of building international coalitions. These assessments also reflect a shared concern that international structures that have served as a force for stability and democracy are being challenged. Global environmental changes and demographic shifts are interacting to amplify the pace and effects of other changes. Such trends as economic dislocation and migration are producing an increasing disconnect between governments and the governed. Rising expectations go unmet, resulting in yet another cycle of disaffection.
Developments in technology—particularly information technology—are also influencing the risks and challenges highlighted in the assessments discussed here. Access to massive amounts of data and computational technology, such as automation and AI, has provided both state and nonstate actors capabilities that once existed only in the realm of science fiction. Cyber-mediated communication is bringing threats to democracy and political stability. New technologies are affecting jobs, infrastructure, health, and scientific discovery in both positive and counterproductive ways. They are also affecting the nature of conflict, intelligence gathering, communication, and the spread of influence.
The new toolkit for information operations drives these trends home. To be sure, those operations are as old as conflict itself: the point of all warfare has always been to influence two inches of gray matter in the heads of leaders and their peoples. Yet the new tools available and emerging today, especially cyber but also social media–aided propaganda, have changed the calculus of risk. These tools are relatively cheap, and their nature makes it easy for the attackers who use them to hide their roles. The targets of such attacks are societies, not combatants on the battlefield; these tools can be and are used simultaneously to pursue aggressive objectives without using physical warfare.
Russia’s intervention in the 2016 U.S. elections demonstrates the risk. According to a partially declassified U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) issued in early 2017,4 the Kremlin, in addition to its long-standing desire to undermine the U.S.-led world order, had three specific goals when it launched its influence campaign: “to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” The Kremlin also displayed a clear preference for candidate Trump and so helped to increase his election chances.
Russia’s influence campaign encompassed leaks of information Russia had stolen through cyber espionage, overt Russian propaganda, and hacks into election infrastructure—all of which were distinct but carried out simultaneously and complementarily starting at least as early as summer 2015. The first two of these lines of attack amounted to weaponizing information. First, emails obtained from hacks into the accounts of both the Democratic National Committee and candidate Clinton’s campaign manager were released through surrogates at strategic times, such as after the Democratic convention. The second line of attack used trolls and bots on social media to cause lies—such as that Clinton was in poor health—to trend on social media so they would be picked up by the mainstream media. These operations were carried out by Russian intelligence and enjoyed the full support of the Russian government, although Russian President
4 Available: https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf [December 2018].
Vladimir Putin insisted that they did not.5 The third line of attack consisted of hacks into election infrastructure in 21 states. While U.S. intelligence found no evidence that votes were affected by those hacks, they served at the least as practice for the next time around, whether in the United States or other countries. This set of circumstances aligns closely with definitions of information warfare, as distinct from cyberwar (see Box 3-2).
Americans often think of their country as a constant pole in a world in flux. Yet the IC—not to mention the world—must take into account that the United States is a source of uncertainty. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 destroyed a tenuous, if brutal, order in the Middle East. The toppling of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 with no “plan B” for what might come next only added to that region’s chaos. Changes in world structures are being driven not just by the actions of China and Russia but also by a United States whose current approaches to international interactions, including trade, reflect a view that they are a zero-sum game to win or lose. The backdrop for these developments is the effect of global climate change, which has been described as an “accelerant of instability” and which will be manifest through such issues as scarcity of water, food, and other resources; extreme weather; and dislocation of communities and populations (American Security Project, n.d.; Goldstein, 2016; National Research Council, 2013; United Nations Climate Change, 2016).
5 During a press conference on June 1, 2017, Putin said that independent Russian hackers might have launched cyberattacks on foreign nations, but that the Russian state was uninvolved and that the hackers were motivated by their own patriotism (see Higgins, 2017).
No single committee or decadal study could address the full breadth of developing challenges and threats discussed here, and it is worth noting that there are significant trends and risks not emphasized in these assessments—for example, the rise of megacities, the broader global rate of scientific advances, and the myriad uses to which drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) may be put for purposes both good and nefarious. As the committee explored possible connections between emerging SBS research and sources of security risk, however, one thing became clear: understanding the human dimension is critical to addressing virtually any security challenge.
American Security Project. (n.d.). Climate Security. Available: https://www.americansecurityproject.org/issues/climate-security [August 2018].
Goldstein, J.S. (2016). Climate change as a global security issue. Journal of Global Security Studies, 1(1), 95–98. Available: https://academic.oup.com/jogss/article-abstract/1/1/95/1841791?redirectedFrom=fulltext [November 2018].
Higgins, A. (2017). Maybe private Russian hackers meddled in election, Putin says. New York Times, June 1. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/world/europe/vladimir-putin-donald-trump-hacking.html?mcubz=3 [November 2018].
Murdie, A., and Urpelainen, J. (2015). Why pick on us? Environmental INGOs and state shaming as a strategic substitute. Political Studies, 63(2), 353–372. doi:10.1111/1467-9248.12101.
Murdie, A., and Webeck, S. (2015). Responding to the call: Human security INGOs and countries with a history of civil war. International Political Science Review, 36(1), 3–19. doi:10.1177/0192512114547372.
National Intelligence Council. (2017). Global Trends: Paradox of Progress. Available: https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/nic/GT-Full-Report.pdf [July 2018].
National Research Council. (2013). Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (2019). National Intelligence Strategy of the United States of America, 2019. Available: https://www.dni.gov/index.php/newsroom/reports-publications/item/1943-2019-national-intelligence-strategy [February 2019].
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2003). Emerging Risks in the 21st Century: An Agenda for Action. Available: https://www.oecd.org/futures/globalprospects/37944611.pdf [November 2018].
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2016). OECD Science, Technology, and Innovation Outlook 2016. Paris, France: OECD. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/sti_in_outlook-2016-en [July 2018].
Peterson, T., Murdie, A., and Asal, V. (2018). Human rights NGO shaming and the exports of abusive states. British Journal of Political Science, 48(3), 1–20. doi:10.1017/s0007123416000065.
President of the United States. (2017). National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Available: https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf [November 2018].
United Nations Climate Change. (2016). Climate Change Poses Risk to Global Security. Available: https://unfccc.int/news/climate-change-poses-risk-to-global-security [November 2018].
U.S. Department of Defense. (2018). Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge. Washington, DC: Author. Available: https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf [July 2018].
The White House. (2017). A New National Security Strategy for a New Era. Available: https://www.whitehouse.gov/articles/new-national-security-strategy-new-era [November 2018].
World Economic Forum. (2019). The Global Risks Report 2019, 14th Edition. Available: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Global_Risks_Report_2019.pdf [May 2019].
This page intentionally left blank.