In an annual presentation to the U.S. Congress, U.S. intelligence officials presented their official “Worldwide Threat Assessments.” In hearings before the Armed Services Committees of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper and the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Lieutenant General Vincent R. Stewart, USMC, each presented their reports.
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Clapper
Emerging trends suggest that geopolitical competition among the major powers is increasing in ways that challenge international norms and institutions. Russia, in particular, but also China seek greater influence over their respective neighboring regions and want the United States to refrain from actions they perceive as interfering with their interests—which will perpetuate the ongoing geopolitical and security competition around the peripheries of Russia and China, to include the major sea lanes. They will almost certainly eschew direct military conflict with the United States in favor of contests at lower levels of competition—to include the use of diplomatic and economic coercion, propaganda, cyber intrusions, proxies, and other indirect applications of military power—that intentionally blur the distinction between peace and wartime operations.
Although major power competition is increasing, the geopolitical environment continues to offer opportunities for US cooperation. In addition, despite the prospect for increased competition, the major powers, including Russia and China, will have incentives to continue to cooperate with the United States on issues of shared interest that cannot be solved unilaterally. A future international environment defined by a mix of competition and cooperation among major powers, however, will probably encourage ad-hoc approaches to global challenges that undermine existing international institutions.
The Caucasus and Central Asia
Even as Georgia progresses with reforms, Georgian politics will almost certainly be volatile as political competition increases. Economic challenges are also likely to become a key political vulnerability for the government before the 2016 elections. Rising frustration among Georgia’s elites and the public with the slow pace of Western integration and increasingly effective Russian propaganda raise the prospect that Tbilisi might slow or suspend efforts toward greater Euro-Atlantic integration. Tensions with Russia will remain high, and we assess that Moscow will raise the pressure on Tbilisi to abandon closer EU and NATO ties.
Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh remained high in 2015. Baku’s sustained military buildup coupled with declining economic conditions in Azerbaijan are raising the potential that the conflict will escalate in 2016. Azerbaijan’s aversion to publicly relinquishing its claim to Nagorno-Karabakh proper and Armenia’s reluctance to give up territory it controls will continue to complicate a peaceful resolution.
Central Asian states remain concerned about the rising threat of extremism to the stability of their countries, particularly in light of a reduced Coalition presence in Afghanistan. Russia shares these concerns and is likely to use the threat of instability in Afghanistan to increase its involvement in Central Asian security affairs. However, economic challenges stemming from official mismanagement, low commodity prices, declining trade and remittances associated with Russia’s weakening economy, and ethnic tensions and political repression, are likely to present the most significant instability threat to these countries.
Turkey remains a partner in countering ISIL and minimizing foreign fighter flows. Ankara will continue to see the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as its number one security threat and will maintain military and political pressure on the PKK, as well as on the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed affiliate People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey equates with the PKK. Turkey is extremely concerned about the increasing influence of the PYD and the YPG along its borders, seeing them as a threat to its territorial security and its efforts to control Kurdish separatism within its borders.
Turkey is concerned about Russia’s involvement in the region in support of Asad, the removal of whom Turkey sees as essential to any peace settlement. Turkey is also wary of increased Russian cooperation with the Kurds and greater Russian influence in the region that could counter Turkey’s leadership role. The Russian-Iranian partnership and Iran’s attempts to expand Shiite influence in the region are also security concerns for Turkey.
The refugee flow puts significant strain on Turkey’s economy, which has amounted to $9 billion according to a statement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Refugees have also created infrastructure and social strains, particularly regarding access to education and employment. Turkey tightened its borders in 2015 and is working to stanch the flow of migrants to Europe and address refugee needs.