A Worldwide Threat Assessment

A Worldwide Threat Assessment

As we noted in the Wednesday edition, the US intelligence community has released its latest Worldwide Threat Assessment. Much of the media focus this week has fallen on President Trump's criticism of the US intel chiefs, but let's begin with the report itself. Here are its key findings:


  • The Trump administration's trade policies have damaged US interests by pushing allies to build new relationships with other governments.
  • "At present, China and Russia pose the greatest espionage and cyber attack threats."
  • ISIS isn't finished. The group can still call on thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria, as well as a dozen networks around the world.
  • "Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security."
  • North Korea "is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability." Following Kim Jong-un's meeting last year with President Trump in Singapore, North Korea has continued nuclear development in some areas and taken actions that are reversible in others. CIA Director Gina Haspel testified before Congress on Tuesday that North Korea "is committed to developing a long-range nuclear-armed missile that would pose a direct threat to the United States."
  • Iran continues to support terrorist groups in the Middle East and Europe, but it's still complying with the terms of the nuclear deal even after the US withdrew from the agreement and re-imposed sanctions. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress this week that "We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device."

And now to the controversy. President Trump, who has made statements in the past that contradict every one of these findings, was not pleased with the assessment, particularly on the subject of Iran. "The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! When I became President Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond," he tweeted on Wednesday.

If you want to know how a particular government weighs threats to national security, don't look to politicians. They have their own motives for stressing this or that threat. Look to intelligence professionals who were there before a particular president or prime minister arrived and will be there after they're gone. US intelligence has been (sometimes dangerously) wrong over the years, but the experience of its people and their extraordinary access to information make it unwise to dismiss their judgment.

And it's alarming to see the president of the United States, whom the US Constitution designates as Commander in Chief of the military, publicly deriding the integrity of the nation's intelligence agencies. This week, your Friday author is in Japan, one of several US allies where officials are watching with serious concern. It's also noteworthy that a clear majority of Republican senators voted this week to support a measure declaring that the Islamic State and al-Qaeda remain serious threats in Syria and Afghanistan, a rare rebuke for the president by lawmakers from his own party.

A sector that's rapidly expanding, domotics - domus (home) plus robotics - are smart houses that manage temperature and lighting to minimize wasted electricity. For example, smart thermostats sense your presence and set the temperature according to your needs, saving 20% a year on heating bills. Watch this episode of Eni's Energy Shot series to learn how domotics save money and increase a home's value.

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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A Castro-less Cuba: Raúl Castro, younger brother of the late Fidel, is expected to retire on Friday as secretary-general of Cuba's ruling communist party. When he does, it'll mark the first time since the 1959 revolution that none of Cuba's leaders is named Castro. The development is largely symbolic since Castro, 89, handed over day-to-day affairs to President Miguel Díaz-Canel in 2018. It's worth noting that US sanctions laws do specify that one of the conditions for normalizing ties with Cuba is that any transitional government there cannot include either of the Castro brothers. So that's one less box to tick in case there is a future rapprochement across the Straits of Florida. But more immediately, we're watching to see whether a new generation of leaders headed by Díaz-Canel will bring any serious reforms to Cuba. COVID has killed the tourism industry, plunging the island into an economic crisis that's brought back food shortages and dollar stores reminiscent of the early 1990s.

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16: Brazil's new plan to save the Amazon promises to curb deforestation, but not too much. Although it would reduce annual forest loss to the average recorded over the past five years, next year's target is still 16 percent higher than the Amazon's total deforestation in 2018, the year before President Jair Bolsonaro — who favors economic development of the rainforest — took office.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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