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Here Are The Six Main Geopolitical Adversaries Of The USA

July 22, 2018

With the US now embroiled in a trade war with China and the European Union–on top of its struggle to contain the Russian Federation in Eastern Europe and the Middle East–while low intensity conflicts persist across Africa and Asia, the world enters a dangerous new phase.

For perspective, in the year 2000 the unchecked spread of nuclear capable weapons and killer drones weren’t considered grave enough risks compared to the specter of radical Islamic terrorism. At the time, American military strength was unmatched and neither Beijing nor Moscow were as belligerent as they are today.

As the 2020s loom it’s now apparent the world’s only superpower is menaced by determined adversaries who have dangerous new strategies to use against the US. If you’ve ever wondered how come the same misfits are always mentioned in the news cycle, here’s why.

Via Wikimedia Commons.

CHINA

Strengths: World’s second largest economy in nominal GDP. Nuclear armed state. Rapid technological advancement.

The Pentagon is worried about the US losing its technological edge to the Chinese in the next 20 years. The PLA’s arms buildup is far from modest and provokes conflict with neighboring countries in East, Southeast, and South Asia. The Chinese navy in particular is on its way to eclipsing the combined strength of the “Indo-Pacific Quad” and as the PLA’s cyberwarfare goes unchecked the US government could soon find itself at the mercy of hackers.

Some American analysts recognize China as a long-term rival whose economic strength can no longer be matched past a certain point. Ambitious policies launched by President Xi Jinping such as the Belt and Road Initiative and Made in China 2025 have the potential to erode the US’ influence on global affairs. Making matters worse, China is a significant trade partner for three other US enemies (these are Iran, North Korea, and Russia) and exports advanced weapons everywhere.

IRAN

Strengths: World’s second largest natural gas reserves. Supports effective proxies like Hezbollah. Extensive ballistic missile stockpile.

The Islamic Republic’s economy might be unraveling under the weight of sanctions but this hasn’t diminished its involvement in the Middle East’s trouble spots. Since 1979, every US President has sought to curb Iran’s emergence as a regional power that dominates the Persian Gulf, imposes its will on the Arab world, and spends its national wealth on building a war machine that deploys abroad–these are goals the late Shah Reza Pahlavi almost fulfilled.

The US sees Iran as a potential nuclear armed state and shutting down this likelihood has been a bipartisan goal since the George W. Bush administration (2000-2008). If Tehran does assemble a nuclear weapon this can trigger a war involving multiple Arab countries and Israel. Since Washington, DC deems Iran’s leadership as rogue actors in the “rules based” international order, they need to be overthrown sooner rather than later.

Via Wikimedia Commons.

NORTH KOREA

Strengths: Nuclear armed state.

With the Singapore Summit in June a complete and verifiable flop it’s hard to imagine why the Trump administration hasn’t reduced Pyongyang to a landscape of smouldering rubble yet. The short answer is…Kim’s nuclear missiles. To be specific, Kim Jong Un has the most lethal dead man’s switch ever. If he chooses, Seoul, Tokyo, maybe Guam or Hawaii, and some unfortunate American metropolis on the West Coast (at least) can be wiped out in the event his regime is threatened with destruction.

Aside from a stockpile of nuclear-tipped missiles, the US military recognizes North Korea’s presence along the DMZ and its cyberwarfare abilities as serious threats to longstanding allies that can trigger a regional war involving China. But North Korea’s survival in the long-term is a question mark too, so there’s a silver lining.

RUSSIA

Strengths: World’s largest nuclear weapons arsenal. Nominally allied with China and Iran. Ranked second in global arms exports. Resource rich.

Members of Russia’s intelligence agencies had a critical role securing then candidate Donald Trump’s election victory in November 2016. Just three years prior, Russia’s military were responsible for seizing the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine and helped ignite a separatist movement that’s still fighting to this day. Under Putin’s directions, Russian forces are now deployed in several countries to impose Moscow’s will and confront “the West.”

Russia’s influence, geography, and large population makes it the dominant land power in Eurasia and a menace to Europe’s anxious peace. To “defeat” Russia isn’t even feasible when a total war over the Baltic states or Ukraine is out of the question for the US and its allies. Nor is strengthening NATO a viable deterrent since Moscow is now deploying hypersonic weapons that negates whatever advantages large armies possess.

Russia’s strengths in armaments production, cyberwarfare, diplomacy, and nuclear weapons makes it the single greatest adversary of the US in the 21st century.

Via Reuters.

TERRORISTS

Strengths: Destabilize US allies in Africa and the Middle East. Targeting US citizens abroad and at home.

There’s no scenario in any timeline where terrorists can directly challenge the US’ role in the world or threaten its existence. But as ISIS showed in Iraq and Syria, an entire region thrown into chaos by a determined terrorist insurgency will force Washington, DC to act and send its forces abroad. This pattern of conflict means the US military’s footprint must remain agile and global if it wants to preserve the homeland’s national security.

Both the Pentagon and US intelligence agencies are convinced many terrorist organizations are going to thrive in the coming decades and combating them must never stop. Gaining access to new technology will alter their methods and tactics and in the process increase their hard power in multiple domains–whether in actual combat, propaganda, and cyberwarfare. This means for the first time ever the US is in a genuine arms race against a non-state entity.

TRANSNATIONAL CRIME

Strengths: Can become a revenue source for rogue states and terrorists. Threatens US citizens.

It’s baffling to think a marginally employed Nigerian scammer running a phishing operation endangers America’s place in the world, but the US’ vast military-intelligence complex thinks so. The rationale is the volume of crimes perpetrated in cyberspace are actually elaborate state-sponsored operations targeting US citizens, companies, critical infrastructure, intellectual property, and government offices.

The sheer number of tools available to malicious actors online can be exploited by terrorists as a funding mechanism or recruiting strategy. It’s also possible for “cyber mercenaries” to act against US interests on behalf of paying clients from rogue states such as Iran or North Korea. Other criminal endeavors like drug trafficking and human trafficking can go unchecked and destabilize whole countries, forcing a response from the US.

Since the US government can barely contain cyber threats or the spread of organized crime, then the risks emanating from this dark frontier are immense.

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