Dan Coats, the American Director of National Intelligence, warned the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that the risk of a global level conflict is higher today that it has been in decades, with a particular focus on the threats presented by North Korea, Iran, and terrorism, but compounded by the actions of “malign actors” like Russia and China.

The risk of interstate conflict, including among great powers, is higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War,” Coats said. “The most immediate threats of regional interstate conflict in the next year come from North Korea and from Saudi-Iranian use of proxies in their rivalry,” he said. “At the same time, the threat of state and non-state use of weapons of mass destruction will continue to grow.”

North Korea, in particular, represents what Coats referred to as “a potentially existential threat” to the United States. According to the Intelligence Chief, more nuclear testing can be expected within the next year, regardless of seemingly warming relations with their neighbor and U.S. ally, South Korea.

Decision time is becoming ever closer in terms of how we respond to this,” Coats said. “Our goal is a peaceful settlement. We are using maximum pressure on North Korea in various ways.”

North Korea’s inclusion in the Winter Olympics, currently being held in South Korea, has led some to hope that the tensions permeating from the Korean peninsula will begin to subside, but most experts have warned that such a conclusion is unlikely. Kim Jong Un’s regime has repeatedly made it clear that they are unwilling to negotiate an end to their nuclear pursuits, and the United States has made it equally clear that they will not tolerate a nuclear threat in the form of North Korea.

In the wake of accelerated missile testing since 2016, North Korea is likely to press ahead with more tests in 2018, and its Foreign Minister said that Kim (Jong Un) may be considering conducting an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean,” he said.

Coats’ concerns don’t only pertain to direct action conflicts, however. When it comes to nations like China and Russia, it’s their continued efforts to discredit American foreign policy in all corners of the globe that present a threat to national security. According to the Intelligence Director, both nations are already using several tactics to that end, including cyber and information warfare.

In media depictions, Russia tends to draw headlines for digital influence campaigns while China’s threat tends to be characterized in the form of espionage, but both nations actually maintain broad and effective programs in each of those spheres. Both nation’s rely heavily on propaganda for both domestic and international perception management, and both nation’s utilize cyber warfare and HUMINT tactics to acquire sensitive and classified materials pertaining to America’s defensive infrastructure and assets. However, based on the amount of time devoted to discussing each, it would seem that Coats still perceives Russia to be the greater of the two threats.

We expect Russia to continue using propaganda social media, false flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen and other means to influence to try to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” he said.

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives that its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 US midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.”

Image courtesy of the Associated Press