On March 10, 2021, IWP Professor Emeritus Kenneth deGraffenreid gave a webinar lecture on China’s intent to replace the U.S. as the sole superpower of the 21st century. This event was a part of the Asia Initiative Lecture Series at The Institute of World Politics.
Professor deGraffenreid began by comparing the rise of China to that of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union and China became global powers by making strategic intelligence choices that furthered their position in the world, much to the detriment of the United States. While the U.S. considers intelligence to be one of its many tools of foreign policy, for China, intelligence is the focal point, much as it was for the Soviet Union. Furthermore, China’s intelligence services are viewed as pillars of the Chinese Communist Party, just as the KGB was for the Soviet Union.
China’s intelligence services, he noted, are meant to keep government officials in power and are considered much more expansive than any U.S. intelligence agency. Their approach to strategic growth is termed the “whole of society,” in which every facet of Chinese society can be used to collect and analyze intelligence. According to Professor deGraffenreid, not only are official Chinese diplomats who come to the U.S. intelligence sources for the PRC, but so are private firms and individuals. The use of these private entities means that the U.S. must combat a much broader Chinese intelligence community.
Professor deGraffenreid outlined some of the challenges the U.S. government faces in fighting Chinese intelligence threats. The first, and the most prominent one, is the use of cyberspace by the Chinese government. While China’s modernization is not inherently a bad thing, the stealing of U.S. technology to achieve modernization is problematic. Chinese intelligence services have mastered the skill of influencing and disrupting virtual intelligence channels, as well as collecting data online.
Another issue is the tendency among some political leaders to downplay the China threat. This was also a problem for the U.S. during the onset of the Cold War, as many U.S. officials viewed the USSR as a potential ally rather than an enemy. Current political leaders must be careful not to disregard the threat that China poses to U.S. national security.
Additionally, it tends to be challenging for the U.S. to deal with nations that prioritize strategic intelligence over anything else. The U.S. counterintelligence system, at the tactical level, currently remains case-driven. Therefore, it is often difficult to look at the bigger picture on a strategic level.
Moving forward, he said, policy should be adopted that enables the U.S. government and intelligence agencies to deal with national security threats on a strategic level. There needs to exist a governmental process to define the nature of such threats. This would then enable the U.S. government and its agencies to outline clearly the goals of our intelligence and counterintelligence operations.
Professor Kenneth deGraffenreid formerly served as Deputy National Counterintelligence Executive, and, at IWP, he developed and directed the first M.A. degree in intelligence and security studies to be offered in the United States.