February 12, 2009 / 9:22 PM / 11 years ago

FACTBOX: Economic crisis is top U.S. security threat

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The global economic crisis is the top near-term U.S. security concern and one in four countries have experienced at least some instability because of it, U.S. intelligence agencies reported on Thursday.

Following are some other highlights from the Director of National Intelligence’s annual threat report:

* The risk to U.S. strategic interests will increase if economic recovery does not begin soon. Much of sub-Saharan Africa, the former Soviet Union and Latin America lack the financial resources to cope with the downturn.

* The downturn could lead to a rise in economic nationalism and reduced military and logistical support from allies. It could also erode the United States’ economic leadership because the crisis originated here.

* Al Qaeda is less effective than it was a year ago, with the loss of key leaders and significant public criticism of its violent tactics in the Muslim world. And the radical Islamic group is now under greater pressure in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region it calls home.

But al Qaeda is still dangerous and continues to plot attacks against Europe and the United States. Its affiliate in northern Africa remains robust and the threat is likely to increase in eastern Africa.

* Though hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s prospects for reelection are “less than certain,” persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions will continue to be difficult. Confrontation with Israel looms over the issue.

* Extremists in Iraq have largely been sidelined by U.S. and Iraqi government forces, along with dwindling public tolerance for their violent tactics. Threats to continued progress include disputes over internal boundaries, resentment of the central government, outside support for insurgent groups, and declining oil prices.

* Security in southern, eastern and northwestern Afghanistan has deteriorated as the government’s legitimacy has eroded. Improvement there is impossible until Pakistan gains control of its border regions.

* Progress on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal will be difficult after the Gaza conflict hardened divisions among the two populations, increased conflict between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and opened a rift between moderate Middle Eastern governments and hard-line governments like Iran and Syria.

* East and South Asia are likely to become the long-term power centers of the world, and GDP in India and China will surpass that of all other economies except the United States by 2025. Conflicts are possible as China seeks access to markets and commodities to fuel its growth and develops its naval power. India is more likely to avoid confrontation with the United States.

* North Korea is not likely to use nuclear weapons against the United States unless it perceives its regime is on the verge of military defeat. Kim Jong Il faces no internal threats to his rule, though he was likely hindered by a stroke he probably suffered in August.

* A crunch in the global oil supply is possible in the future if continued low prices stall investment. But low prices will also squeeze the “adventurism” of producers like Iran and Venezuela.

* Venezuela’s oil production is unlikely to increase without a change in government policy, and its regional influence is likely to decline as its problems mount.

* Climate change will affect U.S. security over the next 20 years as existing problems such as poverty, social tensions and environmental degradation worsen.

* Cyber attacks are likely to be a regular aspect of future conflicts, and malicious activity on the Internet continues to increase.

Compiled by Andy Sullivan; editing by Todd Eastham

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