Intelligence for a New World Order

It is difficult to exaggerate how thoroughly the gathering of information on the Soviet Union, and especially its military power, has dominated U.S. intelligence operations since the Cold War began. Today, in light of the diminished Soviet military threat to western Europe, the sharp decline in the Soviet economy and the centrifugal forces pulling the Soviet Union apart, such concentration on that country and its military must inevitably decline. There will be differences over how much of a reduction is necessary, but it is difficult to see how anyone could argue that a substantial adjustment by the intelligence community is not in order.

Any reduction in effort against the Soviet Union will be resisted strongly in the CIA, where the Cold War ethos runs very deep. Similarly, any reduction in effort against the Soviet military threat will be opposed by the various military intelligence agencies when, after all, that threat is their raison d'être. Yet two of those military intelligence agencies collect not only military intelligence but also a major portion of U.S. political and economic data on the Soviet Union: the National Security Agency (NSA), which is responsible for most of our electronic intercepts; and the Satellite Reconnaissance Agency (SRA), which operates all intelligence satellites.1

Not only will new priorities have to be convincingly delineated, but some organizational changes will be needed as well, including a new position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

II

What should the new priorities be? Are there topics of sufficient import to the nation's well-being to replace the Soviets as the focus of U.S. intelligence? There are, and for the simple reason that we live in an information age. Increasingly, having the best information is the key to success in almost any line of endeavor. The tremendous advantage U.S. forces achieved over Iraq in the Gulf War was because Washington knew more about what Baghdad's military was doing than Iraq did about American forces. Or imagine what help it would be in international trade negotiations to know precisely what internal subsidies and other devices the other side is employing. Information always has been power, but today there is more opportunity to obtain good information, and the United States has more capability to do that than any other nation.

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis