The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William J. Burns, published an article in which he referred to “the United States’ principal rivals—China and Russia”, while emphasizing that “China is the bigger long-term threat”.
Strongly implying that we are in the early stages of a new cold war, he wrote that “China and Russia consume much of the CIA’s attention”.
Burns revealed that “the CIA has been reorganizing itself” in order to counter China. The notorious US spy agency has created a special “mission center” focusing exclusively on Beijing, and has doubled its budget for anti-China operations.
He also boasted that the war in Ukraine has helped the United States geopolitically and economically, and he argued that, by supporting Kiev, Washington is sending a threatening message to Beijing over Taiwan.
The CIA director wrote this article for Foreign Affairs, the official publication of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). One of the most powerful US think tanks, the New York City-based CFR has a virtual revolving door with the State Department, acting as a kind of umbilical cord between Wall Street and the State Department, coordinating economic and foreign policy.
In the January 30 piece, titled “Spycraft and Statecraft: Transforming the CIA for an Age of Competition”, Burns acknowledged that China’s “economic transformation over the past five decades has been extraordinary”.
China’s rapid economic and technological advances have weakened US hegemony, the CIA director lamented, writing that “China’s rise and Russia’s revanchism pose daunting geopolitical challenges in a world of intense strategic competition in which the United States no longer enjoys uncontested primacy”.
Many top officials in Washington, including President Joe Biden, have claimed that the United States only seeks “competition” with China, not a new cold war. But in his article, Burns wrote that the “post–Cold War era came to a definitive end the moment Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022”.
By stating that the “post-Cold War era” is over, and by frequently speaking of China and Russia together in the same breath, the US spy chief strongly implied that Washington is indeed waging Cold War Two.
Nevertheless, it is not Moscow, but rather Beijing that Washington considers to be its main “threat”.
“China remains the only U.S. rival with both the intent to reshape the international order and the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do so”, Burns warned.
The CIA director wrote (emphasis added):
While Russia may pose the most immediate challenge, China is the bigger long-term threat, and over the past two years, the CIA has been reorganizing itself to reflect that priority. We have started by acknowledging an organizational fact I learned long ago: priorities aren’t real unless budgets reflect them. Accordingly, the CIA has committed substantially more resources toward China-related intelligence collection, operations, and analysis around the world—more than doubling the percentage of our overall budget focused on China over just the last two years. We’re hiring and training more Mandarin speakers while stepping up efforts across the world to compete with China, from Latin America to Africa to the Indo-Pacific.
The CIA has a dozen or so “mission centers,” issue-specific groups that bring together officers from across the agencies’ various directorates. In 2021, we set up a new mission center focused exclusively on China. The only single-country mission center, it provides a central mechanism for coordinating work on China, a job that extends today to every corner of the CIA.
Burns also used the Foreign Affairs article to call for Washington to continue supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia.
The CIA director referred to US military assistance to Ukraine as “a relatively modest investment with significant geopolitical returns for the United States and notable returns for American industry”.
In other words, the spy chief was acknowledging that the Ukraine war has benefited the Military-Industrial Complex, enriching US arms corporations.
The Biden administration has used similar “military Keynesian” talking points. Politico reported in October that the “White House has been quietly urging lawmakers in both parties to sell the [Ukraine] war efforts abroad as a potential economic boom at home”.
Burns likewise argued that US support for Ukraine could intimidate China.
“The United States’ willingness to inflict and absorb economic pain to counter Putin’s aggression—and its ability to rally its allies to do the same—powerfully contradicted Beijing’s belief that America was in terminal decline”, the CIA director wrote.
“Continued material backing for Ukraine doesn’t come at the expense of Taiwan; it sends an important message of U.S. resolve that helps Taiwan”, he added.
As US ambassador to Russia in 2008, Burns predicted Ukraine war. Now he targets Taiwan
On the issue of the Ukraine war, William Burns has a disturbing track record.
Before being appointed CIA director, he served for decades as a senior US diplomat. His career reflects the revolving door between the CIA and State Department.
In the Barack Obama administration, Burns was deputy secretary of state, making him second-in-command of the State Department, reporting directly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Before that, in the George W. Bush administration, Burns served as US ambassador to Russia.
At the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania in 2008, President Bush pledged that Ukraine and Georgia were going to join the US-led military alliance. This upset several top NATO allies, including Germany and France, who worried that the promise would exacerbate tensions with Russia.
In his capacity as US ambassador to Russia, Burns responded to this controversy by penning a 2008 confidential State Department cable titled “Nyet Means Nyet: Russia’s NATO Enlargement Redlines” (“nyet” means “no” in Russian).
In the document, which was made public by the whistle-blowing journalism organization WikiLeaks, Burns wrote:
Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests. Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.
Virtually everything Burns warned about potential conflict in Ukraine eventually came true, as the United States pushed Kiev into war with its neighbor Russia.
This precedent makes the CIA director’s current threats against China over Taiwan even more striking.