Living in a time of political, economic and global uncertainty, there are myriad factors that could affect the business practices and well-being of people across all industries, including promotional products.

On Wednesday, Gemline (PPAI 113948, S11) offered a free webinar with Leon Panetta, the former U.S. secretary of defense and CIA chief. Panetta was the director of the CIA when terrorist Osama Bin Laden was brought to justice. (James Gandolfini played him in the film Zero Dark Thirty).

Gemline Executive Chair Jonathan Isaacson hosted the webinar, which featured a 30-minute presentation by Panetta covering high-level commentary on some of the biggest topics currently affecting the U.S.. This was followed by a series of questions from Isaacson and attendees watching virtually.

To watch a recording of the conversation, click here. Below are a few takeaways from the webinar.

Cyberterrorism Is The “Battlefield Of The Future.”

PPAI Media has been busy covering cybercrimes in the promotional products industry over the past year. These crimes are typically carried out by criminals with increasing levels of sophistication.

Panetta called cyberterrorism the “battlefield of the future.” In world where conflict has the possibility of looking very different than it did 30 years ago, hacks and ransomware will be used on governments to gain leverage.

“It could literally end up paralyzing this country,” Panetta says.

This would require the highest levels of cybercrime sophistication and technology. If global conflict creates an arms race in the advancements of this dangerous field, then there is likely to be a trickle down that raises the capabilities of the more petty criminals who use these tactics to victimize businesses.

War In Ukraine Is About The Future Of Democracy In The World

Characterizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as unjust, Panetta referred to the conflict as “a pivotal war.”

One year after it started, he is impressed and proud of what the Ukrainians have managed to do to defend themselves and says that such tactics have exposed Russia’s lack of strategic plan.

“Let’s face it,” Panetta says. “Ukraine is [currently] winning this war, and Russia is losing it.”

Panetta has met and dealt with Vladimir Putin, and he recommends that the U.S. and other allies continue to give Ukraine all the weapons they need to push Russians back, because Putin will not concede easily.

“There is no ending that does not involve force,” says Panetta.

China’s Fundamental Goal Is To Replace The U.S.

China wants to be the global leader, Panetta says. The country may be strategically restrained in some instances, but it is fairly resilient in its goal to gain competitive advantages over the U.S. Referring to Chinese spy balloons that were eventually detected on U.S. land, Panetta called it “the tip of the iceberg to the efforts they have made to gather intelligence.”

Panetta says that he has held high-level positions in which the U.S. has dealt with similarly ambitious nations, and that it tends to get worse before eventually getting better, insinuating that we are currently living out the bad phase. He believes that the U.S. has to maintain a healthy dialogue with China, but it must be done from a point of strength because “China cares about China first.”

Business In China Doesn’t Come Without Risk

Panetta did not advise against businesses operating out of China, but he was cleverly strategic when discussing a large company having a presence there in the current climate of the two nations’ relationship.

“I think it would be wise to try to find a way to have a presence there without being so high-profile that you become a target,” Panetta says.

The dynamic between the two countries is clearly tenuous. It could get worse, but the potential for improvement remains.

“When we get beyond this stage, economic opportunity is going to grow in this area,” Panetta says.

The Debt-Ceiling Is A Legitimate Threat

Many have discussed the possibility and implications of the U.S. hitting the debt ceiling, including PPAI Media. The U.S. sits at approximately $31.5 trillion in debt. That could mean up to $10 trillion of interest in just the next 10 years. 

Panetta has been party to and actively involved in contentious budgeting issues in the past, all of which were resolved, perhaps not perfectly so but enough to prevent disaster, through some degree of compromise. Unfortunately, he does not see the same type of spirit in today’s government. There is considerably less bipartisanship in most instances of government, leaving less room for compromise.

“Today, the budget process is broken in Washington,” Panetta says. “Both parties don’t want to confront the hard issues in order to reduce the deficit.”