In its new National Security Strategy (NSS) released last week, the Biden administration has declared that China is the “most consequential geopolitical challenge” that the US confronts along with constraining a rampant Russia.
In the much-delayed NSS drafted by the National Security Council with inputs from other agencies, Biden said that the United States would adopt of strategy of boosting American competitiveness, partner with countries that shared American values, and resolutely oppose autocracy.
But what is clear from the document is the intense focus on China.
'China the Only Competitor With Intent & Power To Reshape International Order': US
“The PRC is the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly the diplomatic, military and technological power to do it,” the NSS document has elucidated.
The document also referred to Russia as an “immediate and persistent threat to international peace and stability.” Attacking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the document said that the invasion had been an act of “strategic miscalculation” on the part of Moscow.
Besides China and Russia, the new NSS has zeroed in on Iran and other “smaller autocratic powers” and declared that it would not allow Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons through “other means” if diplomacy failed. At the same time, it has upheld the US support for Israel.
What About India?
India is not a major presence in the Biden administration's NSS. There is the conventional reference to India is as “the world’s largest democracy and a Major Defense Partner” with whom the US will work bilaterally and multilaterally “to support our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The document claims that Putin’s war has diminished Russia’s standing in China, India and Japan.
Unlike, say, India which still has no published NSS, the United States routinely issues one. The goal is to provide and over-arching vision of the country’s longer term plans in the military, economic, and diplomatic spheres; suggest ways of operationalizing them; and importantly, reconciling the ends and means available to the country for the task.
What Is the NSS?
The document is a serving president’s vision statement prepared by the US National Security Council which is headed by the president’s National Security Adviser (NSA).
It is likely that the current NSA Jake Sullivan authored the current document.
The US began to publish an NSS as part of its emerging Cold War posture in 1947, mandated to do so by the US Congress’ National Security Act. But it was only the major defence reform of the Goldwater-Nichols Act that has gotten various administrations to provide an NSS document with a certain regularity.
An important aim of the document is to bring the sprawling US national security apparatus into the same page in relation to the larger goals of the administration.
In March 2021, the Biden administration had issued what it said was an “Interim” Security Guidance whose core proposition was that the US needed to focus on renewing itself economically and politically to engage the world, and that it needed to do so in common cause with its allies and partners.
Thereafter, Biden succeeded in pushing for the $1.2 trillion infrastructure investment and Jobs Act to overhaul America’ degraded highways and transportation systems. Then came the legislation that will provide for nearly $437 billion investment in energy security, affordable care extension, drought resiliency within the US.
In addition the CHIPS and Science Act would provide $52 billion subsidy for chip manufacturers to build plants in the US and another $200 billion to revitalize US science institutions.
Quad, Ukraine War & Donald Trump's NSS
Biden also devoted significant time in promoting the Quad and creating a new Indo-Pacific Economic Forum (IPEF) which will support the economic component of a complex military, political, and diplomatic framework of the US-led policy of containing China.
Meanwhile, the Ukraine war has had the inadvertent effect of strengthening the NATO and expanding the alliance to include key countries like Finland and Sweden. At the same time, it has persuaded two major allies – Germany and Japan to enhance their defence spending.
The Biden NSS actually follows the strategy set by Donald Trump’s NSS issued in December 2017.
In fact, the real break in American policy towards China came with the Trump administration which took on Beijing, first through a trade war by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports, and then by a steadily increasing set of restrictions on export of high technology to China.
In his NSS, Trump rejected the notion, popular since the 1990s, that the US could change its rivals through a process of engagement. Instead he made it clear that the US was involved in a global contest where it had to preserve itself against the actions of “revisionist” powers like China and Russia who had no intention of becoming “benign actors and trustworthy.”
It offered a bleak vision of a global battleground where the US had to preserve itself from the actions of “revisionist” powers like China and Russia who were “attempting to erode American security and prosperity” and had no intention of becoming “benign actors and trustworthy partners.”
The Biden administration has not only refused to lift the tariffs imposed by Trump, but it has doubled down on the technology restriction regime by instituting a new and draconian set of restrictions on the export of semiconductors and their technology to China. Differences over Taiwan have helped to steel the Biden administration’s resolve.
Following the publication of the NSS, the US Department of Defence or the Pentagon will now publish the US national defence strategy and a nuclear posture review.
An important aspect of this is likely to be a restatement of the American belief that nuclear weapons will have a lesser role in US strategy than before, notwithstanding the Russian sabre rattling over Ukraine.
Nevertheless, there is a clear understanding in the NSS that the war in Ukraine has introduced a high level of uncertainty to the emerging global situation and could result in unforeseen changes in the future.
(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)