On Oct. 12, the White House released its long-awaited National Security Strategy (NSS), a high-level framework addressing the Biden administration’s main priorities on international security, trade and investment. The strategy, which had long been delayed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, highlights growing competition with China and countering the military ambitions of Russia as key priorities, as well as increasing investment in the U.S. economy, enhancing existing alliances with like-minded partners, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, and further building U.S. military capabilities to counter potential threats, among other priorities.
Broadly, the NSS aims to shape U.S. policy abroad and domestically through three prioritized areas: investing in the underlying sources of American economic competitiveness, building on existing state relations to form an influential coalition that will shape the global strategic environment, and guiding the creation of global frameworks, institutions and norms for trade and investment, as well as emerging technologies. In the strategy document released by the White House, these priorities are organized in three categories:
Investing in Strength – Focused on mobilizing public investment and diplomatic resources to nearshore U.S. military, economic and political power. The NSS directs a whole of government approach to pursuing a modern industrial and innovation strategy aimed at strengthening the U.S. manufacturing sector, infrastructure, critical and emerging technologies, and other key areas of investment where the NSS states that private industry has not mobilized to protect the core interests of the United States. The strategy also seeks to bolster the United States domestically by increasing investment in health care and child care, long-term career training, and education. The NSS emphasizes the importance of targeting investments to address the “defining challenges” of the 2020s, including corruption, digital repression and global attacks on elections and independent journalism.
Global Priorities – Focused on “out-competing China and constraining Russia,” the strategy focuses on engaging U.S. allies in climate, pandemic mitigation, nonproliferation and counterterrorism efforts, and shaping the creation of multilateral institutions and global norms for technology, cybersecurity and trade. Noting that China “frequently uses its economic power to coerce countries,” the NSS outlines three pillars for addressing the threat posed by China:
- Investing in the foundations of U.S. strength with respect to China, including by shrinking China’s comparative advantages in manufacturing, regional influence and trade;
- Aligning U.S. efforts with those of its allies and partners across the world; and
- Competing responsibly with China, including by increasing investment in the Indo-Pacific region, addressing untrusted digital infrastructure in supply chains, and holding China accountable for human rights abuses over the next 10 years,
Emphasizing the threat posed by Russia’s “blatant attempts to undermine internal democratic processes,” as well as its war in Ukraine, the NSS commits to maintain U.S. and allied support for Ukraine as part of a broader effort to counter Russia’s global influence. This effort includes rebuilding European security arrangements, responding to Russian attacks on U.S. infrastructure and democratic systems, and preventing Russia from using nuclear weapons. In other areas, the NSS commits to driving expansive action to limit the effects of climate change through multilateral institutions and public investment in at-risk countries, pursuing increased network infrastructure capabilities through 5G and other technologies, and partnering with countries to meet global debt challenges, finance infrastructure projects and assess what technologies may be used to ensure the world economy may adapt to 21st century challenges.
Regional Strategies – The NSS pursues engagement to ensure an “open and accessible Indo-Pacific,” including by building regional support for access to the South China Sea, upholding the United States’ commitment to the defense of Japan and the Senkaku Islands, and supporting shared initiatives between the United States and India in trade, security and investment. The strategy also commits to defend global human rights “whether in Belarus or Xinjiang” in coordination with the G7 member countries. The NSS framework for Europe commits to broadening transatlantic relations, including by strengthening trade, investment and technological cooperation with European countries.
With regard to the Middle East, the NSS focuses on nonmilitary methods of furthering the interests of the United States in the region using five guiding principles: strengthening partnerships with Middle Eastern countries; preventing regional powers from limiting free access to the Middle East’s waterways; reducing tensions and ending regional conflicts through diplomacy; promoting regional integration, including through constructing additional air and maritime defense structures; and promoting human rights throughout the region. With respect to Africa, the strategy prioritizes increasing investment in the continent with a focus on small and medium-sized states, as well as clamping down on human rights abuses and government corruption. The strategy also commits to increasing private sector investment in Africa, particularly with respect to Africa’s burgeoning digital economy, food security and energy sector.
Hill Response to the NSS
On Capitol Hill, views on the strategy largely ran along partisan lines, with Democrats applauding it and Republicans levying criticism toward the administration. In a joint statement via a tweet, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair (HFAC) Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and House Armed Services (HASC) Chair Adam Smith (D-WA) declared that Biden “has delivered” on a plan that meets the nation’s national security priorities. In the same vein, Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chair Jack Reed (D-RI) issued a statement that Biden had set forth a “strong, thoughtful vision for advancing America’s interests.” House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) issued a statement calling the strategy a “clear-eyed plan to strengthen national security, improve international cooperation, and protect the American people from imminent and emerging threats.” Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), a senior member on HFAC, tweeted that the strategy “upholds our alliances” to ensure the U.S. “remains competitive on the global stage,” while Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a member of both SASC and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), similarly opined via tweet that the strategy “rightly balances” the need for global U.S. leadership against malign actors while “staying acutely engaged and competitive on a global scale.”
For their part, Republicans struck a notably different tone, with a trio of congressman—Reps. Jim Banks (R-IN), Mike Waltz (R-FL) and Chip Roy (R-TX)—each condemning the plan for allegedly taking a more significant focus toward climate change while paying minimal attention to China. Similarly, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), a member of both HASC as well as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, issued a statement declaring that because the strategy prioritizes “transnational threats such as climate and food insecurity,” it therefore falls into a “dangerous trap of emphasizing cooperation with our adversaries”—particularly China. Moreover, HASC Vice Ranking Member Rob Wittman (R-VA) tweeted that the strategy “underscores the Biden administration’s myopic inability to prioritize our nation’s true security objectives,” particularly with respect to China.
Future for U.S. Foreign Policy
Despite its delayed rollout due to the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in February, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters that he didn’t believe the conflict has “fundamentally altered” Biden’s foreign policy approach, but rather that the strategy “presents in living color our approach and the emphasis on allies, the importance of strengthening the hand of the democratic world.”
The strategy reflects the administration’s desire to take leading and collaborative efforts on addressing the cross-border issues in priority regions. The administration recognizes that a delicate balancing act is required to uphold an American-led liberal international order that values international norms and institutions. Most of all, the strategy indicates that the administration will prioritize the threat of competition posed by China. It will also work to address climate issues with a graduated level of importance not seen by the previous administration. Moreover, with respect to addressing climate, the strategy’s call for reducing U.S. dependence on states “that seek to weaponize energy for coercion”—including Russia—will put the administration under the spotlight for how it seeks to manage such an energy transition, particularly as it has continued to refrain from boosting domestic oil and gas production.
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