Examining the Biden Administration’s National Security Strategy
Eva Schwartz | Oct 24th 2022
The Biden Administration released their National Security Strategy (NSS) on October 12, 2022. The NSS’s purpose focuses on communication between the executive and legislative branches, while also providing an outline of interests, policies, and goals for national security strategy to the public. While the NSS is meant to be updated annually, it is frequently overlooked or shared late, and sometimes not at all.
Reactions to the Biden Administration’s NSS vary, and many Washington foreign policy experts have an opinion to share. The main goals of this NSS are to invest, build, and modernize American defenses and democracy, and the lengthy Biden NSS aims to elaborate on these objectives. This NSS focuses on Russia and China, climate policy, and cybersecurity internationally, and examines economic growth, democratic institutions, and the drug epidemic nationally.
In Part I of the NSS, Biden begins by making a bold, yet necessary statement: “the post-Cold War era is definitively over and a competition is underway between the major powers to shape what comes next.” By acknowledging that the international community must move beyond the power dynamics of the post-Cold War world this NSS starts strong, though the following 42 pages do not do enough strategically to back up this claim. Additionally, this NSS was released 18 months into the Biden presidency. Experts believe that the NSS was ready last February, but it had underscored the role of Russia in international security. When Russia invaded Ukraine, it became clear Russia would continue to be a major power, causing a rework of the entire NSS. This delay also signals that despite the statement about the post-Cold War era being over, these dynamics continue to shape security policy to some extent and point towards an oversight by the Biden Administration.
This NSS is longer than others, and it is clear that the Biden Administration is trying to obfuscate their policy positions. It rejects making tough decisions to appeal to a broader audience. Some strong statements focus on China or Russia, yet as a whole the NSS is generally non-strategic and press-focused, working to appeal to all audiences by not making the tough decision to form strong positions. For example, Part IV’s regional section included a new arctic and space security section. This used valuable space for what was essentially a non-statement that could have been dedicated to more pressing issues such as domestic economic strategy given the potential for a U.S. recession. This NSS focuses on quantity rather than quality, and hopefully, the upcoming Biden National Defense Strategy demonstrates stronger strategic focuses.
The Biden NSS’s focus on cybersecurity, climate change, and the drug epidemic are welcome and necessary additions to international policy. Cyber is bound to become an increasingly large international threat, and Biden’s passage of the CHIPS Act in August 2022 has jumpstarted the domestic cybersecurity process. In Part III: Our Global Priorities: Cooperating on Shared Challenges, climate and energy security are front and center. This emphasizes the important role of climate security in the present and future while signaling to policymakers the importance of incorporating this topic into security policy. Additionally, this section incorporates a statement related to Russian energy aggression and the need to move away from fossil fuels, such as the Nord Stream pipeline. Part III also includes a section on combating domestic organized crime, particularly the impacts of the drug trade on the nation’s people. The opioid epidemic has claimed tens of thousands of lives annually, and a strong statement on the impacts of organized crime can help push policy on this problem.
The Biden NSS makes a clear statement on the challenge of the a rising China and emphasizes the prioritization of China policy-wise. Policy towards China is noted throughout the NSS and emphasizes that Chinese autocracy is incompatible with American democracy. Throughout the NSS, the order of objectives demonstrates the level of attention allocated towards respective objectives. In Part III, China and Russia are front and center, with China listed before Russia demonstrating that policy priority is going to China. This NSS then outlines strong statements acknowledging that China is the U.S.’s only competitor with the intent and power to reshape the strategic global order. However, while noting that China has the potential power to usurp the United States, this NSS elaborates fully on policy to combat this threat, remaining optimistic and strong throughout.
The Biden Administration’s National Security Strategy does a fair job overall by focusing on Chinese aggression and noting the importance of cybersecurity, climate change, and the opioid epidemic. The inclusion of some ideas simply to appeal to policymakers dilutes other more important threats and the delays from the Russia-Ukraine crisis demonstrate that the NSS committee did not accurately take into account state threats outside China. Additionally, while making statements to jumpstart policy on some issues, there are scarce resources to fund these initiatives. This NSS demonstrates the challenges of the modern American political climate in tackling international security issues while appealing to a wide audience; however, it is key to note that less is sometimes more, an idea which the upcoming National Defense Strategy hopefully takes into account.