Five key takeaways from Biden’s National Security Strategy

Report on US security and foreign policy priorities focuses on competition with China and efforts to constrain Russia.

Joe Biden
'The United States will not allow Russia, or any power, to achieve its objectives through using, or threatening to use, nuclear weapons,' the Biden administration's National Security Strategy reads [File: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

Washington, DC – In a report outlining US security goals and foreign policy objectives, the Biden administration has declared the intensifying competition with Beijing as the biggest challenge for Washington.

The White House released on Wednesday its National Security Strategy (NSS), a document mandated by Congress, that details the country’s international interests and policies.

President Joe Biden’s NSS picks off where the last report – released in 2017 when Donald Trump was president – left off, in centring China as the most significant rival for the United States.

The US administration also stressed the need for “constraining Russia” amid the invasion of Ukraine and identified areas to deepen international cooperation, including with competitors. The report was scheduled to be released last year, but it was delayed by the then-looming war in Ukraine.

Here are five key takeaways from the report:

China the biggest ‘geopolitical challenge’

The NSS labelled China as the “most consequential geopolitical challenge”, proclaiming that the US is “in the middle of a strategic competition to shape the future of the international order”.

“The PRC [People’s Republic of China] is the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it,” the document read.

It said Beijing is planning to expand its sphere of influence in the Asia-Pacific and become the world’s leading power.

Biden has drawn Beijing’s fury for saying on various occasions since coming to office in 2021 that Washington would militarily defend Taiwan – a self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own –  if China were to invade.

The two countries have also clashed over trade, Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea and Washington’s deepening alliances in the region.

The NSS said the US will make investments to strengthen “innovation” at home while working with allies in “common cause” to compete “responsibly” with China.

Beijing rejected the NSS’s approach to the China-US relationship, calling on Washington to pursue what it called “win-win cooperation”.

“It is neither popular nor constructive to hold on to the Cold War zero-sum mentality and play up geopolitical conflicts and major power competition,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters on Thursday.

Constraining Russia

The NSS accuses Russia of posing an “immediate and persistent threat to international peace and stability” through its policies that “culminated” in the invasion of Ukraine.

The report noted that the war in Ukraine was preceded by a Russian military intervention to back the Syrian government, the annexation of Crimea and interference in the internal affairs of other countries, including the US.

The document highlighted that the US and its allies are backing Ukrainian forces militarily and strengthening defences in NATO countries neighbouring Russia while sanctioning Moscow over the invasion.

“We will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine as they fight back against Russia’s naked aggression,” it said. “And we will rally the world to hold Russia accountable for the atrocities they have unleashed across Ukraine.”

The NSS added that the invasion of Ukraine proved to be a “strategic miscalculation” for Russia.

“The United States will not allow Russia, or any power, to achieve its objectives through using, or threatening to use, nuclear weapons,” the document read.

Countering Iran

Beyond China and Russia, the NSS said “smaller autocratic powers” are acting aggressively in ways that compromise global stability.

“Most notably, Iran interferes in the internal affairs of neighbors, proliferates missiles and drones through proxies, is plotting to harm Americans, including former officials, and is advancing a nuclear program beyond any credible civilian need,” the report read.

Tehran has denied seeking a nuclear weapon and has accused Washington of militarising the Middle East with billions of dollars worth of arms deals with Gulf countries.

The NSS said the US will pursue diplomacy to make sure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon, referring to efforts to restore the 2015 multilateral agreement that saw Tehran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for sanction relief.

In the report, the Biden administration said the US is “postured and prepared to use other means” to counter Iran if diplomacy fails.

“In the Middle East, we have worked to enhance deterrence toward Iran, de-escalate regional conflicts, deepen integration among a diverse set of partners in the region, and bolster energy stability,” it read.

Commitment to Israel

The NSS reaffirms the US commitment to Israel’s security and the newly emerging alliance between Israel and Arab countries – namely the United Arab Emirates.

“We will seek to extend and deepen Israel’s growing ties to its neighbors and other Arab states, including through the Abraham Accords, while maintaining our ironclad commitment to its security,” it reads.

Biden has pledged to deepen the unconditional US military and diplomatic support for Israel while failing to deliver campaign promises to reestablish a consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

But the NSS said Washington is committed to the two-state solution. “We will also continue to promote a viable two state solution that preserves Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state while meeting Palestinian aspirations for a secure and viable state of their own,” it said.

Throughout his White House tenure, Biden has failed to criticise Israeli abuses against Palestinians, including the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem – territories that would be home to a future Palestinian state.

Cooperating globally

The report said despite growing competition between countries, the US “must maintain and increase international cooperation on shared challenges”.

In a speech discussing the NSS on Wednesday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, “Transnational challenges that do not respect borders or adhere to ideologies” – including climate change, diseases and food insecurity – represent a major strategic challenge for Washington.

“Our strategy to tackle the shared challenges that require global cooperation involves two simultaneous tracks: on one track, we will fully engage all countries and institutions to cooperate on shared threats, including by pressing for reforms where institutional responses have proven inadequate,” the NSS read.

“At the same time, we will also redouble our efforts to deepen our cooperation with like-minded partners.”

The report described the climate crisis as the “existential challenge of our time” highlighting US efforts to meet climate goals domestically while working through international institutions and agreements to reduce planet-warming emissions.

Source: Al Jazeera