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National Security Strategy 2022

On October 12, 2022, the Biden Administration released its National Security Strategy.

According to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, this strategy “proceeds from the premise that the two strategic challenges – geopolitical competition and shared transnational threats – are intertwined.” Like all national security strategies, it “encompasses all elements of our national power—diplomacy, development cooperation, industrial strategy, economic statecraft, intelligence, and defense.”

the 2022 National Security Strategy is organized around 3 “strategic moves:”

  1. Invest ambitiously and rapidly in the sources of our national strength.
  2. Mobilize the broadest coalition of nations to enhance our collective influence.
  3. Shape the rules of the road of the 21st century economy, from technology, to cyber to trade and economics.

National Security Strategy (PDF)

Remarks by Jake Sullivan (PDF)

Commentary on the 2022 National Security Strategy

From the Center on National Security at Fordham Law

The White House on Wednesday released its national security strategy, outlining President Biden’s priorities at the start of what officials are calling a “decisive decade” for global challenges like climate change and competition among major powers. The national security strategy offers guidance as well as a signaling of intent to allies and adversaries. The strategy also informs a separate document that has yet to be released from the Pentagon -the national defense strategy, which informs budgeting and other plans for the U.S. military. The new national security strategy focuses broadly on investing domestically so the U.S. has a modern military and is not dependent on foreign supply chains. It also puts an emphasis on building alliances abroad to counter the influence of adversaries like China. In the 48-page document, Biden made clear that over the long term he was more worried about China’s moves to “layer authoritarian governance with a revisionist foreign policy” than he was about a declining Russia. Sullivan said the new strategy was driven chiefly by a changed landscape, one the document describes bluntly: “The post-Cold War era is definitively over.”

The strategy said the U.S. faced two strategic challenges: a post-cold war competition between superpowers and transnational challenges that range from climate change to global health issues. The document states “the most pressing strategic challenge facing our vision is from powers that layer authoritarian governance with a revisionist foreign policy,” singling out China and Russia as presenting particular but different challenges. Speaking about the strategy, national security adviser Jake Sullivan described China as the “most consequential geopolitical challenge.” The document said that while Russia posed an “immediate and ongoing” threat, it “lacks the across the spectrum capabilities of the [People’s Republic of China].” China “is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to advance that objective.” he document read, adding the U.S. was trying to support a “free, open, prosperous, and secure international order” amid growing tensions with autocracies. Washington will attempt to achieve that goal by investing in American power and influence, building strong coalitions to “shape the global strategic environment” and strengthening the military to ensure it is “equipped for the era of strategic competition with major powers”.

The new document says that “the United States will not allow Russia, or any power, to achieve its objectives through using, or threatening to use, nuclear weapons.” But the sentence stands alone, with no clarification of the meaning of “not allow” or any discussion of the U.S. and NATO response should President Vladimir Putin of Russia choose to use a tactical nuclear weapon to make up for the failures of his conventional force in Ukraine. Biden declined to go into detail about his options when pressed on CNN on Tuesday in an interview with Jake Tapper. In addition to pointing to the threats posed by China and Russia, the strategy de-emphasizes threats posed by terrorism but identifies a number of transnational threats that include food security, disease, pandemics and climate change. Sullivan stated that the strategy made clear the White House wasn’t viewing the world “solely through the prism of strategic competition.” The document was delayed last winter, as it became clear that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent and that the U.S. relationship with its European allies was about to undergo a tremendous test. The revised document celebrates a new coherence among NATO countries but also includes warnings to Moscow that were clearly inserted to reflect a new era of containment. New York Times, Financial Times, The Hill, CNN, Wall Street Journal

From the Atlantic Council

A strategy in name only, but it does better than most

In the eighteenth century, Voltaire opined that the Holy Roman Empire was “in no way holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.” Today, a similar quip can be made every four years, as one administration after another publishes a National Security Strategy that is not entirely national, not truly centered on our security, and certainly not strategic. We are far too divided at home for a single document to represent a national consensus; the definition of security is often stretched to include anything that a given administration favors; and strategies, unlike these documents, require prioritizations rather than lists of equally weighted preferences along with a clearly defined alignment between desired ends, ways, and means. These reports, required by Congress and the product of untold man-hours across the executive branch, have largely degenerated into political treatises intended for domestic audiences rather than efforts to provide guidance to those who must execute US policies. 

Given that relatively low bar, the Biden administration seems to have done better than most in drafting an internally coherent report. The emphasis on the main challenges abroad (China and Russia) and at home (economic growth and democratic institutions) all come through clearly. But as the report continues beyond these grand themes, it often confuses mere preferences with vital interests and then doesn’t consider any inherent tradeoffs that emerge.

The section on the Middle East is a case in point. Let’s just focus in on one paragraph:

“This framework has five principles. First, the United States will support and strengthen partnerships with countries that subscribe to the rules-based international order, and we will make sure those countries can defend themselves against foreign threats. Second, the United States will not allow foreign or regional powers to jeopardize freedom of navigation through the Middle East’s waterways, including the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al Mandab, nor tolerate efforts by any country to dominate another—or the region—through military buildups, incursions, or threats. Third, even as the United States works to deter threats to regional stability, we will work to reduce tensions, de-escalate, and end conflicts wherever possible through diplomacy. Fourth, the United States will promote regional integration by building political, economic, and security connections between and among U.S. partners, including through integrated air and maritime defense structures, while respecting each country’s sovereignty and independent choices. Fifth, the United States will always promote human rights and the values enshrined in the UN Charter.”

The five guiding principles appear straightforward at first glance to American readers but then raise further questions for those with experience in the region. Does the commitment to support countries “that subscribe to the rules-based international order” include those Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members who recently decided to collude with Russia to raise the global price of oil and thus help finance Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression? Does the statement that the United States will not “tolerate” efforts by any country to dominate another through, among other listed means, “military buildups” mean that the United States will halt its longstanding efforts to advance its partners’ “military buildups” in the face of the threat from Iran? Presumably this can’t possibly be the case, since just a few sentences later another listed “principle” advocates for “integrated air and maritime defense structures”—a clear case of the tradeoffs inherent to a true strategy but implicitly elided in this report. Moreover, does the United States not clearly want Israel to “dominate” Hamas and Hezbollah? I’m sure the Biden administration does, which simply highlights the difference between inflated language and the realities of policymaking.  

Further on, this paragraph promises that US diplomacy will seek to reduce tensions “wherever possible”—does this mean that it will be normalizing with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad? Meeting with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah? I suspect not. And finally, the report asserts that the United States will “always” promote human rights. Of course, notwithstanding its rhetoric, the United States has not “always” done so in this region and will not “always” do so in the future. And when it does work to advance its human rights agenda—important work that should continue, needless to say—the United States usually does not do so at the expense of advancing its vital national security interests, even when the two conflict. If it did, for instance, the United States would have insisted on human-rights conditions being included in a nuclear deal with Iran. 

For those who understand that the National Security Strategy is primarily, if not entirely, a communications effort for domestic audiences, these questions may appear to be nitpicking. But that only highlights the fact that this document, like the others that preceded it, is not a true strategy.

William F. Wechsler is the senior director of the Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council, and a former director of transnational threats on the National Security Council staff at the White House. 

The Middle East makes mincemeat of good strategy

Biden’s National Security Strategy offers sound principles to guide US policy in the Middle East, from advancing regional integration, to ensuring partners’ and allies’ security from regional and external threats, to supporting improved human-rights conditions, all without overextending US resources or taking its eye off of global priorities. But the region moves fast, and even as those words were published, events challenged the ability to implement this strategy. 

Saudi Arabia decided last week, with its OPEC+ partners, to slash oil production at a time when propping up prices assists Putin in conducting his brutal campaign against Ukraine. The move has occasioned calls from Democrats in Congress—and the president himself—for a reevaluation, or even a downgrading, of US support for Saudi security. The minimum the United States must be able to expect from its partners is that they will not act in ways inimical to core US interests vis-a-vis Russia and China. The Saudis’ blunder raises doubts as to whether there will be sustainable political support at home for the investment necessary to seize the opportunities that regional integration offers.

Meanwhile, dramatic protests against regime brutality in Iran, led by extraordinarily courageous women and girls, threaten to make the dilemma around restoring the nuclear agreement known as the JCPOA insoluble—literally impossible to reconcile a key nonproliferation objective with support for the Iranian people’s struggle against tyranny. As ever, the region makes mincemeat of strategy papers, forcing choices upon policymakers that require the most painful tradeoffs of one essential priority against an equally valid one.

Daniel B. Shapiro is a distinguished fellow at the Middle East Programs, former US ambassador to Israel, and former director for legislative affairs at the National Security Council.

Biden molds the US strategic tradition to new challenges

The new US National Security Strategy is a solid application of the liberal internationalist tradition in US foreign policy. In that view, the United States seeks to advance a rules-based international order that favors democracy not out of charity or abstract idealism but because this will advance US national interests as we have defined them since 1945. This American grand strategy was formulated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (see the Atlantic Charter of 1941), implemented by President Harry Truman, and advanced one way or another by just about every US president since then (Donald Trump excepted). It means rallying like-minded democracies and building out to include other nations willing to work in common fashion.

The new NSS seeks to update that strategic tradition to fit current challenges: the rise of revisionist authoritarian powers China and Russia—especially the present threat from Putin’s Russia—and global challenges, such as climate change. In substance and even style, it is non-partisan, employing ideas and even language from previous Republican as well as Democratic administrations, e.g., great-power competition from the Trump NSS (which was produced by some of the more responsible Trump administration people who Trump himself didn’t seem to understand) and “transformative cooperation”—transformational diplomacy being a favorite word from George W. Bush foreign policy. That is to the credit of the Biden NSS.

The bad news? Like op-eds, strategies are easier to write than to implement. Drafters can bridge competing interests but cannot make them go away in reality. Second, not even the best NSS can protect against blunders of application. Truman’s grand strategy of containment of Soviet power was in the end a success, but its application included the Vietnam War. Third, the bad guys, starting with Putin, will act in ways expected and unexpected to thwart US objectives and values. But a good policy framework can help the US think through the miserable problems it faces, together with its friends and allies, and will face in the future.

Daniel Fried is the Weiser Family distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and former National Security Council senior director under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

On Iran, only vague and unsurprising pledges

The security strategy contains no surprises on Iran. It emphasizes working with allies to “deter and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities” and states that diplomacy is the preferred means of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, while asserting that the United States is “prepared to use other [unspecified] means should diplomacy fail.” 

The strategy’s promises to respond to “threats against US personnel as well as current and former US officials” and to “stand with the Iranian people striving for basic rights and dignity” are similarly vague. Perhaps the most important line when it comes to Iran—and other US adversaries—is at the beginning of the document: “We do not, however, believe that governments and societies everywhere must be remade in America’s image for us to be secure.” 

Barbara Slavin is the director of the Council’s Future of Iran Initiative.

A promising vision on privacy that now needs to be put into practice

The strategy is laudable for calling out the dangerous exploitation of Americans’ data and the threats posed by commercial spyware and surveillance technologies. Simultaneously, many US companies have enabled undemocratic, harmful surveillance at home and abroad—from encouraging and facilitating uses of racist, sexist, invasive facial recognition domestically; to packaging Americans’ sensitive data and selling it on the open market; to providing surveillance technologies to repressive regimes overseas. The strategy is right to say that countries around the world must work together to combat dystopian surveillance practices. Hopefully, that vision includes the need for strong regulation at home and overseas, better protections for Americans’ privacy, and centering the communities harmed most by these surveillance activities, rather than continuing to ignore privacy under the false belief that it constitutes a direct tradeoff with US competitiveness.

Justin Sherman is a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative.