By Nikolas Gvosdev*
(FPRI) — In March 2022, while we were waiting for the release of the first National Security Strategy (NSS) of the Biden-Harris administration, I have put together some observations on the role and function of such documents. I noted that a “National Security Strategy…is meant to provide strategic direction to the entire federal government” and is “issued in the name of the President and is meant to summarize his thinking, perspective, and vision. of the world “. At the same time, the outcome document can often represent “an exercise in satisfaction between the different bureaucratic and political interests of the various departments of government and the political factions that make up its administration”.
On October 12, 2022, the White House released its National Security Strategy. It is quite complete in its scope and ambitions. It plans to contain the main revisionist powers of the world (including China and Russia) while forging new broad international coalitions to tackle a wide range of transnational threats, starting with climate change. The document lays out aspirations to regenerate America’s national industrial base along the lines of the Fourth Industrial Revolution while forging new economic partnerships with like-minded members of the democratic community of nations. Finally, he calls on the United States to play a leading role in creating and maintaining regional security architectures in all regions of the world.
And yet, since the NSS is designed “to serve as the basis for strategic documents and policies” for every department of the U.S. government, this latest iteration, while serving as “the first draft of what the administration considers to be its strategic priorities,” still leaves a few questions unanswered, which need to be addressed in the coming weeks and months if this document takes the next step from presenting “broad and ambitious language” to more operational guidance.
In several places in the NSS, the point is made that the clear line of demarcation between “foreign” and “domestic” policy has broken down, which Policy‘s Nahal Toosi described as “omnipolicy”: the breakdown of bureaucratic silos around issues such as “energy” or “climate”. And yet, an omnipolitical approach requires a much greater degree of coordination and harmonization between different parts of the US government where responsibilities reside for distinct parts of a particular policy initiative. This goes beyond the challenges of reconciling differences within the national security establishment between geographic and functional portfolios to also bring into the conversation a whole host of national regulatory issues and priorities.
In his transmittal message, the president says foreign challenges have often been the spur to domestic reform and innovation. Yet, who will be in control and where will the inevitable conflicts be resolved? As we have seen over the past month, “national” decisions on how to allocate tax credits for electric vehicles or the release of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve – intended to strengthen and respond national concerns and interest groups – have also led to friction. in U.S. relations with key partners like South Korea and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, cabinet departments, such as the Department of Commerce under Secretary Gina Raimondo, have played a much larger and more direct role in some of the major U.S. foreign policy initiatives, in this case the Framework Indo-Pacific economy for prosperity.
The appointment of Ambassador Susan Rice to head the Domestic Policy Council seemed to suggest that the Biden administration understood that an omnipolitical approach could benefit from having a seasoned member of the foreign policy community lead the main process. White House interagency on domestic issues, while the appointment of Jake Sullivan, who had worked so hard on economic policy (and helped formulate the slogan of “foreign policy for the middle class”) as adviser to National Security, announced the creation of a National Security Council process that would consider not just the international environment, but domestic considerations, in formulating US strategic options. If this NSS is to help develop workable options, however, it suggests that a much tighter amalgamation of the Domestic Policy Council and National Security Council staffs and interagency task forces will be needed.
The NSS also stipulates that the United States must be able to navigate between two broad sets of challenges – containing revisionist powers while promoting cooperation – and doing so in a way that balances US interests and obligations in different regions of the world as well as addressing national concerns and constituencies. While the president invokes an optimistic and dynamic spirit (“There is nothing beyond our capabilities”), the reality is that there are always competing interest groups and values. In keeping with President Bill Clinton’s saying that “we don’t have to choose,” US strategic documents are generally shy about specifying trade-off criteria, and this NSS is no exception. Nevertheless, the strategy contains within it distinct and separate imperatives that could contradict each other. Climate change is an existential issue, but the NSS stresses the importance of ‘outclassing’ China; the rejuvenation of American domestic industry and manufacturing is a sine qua non for maintaining American power, but so is for deepening trade and economic integration in the Pacific and Atlantic ocean basins. The strategy envisions a whole plethora of overlapping coalition partners, but many of these partners also have important and critical differences with each other.
Just to note a few of the challenges the United States is facing in real time. Washington wants India to be the linchpin of its strategy for a free and open Pacific, but also wants New Delhi to drastically reduce its energy imports from Russia in order to deprive Moscow of revenue that helps support its malicious activities, including the invasion of Ukraine. But deepening America’s relationship with European allies is also a priority, and part of that is helping to ensure their energy security as they secede from Russia, which means helping to facilitate sources of supply alternatives, which diverts cargoes from India. North America could provide more energy in theory, but production and building export infrastructure is creating environmental problems amid fears that increased near-term hydrocarbon supply will delay the necessary shift to greener forms of energy. Green energy is part of the fourth industrial revolution, an area where the United States wants to maintain advantages over its competitors, especially China, but does that include areas such as energy which have climate impacts? Finally, of course, any international policy that significantly raises domestic energy prices will encounter considerable political resistance. Suddenly, a precipitating event – India’s decision over the past seven months to increase energy purchases from Russia – has no single answer that successfully meets all of the strategy’s objectives. .
Ultimately, the president is the decision maker – but the reality of the so-called rule of ten and fifty means that Joe Biden – or any other chief executive – can only focus on a handful of issues at a time. The high-ranking figures around him can take on larger numbers, and depending on their personal access and trust in the president, they might be able to act as his alter ego. More often than not, competing imperatives in strategy will lead to satisfactory compromises at lower interagency levels, or lead to some aspects of strategy being pushed “down the schedule”. We have already seen last year, since COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, how many longer-term climate pledges have been suspended or repealed in favor of shorter-term economic needs, including a resumption of coal use power plants to generate electricity.
Insofar as there is a clear principle of prioritization, it could be “climate geopolitics”: reducing dependence on authoritarian states for natural resources to power Western economies, which can boost economic growth. national technological innovation and also spur the movement towards a green energy revolution while giving new purpose to Cold War alliances that go beyond military cooperation towards closer technological and economic relations that will benefit their middle classes. Yet even this perspective still requires further operationalization. In sending this signal, the next step will be to see how the various “lower level” strategies of the US government decide to better define and clarify these issues.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan organization that seeks to publish well-reasoned, policy-oriented articles on U.S. foreign policy and the national security. priorities.
*About the author: Nikolas Gvosdev is Editor-in-Chief of Orbis: FPRI’s Journal of Global Affairs and Senior Fellow of FPRI’s Eurasia Program.
Source: This article was published by the FPRI