A U.S. soldier teaches air assault procedures to the Romanian 9th Mechanized Brigade in Mihail Kogalniceanu, Romania, July 5, 2022.

A U.S. soldier teaches air assault procedures to the Romanian 9th Mechanized Brigade in Mihail Kogalniceanu, Romania, July 5, 2022. U.S. Army / Capt. Taylor Criswell

New National Security Strategy Returns Focus to Rules, Partnerships, and American Leadership

China is a “pacing” threat, Russia just an “acute” one—but international partnerships, the old global order are key to beating both.

The new National Security Strategy is a pitch of sorts, both to reassure U.S. allies that Washington still wants to lead on international rules, norms, ideals, and partnerships; and to convince the American people that such leadership will improve their own lives.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration released an unclassified version of the long-awaited document—it arrives seven months after the Defense Department submitted its classified National Defense Strategy—echoes its predecessor’s 2017 version in its focus on great power competition and China in particular. But the new strategy’s emphasis on America’s place in the international rules-based order marks a return from the Trump administration’s departure, and it also downgrades the Russian threat to “acute,” a step below China’s “pacing challenge.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine delayed the strategy’s release but also vindicates the administration’s approach, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Wednesday.

“Frankly, in February, there were a whole lot of people who thought the war would be over rapidly and Russia would be in a much better position than it is in today. And so we think what has actually unfolded over the last six months, which has defied many of the expectations…is a vindication of, of taking our time and being methodical in putting forward the strategy,” Sullivan said. 

He said the Biden administration’s approach to the war in Ukraine “presents in living color the key elements of our approach, the emphasis on allies, the importance of strengthening the hand of the democratic world and standing up for our fellow democracies and for democratic values” 

Sullivan said the strategy has three main elements: 

  • Invest in the “underlying sources and tools of American power and influence, especially our strength here at home” That means efforts to strengthen U.S. technology sector, restore U.S. manufacturing, and bolster governmental regulatory and research bodies. 
  • Build and maintain international coalitions. “both to shape the global strategic environment and to address these transnational threats.”
  • Set international norms around things like democracy, trade, technology standards, etc., in a way that reflects not only US interests but also those of democratic allies. 

On China, the strategy reaffirms that the United States does “not support Taiwan independence,” and “opposes any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side.” The document pays considerably more attention to “maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which is critical to regional and global security and prosperity and a matter of international concern and attention.” That language seems aimed at deterring a Chinese military attack on Taiwan in the near future without antagonizing Beijing over its ultimate plans to integrate the self-governing island. 

On Russia, the strategy expects Putin to grow increasingly dangerous and erratic as his Ukraine war fails. 

“Russia’s conventional military will have been weakened, which will likely increase Moscow’s reliance on nuclear weapons in its military planning. The United States will not allow Russia, or any power, to achieve its objectives through using, or threatening to use, nuclear weapons,” it reads. The strategy reaffirms the U.S. commitment to “a more expansive, transparent, and verifiable arms control infrastructure,” without providing guidance on how to bring Russia along. 

The strategy continues the “integrated deterrence” approach to conflict already outlined by the Biden administration, which essentially emphasizes interoperability across domains, with partners, and across the whole government.

But perhaps the strategy’s most important aspect is its recognition that U.S. military strength is only as secure as its core technological strength. The same is true for U.S. economic security. 

“Since 1945, the United States has led the creation of institutions, norms, and standards to govern international trade and investment, economic policy, and technology. These mechanisms advanced America’s economic and geopolitical aims and benefited people around the world by shaping how governments and economies interacted—and did so in ways that aligned with U.S interests and values,” it says.

One of the most important things that the United States can do in the next ten years to preserve U.S. economic power and influence is build an international consensus on trade and intellectual property rules around technology. Both the economic and the military might that come from U.S. technological leadership are essential to the Biden administration’s vision for future security. 

“Nowhere is this need more acute than in updating the rules of the road for technology, cyberspace, trade, and economics,” it reads.