Almost two years into its term, the Biden Administration has finally released its National Security Strategy (NSS). Since the Administration released its Interim National Security Strategic Guidance in March 2021, its initial analysis of the world has been undermined by events. The President lost the war in Afghanistan, Russia launched the largest war in Europe since World War II, the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) military provocations of its neighbors have increased, Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon, and illegal border crossings are at an all-time high. The Administration could have used the time to reassess its assumptions, approaches, and objectives, and to bring its NSS closer to the Forum for American Leadership’s alternative NSS principles, set forth in December 2021 and in March 2022.
Unfortunately, it did not. The Biden NSS still does not call for additional military resources sufficient to meet the threats posed by America’s adversaries now and in the future; it argues for the United States to cooperate with the PRC and a Putin-led Russia on a number of “shared challenges,” such as climate change and pandemics, despite their being principal malefactors in those areas; and it still does not prioritize a homeland with safe and secure borders.
The NSS accurately and appropriately identifies the PRC and a Putin-led Russia as primary—and, in the case of the PRC, comprehensive—threats to the United States. It rightly notes that America is best positioned to win the long-term competition with them and that the very nature of their regimes is their most critical vulnerability. Yet the NSS does not set out and prioritize the requirements and actions the United States must actually take to win these new Cold Wars, and misperceives how the PRC might be forced to change its current, destructive course on transnational issues such as climate change.
The FAL Strategic Planning Working Group has prepared a list of questions that Congress, the media, and all Americans should ask Biden Administration officials about its NSS:
1. The release of the NSS was delayed by almost a year due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. What was changed between the pre-invasion drafts and the final document? If it is not substantively different, why did the White House delay the release of this document to the American public for almost a year?
2. The strategy trumpets past investments in domestic capacity, but if this is the “decisive decade” for America, what are the urgent, highest priority steps the Administration intends to take in the remaining two years of this term? What would successful implementation of those steps—and of this strategy more broadly—look like?
3. The NSS argues that “shared challenges” [p. 9] —a.k.a. “transnational challenges”—are of critical concern to U.S. national security. What evidence does the Administration have that either the PRC or a Putin-led Russia are or will be sincere, earnest, and constructive partners on these issues? Does the Administration think that the PRC or Russia are part of the problem or part of the solution when it comes to climate and energy security, pandemics and biodefense, food insecurity, arms control and non-proliferation, or terrorism? How does it plan to shape the decision-making environment in which the leaders of those countries act so that they are pressured to reduce the harm they are causing on these issues?
Defense Budget, Policy, and Industry
1. How does the Administration intend to rebuild the U.S. military to execute effectively the strategy outlined in this document? The Administration’s FY2023 budget request did not even fully account for inflation. Will next year’s budget include major increases in procurement and readiness spending to prepare the Department of Defense to execute the goals laid out in the NSS?
2. How does the Administration plan both to increase military capabilities in the near term and also develop the technologies necessary to prevail in long-term competition, each of which is necessary?
3. To bolster actual military power, does the Administration intend to repurpose military forces or reallocate elements of the DOD budget away from the myriad new “priorities” competing for attention and resources but that are not properly within the ambit of the U.S. military?
4. As part of a welcome effort to defend the free people of Ukraine from Russian aggression, the U.S. government is burning through its stocks of munitions at an alarming rate. What is the Administration’s plan for ensuring that American service members will have the materiel they need if another crisis occurs?
The FAL Defense Working Group composed a National Defense Strategy to guide the Biden Administration’s thinking about the NDS. Other FAL Defense papers have focused on Taiwan and semiconductors in the NDS, analyzed the cost of U.S. nuclear forces, and debunked defense budget myths.
1. There is a “say-do gap” in Biden’s China policy. Where are the resources to execute the strategy, especially to expand the military’s capacity to deter Chinese aggression and, if necessary, defend allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific?
2. Does successful pursuit of the Administration’s purported goals with respect to the PRC not require a strategic, selective economic decoupling from the PRC?
3. The NSS expresses the Administration’s desire to “avoid” or “head off costly arms races” [p. 28]. But isn’t Beijing already racing to field new military capabilities? Why does the Administration think it is better to acquiesce to the PRC’s arms buildup while also eroding our own capabilities?
4. The NSS says it “will act in common purpose to address a range of issues –from untrusted digital infrastructure and forced labor in supply chains and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. We will hold Beijing accountable for abuses– genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, human rights violations in Tibet, and the dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms–even as it seeks to pressure countries and communities into silence.” [p. 24]. How does it plan to do so? What steps is the Administration prepared to take to respond to the CCP’s totalitarianism? How will it address the ineptitude of international organizations like the UN Human Rights Council in addressing China’s genocide of the Uighur people?
5. The PRC is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses and originated, covered up, and spread COVID-19. It is simultaneously working to warp international organizations, including the World Health Organization, to advance its narrow interests at the expense of everyone else. Given the Chinese Communist Party’s persistent obfuscation, why does the Administration believe it will be able to cooperate with the CCP on future pandemic prevention and preparedness or any of the other “shared challenges” outlined in the NSS?
1. The NSS devotes significant ink to defining the Administration’s doctrine of “integrated deterrence” as “the seamless combination of capabilities to convince potential adversaries that the costs of their hostile activities outweigh their benefits” [p. 22]. Was the Administration employing this doctrine in the runup to Russia’s attack on Ukraine? If so, why did it fail? How will it employ this doctrine effectively to deter a PRC attack on Taiwan?
2. What new steps does the Administration intend to take to ensure that Russia’s illegal, genocidal invasion of Ukraine is defeated?
3. How does the Administration intend to deter the use of nuclear weapons by Russia against Ukraine and if necessary respond?
1. The NSS says that the Biden Administration will “demand accountability for violations of human rights” [p. 43]. What accountability has the Administration imposed on the Iranian regime for the attempted murder of Salman Rushdie on American soil, the plots against former senior American government officials, and the ongoing, brutal mistreatment of Iranian women and oppression of all Iranians?
2. What is the Administration’s plan to stop Iran from acquiring the capability to produce a nuclear weapon?
3. How will Iran’s material support for Russia’s genocidal war of aggression—including providing drones and other lethal munitions—be addressed in the context of nuclear negotiations with Tehran?
4. What is the Administration’s plan to stop Tehran from actively providing material support and troops to Russia?
1. The NSS claims that “our counterterrorism approach” must “evolve” to address the threat of terrorism and cites our defeat in Afghanistan as an example of this evolution [p. 30]. Does this Administration believe that the collapse of the Afghan government was an American achievement? Has the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan made the United States safer? Has it made the United States better prepared to compete with China?
2. The NSS is silent on the need to take immediate and significant action to secure our southern border. With illegal border crossings at an all-time high, does the Administration believe the border is currently secure and controlled? Does it believe it constitutes a national security crisis? How is a “foreign policy for the middle class” compatible with a border policy that allows cartels to smuggle enough fentanyl into the country to kill over 60,000 middle and working-class Americans per year?
3. The NSS sets aside a special section to discuss combating the threat posed by transnational criminal organizations [p. 32]. How does the Biden Administration expect to protect Americans from this threat in the absence of a secure southern border?
1. What is the Administration’s policy to create energy security for America and for our allies and partners? We are seeing in real time in Europe the economic and national security dangers inherent in not having redundant, secure, and reliable sources of energy.
2. What steps is the Administration taking to help provide our allies in Europe and Asia with reliable, secure sources of energy? Does that not require greater U.S. production and export of energy?
3. The NSS calls for the United States to “transition away from fossil fuels” [p. 28]. Why is it U.S. policy to keep Russian oil flowing while strangling domestic production? Why is it U.S. policy to put Iranian and Venezuelan oil back on the market before our own?
The FAL Energy Working Group has laid a blueprint for sound U.S. climate policy, a plan to create an arsenal of energy in the United States, and how Congress is key to restoring realism in U.S. energy policy.
This paper is a product of the Forum for American Leadership’s Strategic Planning Working Group.
The NSS should guide policies and investments that protect and sustain the American experiment of republican liberty, and a world in which it can flourish, from the despotic, threatening intentions and efforts of adversarial powers, principally the People’s Republic of China. Read more.
The U.S. needs realism, not wishful thinking, in its energy policy. To help right the ship, Congress should reassert its role in setting policy. Recommendations for more congressional oversight of the IEA and EIA and the establishment of a National Commission on Energy Transition Realism.