Biden’s national security strategy flags China as top threat, refers to India as key partner
US and India will work together on Indo-Pacific, the strategy says. The US says it has a vital interest in realising an Indo-Pacific region that was ‘open, interconnected, prosperous, secure and resilient’
WASHINGTON: In its national security strategy, the Joe Biden administration has identified China as the only power with the intent and capability to reshape the international order, and made it clear that outcompeting China is top priority along with constraining Russia.
Released on Wednesday, the first national security strategy released by the Biden administration since it took office, mentions the centrality of the Indo-Pacific as the world’s most significant region, highlights the need to connect America’s allies and partners in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, and refers to India as a key partner.
“As India is the world’s largest democracy and a Major Defence Partner, the United States and India will work together, bilaterally and multilaterally, to support our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the strategy says. It also refers to the various multilateral and plurilateral mechanisms of which India is a part along with the US.
Decisive decade, main pillars
In a conversation with reporters ahead of the release of the document, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that this was a “decisive decade” for the world.
In this period, the strategy says, “The terms of geopolitical competition between major powers will be set. The window of opportunity to deal with shared threats, like climate change, will narrow drastically. The actions we take now will shape whether this period is known as an age of conflict and discord or the beginning of a more stable and prosperous future.”
The document says that the “post-Cold War era is definitely over” and a competition between major powers is underway to shape what comes next, even as people globally struggle to cope with effects of shared challenges - be it climate, food insecurity, diseases, terrorism, energy, inflation.
“The core elements of what the US needs do on both is the same. Invest in underlying sources and tools of American power and influence. Build the strongest possible coalition of nations to enhance our collective influence to shape the global strategic environment and to solve shared challenges. Set the rules of the game so that the international order continues to reflect our values and is better designed,” said Sullivan.
The US national security strategy has six key pillars.
These include one, breaking the dividing line between foreign and domestic policy by investing in innovation and industrial strength at home; two, placing a premium on alliances and partnerships as the US’s “most important strategic asset” and connecting democratic allies and partners in Indo-Pacific and Europe since “they are mutually reinforcing” and the fate of the two regions can’t be divorced; three, recognising China as America’s “most consequential geopolitical challenge”; four, engaging with countries on their own terms rather than seeing them solely through the prism of strategic competition; five, adjusting the old patterns of globalisation and charting new economic arrangements; and six, building a community of nations that shares America’s vision for the future of the international order, from Quad and AUKUS in the Indo-Pacific to I2-U2 (that includes India, Israel, United Arab Emirates and the US) in West Asia to the US-European Union Trade and Technology Council.
The strategy distinguishes between the challenges posed by China and Russia. Russia, the US claimed, posed an “immediate threat to the free and open international system, recklessly flouting the basic laws of the international order today, as its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine has shown”.
But it lacked the full spectrum capabilities of China, which the national security strategy document said, “is the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective”.
The strategy says Beijing had “ambitions to create an enhanced sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and to become the world’s leading power”.
The US then lays out the varied ways in which it sees Beijing as posing a challenge. “It is using its technological capacity and increasing influence over international institutions to create more permissive conditions for its own authoritarian model and to mould global technology use and norms to privilege its interests and values. Beijing frequently uses its economic power to coerce countries. It benefits from the openness of the international economy while limiting access to its domestic market, and it seeks to make the world more dependent on the PRC while reducing its own dependence on the world.”
China, the US noted, was also investing in a rapidly modernising military that was increasingly capable in the Indo-Pacific and growing in strength and reach globally, while seeking to erode US alliances in the region and around the world. It added that countries in Asia, Africa, Middle East Latin America, Europe were all “clear-eyed” about the threat posed by China.
It added that the US 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”, while reiterating its traditional opposition to any unilateral changes across the Taiwan straits.
Reiterating the China strategy laid out by secretary of state Antony Blinken earlier this year, the document says that the US will seek to invest in the foundations of strength at home, align efforts with network of allies and partners, and “compete responsibly”.
The Indo-Pacific and India
In this backdrop, the US has said that its allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific continue to be on the “frontlines of the PRC’s core soon and are rightly determined to seek to ensure their own autonomy, security and prosperity”. The US will support their ability to make “sovereign decisions” in line with their interests and values, “free from external pressure”, and work to provide high-standard and scaled investment, development assistance and markets.
The US said it had a vital interest in realising an Indo-Pacific region that was “open, interconnected, prosperous, secure and resilient”. It will work to ensure that countries were free to make their own choices. “We will affirm the freedom of the seas and build shared regional support for open access to the South China Sea - a thoroughway for nearly two-thirds of the global maritime trade and a quarter of all global trade”.
This was possible only by building collective capacity, the strategy says, mentioning America’s treaty alliances (with Australia, Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Thailand) while reaffirming the centrality of Asean. It acknowledges that this period will demand from the US in the Indo-Pacific than at any point since the Second World War. “No region will be of more significance to the world and to everyday Americans than the Indo-Pacific.”
In this backdrop, the document refers to South Asia. “As we work with South Asian regional partners to address climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic and the PRC’s coercive behaviour, we will promote prosperity and economic connectivity across the Indian Ocean region. The Quad and AUKUS will be critical to addressing regional challenges, and we will further reinforce our collective strength by weaving our allies and partners closer together - including by encouraging tighter linkages between like-minded Indo-Pacific and European countries.” This is also where the document speaks of India as the world’s largest democracy and the US’s major defence partner.
India also figures elsewhere in the national security strategy either directly or indirectly.
Referring to G7 as the “steering committee of the world’s advanced industrial democracies”, the strategy says that the G7 is at its strongest when it also formally engages “other countries with aligned goals” in this context, it refers to the 2022 summit where Argentina, India, Indonesia, Senegal, South Africa and Ukraine participated.
The strategy refers to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework as an example of an “inclusive coalition” and says it will determine the rules of the road for an “economically vital region and therefore the global economy”. India has joined three of the four pillars under the framework
The “revitalised Quad”, the strategy says, has helped address regional challenges and “demonstrated its ability to deliver for the Indo-Pacific, combating Covid-19, and climate change to deepening cybersecurity partnerships and promoting high standards for infrastructure and health security”.
Not a Cold War
The document acknowledges that parts of the world are “uneasy” with the competition between the US and the world’s largest autocracies.
“We understand these concerns. We also want to avoid a world in which competition escalated into a world of rigid blocs. We do not seek conflict or a new Cold War. Rather, we are trying to support every country, regardless of size or strength, in exercising the freedom to make choices that serve their interests.”
It adds that US will seek to manage the competition responsibly by seeking greater strategic stability to reduce risk of unintended military escalation. It also identifies climate, pandemic threats, non proliferation, countering illicit and illegal narcotics, global food crisis, and macroeconomic issues as possible areas of collaboration.