The New Biden National Security

Good Goals but No Real Plans, Programs, or Budget and Legislative Efforts to Achieve Them

A copy of the new U.S. National Security Strategy the Biden Administration issued October 12th is attached to this commentary that highlights both the key goals in the new strategy and what the document says about the way the Biden Administration intends to meet them.

Download the Annotated NSS.

In general, the document does a good job of describing the administration’s broad policy goals in every major area of U.S. strategy and covering the entire globe. It also integrates every major aspect of civil and military policy and focuses on working closely with America's strategic partners, other friendly states, and international institutions.

At the same time, it does not go beyond stating broad goals, and stating how existing policy level initiatives can be strengthened to help achieve them. It does not advance detailed plans, programs, or indications of what new resources will be required. It rarely provides even the most general net assessments of key issues, or details as to what implementation plans exist—as distinguished from stating goals for existing initiatives.

In broad terms, it still has all too many of the defects in the Trump national strategy; it may identify China and Russia as the major threats, but it does not assess their current civil and military capabilities, and ongoing force developments. It does not compare their rates of civil and military change with the rates in the U.S. and its major strategic partners. It tacitly assumes most current U.S. plans and budgets are adequate and that the cooperative efforts with America’s strategic partners will achieve the level of common effectiveness and interoperability necessary to compensate for years of force cuts and underinvestment in every aspect of the military capability of most NATO countries.

It focuses on the same military threats as the Trump Administration's national strategy. In doing so, it does a better job of recognizing the threat from Russia, and the civil threat from China, and it does call for stronger regional partnerships, but it does not really address priorities, the scale of most challenges, what changes are needed in current U.S. and allied efforts, and whether major new funds are needed to finance U.S. and allies’ efforts.

In short, it is a useful statement of current U.S. policy goals, but as the attached markup of the new National Security Strategy shows, even the portions that appear to set major goals are largely hollow. To be specific, it fails to be a real national strategy because:

  • It fails to set realistic priorities for action.
  • It does not provide any summary net assessments of the trends in the threats in U.S. capabilities or in the capabilities of U.S. strategic partners.
  • It sometimes touches upon key activities in U.S. strategic partnerships, and international cooperation, but never really describes the effectiveness of current activities and their adequacy, cost, or current plans.
  • There are so few tangible plans, programs, or budget recommendations for near term action, or even for the next half-decade.
  • By default, it tacitly assumes most current policies and budget requests are largely adequate.
  • When it does list specific programs, many are currently little more than negotiating or joint planning efforts.

As such, the new Biden National Security Strategy provides a well-crafted statement of U.S. goals, but like so many other U.S. strategy documents, it has little substance in either measuring the scale of the challenges the U.S. must address, or going beyond setting broad global goals to describing any tangible path towards a credible future.

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy