The Biden administration released its “National Security Strategy” (NSS) this month, its first, just before the Chinese regime holds its 20th National Congress. The NSS highlights Beijing’s desire to dominate global politics and warns of the “decisive decade” in the competition with China.
The document also points to the problem of Russia as an “immediate” and “ongoing” threat, but not one that is equal to China. Finally, it highlights transnational security issues, including climate change and global health.
The NSS states that the Biden administration’s strategy toward China is threefold: 1) to invest in the foundations of American strength at home; 2) to align efforts with allies and partners; 3) to compete responsibly with China to defend U.S. interests.
Reading the document, one is reminded of the old W.C. Fields’ joke about the contest where the first prize is a week in Philadelphia and the second is two weeks—all should be thankful that the NSS is not longer. It is a profoundly flawed document regarding the China threat. Its vices are anchored in an inability to recognize the size and scope of the threat from the Chinese regime to the U.S. homeland and the U.S. and allied interests.
At best, the rhetoric of NSS on the China threat and of the Biden administration since it entered office is a faint echo of former President Donald Trump’s. Unlike Trump, Biden does not implement the rhetoric but rather sustains the failed policies of the administrations before Trump—all of which sought to accommodate and support China’s rise.
The NSS states that the United States will work with China on issues like climate change and “coexisting peacefully” rather than confronting and defeating it. The NSS is a rare and precious opportunity to explain the nature of the threat—why China is an enemy of the United States and its allies and thus should be confronted, and how the United States and its allies will do so.
The “decisive decade” identified by the NSS was, in fact, decades past when the United States might have stopped the Chinese regime by denying its legitimacy, investment, and entrance into the West’s economic ecosystem. It was the result of the failed strategy of accepting the regime and promoting China’s growth, the pernicious influence of which animates the NSS.
The document anticipates that the decisions the United States takes now will set the course for the future. Indeed, the failure to identify the Chinese regime as a threat and act boldly to counter it ensures that the future will be plagued by the absence of strategic clarity concerning the nature and gravity of the United States’ enemy, as well as the urgent need to respond immediately. The response needed includes informing Wall Street, Silicon Valley, media, universities, and the public about the nature of the threat, its adaptability, the need for perpetual awareness regarding it, and ensuring that they do not act contrary to U.S. interests.
Senior Biden administration officials are no better than the document. In a presentation on the document, national security adviser Jake Sullivan stated that advanced technologies need to be protected through a “high fence, small yard” strategy, by which he means creating chokepoints for critical U.S. technologies. The technologies have to be inside the yard, and the fence must be high to protect them.
As Sullivan noted, “Foundational technologies have to be inside that yard, and the fence has to be high because our strategic competitors should not be able to exploit American and allied technologies to undermine American and allied security.” Indeed, they should not.
As desirable as this is, based on the lamentable record of U.S. efforts to protect its technologies from consistent penetrations, it is unlikely this will be effective. To continue Sullivan’s metaphor, the U.S. fence has colossal gaps through which the Chinese have been acquiring U.S. and allied technologies through legal and illegal means for decades. At the same time, Wall Street often finances the entities responsible.
If this mindset does not change, foundational technologies will also be lost. Sullivan and the NSS should have stated that technology and knowledge transfer are ending today because the threat compels it—and woe to any U.S. or allied entity that provides these technologies and knowledge to Beijing or finances it.
There are reports that UK Prime Minister Liz Truss will update the 2021 “Integrated Review” policy document that labels the Chinese regime as a threat to the United Kingdom. Britain, like the United States, ignored China for decades in a pernicious and lasting case of threat deflation. The label of communist China as a threat rather than an enemy remains inaccurate and only contributes to the sense that the UK and the United States are not serious about confronting and defeating their enemy.
Half a world away, China’s 20th Party Congress certainly will not highlight climate change and global health. It will not discuss “peaceful coexistence” like the NSS or Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev 60 years ago. It will explain why the Chinese regime must achieve global dominance. It will be a master class in the determination to work the will of the regime on the rest of the world.
Xi and the Chinese Communist Party have clarity about their enemy and are determined to bring about the defeat of the United States and its allies. The CCP is serious about defeating its enemy, but the NSS shows the Biden administration is not.
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