Implications for Global Security – The Diplomat


This fall, the Biden administration released four major reviews of policy documents that offer new insight into US strategic thinking. On Oct. 12, the White House released the Biden administration’s latest National Security Strategy (NSS). Two weeks later, on October 27, the US Department of Defense jointly released the unclassified versions of three other highly anticipated policy documents: the National Defense Strategy (NDS), the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), and the Missile Defense Review (MDR ). ).

Together, these documents provide a glimpse into the political direction of the Biden administration, which has described the current decade as “crucial.” Although the latest policy approach is based on existing security trends, it has some new characteristics that will have far-reaching implications for global security.

The new policy, while emphasizing US leadership and strengthening alliances, gives an unprecedented comprehensive focus on the threat posed by the People’s Republic of China. A US “pan into Asia” began during the Obama administration as the rise of China became a problem in US strategic thinking. However, during the Trump administration, China replaced Russia as the main competitor.

A rethinking of China-US relations has been clearly visible in subsequent official documents, such as the 2017 National Security Strategy, which claimed that China is trying to “challenge American power, influence and interests.” Similarly, the 2018 National Defense Strategy identified Beijing as a “strategic competitor” that “seeks near-term regional hegemony in the Indo-Pacific and ousting of the United States to achieve global supremacy in the future.”

diplomatic letter

Weekly NewsletterN

Catch up on the story of the week and develop stories to watch across Asia Pacific.

Get the newsletter

However, the Biden administration’s new strategic vision, as outlined in the recently released documents, has doubled down on calling China “America’s most consequential geopolitical challenge.” It has set itself the primary goal of “surpassing” Beijing on its purported regional and global targets. In contrast, despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, Russia is seen as a secondary threat that needs to be contained.

Do you like this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Only $5 per month.

The unprecedented focus on China in US policy is reflected in the Nuclear Posture Review and the Missile Defense Review. Contrary to Biden’s campaign pledge to pursue a single-purpose policy – declaring that the sole purpose of the US nuclear arsenal is to deter adversaries – NPR 2022 has placed nuclear weapons at the center of US security policy in the face of evolving threats from their adversaries strengthened . This shifting focus on the usability of nuclear weapons is likely to create an acute security dilemma in China and Russia, which in turn will increase their respective capabilities. This renewed focus on nuclear weapons will further undermine US security and likely increase the risk of an unintended nuclear escalation.

Another related challenge to this renewed emphasis on the centrality of nuclear weapons would be the reduced desire of all parties concerned to engage in future arms control agreements. While NPR emphasizes arms control, China and Russia are unlikely to see interest and commitment as they are likely to respond to the growing US nuclear arsenal. Even in the United States, which is already doubling down on its nuclear modernization plans and preparing to deal with two nuclear-armed competitors, appetites are likely to be less.

Another worrying element is a renewed focus not only on modernizing existing weapon systems, but also on developing new weapon designs. The United States is able to take on this task with the help of supercomputers without violating its existing moratorium on nuclear tests; however, it may create a desire for more nuclear testing in other nuclear-weapon states, thereby undermining the normative value of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).


The Biden administration’s new strategy has also put a greater emphasis on integrated deterrence, going beyond conventional and nuclear deterrence. According to the latest NSS, deterrence should be integrated not only across domains—including military and non-military—but also across regions, across the spectrum of conflicts, and across the range of US allies and partners. On the other hand, it increases the risk of snagging; on the other hand, it suggests that more visible battle lines are being drawn, leaving less room for countries that want to balance their relations and not identify themselves as exclusive partners with either China or the United States, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.

This narrow view of China as a strategic competitor is likely to pose a challenge to existing US partners in the region, whose policy goals may not be fully aligned with US goals towards China. For example, South Korea primarily seeks US partnership and security against the North Korean threat and is less inclined to jeopardize its relationship with China.

Similarly, India is projected as a defense partner to deter Chinese aggression. However, India does not seem ready to fully submit to the US line on all foreign policy issues, as can currently be seen in India’s stance on the Russia-Ukraine war. Despite its ongoing border issue with China and the resulting embrace of the Quad, India continues to pursue an anti-provocation policy towards China. The United States and India also have different priorities in the Indo-Pacific region; The US security focus is on the South China Sea, while India’s main interest is more on the Western Indian Ocean Region (WIOR). While India’s growing military capability, with US help, may not be able to successfully contain China, it is likely to affect regional security in South Asia. In particular, it could further destabilize the Indo-Pakistani dyad.

The new policy documents aim to “proactively shape the international order” in a way that favors US interests. The pursuit is resource intensive and also depends on a network of allies and partners whose willingness to fully support these policies may vary at this time.