National Security

Biden signals another reversal from Trump with national security guidance


The White House released its interim national security strategic guidance Wednesday, stressing a need to build alliances and strengthen democracy, an implicit rebuff of former President Trump’s “America first” strategy.

“We will only succeed in advancing American interests and upholding our universal values by working in common cause with our closest allies and partners, and by renewing our own enduring sources of national strength,” President Biden wrote in the guidance.

The strategy outlines a wide array of issues the Biden administration hopes to tackle, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn associated with it, racial injustice, threats from climate change and the increased use of emerging technologies and cyberattacks by foreign adversaries to target the United States. 

It is meant to serve as a stopgap as federal agencies align their priorities while the Biden administration works on a more concrete national security strategy. 

The strategy was released hours after Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave his first major address in office, during which he stressed the wide array of threats posed to the nation and teased future guidance to come later this year. 

Blinken noted that the interim guidance “gives initial direction to our national security agencies so that they can get to work right away while we keep developing a more in-depth national security strategy over the next several months.”

“The interim guidance lays out the global landscape as the Biden administration sees it, explains the priorities of our foreign policy — and specifically how we will renew America’s strength to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of our time,” Blinken said. 

In another nod to a reversal from the Trump administration, the report warned of “nationalist and nativist trends” along with misinformation and disinformation. 

“At a time when the need for American engagement and international cooperation is greater than ever, however, democracies across the globe, including our own, are increasingly under siege,” the guidance said.

It also specifically called out China and Russia as main threats, saying that both have “invested heavily in efforts meant to check U.S. strengths and prevent us from defending our interests and allies around the world.” 

“China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system, all the rules, values and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to, because it ultimately serves the interests and reflects the values of the American people,” Blinken said in his speech earlier.

“Our relationship with China will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, adversarial when it must be,” he added.

The report advised strengthening relationships with other Southeast Asian nations as a way to combat Chinese influence.

It also digs into technological and cyber threats, making clear that the Biden administration will make cybersecurity an “imperative across the government” and strengthen “our capability, readiness, and resilience in cyberspace.”

In the wake of what has become known as the SolarWinds hack, the administration emphasized that foreign cyberattacks would be met with action. The incident involved Russian hackers successfully compromising at least nine federal agencies and 100 private sector companies. 

“We will hold actors accountable for destructive, disruptive, or otherwise destabilizing malicious cyber activity, and respond swiftly and proportionately to cyberattacks by imposing substantial costs through cyber and non-cyber means,” the report reads. 

The guidance also pledged to expand agreements that could help reduce nuclear proliferation, citing the recently extended New START Treaty with Russia as an example. It said it would rely on allies to help pressure Iran and North Korea to limit their own activities. 

But it also stressed that military force would be a limited tool in its response to global problems.

“The United States will never hesitate to use force when required to defend our vital national interests. … But the use of military force should be a last resort, not the first,” the guidance said, adding that military force “should only be used when the objectives and mission are clear.” 

The guidance lists both climate change and the pandemic as top national security threats.

It identified climate efforts as a way to “earn back our position of leadership in international institutions” and promised U.S assistance in helping fight climate change in developing nations while also investing in new technology. 

The administration also pledged to be a more active partner in the World Health Organization and the United Nations and to “revitalize and expand global health and health security initiatives for all nations to reduce the risk of future biological catastrophes.”

Overall, Biden stressed the need to build back the strength of American democracy and American leadership on the world stage as the new administration comes into power. 

“The simple truth is, America cannot afford to be absent any longer on the world stage. And under the Biden-Harris Administration, America is back,” he wrote in the report’s introduction. “Diplomacy is back. Alliances are back. But we are not looking back. We are looking irrevocably toward the future and all that we can achieve for the American people — together.”

Tags Antony Blinken China Climate change Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic coronavirus recession Donald Trump Joe Biden National Security Strategy Russia SolarWinds SolarWinds hack
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