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In US security strategy, China ‘only competitor’, India key partner

The National Security Strategy lists the security concerns and challenges of the US and the plans to deal with them. A year and a half into its term, the Biden administration's latest NSS spoke of a "decisive decade".

In March 1983, then United States President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation on “defence and national security”: “We must continue to restore our military strength. If we stop in midstream, we will send a signal of decline, of lessened will, to friends and adversaries alike. Free people must voluntarily, through open debate and democratic means, meet the challenge that totalitarians pose by compulsion.”

Three years later, Reagan signed the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act, which brought about sweeping changes in the command structure of the US military. The Act aimed to resolve the systemic challenges that had been identified during the Vietnam War, the aborted attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980, and some other incidents.The Goldwater-Nichols Act provided the legal basis for the National Security Strategy (NSS), which lists the security concerns and challenges of the US and the plans to deal with them, and gives Congress and the administration “a common understanding” of the strategic landscape. Earlier NSS editions Christopher S Chivvis, director of the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment, wrote in November 2021: “The strategies of Presidents George H W Bush and Bill Clinton embraced an expansive role for the United States, advocating for policies to ensure US global primacy, promote the spread of democracy, and underwrite global security.

“Under the presidency of George W Bush, the 2002 National Security Strategy took a more militaristic approach that divided the world into free and unfree nations, stressed the need for a war on terror, and — most controversially — endorsed the use of preemptive military force,” Chivvis wrote. In the aftermath of the “Great Recession”, and with the evident problems with the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, “President Barack Obama’s strategy sought to outline a somewhat less ambitious set of goals…, although it still promised to underwrite global security”. And Trump’s strategy, Chivvis said, “placed a much heavier focus on a particular version of American sovereignty, especially on border security, and downgrading the importance of US alliances.” Biden’s first NSS In an “interim” NSS published in March 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration recommitted the US to NATO, and said Washington “must demonstrate that democracies can still deliver for our people”, and vowed to “defend our democracy, strengthen it and renew it”. On Wednesday, a year and a half into its term, the Biden administration’s latest NSS spoke of a “decisive decade”.

The new NSS outlined the ways in which the US will advance its vital interests and pursue a free, open, prosperous, and secure world: “We will leverage all elements of our national power to outcompete our strategic competitors; tackle shared challenges; and shape the rules of the road.” The NSS, it says, is rooted in “our national interests: to protect the security of the American people, to expand economic opportunity, and to realize and defend the democratic values at the heart of the American way of life”. It speaks of “strategic competition” with China: the most pressing challenge “we face as we pursue a free, open, prosperous, and secure world are from powers that layer authoritarian governance with a revisionist foreign policy”.

“We will effectively compete with the People’s Republic of China, which is the only competitor with both the intent and, increasingly, the capability to reshape the international order, while constraining a dangerous Russia,” it says. The NSS also mentions “shared challenges”: “…People all over the world are struggling to cope with the effects of shared challenges that cross borders — whether it is climate change, food insecurity, communicable diseases, or inflation. These shared challenges are not marginal issues that are secondary to geopolitics. They are at the very core of national and international security and must be treated as such.”“As India is the world’s largest democracy and a Major Defense Partner, the United States and India will work together, bilaterally and multilaterally, to support our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it says. “We will deepen our cooperation with democracies and other like-minded states.

From the Indo-Pacific Quad (Australia, India, Japan, United States) to the US-EU Trade and Technology Council, from AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, United States) to I2-U2 (India, Israel, UAE, United States), we are creating a latticework of strong, resilient, and mutually reinforcing relationships that prove democracies can deliver for their people and the world.”The revitalized Quad, the NSS says, “addresses regional challenges and has 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”.

India is also mentioned in the context of the G7: “The G7 is at its strongest when it also formally engages other countries with aligned goals, such as at the 2022 summit where Argentina, India, Indonesia, Senegal, South Africa, and Ukraine also participated.”On India and the war in Ukraine, it says: “…Putin’s war has profoundly diminished Russia’s status vis-a-vis China and other Asian powers such as India and Japan.” From India’s perspective, the most important framing is that the NSS recognizes that China presents “America’s most consequential geopolitical challenge” and “Russia poses an immediate and ongoing threat to the regional security order in Europe…but it lacks the across the spectrum capabilities of the PRC”.

This framing is especially important at a time when Indian and Chinese troops are locked in a border standoff in the Himalayas for the last two and-half years. Terrorism and Afghanistan While Pakistan-based terrorist groups don’t find mention in the NSS, it talks about ending US’ war in Afghanistan but emphasised that it will will ensure Afghanistan “never again serves as a safe haven for terrorist attacks on the United States or our allies and we will hold the Taliban accountable for its public commitments on counterterrorism”. The NSS said, “We ended America’s longest war, in Afghanistan, having long ago achieved our objective of delivering justice to Osama Bin Laden and other key leadership of Al-Qa’ida.