The White House released its long-awaited National Security Strategy on Wednesday, outlining plans for strengthening alliances worldwide while maintaining a strong American military “by promoting diversity and inclusion.”
The strategy also includes a commitment to strengthening the U.S. nuclear arsenal at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to use nukes in Ukraine and as the Pentagon warns of China’s growing arsenal of the destructive bombs.
The document was originally expected to be publicly released last spring but was delayed in part because of the fighting in Ukraine. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Russia’s aggression in the region did not fundamentally change the administration’s plans, but did result in some parts of the document receiving revisions and updates.
“[The Ukraine war] presents in living color the key elements of our approach: the emphasis on allies, the importance of strengthening the hand of the democratic world and standing up for our fellow democracies, and for democratic values,” he told reporters in a call unveiling the strategy.
“To watch how Ukraine unfolded, how the terms of geopolitical competition have sharpened up over the course of the past few months, and also being able to put on display how our strategy works in practice, I think all of those serve a purpose in terms of giving life to the document that we’re releasing.”
The strategy names Russia and China as major powers that threaten U.S. security, but it also notes an evolving terrorist threat from foreign militants and domestic extremists. Combating that will require both military intervention and “addressing the root causes of radicalization” with help from foreign partners.
That will also mean ensuring a well-trained, well-equipped American military force, the strategy argues.
“We will maintain our foundational principle of civilian control of the military, recognizing that healthy civil-military relations rooted in mutual respect are essential to military effectiveness,” the plan states. “We will strengthen the effectiveness of the force by promoting diversity and inclusion; intensifying our suicide prevention efforts; eliminating the scourges of sexual assault, harassment, and other forms of violence, abuse, and discrimination; and rooting out violent extremism.”
In an effort to “amplify our capacity to respond to shared challenges,” the White House strategy calls for deepening and modernizing defense and intelligence alliances like NATO, Five Eyes (with Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.K.), and the Quad (with Australia, India and Japan).
For the Indo-Pacific, the strategy calls for building the collective capacity of U.S. partners in the region and stronger ties between likeminded countries. AUKUS, the year-old alliance based on sharing U.S. and U.K. nuclear submarine technology and other defense-related know-how with Australia, will be “critical to addressing regional challenges.”
It also seeks to build on the Pentagon’s recent, massive effort to lead Western military aid for Ukraine and strengthen defense industry ties between allies. A strong partnership means allies need to be incorporated at every stage of defense planning, the strategy states.
“The war in Ukraine highlights the criticality of a vibrant Defense Industrial Base for the United States and its allies and partners,” the document says. “It must not only be capable of rapidly manufacturing proven capabilities needed to defend against adversary aggression, but also empowered to innovate and creatively design solutions as battlefield conditions evolve.”
Amid concerns from industry that efforts to work with allies are mired in red tape, President Joe Biden is seeking to “remove barriers to deeper collaboration,” the strategy says, “to include issues related to joint capability development and production to safeguard our shared military-technological edge.”
The strategy also pledges the U.S. will rely less on the threat of nuclear weapons as a strategic centerpiece, but also emphasizes the need to invest in modernizing the nuclear triad and the country’s commitments to protect allies.
“Nuclear deterrence remains a top priority for the nation and foundational to integrated deterrence,” it states.
It alludes to China’s growing nuclear arsenal as a motivator for U.S. investment in its own weapons.
“By the 2030s, the United States for the first time will need to deter two major nuclear powers, each of whom will field modern and diverse global and regional nuclear forces,” the strategy says.
Sullivan, speaking with reporters, said the forthcoming Pentagon nuclear posture and missile defense strategies would “depart from some of the Trump-era formulas and [take a] step forward towards reduction.”
Congress is poised to block the Biden administration’s plan to cancel the submarine-launched cruise missile, known as the SLCM-N, and it has yet to decide on how it will approach the administration’s plan to retire the B83 gravity bomb. The administration stopped short of setting a “no first use” policy that arms control advocates have sought.
The document devotes a page to the Pentagon’s signature policy under Biden: “integrated deterrence,” which means coordinating military, diplomatic and economic levers from across the U.S. government to deter an adversary from taking aggressive action.
“Integrated deterrence requires us to more effectively coordinate, network, and innovate so that any competitor thinking about pressing for advantage in one domain understands that we can respond in many others as well,” the strategy reads.
“This augments the traditional backstop of combat-credible conventional and strategic capabilities, allowing us to better shape adversary perceptions of risks and costs of action against core U.S. interests, at any time and across any domain,” it adds.
It also highlights investments in emerging technologies and their ability to “transform warfare and pose novel threats.”
Speaking with reporters, Sullivan said the administration’s budget and forthcoming defense strategy documents have all emphasized modernizing “the fighting force” and “the systems, platforms and technologies that they rely upon in every domain.”
With the National Security Strategy finally publicly released, focus now shifts to the overdue National Defense Strategy. Lawmakers have been pressing for its release after Biden released only a two-page summary in March.
Mandated by Congress, the National Defense Strategy helps lawmakers weigh the president’s national security priorities for budgeting, shows allies and adversaries those priorities, and helps government officials speak with a single voice on national security matters.
But neither the Pentagon nor the White House on Wednesday made a public announcement on a timeline for that second document.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.