As per the Goldwater-Nichols Defence Reorganisation Act of 1986, the President of the US is required to submit to the US Congress an annual report on the National Security Strategy. The last National Security Strategy (NSS) was released in 2017 by the Trump administration. The incumbent Biden administration, has since assuming office, released a number of strategies that flow from the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance published in March 2021. This document provided guidance to various offices and agencies to align their actions to the administration’s thought-process, even while the National Security Strategy itself was being worked-upon. These strategies, apart from the NSS released in October 2022 include the following:
- The Indo-Pacific Strategy, February 2022.
- The Pacific Partnership Strategy, September 2022.
- The National Strategy for the Arctic Region, October 2022.
- The classified 2022 National Defence Strategy (NDS) forwarded to the US Congress on 28 March 2022 has recently been followed by the NDS meant for public consumption on 27 Oct 2022. This 2022 NDS also includes the Nuclear Posture and Missile Defence Reviews of 2022.
It is interesting to note that the unclassified summary of the NDS 2018 was the US Department of Defence’s (DoD’s) first congressionally mandated NDS and was made available in January 2018. While the 2018 NDS covered the budget requests for fiscal period 2019 to 2023, the classified 2022 NDS document accompanied the budget request for fiscal year 2023. The NSS is the keystone document based on which the Secretary of Defence issues the NDS. The next document expected to flow is the National Military Strategy (NMS), which will be based on the NSS and NDS, and is issued by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The last NMS was issued in 2018.
It is evident that there is a significant change in Washington’s approach, from the 2017 America First centric NSS to the 2022 Cooperation in the Age of Competition approach. This change is clearly espoused in the strategies released so far under the Biden administration, and the four QUAD leadership summit meetings held over the last two years. This paper will analyse the 2022 NSS and link up with salient features of the recently released strategies, thereby seeking to provide clarity on the US approach and identify convergence and divergence factors, which can impact cooperation.
Constants and Variables
The absence of annual NSS reports as mandated by the Goldwater-Nichols Defence Reorganisation Act of 1986 provides an easier comparison of the last two NSS’s (2015 and 2017) with the recent 2022 NSS, which were released by the three different white house administrations. The broad areas of focus as sequenced in the three NSS’s are as tabulated:
|2015 NSS (Barak Obama)||2017 NSS (Donald Trump)||2022 NSS (Joe Biden)|
|Advance the security of the United States, its citizens, and US allies and partners||Protect the homeland, the American people, and American way of life||Invest in the underlying sources and tools of American power and influence|
|Advance a strong, innovative, and growing US economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunity and prosperity||Promote American prosperity||Build the strongest possible coalition of nations to enhance our collective influence to shape the global strategic environment and to solve shared challenges|
|Advance an international order that promotes peace, security, and opportunity through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges||Preserve peace through strength||Modernize and strengthen our military so it is equipped for the era of strategic competition
|Advance American influence|
Table 1: NSS 2015, 2017, and 2022 Focal Areas
Source: Fact Sheets of NSS 2015, 2017, and 2022
The 2015 NSS sought to reposition the US as a trusted and reliable ally and strategic partner, as well as a global leader. This approach came from the cusp of seeking reduction in US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and the parallel rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, while addressing violent and non-violent non-traditional threats. The 2015 NSS hence sought to “provide a vision and strategy for advancing US interests, universal values, and a rules-based international order’ by “leading with purpose; with strength; by example; with capable partners, with all instruments of US power; and with a long-term perspective”.
The 2017 NSS, in a way, followed the path of the 2015 NSS and sought “to restore respect for the United States abroad and renew American confidence at home”. However, the emphasis was on America First, and hence mainly inward looking. One major change was the adoption of the term Indo-Pacific, which replaced the term Asia-Pacific in the official US lexicon.
In comparison, the 2022 NSS has acknowledged that the contemporary security environment is highly competitive and has thus sequenced cooperation above all other issues and seeks to break down the “dividing line between foreign policy and domestic policy” as US strengths abroad and at home are “inextricably linked”. This will require a significant amount of domestic support.
The three NSS’s lay similar emphasis on common non-traditional threats, especially climate change, cyber activity, pandemics, terrorism, and transnational crime. Another common aspect is the focus on international order and associated stability and security spin-offs, essentially rising from the action by nations who are viewed as non-democratic and challenge the existing internationally accepted order, norms, and laws and conventions.
While the three NSS’s constantly identify Russia, Iran, and North Korea as the nations that pose the highest degree of challenges and threats, there has been a nuanced change with respect to China. The 2015 NSS saw China as a rising nation with which a “constructive relationship” could be developed to deliver benefits for the US and Chinese people and to promote “security and prosperity in Asia and around the world”. The 2017 NSS posited China and Russia as “revisionist powers” seeking to erode American power and influence. In contrast, the 2022 NSS places China as “the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective”, and views Russia posing a different challenge as “an immediate threat to the free and open international system, recklessly flouting the basic laws of the international order today, as its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine has shown”. Russia in its Maritime Doctrine 2022, which was released on 31 July 2022, sees its existence and development as a great continental and maritime power in the 21st Century on the basis of several enabling factors that include possessing the largest territory in the world; the length of its maritime borders, its huge reserves and the diversity of its marine energy, mineral and biological resources; and the quality and quantity of its population. Though this statement can be considered an overstretch presently, Russian activities to realise this aim could add to the complexities of the contemporary global security environment.
The 2022 NSS places the US and the world at an “inflection point” and has accordingly analysed the threats, challenges, risks, and opportunities, which are contained in the string of strategies issued so far.
Threats, Challenges, Risks, and Opportunities
The 2022 NDS has divided the world into six major regions as shown in table 2. The table also indicates associated threats, challenges, risks, and opportunities assessed from the 2022 NSS and NDS.
|Region||Threats/ Challenges/ Risks||Opportunities|
2. North Korea
3. Nuclear environment
4. Land and sea disputes
5. Grey zone coercion
6. Power projection in a contested environment
|1. Work with allies and partners to build a resilient security architecture to sustain a free and open regional order
2. Enhance technology cooperation through QUAD and AUKUS
2. Grey zone coercion
|1. Capability development and military modernisation of NATO
2. Improving the relationship with the European Union (EU)
|Middle East||1. Iran
3. Violent Extremist Organisations (VEOs) – terrorism
4. Rightsizing of forward military presence
|1. Cooperation with regional and global partners
2. Support security coalitions within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
3. Improve collective intelligence and warning
|Western Hemisphere||Non-traditional security threats to the homeland||Build own capability and those of regional nations|
2. Presence of China and Russia
|1. Build capacities of nations to degrade terrorist activities
2. Disrupt Chinese and Russian activities
|Arctic||1. Threats to the homeland
2. Balance Arctic posture vis-à-vis Indo-Pacific focus
4. Increasing presence of China
5. Sustain the Arctic Council and other Arctic institutions
|1. Improve ISR and Early warning capabilities
2. Improve MDA
3. Enhance capabilities of the North American Aerospace Defence Command
Table 1: Security Scan Region Wise
Source: 2022 NSS and NDS
While both the documents identify the main adversarial nations as China and Russia, there is a dividing line which places both the nations in different slots, as competitor and an immediate threat, respectively. While the view on Russia has remained generally unchanged since the 2015 NSS, the approach vis-à-vis China has progressed to a relatively harder stance. This would require the US to take more harder actions on ground than hitherto if the Biden administration wants to be seen as following its strategies more consciously and seriously as compared to earlier administrations. This could be a more challenging task as the 2022 NDS further recognises that the China-Russia relationship “continues to increase in breadth” and acknowledges that “either state could create global dilemmas” for the US joint force in the eventuality of a conflict or crises situation with either nation. This relationship could have more impact in the Indo-Pacific, especially South China Sea, where parallels have been drawn out between the ongoing Ukraine conflict and a possible Taiwan Conflict. Putin’s 2012 Pivot to Asia and pointed interest in the Asia-Pacific (a term favoured by Russia) elaborated upon in Russia’s Maritime Doctrine 2022, is perhaps an indicator of more Russian presence and interest in the Indo-Pacific. The 2022 NDS also acknowledges that China and Russia both pose “more dangerous challenges” to the safety and security of the US homeland. Hence, given the growing complexities, time may not be on the side of the Biden administration to follow through the strategies in one term. In this regard Joseph Nye recently stated about the 2022 NSS that “Unfortunately, policymakers are always under time pressure and must formulate strategic objectives for the here and now. Biden has properly done that. The question for the years ahead is whether he can implement his policies in ways that do not foreclose the possibility of more benign future scenarios, even while recognising that they are distant”.
‘Integrated Defence’, highlighted by both 2022 NSS and NDS, appears to be the main pillar to address the threats and challenges posed by the identified adversarial nations. This integration part covers five areas, that could provide opportunities, as it is intended to work across domains, regions, the spectrum of conflict, the US government, and with allies and partners. The deterrence part will be either by denial, or resilience, or by direct and collective cost imposition. This wide ambit would require both domestic cohesion and a common hard-line approach by US allies and partners. With respect to the hard-line approach the US would perhaps work on a twin prong engagement policy, especially in the Indo-Pacific. The 2022 Indo-Pacific Strategy clearly “lays great emphasis on working with intra-regional allies and partners to address challenges and threats; and places them in two groups — regional treaty-alliance partners, and leading regional partners. The first group comprises Australia, Japan, the ROK, the Philippines, and Thailand, and the second incudes India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Pacific Islands”. The hard-line approach would be an easier subject with treaty alliance partners and allies as compared to strategic partners. For example, the 2022 NDS looks at advancing the defence partnership with India to “enhance its (India’s) ability to deter PRC aggression and ensure free and open access to the Indian Ocean Region”. It is not clear if this role envisaged for India is under any mutual understanding, which is highly unlikely given India’s strategic autonomy approach and stance of not being seen as part of any military alliance. Therefore, the US may have overpitched its expectations from its Indo-Pacific partners that could impact the aims of the existing and future strategies. A harder stance could also further unsettle ASEAN, given the common entreaty in not forcing ASEAN to choose sides. This is also perhaps the reason why the Indo-Pacific strategy states that the “objective is not to change the PRC but to shape the strategic environment in which it operates, building a balance of influence in the world that is maximally favourable to the United States, our allies and partners, and the interests and values we share”. This relatively softer approach to China vis-à-vis the more hard-line approaches in the 2021 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance document and 2022 NSS and NDS could lead to a degree of uncertainty amongst the US allies and strategic partners regarding the path the US plans to follow while addressing China.
With regard to Russia and the ongoing Ukraine conflict, there is a clear demarcation of nations who follow the US lead and those who do not. The push from Washington in forcing nations to reduce their support dependence on Russia may not find favour, and hence may stall the US outlook of cooperation in many fields mentioned in the 2022 NSS and other strategies. For example, the US approach urging India to reduce its dependency on, and slowly transit away from Russia did not find favour in India. Such a continued approach would have contradicted the aspect of “countries must be free to determine their own foreign policy choices”, which has been mentioned as part of the Enduring Vision mentioned in the 2022 NSS. However, the associated remark which stated that India importing oil from Russia does not violate the sanctions imposed on Russia indicates that the US would exercise flexibility to keep doors of cooperation with strategic partners open.
The positing of Russia as an immediate threat and the recognition of the growth of the Russia-China relationship enforces the thought process of the 2021 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance document and covers up for the absence of Russia in the 2022 Indo-Pacific Strategy document. This approach could have been tempered by Russia’s Maritime Doctrine 2022 that places the Arctic as a region of vital interest. According to this document, Russia plans to implement its doctrine, in six maritime regions, namely: Arctic, Pacific, Atlantic (Baltic, Azov-Black Sea and Mediterranean basins), Caspian, Indian Ocean, and Antarctica. Based on the emphasis on these regions, starting with the Arctic, it can be safely assumed that this listing subscribes to a given priority of focus. Two pertinent points from Russia’s Maritime Doctrine of 2022 that merit attention are as follows:
- Development of the Arctic zone as a strategic resource base and its rational use, including full-scale development of the continental shelf of the Russian Federation beyond its EEZ, after securing its external border in accordance with article 76 of UNCLOS.
- Development of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) as a national transport corridor.
The upgradation of the Northern Fleet to a military district on 01 January 2021 also “reflects the increased prominence given to the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route in Russia’s strategic plans”. This accrued focus of Russia on the Arctic, the ongoing Ukraine conflict, and the resultant stopping of work of the Arctic Council by seven of the eight members in the middle Russia’s chairmanship of the council have clearly influenced the 2022 US National Strategy for the Arctic Region. The US Navy’s 2021 document, A Strategic Blueprint for the Arctic, acknowledges that “A changing Arctic Region increases the potential for competition and conflict” and covers most of the hard power and other associated aspects reflected in both the 2022 NSS and NDS. However, the ongoing impasse between the US and Russia could impact the security environment of the Arctic and the stalling of discussions in the Artic Council will only aggravate the situation.
The 2022 NSS also lays equal stress on non-traditional aspects. Apart from the 2022 NSS, the relevant aspects for the Indo-Pacific find mention in the 2022 Indo-Pacific Strategy and the 2022 Pacific Partnership Strategy. The Indo-Pacific Strategy seeks to expand the role of the QUAD beyond the oft-perceived notion of it being a hard-security construct aimed at containing China. The approach extends the role of the QUAD to addresses issues that will aid prosperity, stability, security, and peace in the region. This approach could broaden acceptability of the QUAD by dispelling the notion of it being solely a hard-security dialogue and further the cooperative aspects discussed since the first QUAD Leaders’ Summit held in March 2021.
Along with the QUAD the 2022 NSS places AUKUS as critical to addressing regional challenges and thereby looks towards reinforcing “collective strength by weaving our allies and partners closer together” and “encouraging tighter linkages between likeminded Indo-Pacific and European countries”. France is the sole European and Indo-Pacific nation, hence can navigate the region with ease. However, other European nations will need to approach the region with an Indo-Pacific lens and not a European lens.
The 2022 NSS has drawn a lot of criticism, as is evident from a long line of hard-hitting tweets to articles that shun the requirement of the NSS and NDS. One advantage the Biden administration could possibly have, is the Republican support, especially with regards to Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Ukraine, and engagements with nations of the Indo-Pacific. However, some issues like climate change may not be fully supported by the Republicans. Further, the outcome of the US 2022 midterm elections will dictate the degree of domestic support to the present and forthcoming strategies of the Biden administration.
To ensure optimum cooperation the US needs to review its approach to issues that impact the security environment of its strategic partners. For example, the recent USD 450 million package support to Pakistan for sustainment of the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 fleet for counter terrorism purposes has been criticised by India, while keeping the doors of cooperation open.
Notwithstanding the criticism, the strategies clearly outline the US approach to contemporary threats, challenges, risks, and opportunities, and the plan to “achieve a better future of a free, open, secure, and prosperous world”, which is in line with the past administration strategies, with a reshuffling of priorities.
Though differences over engagements with China and Russia will continue to impact US relations with nations, especially strategic partners and ASEAN, there is the greater chances of success in addressing non-traditional threats and challenges due to convergency and cooperation based on the common aim of a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
About the Author
Captain Sarabjeet S Parmar is a serving Indian Naval Officer and is presently a Senior Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the policy of the Government of India or the Indian Navy. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The author thanks Dr Stuti Banerjee, Senior Research Fellow, Indian Council for World Affairs, New Delhi, for her inputs and Mr Bakshinder Singh Bhatia, Intern, National Maritime Foundation for his research support.
 National Security Strategy Archive, https://nssarchive.us/
 National Security Strategy of the United States of America, December 2017 (NSS 2017), http://nssarchive.us/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2017.pdf
 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance (2021), https://nssarchive.us/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/2021_Interim.pdf
 US Indo-Pacific Strategy (2022), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/U.S.-Indo-Pacific-Strategy.pdf
 US Pacific Partnership Strategy (2022), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Pacific-Partnership-Strategy.pdf
 US National Strategy for the Arctic Region (2022), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/National-Strategy-for-the-Arctic-Region.pdf
 Fact Sheet: 2022 National Defence Strategy, https://media.defense.gov/2022/Mar/28/2002964702/-1/-1/1/NDS-FACT-SHEET.PDF
 National Defence Strategy of the United States of America, Oct 2022 (2022 NDS), https://media.defense.gov/2022/Oct/27/2003103845/-1/-1/1/2022-NATIONAL-DEFENSE-STRATEGY-NPR-MDR.PDF
 Summary of the 2018 National Defence Strategy, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf
 Sourced from the NSS Fact Sheets of 2015, 2017 and 2022, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/06/fact-sheet-2015-national-security-strategy, https://in.usembassy.gov/fact-sheet-president-trump-announces-national-security-strategy-advance-americas-interests/, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/10/12/fact-sheet-the-biden-harris-administrations-national-security-strategy/
 2015 NSS Fact Sheet
 2017 NSS Fact Sheet
 2017 NSS, p 3,
 2022 NSS Fact Sheet
 National Security Strategy, February 2015 (2015 NSS), p 24, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/docs/2015_national_security_strategy_2.pdf
 2017 NSS, p 25
 National Security Strategy, October 2022 (2022 NSS), p 8, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Biden-Harris-Administrations-National-Security-Strategy-10.2022.pdf
 Maritime Doctrine of the Russian Federation 2022, http://publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001202207310001, official translation at http://actual.pravo.gov.ru/text.html#pnum=0001202207310001, para 104
 The term finds mention at four places in the 2022 NSS. Firstly, in the first paragraph of opening statement by the US President and then on pages 6, 12, and 24
 2022 NDS, p 5
 For more details see, Neil Melvin, Russia and the Indo-Pacific Security Concept, Emerging Insights, (Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, 2021), https://static.rusi.org/277_russia_ip.pdf
 Maritime Doctrine of the Russian Federation 2022, http://publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001202207310001, official translation at http://actual.pravo.gov.ru/text.html#pnum=0001202207310001
 2022 NDS, p 5
 Joseph Nye, The Evolution of America’s China Strategy, The Strategist, ASPI, 03 November 2022, https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-evolution-of-americas-china-strategy/
 2022 NSS, p 22
 2022 NDS, pp 4,5
 Captain Sarabjeet Singh Parmar, The US Indo-Pacific Strategy 2022: An Analysis, National Maritime Foundation, 03 May 2022, https://maritimeindia.org/the-us-indo-pacific-strategy-2022-an-analysis/
 2022 NDS, p 15
 US Suggests India to Decrease Dependence on Russia Over Time, Economic Times Online, 09 Nov 2022, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/us-suggests-india-to-decrease-dependence-on-russia-over-time/articleshow/95394780.cms
 2022 NSS, p 6
 Note 28
 Maritime Doctrine of the Russian Federation 2022, pp 6 and 7
 Captain Sarabjeet S Parmar, Commander Ranendra S Sawan, Captain Kamlesh K Agnihotri (Retd),
Maritime Doctrine of the Russian Federation 2022: An Analysis, https://maritimeindia.org/maritime-doctrine-of-the-russian-federation-2022-an-analysis-maritime-doctrine-of-the-russian-federation-2022-an-analysis/
 See Chapter 5, Russia and Eurasia, The Military Balance 2022, International Institute of Strategic Studies, London, p 166
 The Arctic Council website shows this message: The Arctic Council is pausing all official meetings of the council and its subsidiary bodies until further notice, https://www.arctic-council.org/ (07 November 2022) and also see Melody Schreiber, Arctic Council Nations are ‘Pausing’ Work after Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, Arctic Today, 03 March 2022, https://www.arctictoday.com/the-7-other-arctic-council-nations-are-pausing-work-after-russias-invasion-of-ukraine/#:~:text=Seven%20of%20eight%20Arctic%20nations%20said%20 Wednesday%20they,body%E2%80%99s%20rotating%20chair%2C%20which%20began %20in%20May%202021
 A Strategic Blueprint for the Arctic, Department of the Navy, January 2021, https://media.defense.gov/2021/Jan/05/2002560338/-1/-1/0/ARCTIC%20BLUEPRINT%202021%20FINAL.PDF /ARCTIC%20BLUEPRINT%202021%20FINAL.PDF
 For a more detailed analysis see Sarabjeet Singh Parmar, Towards Shaping a Favourable and Positive Maritime Environment in the Indo-Pacific, National Maritime Foundation, 27 July 2022, https://maritimeindia.org/towards-shaping-a-favourable-and-positive-maritime-environment-in-the-indo-pacific/
 2022 NSS, p 37
 For example, see Justin Logan and Benjamin H Friedman, The Case for Getting Rid of the National Security Strategy, https://warontherocks.com/2022/11/the-case-for-getting-rid-of-the-national-security-strategy/
 See ‘Not fooling anyone’: Jaishankar on US support for Pakistan F-16s, Hindustan Times, 27 September 2022, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/not-fooling-anyone-jaishankar-on-us-support-for-pakistan-f16s-101664216876123.html
 2022 NSS, p 7
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