Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Biden’s new national security strategy: A lot of Trump, very little Obama

By David Adesnik

17 Oct 2022 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

Biden and Trump have a lot more in common than you might think—at least when it comes to foreign policy and the return of “great power rivalry.” FP has a provocative analysis.

“The United States welcomes the rise of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China.” These words from the Obama administration’s 2015 National Security Strategy already belong to a bygone era. On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden, who was vice president when the earlier document was drafted, released his own National Security Strategy. And it couldn’t strike a more different tone. “We will prioritize maintaining an enduring competitive edge over [China],” the document pledges, blasting China for trying “to become the world’s leading power.” Russia, too, is no longer described in rosy terms as a potential partner but as an “immediate and persistent threat” to global peace and stability. Put simply, the Biden strategy is a 180-degree turn from the last Democratic administration. Instead, the new document affirms what the Trump administration first concluded in its 2017 strategy: “[G]reat power competition [has] returned.”

The similarity of the diagnoses presented by the Trump and Biden administrations does not mean their prescriptions for U.S. policy are the same. Nonetheless, much like a medical diagnosis, a strategic one narrows the range of options available for treatment. In his first address to the U.N. General Assembly in 2009, then-President Barack Obama declared, “More than at any point in human history, the interests of nations and peoples are shared.” Obama’s first strategy, published in 2010, reported that since the fall of the Soviet Union, the “circle of peaceful democracies has expanded; the specter of nuclear war has lifted; major powers are at peace; the global economy has grown.” Against this backdrop, a strategy that emphasized engagement seemed practical. Thus, Obama’s blueprint explained, “We are working to build deeper and more effective partnerships with other key centers of influence—includ­ing China, India, and Russia.”

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