American National Security Strategies (NSS) are a bizarre hegemonic specie. The latest version is saturated with more than usual hyperbole. The Biden Administration’s obsession that the defining characteristic of international reality is an ontological dichotomy between democracy and autocracy distorts the Strategy’s perspective.
Somewhere near the top of the many contestable assumptions in the document is, “Most nations around the world define their interests in ways that are compatible with ours”. As is, “The idea that [America] should compete with major autocratic powers to shape the international order enjoys broad support that is bipartisan at home and deepening abroad”. Or, America’s democracy “is the only way to ensure that people are truly able to live lives of dignity and freedom”. Yet these are key understandings that shape much of the new NSS.
The NSS is also shaped by President Biden’s familiar refrain, “The world is now at an inflection point”. Biden has an unassailable conviction that only America can “assemble the strongest possible coalitions to advance and defend a world that is free, open, prosperous, and secure”. And at “the heart of this coalition, to ensure it is as transformative as possible, are democratic nations who share our interests and values”.
Rather disingenuously, the NSS concedes “that some may harbour reservations about American power and our foreign policy”. Nevertheless, the impression is that most nations recognise the right and necessity of American leadership and that satisfying America’s interests is self-evidently in the interests of all.
Non-democratic nations couldn’t be so because of history, culture, or national ideology; as that would indicate that (American) democracy was not universally aspired to by all people. They must be nefarious “highly personalised” autocracies, as exemplified by Russia and China. The NSS avers that “democratic governance consistently outperforms authoritarianism in protecting human dignity, [and] leads to more prosperous and resilient societies”.
Although the NSS weakly denies “that governments and societies everywhere must be remade in America’s image for us to be secure”, America will, it states, “continue to press all partners to respect and advance democracy and human rights”. After all, the NSS observes, “It is the only way to ensure that people are truly able to live lives of dignity and freedom”.
The reality is that the European and North American democracies are former colonial powers and settler societies whose wealth advantage is based on past plunder and rapacious exploitation of foreign lands. This fact is inseparable from any judgements about the justness of their political systems. The NSS’s view is also contradicted by the seemingly ineradicable poverty, and social and ethnic divisions in America and by China’s lifting the prosperity of hundreds of millions of its citizens.
The NSS accords some exclusive mystical quality to America’s leadership as the panacea for all contemporary problems. As the President asserts “Around the world, the need for American leadership is as great as it has ever been”. However, there is evidence that this “need” is not as widely acknowledged as the NSS claims. An example, the NSS position is undermined by the Transatlantic Trends 2022 survey conducted in 14 European and North American countries this year and post-Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. The respondents revealed considerable resistance to America’s policy approaches to competition with China.
More respondents believed their country should cooperate with China on new technologies (36%), trade (32%), energy and new materials (30%), and climate change (27%). Only roughly a quarter of respondents thought their country should be tougher on China in these areas. Canada aside, the responses of Europeans showed a strong preference for their countries to manage relations with China through the EU and not America.
The 2022 State of Southeast Asia Survey exposes the complexity that is glossed over in the NSS. The bulk of respondents came from the political and policy elites; including Government (38.5%), and Academia, Think-tanks or Research Institutions (30.4%). Covid, economic recession, and climate change, not autocracies, were the greatest concerns expressed.
With respect to ASEAN as a whole, becoming an arena of major power competition dropped from first to second as a priority. The most influential economic power in Southeast Asia continued to be China (76.7%), and also the most influential political and strategic power (54.4%). While America was seen as the leading champion of free trade (30.1%), nearly a quarter of respondent (24.6%) thought it was China.
America’s rosy promotion of coalitions is questionable as more than half of respondents had a negative view of AUKUS. Tellingly, ASEAN member states continue to favour enhancing ASEAN’s resilience and unity to fend off pressure from the two major powers (46.1%). Finally, 46.6% saw ASEAN-China relations improving over the next three years and 77.3% believed China will respect national sovereignty in Southeast Asia. This stands in contrast to the NSS’s account that many of America’s “allies and partners, especially in the Indo-Pacific, stand on the frontlines of the PRC’s coercion”.
The Biden Administration will undoubtedly proceed aggressively to prosecute the competition it seeks with China. That is, “the United States and [its] allies and partners have an opportunity to shape the PRC and Russia’s external environment in a way that influences their behaviour even as we compete with them”. While the NSS evinces the proposition that the US can compete and cooperate with China at the same time, the deliberate strategy of denying to China the wherewithal to grow its economy seems destined to produce constant confrontation and friction in the relationship. China cannot meekly defer to an America intent on shaping “the international order in line with [America’s] interests and values”.
The NSS is a step on the path to war. Blinded by a religious-like commitment to America’s innate superiority and its entitlement “to write the rules of the road and shape the relationships that govern global affairs…across every region and across economics, technology, diplomacy, development, security, and global governance”, Biden is unable to perceive the fractured, hostile, and dangerous world America is pursuing.
The new NSS is dogma for a misconceived crusade to convert the world to supplicant democracies dependent on American leadership and largess. A delusional dogma based in the belief that Biden’s Manichaean fantasies are shared by everyone.
Copyright Mike Scrafton. This article may be reproduced under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 licence for non-commercial purposes, and providing that work is not altered, only redistributed, and the original author is credited. Please see the Cross-post and re-use policy for more information.
Also published in John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations.