It maintains the tone of 'good versus evil' but how realistic is the new US National Security Strategy on key issues like energy security after the Ukraine war, nuclear non-proliferation, and arms sales?
US President Joe Biden wants to create a post-globalisation security policy for the United States.
The US National Security Strategy (USNSS) document, like its counterparts elsewhere, is basically a public relations exercise and apologia for sundry dimensions of US foreign policy goals and action. In fact, it is almost biblical in its self-righteous messianic tone. It contains nothing that is not already known, but the undertone of its posture to legitimate US foreign policy and action might have carried more conviction had the presentation been more nuanced and less strident. But it is, presumably, intended for domestic consumption and a parochial US is unconcerned with the reaction to it of pesky foreigners.
Yet, this is not a consensual USNSS perspective since former President Donald Trump, who enjoys considerable popular support, disagrees with crucial aspects its worldview, especially pertaining the war in the Ukraine which seems to obsess authors of the USNSS. Prominent former Democrat Tulsi Gabbard has also denounced the foreign policymakers of the ruling Democrats as ‘an elitist cabal of warmongers driving us towards WWIII.
Far from being a strategy that appeals to most Americans and enjoying preponderant political support, key aspects of USNSS, the inclination to intervene abroad, for instance, are effectively the statement of purpose of the US military-industrial complex, which seems to have captured the Hilary Clinton-Joe Biden Democrats. Some sentimental sops on the good life for the hoi polloi, domestic and foreign, have been thrown in to obscure the real purport of the USNSS.
Doctrine of 'liberal hegemony'
The US National Security Strategy begins with a ringing reaffirmation of an ideological validation of US foreign policy strategy and goals, what is described in polite company as the doctrine of liberal hegemony. This strategy has already been decried by leading Chicago international relations scholar John Mearsheimer and others as unrealistic and a failure because the world cannot be remade in the image of the US. The entire document continually portrays routine power struggles as an historic conflict between good, which is liberal democracy and evil, coercive autocracies. It is an echo of an influential progenitor of US foreign policy, Theodor Roosevelt, the early twentieth century 26th President of the US, who had adapted a version of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny to argue in favour of an imperialist US foreign policy, an ambition of primacy and through the use of military force; significantly, this scholarly strategic thinker politician recalled his formative experience as personal combat in the genocidal Indian wars.
Of course both the document that supposedly affirms the doctrine of supposed liberal hegemony and its critics are being rather economical with the truth since the US has neither sought to promote democracy and prosperity abroad or veered from what it judges to be in its limited national interest. The claim of the legitimacy of democracy at home to pursue the foreign policies enumerated in the USNSS can also be contested since, at the very least, the US is deeply divided at home about the direction their country should take. At worst, the US is an oligarchy that pays scant attention to the aspirations of most of its citizens, as a major Princeton study has recently concluded.
There is a shopping list of issues highlighted in the strategy document that includes cooperation with allies on shared goals like mitigating climate change, ensuring food security and combating terrorism and dealing with the Covid pandemic. Somewhat ominously from an Indian perspective the US simultaneously seeks to uphold the principles of self- determination and territorial integrity though they might conflict in reality. It speaks glowingly of upholding human rights abroad and pursuing equality at home, but the first is an unconvincing deceit, the second an aspiration at best, with the US replete with persistent racially motivated killings of black citizens and uncontrolled gun violence against the innocent.
The strategy grandly announces that the domestic sphere and foreign engagement are interdependent, but exhibiting sudden awareness of this obvious reality is suggestive of unfathomable ignorance since their symbiosis has long been recognised. However, it lists prevailing US economic weaknesses, including national infrastructure and the need to maintain or achieve primacy in a host of economic and technological sectors, from microelectronics and advanced computing to biotechnologies through public investment.
Ambitious programmes, but where are the funds?
The wish list also includes the aspiration to fund public investment in everything from clean drinking water and improved health care to climate change and promoting STEM education. The vast projected amounts to be spent to implement these goals make no mention of the unsustainable level of the current US debt to GDP ratio. Oddly, a specific mention of artificial intelligence, with its momentous potential, in which China is stealing a march, is missing.
There is a summary in the USNSS of a whole array of international and regional agreements on commerce and security intended to advance the interests of US and its partners across the world. US intentions are apparently benign, but so remote are the prospects of overcoming enormous challenges to achieve them that only a sense of a religious fervour remains reading the plans and international agreements.
The rest of the strategy document is a one-sided rehearsal of a litany of US complaints about the failings of other countries, which virtually no one will find persuasive, with the US’s own foreign policy miscalculations defended with barely concealed indignation.
There is detailed outline of the contours of a defence policy that promises a lethal military strategy on land, sea, air and space, to deter adversaries though, once again, questions loom large about their funding by a US deeply in debt. The Integrated Defense Strategy also proposes intervention to pre-empt rivals from trying to take advantage by engaging in the subterfuge of keeping their hostile actions just below the threshold of actual combat. There is a recognizable hint reiterating a policy of interventionism and potential regime change that have become commonplace in recent times. The National Defense Strategy emphatically prioritises the goal of a Defense Industrial Base for the US and its allies though it is unclear how the implied greater self-sufficiency in weapons production abroad will impact the very lucrative export of US armaments.
There is recognition that globalisation, which brought benefits, is also becoming problematic and the document pronounces a need for newer forms of international commercial engagement. It acknowledges the adverse impact of international trade and commerce on American workers. However, it does not explicitly identify the problematic theoretical underpinnings of historical conventional trade relations or the specific problems associated with global financial integration.
The contemporary US resort to negotiated bilateral and regional trade pacts that go beyond conventional free trade is highlighted. In addition, there is grudging acceptance of modest transnational taxation and the promotion of a global infrastructure fund, which is evidently aimed at rivalling China’s belt and road initiative. However, there is no admission that it was a US geopolitical calculus that allowed China play fast and loose with unashamed mercantilist policies that have caused grievous harm to the US economy and brought about the current predicament of an economically militarily empowered China.
The USNSS reiterates familiar homilies on climate and energy security without really evaluating the hard specifics of US domestic and international policy in these areas. The war in the Ukraine, which the US unconscionably sponsored, has destroyed global energy security and brought many countries to the brink of unprecedented catastrophe, not least its closest allies, jeopardising the future of NATO itself in the bargain. The discussion on pandemics and biodefense fails to tell you anything approximating the scandalous and criminal truth about the Covid-19 pandemic, which we now know was the outcome of joint Sino-American bio-warfare research in Wuhan. There is much more impending disclosure about US bio warfare labs across Ukraine and their investigation is currently ongoing. Global food security has been seriously undermined by the war in the Ukraine and indifference to its role and Russia’s in the international food supply and production chain.
Hypocrisy on nuclear non-proliferation
The less said about US arms control and anti-terrorism policies, about which the USNSS waxes eloquently, the better. Unfortunately, that reality is a grim tale of two-faced US hypocrisy that should make everyone wary of assurances from it on such matters or indeed any expression of good faith. If the US has now abandoned its decades-old policy trajectory of engaging in WMD proliferation it should admit mistakes of the past, but that is not what is happening. The US policy of allowing WMD proliferation began in the late 1980s and anyone looking for a succinct summary of the appalling facts should google a copy of the London Guardian of 13th October 2007 and read the tragic story of a young CIA analyst, Richard Barlow. Instead of taking immediate action to stop the export of WMD nuclear components to Pakistan, which the young analyst uncovered with reams of supporting evidence, Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense under George Bush Sr. facilitated aircraft sales to Pakistan to ensure it could deliver a nuclear bomb.
It is a policy that remained unchanged almost a decade later under the watch of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, when George Bush Jnr. was President, with Dick Cheney as Vice President and Donald Rumsfeld Secretary of Defense. Richard Barlow was condemned as insane by the authorities and had his life destroyed by the CIA and the Department of Defence. Richard Barlow, who had ended up living impoverished in a mobile home, only recovered a modicum of dignity much later when the courts vindicated him. But Pakistan’s nuclear programme went from strength to strength and it too proliferated merrily, in turn, with a retail service for potential customers of nuclear technology. India’s own nuclear 1998 nuclear tests succeeded in exposing the truth of Pakistan’s existing nuclear capabilities and arsenal because it tested a nuclear device immediately after India did.
Pakistan’s nuclear capable F-16 delivery systems are soon to be refurbished again by a Biden administration, determined to rehabilitate it, so terrorism against India can be intensified by using its enhanced nuclear prowess as a cover. This criminal act of proliferation was a Sino-American venture, with German and Dutch support, to secure Pakistan against alleged regional bully India and there is every suspicion that such reasoning has been resuscitated in recent weeks. Even more alarming, there are grounds for suspicion that the US is engaged in nuclear brinkmanship in the Ukraine by attempting to devise a false flag scenario, the endpoint of which is unknown to all parties involved. Countries around the world must draw on their own conclusions about how they should organise their own defense against the dangers posed by US proliferation policies.
Patronage of terrorist groups
As far as terrorism is concerned, the patronage of assorted terrorist groups for multiple foreign policy purposes is standard US practice. Although such sponsorship of armed groups has much older provenance, for example, their use in Latin and Central America, it really came into its own in Afghanistan. But Al Qaeda, created by the CIA, proved to be a doubled-edged sword since it returned to haunt the US in the ghastly blowback of 9/11. But like British insouciance over the mass murder of innocent teenagers in the Manchester Arena, US elites evidently consider the price worth paying because it advances the interest of the US military-industrial complex in perpetuating a state of permanent warfare.
There is also a conspiracy of silence to obscure US patronage of the murderous terrorists of the ISIS, who enslaved countless women and executed en masse with the full knowledge of the CIA, but were still found useful against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. More shocking is the allegation of retired US military personnel of the dispatch of ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorists by the CIA to the frontline in the Ukraine in order to fight Russia, on quoted monthly salaries of $1,200. In this context, the relentless US media denunciation of any Indian judicial action against known supporters of terrorism is simply menacing confirmation that terrorism will always remain a useful instrument in the US foreign policy arsenal.
Other sections of the USNSS highlight issues of organised crime, the imperative of combating corruption and attention to heightened cyber security. The need for technological solutions to the problems identified is reiterated and administrative reforms, for example in the State Department, are also proposed to improve execution of delivery. The issue of partnership with friends and allies is also affirmed with specific agendas for different regions. The stated wish is to support peace, tranquillity and the socioeconomic development of various regions, like Africa and the Middle East and more purposeful cooperation with Europe.
Why a fresh trajectory of such US policy goals in the developing world will succeed required fuller analyses of specific existing imponderables, often the product of failed earlier US intervention. In the case of Europe, the war in the Ukraine and its intolerable costs for its citizens now ensures cooperation across the Atlantic is more problematic and might be prompting a searching reappraisal among Europeans themselves. The Indo Pacific region’s contemporary vital significance is underlined because of the rivalry with the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) and accounts for the outreach to India though apparently with reservations about its steadfastness.
The conflict with Russia and the PRC are the underlying rationale for much of the USNSS and others goals, like peace and development for all, really an unavoidable afterthought, to persuade others to comply with US political injunctions. All other policy goals, like domestic industrial and technological renewal, through a portfolio of publicly-funded projects and various dimensions of international cooperation are subsidiary to the larger goals of US foreign policy. These are the elimination of Russia as a great power and an attempt to breakup it up and then proceeding to combating the irresistible rise of China.
'Good vs Evil', once again
However, the USNSS depiction of the war in the Ukraine is devoid of serious analytical content and portrayed as a conflict between good and evil, in keeping with biblical undertone of the USNSS. There is absolutely no mention of the prolonged engagement of Russia with the US and NATO over the issue, dating back to at least 2008 and indeed earlier. Such a grossly flawed US perspective makes resolution of the conflict at the negotiating table that much more difficult though, presumably, policy U-turns can always be accommodated with suitable spin.
But it remains somewhat amazing that the US timed the onset of war in Europe before the world had recovered from the ravages of Covid, which is a firm indication that all the gushing paeans to building a new Jerusalem for all is cynical dissimulation.
The competition with China is a case of the US having shot itself in the foot since it endeavoured mightily to build it up as a bulwark against the USSR and nor did it pause after that allegedly evil empire had perished in 1991. The US had even once helped secure China’s second-strike nuclear weapons’ capability in the 1970s against a potential Soviet first-strike. It then proceeded to open its markets to Chinese manufacturers, encouraged US MNEs to relocate their production to China and turned a blind eye to massive theft of US intellectual property. And China took full advantage and proved extremely adept at doing so and the barn door was closed too late. By the time the US woke up, China had acquired the ability to sustain its technological advance virtually independently, having successfully nurtured its infant domestic technological proficiency with stolen intellectual property.
In the meantime, US manufacturing had been decimated and corporate greed persists because China retains insuperable cost advantages over the rest of the world, given the scale of its production facilities and the still moderate cost of skilled Chinese labour. Dealing with the Middle Kingdom in the Indo Pacific region has now become an extraordinarily demanding prospect which the economically impoverished, indebted and politically divided US will be extremely hard put to prosecute successfully as a goal. The likeliest outcome will the emergence of a condominium in the Indo Pacific with US Asian partners left holding a very raucous baby. Taiwan is a critical issue owing to its vital geopolitical location and neither party will easily give up claims to it. This a potentially very dangerous flashpoint and rational policy calculus, in the event of a direct Sino-US standoff, portends real danger for the rest of the world.
In conclusion, from an Indian perspective, there is little food for thought in the USNSS except one might note US commitment to self-determination at the very outset, which is but a prelude to regime change to promote it. A similar pro forma espousal of human rights in the USNSS has always been a useful tool for harassing recalcitrant governments as well. The restated commitment to a rules-based international order is mere lip service since the US only upholds it in the breach, most egregiously in the invasion of Iraq on fabricated grounds. India will have to find a way to navigate around US whims and fancies with all the diplomatic skill it can muster. It can neither swallow nor spit out the predatory danger, in the shape of a frenemy, circling around it. It must hope to achieve the goals of atmanirbhar Bharat (before self-reliant India) the moment it faces a challenge to its sovereignty as a nation and integrity as a civilisation.
All $ = USD
(Dr. Gautam Sen taught international political economy at the London School of Economics for over two decades.)