As Center for a New American Security CEO Richard Fontaine said in a recent episode of the Lawfare Podcast, the word “strategy” in the NSS is something of a misnomer—anyone looking for an articulation of objectives and how to achieve them may be disappointed. Rather, as Fontaine notes, the NSS is a “very long foreign policy speech, a snapshot of how a particular administration understands its global security and economic environment …. [I]ts chief value is [as] a signaling device.”
Reading the NSS on its own provides insights into an administration’s values and priorities, but comparing it to a previous NSS yields even more. How does Biden’s NSS compare to Trump’s 2017 strategy? Is it a sea change for U.S. national security policy, or more of the same, especially on hot-button issues like Russia, the PRC, immigration, and climate change?
It’s important to note that other factors, outside of values and priorities, could animate the variation in strategies. In many respects, Biden’s NSS of 2022 was written in a much different world than that of Trump’s NSS of 2017. One stark example is the U.S. relationship with Russia—the Biden administration delayed the release of its NSS in February, citing the likelihood of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.
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