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The administration of President Joe Biden has promulgated its vision of the US role in the world today in a new document, the 2022 National Security Strategy (NSS). This outlines a leadership posture built on the premise of US diplomatic, economic and military superiority on the global stage. The critical notion underpinning this strategy is that US democracy serves as a center of gravity around which a rules-based international order rotates. But the partisan political divide in the US, combined with the growing global multipolar challenge led by Russia and China, makes the promise of US global dominance little more than an empty narrative.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Oct. 12 announced the publication of the Biden administration's long-awaited NSS document. Blinken declared that the NSS
"lays out a vision for a free, open, secure and prosperous world and a comprehensive plan to realize it. This is not just our vision, but one shared by many other countries that seek to live in a world that respects the foundational principles of self-determination, territorial integrity and political independence; where countries are free to determine their own foreign policy choices; information is allowed to flow freely; universal human rights are upheld; and the global economy operates on a level playing field — providing opportunity for all."
The NSS is a report, published by the White House, that is mandated by Section 603 of the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986. Ideally, the NSS is to be transmitted annually, but frequently reports come in late or not at all.

The NSS communicates the executive branch's national security vision to the legislative branch and is used to help set funding priorities and overall policy direction. The NSS provides discussion on proposed uses of all facets of US power — including nuclear — needed to achieve the nation's security goals.

While the October 2022 document represents the first NSS published by the Biden administration, it was preceded by the release in March 2021 of a document unique in the history of the implementation of the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the "Interim National Security Strategic Guidance." When this was released, the Biden administration was barely a month into its term, and the text read like a vision statement — a navigation beacon of policy formulation and implementation for the various departments and agencies in the US national security establishment to use while a full NSS was crafted.

When compared, the texts of the two documents don't deviate significantly in terms of thematic messaging: Both paint a picture of optimism about the role the US — and, in particular, US democracy and its progeny, the rules-based international order — plays in providing a role model of global leadership around which freedom-loving nations and peoples of the world will rally to confront an array of autocratic powers, led by the usual suspects (China, Russia, Iran, North Korea) that seek to challenge and disrupt the world order.

Nearly two years into Biden's tenure as president, however, the NSS reads like a document detached from reality — a vision statement far removed from what is actually transpiring in the world.

Global Blame Game

Blinken's introductory statement only underscores the lack of substance in the text of the 2022 NSS.

Blinken declares:
"American diplomacy will continue to leverage our country's unrivaled networks of allies and partners to build the strongest and broadest possible coalition of nations."
While in March 2021 such a statement could have been passed off as a worthy goal, by October 2022 it lacks credulity, with the US and its Western allies having failed to create anything resembling "the strongest and broadest" of coalitions when it came to confronting Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Likewise, the US is struggling to craft a similar "coalition of the willing" capable of standing up to China in the Pacific.

Blinken continued:
"Together we will advance and defend this vision at a moment when revisionist, authoritarian powers are undermining international peace and stability, and we face unprecedented, shared challenges, like the climate crisis and pandemics, that threaten the lives and livelihoods of all our people."
One of the major issues confronting the US when it comes to advancing itself as a bulwark against the malign intent and actions of authoritarian nations is the lack of narrative dominance — with some in the developing world viewing NATO as being as much to blame as Russia for the crisis. Likewise, US trade policy remains noncompetitive in the global infrastructure development market, where it's being challenged by China's trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

The policy tag team of pandemic recovery and climate change that was supposed to anchor the US diplomacy of the NSS has been overshadowed by the consequences of conflict, real or projected, in Ukraine and Taiwan. Moreover, the core proposition of the NSS — that US democracy would serve as a focal point for a coalition of like-minded nations to confront authoritarianism — has failed to gain meaningful traction, with a pair of "democracy summits" coming and going without anything of substance emerging, and US democracy itself devolving into partisan squabbling that undermines the model promoted.

Empty Promises

Introducing the 2022 NSS, Blinken proclaimed:
"This is a decisive decade for the United States and the world. I am confident that, as we have done throughout our history, we will seize this moment and rise to the challenge."
This confidence, however, sits awkwardly with the reality of the global condition: NATO is straining under the Ukraine conflict, the G7 is being challenged by the BRICS grouping and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is counterbalancing the Quad and Aukus alliances crafted by the US to contain China.

Moreover, the US appears to be entering a two-year period of domestic political paralysis, where a Republican-controlled House of Representatives will play spoiler to any legislative agenda put forward by the Biden administration. The uncomfortable reality is that when it comes to fulfilling the promises set out in the 2022 NSS, all the US has to offer are empty promises.
About the Author:
Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer whose service over a 20-plus-year career included tours of duty in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control agreements, serving on the staff of US Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War and later as a chief weapons inspector with the UN in Iraq from 1991-98. The views expressed in this article are those of the author.