Biden’s era of ‘strategic competition’ | #macos | #macsecurity


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FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– Goodbye, “great power competition.” Hello, “strategic competition.”

A Defense Department spokesperson confirmed to our own DANIEL LIPPMAN and LARA SELIGMAN that the Pentagon will use the new phrase to describe its approach toward China — explicitly moving away from the Trump-era framework.

“Strategic competition” aligns more closely with the administration’s thinking on China. The DoD spokesperson, Lt. Col. MARTIN MEINERS, noted how the White House’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance specifically refers to “strategic competition with China or any other nation.”

Forget the “any other nation”: this phrase is meant to encompass all the areas where Washington and Beijing might face off — namely, in technology, trade and, yes, the military realm.

However, the document also says that “strategic competition does not, and should not, preclude working with China when it is in our national interest to do so.”

The change is a clear pivot away from language used by the Trump administration, which employed the term “great power competition” as the bumper sticker for its national security strategy and rivalry with China (and to a lesser extent, Russia). The moniker was meant to signal a clean break from America’s post-9/11 policy: “Great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security,” then-Defense Secretary JIM MATTIS said in 2018.

But “strategic competition” as a phrase isn’t new: the Trump administration even used it in its 2018 National Defense Strategy. The difference here is that great-power competition came to define Trump’s Pentagon, whereas now President JOE BIDEN’s DoD wants a different paradigm.

One Republican lawmaker criticized the shift, saying it telegraphed a weaker stance on China that would be harmful for U.S. national security. “By opening the door to cooperation with China, the Biden administration is signaling weakness and that we’re not going to be serious about holding them accountable anymore,” said Rep. JIM BANKS (R-Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Some might also perceive the shift as a tempering of the new administration’s policy toward Beijing, said JERRY HENDRIX, a retired Navy captain and vice president with the Telemus Group.

“Recognizing that we’re in a competition is a good thing overall. It marks a continuation of the previous administration’s policies,” he said. “However, anything that marks a departure of recognition of a hard great-power competition with China could prove problematic in the future, as it could be perceived as a softening of the administration’s foreign policy towards China.”

Perhaps. But as if anticipating Hendrix’s critique, Biden’s team has elevated “the Quad” grouping to the leader level and agreed to sell nuclear-powered submarines to Australia — moves all clearly designed to counter Beijing’s aims.

Whether or not there will be more continuity than change depends upon whether his new tag line is just about semantics, said NADIA SCHADLOW, author of former President DONALD TRUMP’s national security strategy.

“China is a great power, with significant military and technological strengths. It is an aspiring regional hegemon in Asia, with a presence around the world. China has enduring national interests that are opposed to ours,” she said. “Does the new tag line suggest otherwise?”

JAPAN REENTERS AIRCRAFT CARRIER CLUB: U.S. Marines landed two F-35B warplanes on Japan’s JS Izumo for the first time Sunday, proving the so-called helicopter carrier is actually the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s aircraft carrier.

The test proved that the Izumo can handle short takeoff and vertical landings, “which will allow us to provide an additional option for air defense in the Pacific Ocean in the near future,” said JMSDF Rear Adm. SHUKAKU KOMUTA, commander of Escort Flotilla One, in a Marine Corps news release today.

Your host was (briefly) on the Izumo two years ago, and at the time it seemed the ship signaled a new era for Japanese forces — one defined by more robust maritime patrols and, perhaps, offensive operations.

MIKE GREEN, the Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., agreed the Izumo can be considered an aircraft carrier now. But he did note it’s still missing some parts that would make it fully functional.

Still, the test will bring smiles to the faces of officials in Washington and Tokyo, while triggering scowls among Beijing’s defense elite. However, when asked by NatSec Daily, Marine Corps Aviation spokesperson Maj. JAY HERNANDEZ wouldn’t speculate about “future opportunities” between the U.S. and Japan regarding the Izumo.

SULLIVAN TO MEET CHINESE COUNTERPART: National security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN will meet China’s top diplomat YANG JIECHI this week in Zurich, Switzerland, National Security Council spokesperson EMILY HORNE announced in a statement.

The discussion comes just a month after Biden spoke on the phone with Chinese President XI JINPING, and a day after U.S. Trade Representative KATHERINE TAI unveiled the administration’s new trade policy toward Beijing.

The last time Sullivan and Yang met in March, they were across the table from each other in Anchorage, Alaska, in a conversation that turned sour.

He “warned the United States to back off and accused it of hypocrisy. He said the United States uses its financial and military might to bully other countries. He also said America had its own long history of human rights problems and foolish actions abroad,” our own NAHAL TOOSI reported at the time.

“We do not believe in invading through the use of force, or to topple other regimes through various means, or to massacre the people of other countries, because all of those would only cause turmoil and instability in this world,” Yang said.

As part of Sullivan’s travel this week, he also will visit Brussels and Paris, where he “will reaffirm the importance of the Transatlantic alliance and consult on a range of shared interests. He will also debrief his meeting with Director Yang to our European allies and partners,” Horne said.

BLINKEN IN FRANCE AFTER AUKUS RUCKUS: Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN is in France to talk to President EMMANUEL MACRON and other top officials after the fallout over the AUKUS submarine deal. The talks were billed as a way for both countries to deepen their relationship and cooperation following the spat, but even a senior State Department official conceded that nothing tangible has yet come out of the meetings.

Both sides reached a “common agreement that we have an opportunity now to, to deepen and strengthen the coordination across a range of issues, but a lot of hard work remains to be done in identifying what the concrete actions are going to be coming out of this,” the official said.

FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– CAP REPORT ON CHINA-AFRICA TIES: A new Center for American Progress report on China-Africa ties highlights five realities, said JORDAN LINK, a China policy analyst at the think tank.

U.S. policymakers need to keep in mind:
— “Africans view the United States and China favorably.”
— “Chinese economic activities across Africa are not solely extractive and create jobs.”
— “The claim that China is engaged in so-called debt trap diplomacy lacks evidence, but transparency is still a key concern.”
— “Chinese state financing is paving the way for Chinese companies to dominate telecommunications infrastructure development in many African nations.”
— “Chinese commercial activity has harmed the environment in many African countries.”

Ultimately, the United States needs to realize that “Chinese engagement across Africa is important because it is meeting the needs of one or more powerful local constituencies, from the creation of jobs to providing needed technology and related infrastructure,” Link wrote.

So what should the Biden administration do to have more influence on the continent? The short answer is to meet the region’s needs. But the longer-term solution includes increasing Covid-19 vaccine distribution, making foreign investment and funding more effective, institutionalizing a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, and forming an export-credit coalition to serve as an alternative to Chinese funds.

IT’S TUESDAY: Thanks for tuning in to NatSec Daily. This space is reserved for the top U.S. and foreign officials, the lawmakers, the lobbyists, the experts and the people like you who care about how the natsec sausage gets made. Aim your tips and comments at [email protected] and [email protected], and follow us on Twitter at @alexbward and @QuintForgey.

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TALIBAN “REMOVING” UYGHURS FROM AFGHAN-CHINA BORDER: In a sign that Beijing and Kabul’s new rulers are working together, the Taliban have relocated Uyghur militants from Badakhshan — a northeast Afghan province that shares a 47-mile border with China — to other parts of the country, RFE/RL’s REID STANDISH reported.

At the moment, it’s unclear whether the Taliban will hand over members of the Turkestan Islamic Party — the group China fingered for sparking unrest in Xinjiang province — to Beijing’s authorities. The Taliban and the Uyghur militants used to have closer ties in the 1990s, when the Taliban last ran Afghanistan, but the apparent separation means Kabul and Beijing might be forming a friendlier relationship.

“It’s what China wants and what the Taliban needs to provide if it is to encourage deeper cooperation with Beijing,” BRADLEY JARDINE, a fellow at The Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, told Standish. “The real question is whether they can fully follow through.”

CHINA’S TAIWAN INCURSIONS RAISE HEAT WITH U.S.: Our own Lara Seligman and PAUL MCLEARY chatted with experts about what China’s record-breaking incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. Their collective response: Uh oh.

“Beijing can turn this pressure up or down as it chooses, but it is always occurring in a sustained manner towards the goal of reunification,” said ERIC SAYERS of the American Enterprise Institute.

“This is absolutely a wonderful opportunity to remind Taiwan of its proper place in the world, in Beijing’s view,” said DEAN CHENG, an expert on Chinese military capabilities at the Heritage Foundation. He noted that flying dozens of planes a day near the island forces the much smaller Taiwanese air force to respond.

“I think it’s destabilizing and it does raise the risk of an accident, but it isn’t illegal,” the German Marshall Fund’s BONNIE GLASER said.

Together, they all said warplanes heading into Taiwan’s ADIZ at breakneck clips might be the new normal — one that will consistently keep U.S.-Taiwan-China relations at a simmer.

NEW BILL TO PROTECT CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE: Lawmakers are introducing bipartisan legislation to instruct the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to identify what it deems “systemically important critical infrastructure.”

The bill from Reps. JOHN KATKO (R-N.Y.), the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, and ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-Va.) would have CISA “prioritize meaningful benefits to SICI owners and operators without any additional burden” — that is, provide its monitoring and other services to the private sector at no cost.

“To mitigate risks to our economic and national security going forward, we need a clear process for identifying which infrastructure constitutes systemically important critical infrastructure,” Katko said. “Disruption to this infrastructure — ranging from pipelines to software — could have an outsized impact on our homeland security. The owners and operators of SICI naturally demand deeper cyber risk management integration with the federal government.”

Sen. ANGUS KING (I-Maine), co-chair of the Congressional Cyberspace Solarium Commission, applauded the bill, saying it was a “critical first step in reimagining the social contract between the Federal government and our most important economic, national security, and societal assets.”

U.S. SOLD $87B IN WEAPONS: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) report that the United States dished out $87 billion in weapons during FY 2021, “driven by the Trump administration’s more permissive policy on arms transfers and a few blockbuster deals.”

That’s a slight increase from the $83 billion sold during the previous period, and much higher than the $68 billion from two years ago. Why such a high figure? “A big chunk came in November 2020, when the U.S. approved a $23 billion package for the UAE that included F-35s, MQ-9 drones and hundreds of missiles,” the Morning D crew wrote.

The question now is whether the next fiscal year will see a drop or spike in weapons sales. Biden’s team says its arms transfer policy will emphasize human rights, which means fewer systems may be headed to some high-spending countries in the Gulf or elsewhere.

PAUL BLOCKS IRON DOME –– AGAIN: Sen. RAND PAUL (R-Ky.) objected yesterday after Senate Foreign Relations Chair BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.) tried to fast-track a House-passed bill that would allocate the Iron Dome an extra $1 billion, our own ANDREW DESIDERIO and ANTHONY ADRAGNA reported.

Paul’s argument is that the United States shouldn’t give Israel the money to replenish its missile defense system unless America can offset the cost. “So, the Democrats are objecting to us fully funding Iron Dome,” Paul said on the Senate floor. “They don’t want it to be paid for.”

Paul pulled a similar maneuver last week, when he was the lone objector among Republicans seeking to fast-track the legislation to the Senate floor for a vote. But congressional staff NatSec Daily spoke with said Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER will likely put the measure up for a vote tomorrow, when it’ll pass even with Paul’s objections.

TOOMEY SAYS NO TALIBAN SANCTIONS RELIEF: Sen. PAT TOOMEY (R-Pa.), the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, urged the administration not to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan’s new government, since the move might result in the United States releasing $7.5 billion to the militant group in the form of sanctions relief.

“The administration may feel pressured to provide sanctions relief to the Taliban to address the acute humanitarian crisis emerging in Afghanistan. But bestowing international legitimacy on the Taliban and allowing them access to $7.5 billion dollars at the New York Fed would be a grave mistake. We should be exploring ways to help the Afghan people without empowering the Taliban,” Toomey said in his opening remarks at a committee hearing today.

In September, the Treasury Department issued two general licenses to allow humanitarian assistance to flow into Afghanistan. “Treasury will continue to work with financial institutions, international organizations, and the nongovernmental organization … community to ease the flow of critical resources, like agricultural goods, medicine, and other essential supplies, to people in need, while upholding and enforcing our sanctions against the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other sanctioned entities,” said ANDREA M. GACKI, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, in a statement at the time.

To date, the Biden administration has been clear it will not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate leaders of Afghanistan until the group commits to protecting human rights.

— ERIC SCHMIDT, the former Google CEO, is launching a new initiative called the Special Competitive Studies Project — inspired by the Rockefeller Special Studies Project of the late 1950s — to “make recommendations to strengthen America’s long‐term global competitiveness for a future where artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies reshape our national security, economy, and society,” according to a news release.

Joining Schmidt on the SCSP’s board are ROBERT WORK, former deputy secretary of Defense and National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence co-chair; Schadlow, former deputy national security adviser for strategy; MICHÈLE FLOURNOY, former undersecretary of Defense for policy; and MAC THORNBERRY, former House Armed Services Committee chair. YLLI BAJRAKTARI will be the SCSP’s chief executive officer.

— ADAM SERWER, The Atlantic: “What the War in Afghanistan Could Never Do”

— REBECCA WRIGHT, IVAN WATSON, ZAHID MAHMOOD and TOM BOOTH, CNN: “‘Some are just psychopaths’: Chinese detective in exile reveals extent of torture against Uyghurs”

— JULIAN E. BARNES and ADAM GOLDMAN, The New York Times: “Captured, Killed or Compromised: C.I.A. Admits to Losing Dozens of Informants”

— The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, 6:30 a.m.: “Arctic Connectivity: Security Challenges and Economic Opportunities — with ELISABETH BAUER, HELGE BLAKKISRUD, BART GAENS, FRANK JÜRIS, HARRI MIKKOLA and more”

— The Atlantic Council, 8:30 a.m.: “Forging a Role for Women in the Venezuelan Negotiations — with DIEGO AREA, BIBI BORGES, LAURA CHINCHILLA, SARA COHEN, ADRIANA D’ELIA and more”

— The Foreign Policy Research Institute, 9 a.m.: “Examining AUKUS and the Future of the Indo-Pacific — with ANKIT PANDA, SUSANNAH PATTON and AARON STEIN

— The Royal United Services Institute, 9:30 a.m.: “Curbing Enablers: A Transatlantic Response to Illicit Finance — with KATIE BENSON, TOM KEATINGE, JOSH RUDOLPH, MOYARA RUEHSEN and FRANZ WILD

— The Atlantic Council, 10 a.m.: “Pakistan faces economic challenges: A conversation with Princeton economist Professor ATIF MIAN and SHUJA NAWAZ — with SAFIYA GHORI-AHMAD and SHAHID YUSUF

— Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Enhancing Data Security — with EDWARD W. FELTEN, JAMES E. LEE, JESSICA RICH and KATE TUMMARELLO

— The Stimson Center, 10 a.m.: “Addressing Gender in the Arms Trade Treaty Process — with NINO AKHVLEDIANI, VERITY COYLE, ALLISON PYTLAK and RACHEL STOHL

— The United States Chamber of Commerce, 10 a.m.: “Virtual Roundtable with SHARON E. BURKE

— Washington Post Live, 10 a.m.: “‘There Is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century’ with FIONA HILL

— Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 10:15 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Business Meeting”

— The Middle East Institute, 10:30 a.m.: “Defense Leadership Series: Episode 14 with Dr. MARA KARLIN

— The Aspen Institute, 11 a.m.: “2021 Aspen Cyber Summit: Day 2 — with YVETTE CLARKE, CHRIS INGLIS, LISA MONACO, JOHN KATKO, ANGUS KING and more”

— The Institute of International and European Affairs, 11 a.m.: “Challenges and Choices — with NOAM CHOMSKY

— Chatham House, 12 p.m.: “Intergovernmental Organizations and the Future of the International Order — with JOZEF BÁTORA, KATHARINA P. COLEMAN, BRIAN JOB and T.V. PAUL

— Chatham House, 12 p.m.: “United States Competitiveness and the Future of Technology Governance — with FRED HOCHBERG and ERIC SCHMIDT

— The Wilson Center, 12 p.m.: “Rethinking Humanitarian Aid — with JESSICA ALEXANDER, HALLAM FERGUSON, MERISSA KHURMA, ASHER ORKABY and WILLIAM STEIGER

— House Foreign Affairs Committee, 1 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Development Assistance During Conflict: Lessons from Afghanistan — with JOHN F. SOPKO

— Senate Intelligence Committee, 2 p.m.: “Closed Briefing: Intelligence Matters”

— The R Street Institute, 2:55 p.m.: “INFRA: Defense In-Depth and Pinpointing Criticalities — with TATYANA BOLTON, VALERIE COFIELD, STEPHANIE DOMAS and KAREN EVANS

— Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 3 p.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Nominations — with GUY T. KIYOKAWA and JAMES D. RODRIGUEZ

Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.

And thanks to our editor Ben Pauker, who we think is both great and strategic.





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