Biden Emphasizes Climate Change, Pandemics Alongside China in New US Security Strategy

President Joe Biden speaks during the 9/11 Pentagon Observance Ceremony.
President Joe Biden speaks during the 21st 9/11 Pentagon Observance Ceremony on Sept. 11, 2022, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Kubitza)

Global challenges such as climate change and pandemics are as important to U.S. security as threats from China, the Biden administration said in its long-awaited National Security Strategy released Wednesday.

"This strategy makes clear that these shared challenges are not marginal issues," National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters ahead of the strategy's release. "They are not secondary to geopolitics, but they operate on a plane alongside the competition, the geopolitical competition with major powers."

President Joe Biden's first formal security strategy since taking office also focuses on China as the most consequential geopolitical challenge while also acknowledging a continued immediate threat from Russia, which has been waging an unprovoked war on Ukraine since February and threatening the use of nuclear weapons.

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    The 48-page National Security Strategy is consistent with earlier strategic guidance the White House released last year that identified "accelerating" global challenges, including climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, and stressed the need to strengthen alliances and democracy to tackle those challenges.

    The plan marks a shift from the Trump administration's National Security Strategy that focused on threats from competitors and called for an "America first" foreign policy.

    Congress mandates that every administration completes the security strategy, which represents the White House's overarching goals and is meant to inform a more military-focused document known as the National Defense Strategy.

    The Pentagon sent Congress a classified version of the National Defense Strategy in March, but publicly has only released a fact sheet. It's unclear when an unclassified version of the full Pentagon plan will be released, but officials have previously suggested it would come after the National Security Strategy's release, which was originally expected in the spring but was delayed amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

    On Wednesday, Sullivan maintained the war in Ukraine has not fundamentally altered Biden's approach to U.S. security. But Sullivan argued the way the war has unfolded -- where Ukraine has defied expectations and staved off a Russian victory -- has vindicated the administration's decision to delay the strategy.

    Russia is "still profoundly dangerous" and so the U.S. will work on "constraining" it, according to the strategy.

    Meanwhile, it points to China as the only competitor that has both the intent and the capability to reshape the international order, and the U.S. will seek to maintain a long-term competitive edge over it.

    Even as competition with China heats up, the U.S. must engage with all countries -- allies and competitors alike -- on global challenges, including climate change, food insecurity, communicable diseases, terrorism, energy shortages and inflation, the strategy says.

    "This decisive decade is critical, both for defining the terms of competition, particularly with [China], and for getting ahead of massive challenges that if we lose the time this decade, we will not be able to keep pace with, most notably the climate crisis but other challenges as well," Sullivan said.

    The strategy also calls for modernizing and strengthening the U.S. military. How to do so is only laid out in broad terms that include keeping pace with China, investing in emerging technologies, working closely with allies and maintaining a nuclear arsenal while reducing strategic dependence on it.

    Within modernizing the military, the administration also includes caring for the well-being of service members and their families -- including noting several initiatives that have rankled conservatives, such as diversity and anti-extremism efforts.

    "We will strengthen the effectiveness of the force by promoting diversity and inclusion; intensifying our suicide prevention efforts; eliminating the scourges of sexual assault, harassment, and other forms of violence, abuse, and discrimination; and rooting out violent extremist," the strategy says.

    -- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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