The Dark Brandon Doctrine
Assessing the 2022 Biden National Security Strategy
In the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine this past February, Biden’s team has become increasingly hawkish on matters of national security. Given the makeup of his team and the apparent shift in who has Biden’s ear, one can argue that the national security may have always been hawkish (by Dem standards) but simply didn’t have the real-world case study with which to justify their preferred policies. That the US tried everything under the sun to convince the world Russia was going to invade Ukraine, while simultaneously being relatively unprepared to take action on Day 1 of that invasion, shows that the team really did try everything that the Obama-era holdovers no doubt wanted.
At some point in the crisis, Dark Brandon awoke and now Team Biden has shipped $50 billion in arms sales in the last year, repeatedly and publicly vowed to defend Taiwan from the PLA, provided enough weaponry and support to Ukraine to turn the Russian Army of 2022 into the Russian Army of 1917, stepped on chip exports to the PRC, and even seems to be coming around to the idea of standing up to the House of Saud. From Day 1, I’ve been fiercely critical of many of the moves the admin has made on national security. The defense budget didn’t meet needs, the Navy still has no vision of its future, too many Obama-era holdovers that still think it’s 2015, there are public conflicts between various entities as to the Taiwan invasion timeline, and integrated deterrence, regardless of intent, largely manifested as a way to focus on everything but hard power. To be sure, many of the issues I just listed remain Biden admin policy. But if we are considering the release of the new NSS as the formalization of the Dark Brandon Doctrine (DBD) under which the above accomplishments also occurred, then in many ways this is an excellent blueprint for a national security strategy.
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The President’s Vision
The opening two-page commentary from President Biden reads more like the monologues of General Shepherd from Modern Warfare 2 than a Democratic politician. The President is adamant about pointing out how hard the US tried to work with China and Russia, and that despite our best efforts, they still decided to be the bad guys. Albeit, these are apparently bad guys we will sometimes still be forced to work with because of non-traditional security problems like pandemics and climate change. Here, the admin tries to have it both ways in a sign that not all in the Democratic Party have signed onto the overarching theme that we still need the biggest stick to bonk the bad guys with. And frankly, the other side isn’t much better on that these days. If I have any concerns, I’d like to say that you can in fact address things like climate security and food insecurity without cooperating with the bad guys. In fact, things usually turn out better when we address those problems without subjecting ourselves to the inevitable coercion and half-hearted, corrupt efforts of Beijing and Moscow. As the President and his strategy document are quick to point out, we have the greatest network of allies on the planet, and we are in a competition between democracy and autocracy…so who needs or wants genocidal tyrants at the table?
On the Homefront
President Biden has talked about investing in the Middle Class and America as a way to secure ourselves at home and project influence abroad since he was on the campaign trail. In some ways, I think he is a little too focused on “Made in America” versus an “Arsenal of Democracies” approach, but as often as he’s tried to up Made in America requirements, he’s also pushed AUKUS and more recently Pacific trade agreements. While many were sounding the alarm over the hollow defense industrial base, supply chains, and semiconductors prior to February 2022, the shockwaves from the conflict and the impact a vulnerable supply chain has had on everything from Russian smart munitions to food security in the developing world woke everyone up to the need for more economic security as a component of American national security. Some stuff in this section is just Midterm Elections cheerleading so I won’t touch on that, but overall the White House seems to be on the right track with this component of its security strategy.
Nobody likes the State Department, and if you do, you’re a nerd. Foggy Bottom is a shell of its once proud self and has been searching for an identity since the end of the last Cold War. Many of the harshest critiques of Biden staffing decisions have been directed to the doves in the State Department who believe it’s still 2015 and that we *have* to work with Beijing and Moscow. Many of those people are still there, but the State Department has to its credit been picking up steam and working to catch up in the Pacific. Putting aside the China stuff, the State Department and USAID continue to play a crucial role in winning hearts and minds in the developing world and we need to put more funds and personnel towards those goals. The NSS highlights more of the same without outlining a true vision for the State Department beyond the usual boilerplate stuff. I like the nods to promoting things like LGBT rights and equality abroad, but this is pretty standard Democratic platform stuff and it would be cool if it manifested in sticking it to the autocrats of the world who are increasingly rallying around “conservative” family values as a talking point against the West. See Kadyrov’s speech about Russian soldiers fighting to save their families from pride parades, China’s promotion of the traditional family and crackdown on LGBT speech, and the usual sickening displays of oppression from the various regimes in the Middle East. It’s likely this will be a political flashpoint for US diplomats for years to come, so a real strategy from Foggy Bottom would be great here.
“A combat-credible military is the foundation of deterrence and America’s ability to prevail in conflict.” YES THEY SAID THE THING. Now put forward a budget and various service strategies that actually meet the challenges you outline in this strategy. Here we probably have the greatest divergence between what I’d like to see in an NSS vs what the White House included. I’m all for planning for the long-term, and I agree with President Biden that this is the decisive decade. But we’re still not planning and budgeting for things that may very well happen within this decade in the Pacific. The whole of DoD still can’t get on the same page about the near-term threat the PLA poses (I’ve talked about that in other posts so I won’t spend much time here on it). Planning for 2030 is great but if you don’t make it to 2030 then there’s not much of a point. You have to do both, and at least some in this administration seem reticent to actually put the dollars, concrete, and weaponry in the right place for the 2020s in the Pacific.
The Power of Glowing Rocks
“By the 2030s, the United States for the first time will need to deter two major nuclear powers, each of whom will field modern and diverse global and regional nuclear forces.” Now, this is actually pretty significant. While most analysts (myself included) don’t subscribe to the argument that the PLA will field 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030, the WH acknowledging that the nuclear landscape is changing significantly within the decade is not something to ignore. Especially when it comes to the budget, nuclear modernization will continue to become a big issue for conventional vs nuclear deterrence. I’m interested to see if the Biden administration does anything more with this.
Competing with the New Main Enemy
No changes to the White House’s stance on Taiwan. I’m fine with this, I’d rather they budget for a war than dare the PLA to start one. As I’ve said before, after the Pelosi visit and Biden’s statement on Taiwan, the PLA is likely undergoing some reassessments as to when and how they might strike at Taiwan. As for other elements of the competition, this segment of the NSS is pretty much a rehash of other sections on investment, science, chips, etc. It is nice to see them call Xinjiang a genocide again though. Sometimes they like to dance around it. Also nice to see the admin renounce any hint of McCarthyism in their China policy. Witch hunts only make us weaker. I just wish the admin was louder on PRC operations on US soil that really do occur.
Russia will continue to be a problem, but 50/50 odds they implode and civil war themselves in the next decade before they can pose a credible, conventional threat to us or our allies after their entire military ran straight into a Ukrainian brick wall. It’s always HIMARS O’Clock somewhere.
Most of the stuff covering regional security is either covered in the above sections or is mostly boilerplate. It’s nice to see the administration talk more about cooperation with African nations and maintain its stance on a peaceful, prosperous Arctic under threat from neo-colonialism and climate change. Space gets one paragraph as well, I really think we need to talk more and educate the public more on the implications of a change to the balance of power in orbit, but sadly the paragraph on space in this NSS is pretty bland. Nothing too special here in these sections.
The 2022 NSS quite extensively covers non-traditional security challenges ranging from food insecurity and climate change to terrorism and arms control. These are the things that deserve to be included in this NSS no matter what many of my hard-power colleagues might say. My book about the future of US-China conflict, EX SUPRA, is filled with case studies of what happens to the overall security situation when those problems aren’t addressed. Resource scarcity drives conflict between the United States and China, unilateral arms control and unchecked arms races make us more vulnerable, domestic extremists become first strike weapons, and the acceleration of climate effects alter the battlefield and strategic calculus while hurting everyone. This, more than anything else, is the real long-game. If we beat China, it might be in 5 years, it might be in 50, but resource challenges, political climate, and climate change will always be here to make more life difficult. To once again reference General Shepherd, “What happens over there, matters over here. We don’t get to sit one out.” The White House needs to do a better job of communicating how traditional security problems are tied into what many claim are irrelevant or domestic policy problems. Or they could just read EX SUPRA.
To summarize, the 2022 National Security Strategy is a solid step forward for this administration and the US in thinking about our long-term political future. The Dark Brandon Doctrine may best be summarized as “Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing.” Biden hoped to be a unifier and a domestic policy president, but unfortunately the world didn’t allow it and he seems to have opened up to the opportunity to be the guardian of the little guy while still protecting American interests at home. The Dark Brandon Doctrine may just be the first good foreign policy doctrine we’ve had since Reagan, but we need to see that follow through before it can be truly judged. I’d still like to see and hear more on how the administration is planning and investing for a near-term Taiwan scenario, because none of this matters if we don’t get that right.
If you enjoyed this article and want to think more about our geopolitical future, are intrigued about the intersection of conflict and non-traditional security, or if you’re a simple White House staffer, check out my novel, EX SUPRA.
EX SUPRA is the story about the war after the next war. From the first combat jump on Mars to the climate change-ravaged jungles of Southeast Asia, EX SUPRA blends the bleeding edge of technology and the bloody reality of combat. In EX SUPRA, the super soldiers are only as strong as their own wills, reality is malleable, and hope only arrives with hellfire. Follow John Petrov, a refugee turned CIA paramilitary officer, Captain Jennifer Shaw, a Green Beret consumed by bloodlust, and many more, as they face off against Chinese warbots, Russian assassins, and their own demons in the war for the future of humanity.
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