There are at least five implications for U.S. national security of the incoming Biden Administration:
1. Alliances will be strengthened through diplomatic and military efforts
During the Trump Administration, moves to cut funding and contributions for NATO’s collective budget were taken, causing the United States to take on less of a leadership role within the alliance. While Trump mainly did this to make a statement towards other countries, such as Germany, who, in his eyes and despite their smaller economies, are not pulling their weight. Over the course of the Trump administration, there were abundant changes in alliance dynamics. Trump viewed the joint-military missions the United States was in as one-sided. Instead of maintaining that one-sidedness (and with that comes military dominance), Trump and his cabinet pulled out or at least took a few steps back in terms of alliance commitments. By doing so, however, he sacrificed the position of the United States at the so-called “head-of-the-table.”
The upcoming Biden administration aims to regain that position. This will mean re-engaging with NATO, potentially through putting U.S. troops (which Trump had brought home) back in Germany, and re-upping joint military training engagements. In an article written by Biden prior to the election, he attacks Trump for abdicating the global leadership role, indicating that if it is not us, another country (most likely China) will pass us in terms of political and military might. He says that it will be up to the next president to “salvage our reputation, rebuild confidence in our leadership, and mobilize our country and our allies to rapidly meet new challenges. There will be no time to lose.”Biden also emphasizes not only the importance but the sacredness of the NATO alliance. He states that “an alliance of values, (is) far more durable, reliable, and powerful than partnerships built by coercion or cash.” Biden sees strength in numbers, and the ability to create military partnerships as strengths, not weaknesses. In a time when Russia is creating instability in Eastern Europe, Biden believes it is more important than ever to build a strong and cohesive NATO.
- The shift from counterinsurgency to defense against enemies with high capability
The United States military has long been preparing for a shift in battle opponent. Due to our long-standing air dominance, combat effectiveness, and nuclear supremacy, the enemies faced over the last half-century have been fairly easy to suppress. Rather than equal-sided warfare, the military has resorted to mainly counterinsurgency missions. The U.S. involvement in the Middle East over the last thirty years does not mean that the war in terms of combat is “close;” what it means is that the U.S. struggles with leaving an area unstable and susceptible. By focusing on the Middle East, isolating the U.S., and turning away from democratic alliances, Trump has allowed for newer, more serious conflicts to form. Non-allies such as China and Russia, with real military capability in the air and on the ground as well as through nuclear and cyber-warfare, could be preparing to make a move.
In response to these accumulating potential threats, Biden makes it clear that the most effective way to suppress rising conflict will be through very strong democratic military alliances. If NATO comes together effectively, through both overall military and economic superiority it will have a strong ability to quell the insurgence of strong opposition. While counterinsurgency missions are vital to maintaining some stability in the Middle East, the U.S. must be prepared for a full-fledged war with an opponent like Russia or China (or perhaps even Iran.) Biden aims to “ensure that the White House is once again the great defender—not the chief assailant” of people and democratic governments around the world.
- Many of Trump’s domestic policies will be reversed
At the beginning of his term, President Trump made a few changes to the military policies that had been put in place before his inauguration. He banned transgenders from joining the military, detained children away from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border, committed to building a border wall, put in place a travel-ban for various countries in the Middle East, and, by the end of his term had severely increased tension with Iran after targeting and assassinating a high ranking figure. All of these decisions caused controversy among American citizens, especially the ones at the border.
Biden has pledged to reverse many of these actions. According to the Modern Military Association of America, Biden is expected to quickly reverse the policy effectively banning a transgender presence in the military under the belief that “Every qualified American patriot — regardless of their gender identity — should be able to serve.” Another key aspect of Biden’s domestic defense policy will be to immediately cease operations to build the wall between the U.S. and Mexico under the notion that such a construction project would be extremely costly as well as highly ineffective. How much sway Biden will have in terms of repositioning troops in Germany and entering a new deal with Iran depends on the leverage he gets in the Senate, however, he plans to do both. Domestically, Biden wishes to restore many of the policies held under the Obama-Biden administration, and internationally, Biden will attempt to deter conflict in the Middle East, specifically Iran, and re-orient the mission of the military to China and Russia.
- The prospective nomination of the first female Defense Secretary
The Biden administration aims not only to bring diversity and inclusivity into the White House but the Pentagon as well. Among the leading candidates for the position of Secretary of Defense is Michele Flournoy. Ms. Flounoy is a highly experienced civilian defense specialist who served as the Secretary of Defense for Strategy in the Clinton administration and as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Obama administration. She is known for having crafted Obama’s policy of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, as well as for having persuaded Obama to engage in military conflict in Libya. She is highly educated, an experienced government official, and is expected to be confirmed quickly if called up to do the job. While there are other contenders for the position, it appears that Flournoy is ahead of the competition.
If she becomes the U.S. secretary of defense, Flournoy is “prepared to invest heavily in game-changing technology, even if it comes at the cost of existing capabilities, in order to maintain a credible deterrent for China and Russia.” It appears that she sees the military situation in the Middle East deteriorating and that plans must be put in action for the future of warfare in the U.S. In a conference in August of 2020, she said “I think there’s, sort of, two parallel efforts that have to happen. One is investments that may take a decade to be fully realized and integrated into the force. Another is the question of, what can we do in the next five years with what we have, but use it differently.” For Biden, it is her tactical and resourceful thinking, as well as her mindfulness towards the future that makes Flourney a compelling candidate for the nomination.
- Spending will both decline and have different areas of emphasis
Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump Administration made clear its planning that defense spending would be flat moving forward. Biden has stated that he does not want to cut defense spending. Based on the incredible economic losses associated with COVID-19 to date and moving forward, however, irrespective of the election’s outcome, defense spending, which is discretionary, will necessarily be a “bill payer.”It has been generally agreed upon that this pressure to cut defense spending to pay for domestic spending will be heightened if Biden is elected. Even if defense spending declines only modestly, a Biden Administration will modestly shift the emphasis within spending accounts away from investment accounts and into manpower, readiness, and military construction.