US President Joe Biden is trying to sort out the tone of the Trump administration, but his actions don’t always match his words.
When US Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral John Aquilino spent his April seeking to deepen regional strategic ties, technology was high on that agenda.
In India, he emphasized “integrated deterrence,” a recent US push to share more technological capabilities and security operations with partners.
In Australia, he visited the joint US-Australian spy satellite facility at Pine Gap. The site exemplifies US efforts to expand technology integration with partner governments.
Aquilino’s program was inspired in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an act that reinvigorated US President Joe Biden’s commitment to supporting partners and allies. And yet, Biden’s strategic agenda remains a mix of nationalism and internationalism, embodying longstanding American tensions between techno-nationalist politics and internationalist cooperation.
One of the youngest members of the US Senate, Biden has absorbed the chamber’s philosophy of collaboration, deal-making and mutual benefit. A cold warrior for 20 years but rarely intransigent, he championed nuclear arms reduction agreements and strengthened the post-war liberal order.
Within this strategic framework, international alliances and organizations combine American military domination with economic integration. It proved a winning strategy in the late 1980s. Biden never forgot the lesson.
Despite this, Biden’s team has also pursued some of the Trump administration’s hard lines on trade and technology transfer to China and Russia. And with the supply chain pressures exposed by COVID-19, talk of greater national self-sufficiency has increased.
Biden sees emerging technologies and tech-heavy sectors in terms of jobs and self-reliance. He also fears that a major power competitor like China will overtake US industry and national defense.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine activated its muscle memory: to contain Moscow, avoid escalation, actively support partners and allies, and leverage US dominance in the global economic and political system.
To his Indian counterparts, Aquilino described the war as “a violation of the rules-based international order. It is an attack on sovereignty and integrity.
In a classic study of Japanese modernization, Richard Samuels found that early 20th century strategists saw economic growth and national security as naturally linked by technological prowess.
Even after World War II, policies emphasized relative technological self-sufficiency and dual-use investments for business and military capabilities.
The Biden team’s approach embodies these desires. Senior US officials in the Trump and Biden administrations have found themselves tending toward what might be called “techno-nationalism.”
For Biden, liberal integration is geopolitically important, and technology cooperation is a key pillar of that platform. His administration’s efforts for greater cooperation range from military operations to the AUKUS agreement to cyberspace coordination with a wide range of governments.
At the end of 2021, US officials officially adopted “integrated deterrence”. The concept remains hazy, however, US strategic planners appear to be aiming for deeper cooperation with allies who could help deter a rising China. Technical integration would play a key role in this approach.
In April 2021, at the University of South Florida’s biannual Great Power Competition, a cadre of the United States’ top national security professionals tackled cybersecurity in the shadow of the SolarWinds hack of systems. government, one of the “largest and most sophisticated”. ” already.
Professionals agreed that cybersecurity is an asymmetric challenge: adversaries have a strong incentive to attack systems and infrastructure and face few serious consequences. Policy responses aim to alter the cost-benefit calculations of these adversaries. But how?
Many have opted for a catch-all: “collective defense”. This is a classic internationalist concept involving working closely with partners and allies in response to threats. But the security professionals present at this event only vaguely referred to international cooperation. For them, the real heart of collective cybersecurity defense seemed to be organizing responses between national government and private actors.
In short, cybersecurity is a classic internationalized challenge, but under pressure, national security professionals have sought domestic solutions.
During the Trump years, officials had already been pushing in this direction. Trump himself has paid little attention to cybersecurity, but he has cast US strategic priorities in a distinctly nationalist mold.
In this environment, top US strategists like Paul Nakasone have advocated a “defend forward” posture. This would involve proactively gathering intelligence on other nations’ capabilities and developing the ability to actively counter those threats.
The push emphasizes US national capabilities and American talent. American planners remain alarmed by their own struggle to maintain the internal cohesion of cyberspace. Working with foreign partners, regardless of the tactical and ideological advantages, may remain on the wish list more than the must-have agenda.
Within days of taking office, the Biden administration launched a policy review to pressure government agencies to acquire “Made in America” computer services, hardware and technology.
Another order activated a review of the resilience of critical materials, agriculture and manufacturing, as well as cybersecurity risks. SolarWinds unleashed a cascade of executive orders.
In June 2021, Biden revoked Trump’s blanket ban on specific Chinese-owned smartphone apps; yet the order explicitly reaffirmed Trump’s language about national security threats and the dangers of unmonitored supply chains. In all of these moves, Biden seemed to change his tone, not the underlying logic of the Trump administration’s approach.
Another executive order from Biden set out a broad agenda to “improve the nation’s cybersecurity.”
It included processes to create “baseline safety standards” for software purchased by the U.S. government and to develop an Energy Star-like designation “so that the government – and the general public – can quickly determine whether the software has been safely developed.
After reviewing critical energy infrastructure, the White House also issued a National Security Memorandum, updating and clarifying methods for the federal government and private industry to “monitor control systems for malicious software “. [cyber] activity”, then to share information and coordinate response practices.
For some observers, Biden’s inability to choose between nationalism and internationalism shows that US foreign policy does not take great power competition seriously.
Either way, sensible actions in themselves, each political step to ensure technological exposure puts more emphasis on national self-sufficiency.
Biden and his team embrace international partnership, and US military strategy values built-in deterrence, but US technology exposure is sprawling and the pressure to act is immediate.
Accountable to his constituents and his own ideological history, Biden embraces diplomatic cooperation but often ends up in operational nationalism.