Biden's Global Posture Review long on rhetoric, short on substance
Published: Dec 03, 2021 01:04 AM
 A view of the Pentagon. Photo: VCG

A view of the Pentagon. Photo: VCG

The Biden administration has announced that it has completed its Global Posture Review (GPR), a broad-brush assessment of how the US military is deployed outside of the United States. The GPR is a bureaucratic exercise whose sole function is to inform the draft of the next iteration of the National Defense Strategy (NDS), which is to be published later this month. 

The last NDS was published in 2018 during the administration of President Donald Trump. One of the main policy goals of the administration of President Joe Biden is to distance itself from the policies of the Trump administration. To that end, it took the unusual step of publishing an Interim National Security Strategic Guidance this past March which laid out the principles policymakers should adhere to until the time comes for a more formal policy review is conducted. The GPR is part of that review process.

The focus of the GPR is China and the Indo-Pacific region, particularly how the US will rally its allies and partners to deter a potential Chinese military operation in the region. Two key points emerge from the current GPR, keeping in mind that the it is part of a process of policy making and a finished policy product. First is the Biden administration's effort to frame US national security as an open-ended zero-sum game of national will with a China that has become increasingly capable over the years. Second is the Biden administration putting of the US-China struggle as the ultimate manifestation of the struggle between "democracy and authoritarianism."

By engaging in an idealistic and rhetorically driven framing of policy, the Biden administration has taken a document normally intended to simply provide a baseline statement from which future deployment and posture requests can be measured instead of transforming it into a sweeping policy statement on the need to counter and deter China, void of any discussion of how these objectives can be accomplished. Such broad statements are not only inappropriate for a GPR but also impractical since its process is not intended to inform such policy.

In short, the GPR lays out an inherently contradictory policy position which postulates that tough decisions are necessary to counter and deter China while concluding that no major shift in the national security strategy is needed to accomplish this objective. Far from projecting an aura of strength and confidence, the muddled message coming out of the GPR simultaneously elevates expectations regarding US policy toward China while disappointing with bland recommendations and policy options.

Two defense postures regarding countering and deterrence of China were spelled out in the Global Posture Review. The first calls for the expansion of the capacity of the Island of Guam, a US territory which houses Anderson Air Force Base. Up until last year, the United States maintained a continuous presence of strategic bombers at Anderson as part of its effort to project US military power in the Indo-Pacific region. However, the Pentagon determined that this posture lowered US capability in the region by limiting it to a single basing option. 

By withdrawing the strategic bombers to their home bases in the continental US and seeking additional overseas locations where they could be deployed in time of crisis, the military planners ensured that "strategic bombers will continue to operate in the Indo-Pacific to include Guam at the timing and tempo of our choosing." The recently completed GPR calls for construction funds to enhance the infrastructure at Andrews Air Force Base while calling for similar construction projects in host nations throughout the Indo-Pacific regions. 

So far only two countries, Palau and Australia, have indicated a willingness to host a new US military facility on their soil. Australia, which recently entered an enhanced intelligence and military technology sharing cooperative arrangement with the US and UK known as AUKUS, will play host to a growing contingent of US Marines and will build several airfields from which US forces could operate in a crisis.

At the end of the day, these construction projects fall far short of the stated objective of pushing back against Chinese military, economic, and political activities worldwide. 

This is the reality of the current iteration of the National Defense Strategy put together by the Biden national security team. It is long on rhetoric and short on substance. The struggle with China, such as it is, is driven more by economic considerations than issues of ideology or military posture. Yet, the economic dimension of the US-China relationship is all but ignored in the GPR. 

At the end of the day, the Biden administration may talk much about confronting and deterring China. However, its ability to back up these words with deeds, if the GPR is to serve as a guide, is mooted by inconsistency.

The author is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn