November 16, 2020 | The Hill

Reforming the National Security Council to Confront the China challenge

November 16, 2020 | The Hill

Reforming the National Security Council to Confront the China challenge

Excerpt

The China challenge looms large for President-elect Biden’s national security team. As Washington prepares for the transition, it is clear that one of the Trump administration’s legacies will be its work overturning long-held assumptions about China’s so-called peaceful rise. Regrettably, policymaking entities within the government have yet to catch up with this new reality, so much so that the U.S. risks entering into this new era with a Cold War mindset, and little more than a counterterrorism toolkit. If my previous inter-Agency experience is any indication, reforming the National Security Council (NSC) to more effectively address the China threat will be key to our success.

The NSC and broader inter-Agency process have been on life support for years. The Project on National Security Reform revealed that NSC systems created before the invention of the cellphone or internet remain largely intact. Too often, the NSC’s convoluted process has been jettisoned when inconvenient, typically in response to fast moving crises. Other times, the arcane coordination structure became the source of logjam, and micromanagement. Mr. Biden and his team experienced these problems firsthand when confronting issues ranging from China’s militarization of the South China Sea to Syria and even Afghanistan. At the end of the day, sound foreign policy deliberations by presidents from both parties have often been made in spite of NSC’s process, rather than because of it.

Within the government, organizational charts matter. Beyond bestowing responsibilities, they also denote proximity to power and prioritization. What’s clear is that the China issue no longer fits neatly within the NSC’s structure. Falling under the East Asia Directorate, the organizational chart treats China as a regional, rather than transnational threat. This may have made sense in years past, when China was primarily focused on threatening its neighbors and managing internal stability. Today’s China is a different beast, as evidenced by Mr. Biden’s decision to label Chinese President Xi Jinping a “thug.” There is also no indication that Xi intends to rethink his strategy of undermining American values, undercutting Western influence, and reshaping the world order to advance China’s priorities.

Craig Singleton is a national security expert and former diplomat who currently serves as an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) for its China Program. FDD is a nonpartisan think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues.

Read in The Hill

Issues:

China Indo-Pacific International Organizations Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy