The list of issues includes the novel coronavairus pandemic, a resulting economic depression, mounting climate challenges, deep political divisions at home (and their underlying causes, including systemic racism) and, where our expertise lies, a more dangerous world than the one Biden faced when he left office in 2017. Arguably, only Abraham Lincoln, with Southern secession waiting, faced a tougher challenge when taking office than would Biden.
At the top of the list of the global issues is China. We are in multi-front competition with China over advanced technologies and over influence around the world. The stakes — our economic future and who sets the rules of the global system — are high, and China does not play fairly. It subsidizes industries; steals intellectual property; forces technology transfer; strong-arms nations to pursue policies that benefit China; uses military rather than diplomatic means to resolve territorial disputes; and interferes covertly in the politics of other countries.
And China is winning. It has pulled ahead in key areas of artificial intelligence, biotechnology and quantum technologies, and its influence in the world is stronger than ever. It is in a better position today than it was in January 2017. We have made no progress in positioning ourselves to compete with China or in rolling back any of China’s malign policies.
Next on the list is Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has found a tool — information warfare — to undermine our democracy that is more cost-effective than all the weapons of his Soviet forebears. He is using this tool aggressively. His logic is simple. By weakening our democracy, he hopes both to weaken U.S. leadership in the world, giving him room to exert more influence, and to undermine the calls for democracy in his own country, which is his greatest fear.
Putin, too, has been successful. He has widened and deepened our divisions. Americans have been at each other’s political throats over Russian interference in our elections since late 2016.
This is the only time in history when we have been attacked by a foreign power and not come together as a nation. Rather, we have come apart.
The next president will also face a more challenging Iran — strengthened hard-liners, a greater pace of malign activities in the region, and a restart to Tehran’s uranium enrichment program, each a result of our withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and each just the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish. In just a few months, Iran has cut its breakout time to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon from well over a year to only two to three months.
Meanwhile, North Korea has emerged with a more capable strategic weapons program than when Biden left office as vice president. In 2017, North Korea advanced its program via a thermonuclear test and at least three intercontinental ballistic missile tests. The Japanese government has said publicly that North Korea can now fit a nuclear weapon to a missile.
The Trump administration destroyed the Islamic State caliphate in Iraq, largely following the Obama administration playbook, and it has effectively continued operations against terrorists in a number of places around the world. Biden would, however, inherit an Islamic State on the rebound; and a situation in Afghanistan where the Taliban, which shows no sign of breaking with al-Qaeda, is militarily and politically stronger than it has been at any time since before 9/11.
Our national security tool kit would need to be strengthened to meet these challenges. Diplomacy and international assistance need significant investments. Intelligence will be even more central to national security going forward, and we will need to reallocate resources to the competition in emerging technologies and in information warfare. The Pentagon will need to more fully exploit the potential of unmanned systems across warfare domains and significantly strengthen our space and cyber capabilities. Our alliances, a key strength of our power, need to be rebuilt.
All of this is a tall order, but Biden would have two advantages over Roosevelt. Biden would be among the most experienced national security presidents in our history. And Biden knows, better than Roosevelt, that he would need to make a strong case for U.S. leadership in the world at a time when Americans are focused on problems at home.