The foundation of security and defense policy will change regardless of who wins or which party advances in the November elections.
Presidential and congressional elections approaching in the United States, and the country’s security and defense policy guidelines are being watered down. However, not all trends are closely linked to the election result.
A superpower like the United States will also have to adapt to changes in the operating environment. The return of great power competition and technological development together form a twofold transformation, to which the United States is currently building its own response.
United States considers China and Russia as its major competitors, and from the United States’ point of view, China is more likely to be a player undermining the world order. China is also challenging the United States in technology development. Security and defense policy is particularly concerned with technology connected to artificial intelligence, space and cyberspace, as well as 5g networks.
There is a broad political consensus in the United States on these developments, and in particular on the importance of meeting China’s challenge. The line differences between President Donald Trump and his opponent, Joe Biden, are also smaller in this respect than is often seen. There are, of course, differences – above all in rhetoric and in the extent to which US allies and partners are treated.
Even if Biden used a different language than Trump and sought to strengthen multilateralism, a change of president would not mean a return to the former. In any case, the operating environment has changed, and domestic politics would take up much of Biden’s time and state money.
No similar increases in defense spending are expected as in recent years. There is a growing consensus on various sides of the U.S. political field that the country has succumbed to strategic overruns. Especially outside of Washington, many are hoping for a reduction in U.S. global responsibilities.
This development also dictates defense development priorities. The United States has long evaded choices in its defense policy and sought to do everything at least to some extent. Choices are also hampered by bureaucratic rigidity and domestic and regional policy reasons.
In the next few years, painful choices will have to be made. The nuclear deterrent is being updated and investment is being made in new technologies. At the same time, we are abandoning operating models and projects that do not support our ability to compete in great power.
The United States calls for closer integration in the armed forces and elsewhere in society. For example, decisions and actions on 5g technology are a parade of integration thinking, combining security and defense policy considerations with trade and technology policy.
The United States Developments and line choices are also reflected in many ways in Finland: although the United States frames its own actions as part of a superpower competition, neither Europe nor the smaller countries of the continent are left out of the equation. We are part of the whole, and we can strive to make a difference.
In terms of defense policy, the United States has been interested in the Finnish territory, because in accordance with its strategy, the Americans strive to maintain regional stability and balance of power in Europe as well. In addition, the United States has direct defense commitments to Finland’s neighboring countries. At the same time, the focus of US attention on China means less attention to Europe.
However, co-operation with Finland is of interest to the United States, because Finland is a competent and efficient partner. In order for Finland to maintain its capacity and meaningful dialogue, we should create for ourselves a greater understanding of the prevailing and emerging themes in the United States.
There may be differences of opinion, but we need to understand how issues related to China and 5g networks, for example, will guide US action in the years and decades to come.
The author is Director of International Relations at the European Center of Excellence for Combating Hybrid Threats. He worked as a Defense Counselor at the Embassy of Finland in Washington in 2017–2020.
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