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US national security strategies and Pakistan

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The United States is a pre-eminent power. Its National Security Strategies (NSS) are formulated, modified and revealed from time to time, keeping in line with varying interests and evolving threat perceptions. Whether Pakistan finds some space in these or not, it is definitely affected by these. The strategies issued in the post 9/11 era are more important for this discussion.

The George Bush administration NSS primarily revolved around application of American might to deter direct or indirect aggression against the mainland USA. The other aspect that defined American behaviour was; “you are with us or against us”. The United Nations and the world supported US wars against terrorism, as well as invasion of Iraq, for perceived possession of weapons of mass destruction that ultimately proved wrong. Unilateralism became an American norm too.

President Barack Obama’s 2015 NSS was different in nature and spirit. It stated, “The United States welcomes the rise of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China.” At the same time, alarm bells were rung too, “we remain alert to China’s military modernization and reject any role for intimidation.” It also expressed, “We are working to build deeper and more effective partnerships with other key centres of influence — including China, India, and Russia. We have renewed our alliances from Europe to Asia, and we are primed to unlock the potential of our relationship with India.”

President Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy (SA) also bestowed priority upon India: “Another critical part of the South Asia strategy for America is to further develop its strategic partnership with India, the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the United States.” Pursuing shared objectives of peace and security in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region were vowed too. Emphasising the need for an Afghanistan exit, he unequivocally blamed Pakistan for US failures.

US Indo-Pacific Strategy termed the Indo-Pacific states “as neighbours linked through unbreakable bonds of shared history, culture, commerce, and values.” It bequeathed enduring commitment for “a free and open Indo-Pacific.” Observations over China stated, “Inter-state strategic competition, (is) defined by geopolitical rivalry between free and repressive world, in particular, the People’s Republic of China, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, seeks to reorder the region to its advantage by leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce other nations.”

President Joe Biden administration NSS of October 12th, 2022 is rather harsher on the global competition. “We will prioritize maintaining an enduring competitive edge over [China]”. It expressed resolve to thwart “Chinese efforts to become the world’s leading power”. Russia is described as an “immediate and persistent threat to global peace and stability”.

Other arrangements and forums to exude stronger influence in Indo-pacific Region include QUAD, comprising Australia, India, Japan and USA; AUKUS, a trilateral security pact between Australia, UK and USA; I2U2 formed by Israel, India, USA and UAE; and Abrahamic Accord aimed at normalising relations between Israel, UAE, Bahrain Morocco and Sudan.

The web of such strategies is woven by all states to persevere, prosper and guard national interests. Analysing preceding strategies, it can be concluded that the US primarily endeavours to maintain its enviable position as a global hegemon, henceforth unchallenged, that sees it challenged by China now. China, however, contradicts such assertions and claims that BRI, GDI and GSI are initiatives for mutually beneficial relations. Nonetheless, the US is overly occupied and is making efforts to retard, degrade and ultimately defeat Chinese rise. Russian invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated the prevalent competition. As a default advantage, NATO and the EU are rejuvenated. Newer alliances are shaping up. Military industrial complexes thrive world over. Currently no flexibility or peace is in sight. The world appears to be slipping back into the Cold War, and bloc politics.

In all the US strategies, India — being a larger country having ambitions to become a great power and carrying historic animosity with China — becomes a natural choice as a bulwark against Chinese rise; hence a preferred partner in South Asia, relegating Pakistan to virtual insignificance in the US calculus and global competition matrix. Therefore, Pakistan despite being an Indian Ocean Rim country with 1046km long coastline doesn’t even get a mention in Indo-Pacific and other strategies, less being scapegoated in Trump’s SA strategy.

Presently Pakistan is perceived as a Chinese ally, partnering in BRI, through CPEC, its flagship project. CPEC offers a solution to Pakistan’s socio-economic woes, hence its success becomes essentially important for the country. BRI is taken as a Chinese means to enhance influence, and CPEC is perceived as an ultimate way to the Chinese territorial containment by the US and allies, if it so happens. The US views SA from global power politics prism while Pakistan sees the US-India strategic partnership detrimental to her existence because of the Indian intransigence since the rise of BJP and RSS.

The US may revert back to “with us or against us” choice offer that may put Pakistan in a very difficult situation. It becomes imperative that Pakistan makes the US understand its mutually interdependent relationship with China built over seven decades. The post 9/11 US policies have split SA in two blocs after Pakistan was lumped with Afghanistan; from Indo-Pak to Af-Pak. The US and Pakistan have been allies and friends, so are China and Pakistan. Pakistan should therefore not be put into making a choice between China or the US ever. Pakistan has very successfully and skilfully maintained balance in its relations with the US and China for the last seven decades, and it can still do. The US is urged to understand Pakistan’s troubles and lack of choices for resolving these too.

Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 07 November 2022.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.


IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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