By Gerald F. Seib
You may not have heard of Daleep Singh, but he represents an important new way of thinking about America’s approach to the rest of the world.
Mr. Singh has been a top official at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and is a former Treasury Department aide and an alumnus of private-sector investment firms. He has just gone to work for the new Biden administration. But he didn’t sign on for any traditional domestic economic job.
Instead, he now is deputy national security adviser.
That makes him the embodiment of a quiet but revolutionary way of thinking about America’s national security. Economic policy and foreign policy no longer are separate. Instead, the Biden administration, worried about American competitiveness around the globe, is making them one and the same.
This line of thinking about national security already was under way in the Trump administration, but President Biden and his aides are turbocharging it. It is one of the most important but underappreciated changes in Washington today.
In the Cold War era, enhancing America’s national security involved fleets of bombers, nuclear throw-weights and overseas bases. Today, America’s long-term security is more dependent on reinforcing its industrial base, making sure its supply chains for critical goods are at home, stepping up research and development for competitive advantage, moving ahead on emerging technologies and protecting the nation’s infrastructure from cyberattack.
Trade agreements with China are important; more important is being sure America enters trade negotiations in a position of strength.
Nowhere is this thinking more obvious than in the way Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, is building his National Security Council staff. “I’ve really set out to first build up a substantial focus on the intersection of economics and national security, ” says Mr. Sullivan.
In addition to hiring Mr. Singh, he is building a unit to focus on America’s competitive position in emerging technologies, including 5G wireless networks, artificial intelligence and biotechnology. It is being run by Tarun Chhabra, who had been at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology.
Mr. Sullivan also has appointed a top aide, Anne Neuberger, to run a unit overseeing cybersecurity. Ms. Neuberger was leading cybersecurity efforts at the National Security Agency, the spy agency in charge of electronic surveillance abroad. Now, among other things, she will lead the administration’s response to the SolarWinds hack, the broad intrusion into American cyber networks, apparently by Russia. Moscow has denied responsibility.
These might seem like simply bureaucratic moves — the arrangement of new boxes on an organizational chart. They actually represent something more significant: the coming use of government power in pursuit of new priorities.
Take the issue of critical supply chains. One of the many impacts of the coronavirus pandemic has been to reveal how deeply the U.S. is dependent on foreign manufacturing for critical supplies. When a pandemic comes from China, yet the U.S. also is dependent on China for face masks, protective medical gear and pharmaceuticals needed to combat that same pandemic — well, that is a revelation of a vulnerable national underbelly.
Thus has dependence on overseas supply chains been revealed to be not just a security issue, but an area of security weakness. And if that’s true in medical supplies, it’s also true elsewhere.
As a result, Mr. Biden is preparing to issue an executive order on shoring up vital supply chains, including in semiconductors, critical minerals, medical supplies and battery technologies. That step will direct government power and policy toward building up domestic capacity in those areas; that can happen through direct government investment, tax incentives for private investment and removal of regulatory barriers.
More broadly, the administration is in no rush to re-enter negotiations on new free-trade deals, because it would like some time first to pass through Congress its broader economic plan, which it envisions will provide some government help to basic manufacturing industries. The idea is to show that the U.S. is committed to building up its manufacturing muscle, allowing trade negotiators to deal from a position of greater strength.