Biden Issues National Security Directive 1

01.25.21 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Update: National Security Directive 1 was redesignated as National Security Memorandum 1.

Amid the whirlwind of White House activity following inauguration last week, President Biden issued his first presidential directive on national security to designate pandemic response as a priority.

“My Administration will treat epidemic and pandemic preparedness, health security, and global health as top national security priorities, and will work with other nations to combat COVID-19 and seek to create a world that is safe and secure from biological threats,” the President wrote.

See National Security Directive 1, January 21, 2021.

National security directives are instruments of presidential authority that are used to define national policy objectives and to mobilize the government to address them. They are not published in the Federal Register nor are they consistently provided to Congress. Sometimes they are posted on the White House website, but about as often as not they are classified and are not disclosed until years later.

Presidents since Harry Truman have issued such directives under different names. Under Reagan they were called National Security Decision Directives (NSDDs). Under Obama they were known as Presidential Policy Directives (PPDs). And so on.

President Biden’s adoption of the term “National Security Directives” (NSDs) may cause some small confusion, since that is the same name used for President George H.W. Bush’s directives, some of which are still in effect. So in the future it may be necessary to cite the NSD number as well as the title or date to avoid misunderstanding. [Update: Following the issuance of NSD-1, the Biden Administration designated its national security directives as National Security Memoranda.]

Meanwhile, President Trump issued his own last (known) National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) on January 14. NSPM-33 addresses the security of US Government-funded research and development “against foreign government interference and exploitation.” It appears to be aimed mainly at China and involves increased screening of foreign scientists, expanded disclosure of financial relationships, and other steps. It is not known whether the new Administration will preserve, rescind, or modify the Trump directive.

The fact that this was the thirty-third such directive means that around one third of the national security directives (NSPMs) issued by President Trump have not been been publicly identified to date, either because they are classified or because they have otherwise been withheld from public release.