How to read Trump’s national security strategy

How to read Trump’s national security strategy

U.S. President Donald Trump announced his country’s long-awaited National Security Strategy Document on Dec. 18. The document, which provided a general framework of the administration’s principles, primary objectives and threat priorities, is important in terms of indicating what Trump and his team will focus on in the near future.

As a stark reflection of Trump’s “America First” approach, the document conspicuously puts interests before values, and presents a roadmap for re-establishing U.S. military and economic preponderance.

While there are departures from previous administrations, there is continuity as well. For instance, the principle of “peace through strength” was one of Ronald Reagan’s campaign slogans in the presidential election of 1980. Reagan, like Trump in 2016, accused his predecessor of weakening the U.S.’s strength and prestige and ceding ground to rivals.

After coming to power, Reagan ordered a substantial rise in military spending, suspended all disarmament agreements pending the U.S.’s ability to negotiate from a stronger position while also launching the Strategic Defense Initiative - a.k.a. Star Wars - a defense shield designed to shoot down incoming ballistic nuclear missiles. Thus, the Reagan era reignited the Cold War by triggering an arms race, which eventually forced the Soviets - unable to undertake economic burdens - to quit the game.

As such, the NSS document’s mentioning of the importance of nuclear weapons in defense and the necessity of maintaining strategic supremacy in this arena sounds familiar. The fact that the State Department’s budget has been cut while the Pentagon will be getting more handouts provides another indication that Trump’s foreign policy will be based on hard power.

One should also note that Trump’s eagerness to pursue arms deals could touch off an arms race that might be designed to economically encumber rivals as well.

Another notable point regarding the NSS document is the near total absence of any focus on democracy. Trump shares neither George W. Bush’s concerns about bringing democracy to authoritarian states nor Barack Obama’s sensitivity on human rights. On the contrary, he says, “We will not impose our values on other states” – something that suggests that democracy is no longer a criterion for the U.S. when pursuing cooperation in foreign policy.

Recently, National Security Adviser Gen. HR McMaster’s comments over Turkey and Qatar’s alleged support for radical ideologies - which received severe criticism from Ankara - led to concerns that a similar statement might come up in the NSS.

However, there is no reference to Turkey in the document.

Instead, Iran and North Korea are listed as states that pose a threat to the U.S., while the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), al-Qaeda and Hezbollah are declared as non-state threats.

China and Russia, meanwhile, were officially recognized as rival states that challenge the U.S.’s “influence, values and economic power.”

But what does the NSS mean for Turkey?

Undoubtedly, Trump’s nationalist and unilateralist foreign policy line won’t just worry Turkey but all NATO allies - particularly at a time when multidimensional global threats require more cooperation among allies than ever before.

But the subject that is sure to give Ankara more headaches is Iran. The U.S.’s hardline policy to contain and even roll back Iran could leave Turkey struggling to maintain some difficult balances.

The document also presents a list of U.S. regional priorities. Accordingly the Trump administration is set to focus primarily on the Indian-Pacific, followed by Europe, the Middle East, South and Central Asia, the Western Hemisphere and Africa.

For Turkey, which has complained about Washington’s insensitivity to its problems in the Middle East, it might prove useful to harbor more realistic expectations from the U.S. given the nature of Washington’s foreign policy priorities as spelled out in the document.

In sum, it’s not clear whether Trump’s strategy document will make America greater again, but it’s not hard to see that his unilateral foreign policies will harm ties with allies and serve to isolate the country…

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