Trump’s national security strategy
Starting from his election campaign, United States President Donald Trump has been a controversial politician, drawing attention with his unprecedented statements, actions and tweets. While he is about to complete his first year in office amid constant talk of wrongdoing and possible impeachment, Trump has already demonstrated that he would not be an ordinary president. His controversial moves such as withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, maintaining ambiguous ties with Russia, seeking ways to withdraw from NAFTA, edging to end the nuclear deal with Iran and most recently, deciding to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel have not endeared him to many.
His domestic moves to wage a war against the media, repeal Obamacare, deport immigrants, give tax breaks to the wealthy and his frequent comments on social media, which often border obnoxiousness, have fuelled controversy. Yet, the unpredictable president has become the new norm in the U.S.
His latest announcement was the new U.S. National Security Strategy on Dec. 18, becoming the first president to publish it in his first year.
The 68-page document, styled à l’européenne with four pillars, i.e. “protecting the American people, the homeland and the American way of life,” “promoting American prosperity,” “preserving peace through strength” and finally “advancing American influence,” confirmed Trump’s election vitriol of America First. Thus he first highlighted in his inauguration speech that “every decision on trade, taxes, immigration [and] foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and families.”
While the meaning of “principled realism,” its guiding mantra, is not clear yet, the document is a clear rejection of the policies of the Obama administration, with criticisms for false premises of engagement with rivals and the inclusion of rivals in international institutions and global commerce. It clearly centers on rivalry with "revisionist powers", "i.e. China and Russia", "challenging U.S. power", "influence and interests with attempts" "to erode American security and prosperity". China is also singled out for its unfair trade and economic practices as well as "stealing U.S. intellectual property". This is clearly a long way apart from Obama’s emphasis on democracy, values, human rights and multilateral cooperation.
The strategy pinpoints North Korea with its nuclear weapons as the most pressing issue for both U.S. and global security. Iranian support to “terrorists” is posed as a serious threat to the U.S. national security, as the “jihadist terrorists”. Thus, without surprise, Iran and North Korea are labelled as the rogue states, reminiscent of the George W. Bush era.
While the document partly reflects Trump’s rhetoric and practices so far, it is not clear whether Trump himself agrees with the whole document, as he was more interested, during his press conference, in his domestic audience and general criticism of previous administrations than laying out the logic behind the strategy. It also contradicts some of the administration’s actions so far. For example, while it stresses the importance of upgrading competitive diplomacy, it places heavy cuts in the State Department’s budget, decreasing its ability to have a global presence. Similarly, while it highlights attracting innovative, inventive and brilliant minds to the U.S., the administration cuts the U.S. research and development budget and limits immigration to the country.
With its contradictions, the strategy is an attempt to present a strong economy as the basis for a strong foreign policy and geopolitical strength, which will pave the way for renewal of American global leadership. Possible music to disgruntled American white middle class, but a far cry from a sound national security strategy.