President Donald Trump laid out his national security doctrine in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. Monday. Formulating the National Security Strategy (NSS) is something that is required of every president. Usually, it is something that comes later in a presidential term and is then checked off on the ‘to do’ list and filed away, perhaps, never to be consulted again. Trump’s NSS speech, however, has been in the making for longer than he has been in the White House. Though merely a declaration of general principles, Trump’s words on the subject herald a comprehensive overhaul of national security policy when compared to previous administrations going back to at least President Ronald Reagan.
The Specifics of the National Security Strategy are set out clearly and comprehensively in the 53-page document released prior to the speech. It recognizes that national security is not a concept that exists in a vacuum, but that it is tied to economic growth, law and order, energy independence, and the reality that certain foreign nations can be both potential partners and competitors.
The introduction describes the strategy as based on “principled realism that is guided by outcomes, not ideology.” This is the idea that all nations respect the sovereignty of their neighbors and trading partners but maintains that American ideals are “a lasting force for good in the world.” There are four ‘pillars’ of the Trump national security doctrine. Presented as an ‘America First’ strategy, it encompasses numerous factors within the national security field. Those factors include immigration reform, border security, cybersecurity, law enforcement, economic growth, energy policy, education, and strategic partnerships.
The document makes numerous mentions of Iran and North Korea as adversaries and threats. The principle non-state threats to America, the strategy says, are ‘jihadist’ organizations and ‘Transnational Criminal Organizations’ (TCOs) which engage in drug-trafficking and human-trafficking, in addition to posing a cyber threat. The strategy also refers frequently to China and Russia as being competitors who work against American values and interests. It was also acknowledged, however, that those two countries could be partnered with on areas of common interest.
The Four Pillars of National Security
Of the four ‘pillars’ of this strategy, the first is “protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life.” This covers immigration reform and border security, a ‘layered’ missile defense system, infrastructure improvements, and cybersecurity enhancement.
The second pillar is “promote American prosperity.” This is to be achieved by creating the conditions to grow the economy, preventing the theft of American intellectual property and ensuring that trade deals work in American interests. It also includes achieving not only energy independence but energy dominance.
The third pillar is “preserve peace through strength.” According to this strategy, the military should be, once again, expanded after years of downsizing. The Obama-era ‘sequestration’ will be ended and the full spectrum of military capabilities enhanced.
Finally, we have “advance American influence.” The Trump approach to international relations has never been about imposing the American way of life on foreign nations. However, according to this strategy, the U.S. will once again take a leading role in international organizations to promote American interests and “America’s commitment to liberty, democracy, and the rule of law.”
The strategy covers various additional issues, such as disease-control, working against the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and the promotion of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. This last matter enables America to maintain its edge in research and development – something that is in danger of being lost to the Chinese.
Trump’s ‘America First’ doctrine – as laid out in the National Security Strategy document – leaves nothing to chance. It is a major reversal of the Obama doctrine, which sought almost to reduce America’s standing on the international stage. This strategy balances American respect for the sovereign rights of all other nations with the unabashed intention to allow no other nation’s interests or demands to undermine Amercian security.