Trump’s National Security Strategy: A Neo- Cold War?


By Syed Qamar Rizvi.



President Trump presented a blueprint for the country’s national security, a four pillar national security doctrine that warns of a treacherous world in which the United States faces rising threats from an emboldened Russia and China, as well as from what it calls rogue governments, like North Korea and Iran. The National Security document which every president is required by law to produce — offers a blueprint for Trump’s military and foreign policy. It could help to guide future decisions on defense spending, trade negotiations and international cooperation. By any reasonable accounts, the Trump indoctrinated National security agenda is a reflection on Washington’s quest for economic protectionism, realpolitik-cum-principled realism, and Trump’s overriding perceptivity towards anti-globalised world.

“What we have built here in America is precious and unique,” Trump said. “We must love and defend it, we must guard it with vigilance and spirit, and if necessary, like so many before us, with our very lives.” The security strategy is built around four pillars: protecting the homeland, promoting prosperity, peace through strength, and advancing American influence.

Apparently the Trump’s indoctrinated strategy seems a mixture of opposites which expediently explains  how the administration intends to safeguard long-term U.S. security and economic interests—including the security and economic independence of our Asian allies and partners—in the face of Beijing’s increasingly coercive rhetoric and actions. Given the strategic role that the now-scuttled Trans-Pacific Partnership was intended to play by reinforcing the credibility of U.S. staying power in Asia, the NSS also needs to outline the administration’s alternative strategy for securing enduring U.S. interests, beyond plans to modestly bolster the U.S. military presence in the Pacific.

The strategy acknowledges that some players may be both allies and competitors. The United States is counting on China, for example, to help contain North Korea’s nuclear threat, even as the administration tries to counter what it sees as China’s unfair trading practices. Likewise, the U.S. remains wary of Russia’s movements in Ukraine. But that didn’t stop the CIA from sharing intelligence with Russia to help foil a potential terrorist plot in St. Petersburg — actions that prompted a thank you call to Trump over the weekend from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But Chinese hopes this could represent a major shift in relations were dashed Monday when Trump labeled the country a “rival power” seeking to “challenge American influence, values and wealth.”

A new document outlining his presidency’s National Security Strategy (NSS) went even further, describing both China and Russia as “revisionist powers” who want “to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests.”

The failure to get Beijing to play ball on North Korea is similar to how the US has failed to get Chinese buy-in for international institutions and regulations, particularly on trade and intellectual policy — where significant gaps remain, much to the chagrin of US companies. This has been a major issue for repeated administrations in Washington, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said during a talk on December 18.

“(The NSS) seems to reject the idea that we could embed China or Russia in an international system based on rules more or less to our liking,” he said. “So it seems to suggest that the future is one of balance of power, friction, and so forth.”Haass added there appears to be a “reorienting of the relationship more towards the direction of China as something of a problem or a competitor, particularly in the economic realm.”

“If you look at the framework, there’s a lot of continuity” with strategies from past administrations, said Stephen Hadley, President George W. Bush’s second national security adviser. “But the issue here is emphasis,” he continued, mentioning Trump’s recalibration to focus on America’s sovereignty and power, not engagement abroad. “In most of the specifics, it’s not so different from past strategies,” said Jake Sullivan, who was expected to be named the national security adviser if Hillary Clinton were president.

The credibility of Trump’s NSS will turn on how it reconciles the foreign policy worldviews of its “traditionalists” (National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, and most of the national security cabinet) with those of its remaining “nationalists” (National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and senior advisor and speechwriter Stephen Miller). The NSS enshrining the nationalist agenda is likely to alarm allies and embolden adversaries, while a NSS glossing over the nationalist agenda will be seen as the well-meaning handiwork of the so-called Committee to Save America, but not much more. However the talented team drafting the administration’s NSS manages this tension, if and when Trump publicly “owns” the document, we will still be left wondering whether it is Teleprompter Trump or Rally/Twitter Trump who has spoken.

This document, like all the other strategy documents presented by previous administrations, is a bird’s eye view of many complex and inter-locking problems. Much of the detail as to how policies will be enacted is absent. So too is any clear sense of priorities – especially where goals may compete for scarce resources. Indeed there is little on how many of these extravagant ambitions will be funded and delivered.

Some aspects of Mr Trump’ policies already appear to be working in the opposite direction. The drastic cut-backs happening in the staffing, influence and prestige of the state department surely run counter to a strategy that talks of “preserving a forward diplomatic presence. The Trump administration’s NSS fails to do what it claims — protect Americans — largely because it does not address the real threats and risks faced by Americans. It might be an “America First” foreign policy, as the president contends, but it does not put Americans themselves first. The truth that this president as his predecessors cannot acknowledge is that the gravest threats to America are coming from inside the White house.

And yet from a global perspective, the new Trump’s conceived NSS has multiple implications with regard to regional politics and the brewing interplay between North-South dialogue. The overriding pursuit of American aggrandizement is richly reflected from the herein above policy orientations. Therefore, a space of pragmatic revisionism in this NSS seems to be the cornerstone of this White House security strategy.


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