Trump's new national security strategy: "We will stand up for ourselves"

By Updated at 2017-12-19 08:31:14 +0000


US President Donald Trump has unveiled a new national security strategy, saying "we will stand up for ourselves and ... our country." The strategy echoed the message of his 2016 campaign, promising to place "America First."

Trump said the US is in a "new era of competition" on the world stage as he unveiled the details of his administration's national security strategy on Monday.

"With this strategy, we are calling for a great reawakening of America, a resurgence of confidence, and a rebirth of patriotism, prosperity and pride," Trump said of the 68-page document.

The strategy from the Republican president could sharply alter US international relationships if fully implemented. It focuses on four main themes: protecting the homeland, promoting American prosperity, demonstrating peace through strength and advancing American influence in an ever-competitive world.

Trump faulted previous US leaders for failing to look out for the nation's citizens. He promised to seek openings to cooperate with rivals, but added that "we will stand up for ourselves and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before."

Trump said the security strategy would end mandatory defense spending limits, frequently called "sequester," but did not mention if he had consulted with members of Congress about a possible bill to end the caps established in 2013 budget legislation.

"We recognize that weakness is the surest path to conflict and unrivaled power is the most certain means of defense. For this reason, our security strategy breaks from damaging defense sequester," Trump said. "We're going to get rid of that."

Attempts to 'erode American security'

The strategy detailed the threats of "rogue regimes" such as North Korea, and said both China and Russia "challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity."

It noted that "actors such as Russia are using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies."

Trump said Washington had to deal with the challenge posed by North Korea's weapons programs.

The document cited emerging opportunities to advance American interests in the Middle East. "Some of our partners are working together to reject radical ideologies and key leaders are calling for a rejection of Islamist extremism and violence," it said. "Encouraging political stability and sustainable prosperity would contribute to dampening the conditions that fuel sectarian grievances."

The strategy document asserted that "for generations the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been understood as the prime irritant preventing peace and prosperity in the region."

"Today, the threats from radical jihadist terrorist organizations and the threat from Iran are creating the realization that Israel is not the cause of the region's problems. States have increasingly found common interests with Israel in confronting common threats."

The document also called on Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorism.

Border security and climate change

"We cannot secure our nation if we do not secure our borders," Trump said, reiterating his long-standing call to build a wall along the US border with Mexico and make changes to US immigration policy. The national security strategy, however, has traditionally focused on US defense and other foreign policy matters.

Trump pledged to end "chain migration" of immigrants' relatives and to close "loopholes that undermine enforcement" of immigration restrictions.

The last national security document, prepared by President Barack Obama in 2015, declared climate change an "urgent and growing threat to our national security." The Trump plan has removed that determination, following the administration's promise to pull out of the Paris climate accord.

Instead, the strategy sets a goal of being an "energy-dominant nation" and says the United States "recognizes the importance of environmental stewardship."

ANALYSIS — Trump's national security strategy:

'Don't read too much into it'


Donald Trump's national security strategy will provide little guidance, Julianne Smith, a former White House adviser has told DW. Instead, adversaries and allies will wonder whether the president's tweets aren't more crucial.

Q: President Donald Trump apparently wanted to give some weight to his Congressionally-mandated national security strategy since, unlike his most recent predecessors, he not only chose to present it himself, but did so in his first year in office. But how reflective is the outlined strategy with the speech he gave on Monday, especially the first half, which sounded like a campaign speech, and also with his practice to routinely conduct foreign policy by tweet?

Julianne Smith: First, it appears he is most interested in using the strategy to tick off his list of accomplishments. He is very focused, and he has been from the start, on delivering achievements and accomplishments to his base.

He is intent on taking everything he promised during the campaign and claiming he delivered on those promises, whether there is real truth in it or not. So much of the speech today seemed reserved for campaigning for himself in 2020. But the other thing that is interesting is that many of the aspects inside the strategy do not reflect what we have been hearing from the president personally in his almost daily Twitter feed.

Many of the core pillars, for instance emphasis on allies and alliances, are not reflected in what the president has told us since he started tweeting not just year ago, but during the campaign as well.

The emphasis on the rule of law, on pushing back on authoritarian leaders, on promoting democracy, these don't seem to be themes that the president talks about at all. Climate change was mentioned sparingly, almost not at all. But this is a president who doesn't believe in climate change and he told us that on countless occasions.

So it feels disconnected from the realities of where the president sits on many of these issues. So many of our allies and adversaries are going to be left wondering what's the ground truth? Should they be in fact only watch the tweets of President Trump or should they take this document as a signal for what's to come in presidential priorities and policies of the future?

Q: Let's talk about some of those disconnections. On NATO, Trump again reiterated his claim that many members were delinquent in their payments while his strategy emphasizes the importance of alliances. How do you make sense of that?

Julianne Smith: From day one he has been very intent on persuading his base and people in his own party that he alone has succeeded in getting NATO members to spend more on defense. There is truth in stating that allies are spending more on defense, but that is happening more as a result of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's actions inside Ukraine than President Trump's own efforts, although he has scared some of our allies into thinking of ways in which they could potentially spend more. But he is very quick to take credit for that.

The strategy does not talk about burden sharing and leveling out across an alliance like NATO, but it does stress the fundamental importance of alliances which again is not a point which the president makes himself. You never get the impression in his own free wheeling remarks that he is someone who fundamentally appreciates the utility of alliances and institutions that make up the rules-based order. Instead, he seems to doubt their value and he has supported for example the UK leaving the European Union.

Q: Another area of discrepancy between the speech and the document appears to be Russia. While Trump in his speech emphasized cooperation with Moscow, the strategy includes far tougher rhetoric. How do you reconcile this?

Julianne Smith: That's right. The strategy reflects what [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson said in his recent speech on Europe at the Wilson Center in Washington. In that speech Tillerson outlined in great detail all the tools that Russia is using to undermine democratic institutions and the Western liberal order. It was very clearly articulated and the strategy reflects that.

But it is quite clear that the president himself is not prepared to talk at length about that and instead continually wants to portray the US-Russia relationship in a more positive light. And one thing you'll notice about the strategy is that it does not talk about Russia undermining the elections last fall. It does reference Russian aggression, but it doesn't go into great detail.

Q: What do you make of the role China plays in the speech and in the national security strategy?

Julianne Smith: This was a little tricky for the drafters, because the president campaigned on taking a more aggressive stance toward China and hinting even at a potential trade war. But once he assumed office, we have seen him back off of that. And he himself has noted in some of the tweets the importance of working with China when it comes to North Korea.

So clearly they wanted to say something about the importance of China as it comes to trade and the importance of being more aggressive with China, calling them out, not enabling them to benefit from what Trump perceives to be an unfair playing field, and yet at the same time they couldn't be too negative in describing China knowing full well that any answer to the North Korea crisis will no doubt include China.

Q: So what should people around the world make of Trump's speech and the document?

Julianne Smith: The thing with these strategies is that they rarely translate themselves into immediate policies. Often the strategy is outlined without any of the budget changes that would enable the strategy to be executed. Also, Trump lacks the personnel to implement the strategy. Most agencies across the government are still lacking the top personnel that would see through a strategy like this. So I know our allies are reading it closely, and I know our adversaries are reading it closely, and I think it is a reflection of some people working across the inner agencies. But I would caution against reading too much into it just because, first and foremost, that's the case for all national security strategies, but especially for this president who has been known to contradict his own team within minutes or hours of statements and teleprompter speeches.

Julianne Smith is the director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. Previously, she served as the deputy national security adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden and as principal director for European and NATO policy at the Pentagon.

Germany's public international broadcaster-DW

"America First" might turn out to be rather lonely