The Trump Administration continues to run circles around its detractors. In an historically unusual move, President Donald Trump will be unveiling his administration’s first National Security Strategy (NSS) memo soon.
Required by the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the National Security Strategy memo is a document that is released by the executive branch of the United States government for Congress, and provides a blueprint for our elected leaders as to where the president plans to take American foreign policy. The concept of the NSS is to help bring Congress more fully into the national security and foreign policy process, so that Congress can more effectively exercise its oversight authority.
It is rare for a new administration to release an NSS document within its first year, however. The move illustrates the seriousness and the resolve with which the president and his foreign policy team have faced a troubled world, and it indicates a determination to change course in the face of the persistent failures of his predecessors.
This is a major move, also, because it isn’t just another recitation of the usual bromides so familiar to Washington foreign policy elites. There are no calls for spreading democracy to the dark corners of the world. The new NSS is a “corrective” to the well-meaning excesses of the last 30 years. In fact, sources close to the new NSS say that it will be “less aspirational” than previous NSS documents—a welcome change.
The principal advisers to the president who wrote the document appear to incorporate the president’s campaign promises of putting American interests first. In addition, the NSS aims to craft a viable strategy for countering the various unorthodox threats to American power that the country now faces—even as previous leaders (in both parties) have either ignored or not noticed them.
Reports indicate that the Trump Administration NSS will significantly address the geoeconomic threat of Chinese trade practices. This is key, because after Steve Bannon and a good number of other economic nationalists left the administration, there was concern that the president would drop his commitment to responding to Chinese economic warfare practices. Clearly, that concern was unfounded. Trump remains steadfast in holding China’s proverbial feet to this particular fire.
For 30 years, the Chinese (and other states) have used America’s open border and “free trade” policies as a cudgel to gut the United States of its middle-class and blue-collar jobs—the jobs that empowered the United States to become the sole Superpower that it was immediately following the Cold War. In fact, in many respects, creating a reliable and effective geoeconomic strategy is far more pressing of a national security concern than even dealing with the North Korean or Iranian nuclear threat, because, unlike the North Korean or Iranian nuclear threats, the frontline of the global economic war is in the once-vibrant small towns of America’s “rust belt”—and unlike those threats there are currently no real defenses to this ceaseless economic assault.
As Robert D. Blackwill and Jennifer M. Harris describe in their incredible 2016 book, War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft, “as a state comes to perceive the geopolitical climate as increasingly about economic power projection and hones its own geoeconomic reflexes accordingly, it may—indeed, should—be the case that this realization and retooling process leads to changes in its foreign policy strategies.” This has happened in China since the end of the Cold War, but only now with the Trump Administration, has the United States once again recognized this primary form of geopolitical competition.
There’s another bit that has been lacking in previous NSS documents—including, even, the infamous 2002 Bush Administration NSS memo, which laid the groundwork for the Iraq War in the following year—and that is an emphasis on homeland security. The Trump Administration led a successful coalition aimed at destroying the physical manifestation of the Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria. They succeeded. However, now, the world must contend with the former ISIS fighters who are returning “home” to the West—including the United States. What will these fighters, now dispossessed of their Caliphate—do as a means of retaliating against the United States? Given the spate of terror attacks that have occurred in the United States and throughout the West since the rise of ISIS in 2014, it’s heartening to see the White House finally take homeland security seriously (beyond describing terror attacks as “workplace violence” or “lone wolf attacks”).
According to the snapshots of the pending NSS that have been released to the public thus far, the most important elements are the inclusion of space weaponization and technological threats. This has been something that few NSS memos have ever seriously addressed. Fact is, rival states are increasingly looking to find the strategic high ground of space as a place to threaten the United States and fundamentally debilitate America’s military supremacy. Whomsoever manages to place orbital weapons systems in space—using space as a means for power projection—will dominate the rest of the 21st century.
Of course, there is also the technological component to the matter of space weaponization. After all, government investment into research and development has been precipitously declining—and it shows. For instance, China has successfully tested their quantum internet and are now expanding their investment into a multi-billion-dollar quantum computing research center in Hebei. This new quantum computing center will be run by the Chinese military and be geared toward developing this new, cutting-edge form of computing for national security purposes. It is believed that quantum computers will eventually replace silicon-based computers at some point in the near-future. Whoever gets this technology first will have considerable strategic advantages.
This is to say nothing of the endless series of cyberattacks that China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and a retinue of other countries have subjected America’s military and private sector to, in order to gain geostrategic leverage over the United States. This has never fully been addressed by previous administrations. Instead, those administrations—from Clinton to Obama—preferred to virtue-signal to the world, over things like democracy promotion and the Responsibility-to-Protect (R2P). In other words, the bulk of past NSS memos have been entirely unserious and laughably naïve about the exercise of American power.
The Trump National Security Strategy memo is not only a hearteningly realistic assessment of American power, but it is also a set of achievable goals that realistically protect American interests while denying our adversaries key advantages over the United States. This is a wonderful change from the last 25 years.
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