A National Security Strategy for the New Administration

A National Security Strategy for the New Administration

A recent report from the Brookings Institution describes a national security strategy for the Trump administration. President Donald Trump is obligated to create a national security strategy, and Dr. Nadia Schadlow, a former member of the Defense Policy Board probably will draft the strategy for Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the president's national security advisor. Both would benefit from reading this Brookings report.

The U.S. should seriously increase its efforts to “build and lead an international order composed of security alliances, international institutions, and economic openness, to advance the causes of freedom, prosperity, and peace,” argue the authors of the report Building “Situations of Strength” A National Security Strategy for the United States .

According to the report: “Vladimir Putin's vision of international order is fundamentally at odds with the interests of the United States. China is seeking preeminence in East Asia and a weakening of the U.S. alliance system. Beset by crises, America's European allies have become more inwardly focused but they remain … supportive of U.S. leadership. America's East Asian allies and partners … want greater U.S. engagement … America's Middle Eastern allies … all want greater U.S. engagement in the their region.”

The authors assert: “The United States must adjust its strategy to account for the fact that the world is more geopolitically competitive. America's [must] devise a set of integrated regional strategies.” The report says these strategies must be guides by eight principles:

  • Understand the competitive nature of the challenge.
  • Restore trust with allies.
  • Deter revisionism that threatens the international order.
  • Distinguish between revisionism and legitimate aspirations.
  • Create and deploy leverage in U.S. diplomacy.
  • Deal with the most imminent direct threats to America: Islamist terrorism, North Korea.
  • Develop strategies that are resilient against uncertainty and share a common purpose.
  • Recognize that climate change is a geopolitical issue.

The authors delineate specific strategies for dealing with Europe, the Asia-Pacific, and the Middle East and argue persuasively America must implement this strategy using its “military, diplomatic, and economic power” making sound, specific recommendations for each of those strategic tools.

For example, America must “preserve a preponderance of power and America's military edge.” Brookings scholars offer feasible and practical advice on how this should be done. Regarding diplomacy, the authors advise building “situations of strength” with “allies and partners before negotiating with rivals.” Recognizing the essential nature of economic power they advise expecting and preparing “for a new international financial crisis.” They assert “a strong national economy requires a strong global economy. Make economic diplomacy more ambitious by tackling the numerous fault lines and problems in the global economy that directly and detrimentally impact the United States and American workers.”

Though U.S. presidents are required by the Goldwater-Nichols Act (1986) to regularly produce a national security strategy that communicates to Congress and the American people their strategic vision and how they intends to achieve that vision while promoting and protecting U.S. interests, Congress, has not always enforced the demands of the legislation. President Ronald Reagan signed a national security strategy document in 1977 and 1978. President George H.W. Bush published four (all drafted by then-Col. Michael Hayden, USAF, under the supervision of Brent Scowcroft). President Bill Clinton had enormous difficulty producing his first such document, and produced eight. President George W. Bush produced only two, and his first strategy stated U.S. willingness to attack adversaries “preemptively” based on threats, which caused a global stir. President Barack Obama's (and George W. Bush's) national security strategies were short and flaccid.

The Brookings report is about the same length as Reagan's documents and more than four times the length's of Obama's. There is substantial meat on its bones, and every person in the president's cabinet should read all of it.