December 18, 2017

CNAS Press Note: The National Security Strategy

By Richard Fontaine, and Loren DeJonge Schulman

Washington, December 18 – With today's release of the Trump administration's new National Security Strategy, the Center for a New American Security President Richard Fontaine and Leon E. Panetta Senior Fellow Loren DeJonge Schulman have written a new press note, “The National Security Strategy.” The full press note is below.

The Trump administration’s national security strategy (NSS) is set to attract significant attention at home and abroad. Since the Bush administration’s 2002 NSS made headlines with its new doctrine on preemptive war, most such documents since have been issued with fanfare but garnered little sustained focus, both in and out of government. This year may be different. Given the president’s self-described penchant for disrupting America’s traditional approach to foreign policy, the administration’s struggle for coherence across national security agencies and its laxity in filling key positions, interest in what is meant to be a comprehensive, authoritative statement of America’s role in the world is naturally high.

The substance of the new NSS is an artful embroidery of traditional themes, sometimes cast in new language, as well as genuine departures from convention. In the view of the Trump administration, for example, the United States still supports a rules-based international order, rejects spheres of influence, and supports the expansion of democracy and human rights, even if such matters are described with alternative words. At the same time, the NSS emphasizes the competitive nature of today’s world, rejects the idea of peaceful condominium with a China engaged in “economic aggression,” and emphasizes the downsides of traditional engagement (among them, free-riding allies refusing to share burdens and trade partners refusing to grant reciprocity).

The process leading up to and following the NSS’s publication may be more consequential than much of its substance. Ideally, the development of a national security strategy would serve as a genuine conversation among the administration’s senior leaders, taking stock of core objectives and establishing a common vocabulary and risk-tolerance for those charged with executing it.  Once complete, it should be a lodestone for the making of policy throughout the administration, and agencies would be tasked with action plans for implementing its key provisions. It would be linked to budgets and resource decisions. It would be briefed to stakeholders on the Hill and overseas, bring coherence to a set of administration actors not known for their message discipline, and send clear signals to allies and adversaries about American intentions.

We’ll see. The president could upend the NSS’s careful wording with a well-aimed tweet or offhand comment. Gaps between expression and practice could endure on key foreign policy issues. It could produce a backlash among those who believe it is un-Trumpian, and therefore not actually reflective of presidential policy, or too-Trumpian, and as a result a source of great controversy. Or it might simply be ignored – a typical result for most strategies.

At the outset, it’s impossible to determine the fate of the Trump administration’s first National Security Strategy – the first, it’s worth noting, to be rolled out by the president himself, and to be published in an administration’s first year. This next phase – the document’s interpretation, its implementation, and continued relevance – will be the greater test.

Fontaine and Schulman are available for interviews on the broader implementation and development of the National Security Strategy.

Julianne Smith, Ilan Goldenberg, Dan Kliman, and Patrick Cronin are available for interviews on the NSS’s impact on key alliances and partnerships and views by audiences overseas.

Jerry Hendrix, Susanna Blume, and Andrew Swick are available for interviews on the NSS’s implications for the defense strategy, budget, and use of force.

Elizabeth Rosenberg is available for interviews on the NSS’sapproach to economic competition.

Paul Scharre is available for interviews on the NSS’s impact on innovation and technology.

To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at 202-457-9409 or nurwitz@cnas.org.

  • Richard Fontaine

    President

    Richard Fontaine is the President of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). He served as a Senior Advisor and Senior Fellow at CNAS from 2009-2012 and previously as fo...

  • Loren DeJonge Schulman

    Deputy Director of Studies

    Loren DeJonge Schulman is the Deputy Director of Studies and the Leon E. Panetta Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Her research interests include nation...