Every time an American president releases a new National Security Strategy, it provokes a round of commentary on the document itself as well as an additional round of hand-wringing over whether such strategy documents matter at all. The release earlier this week of President Donald Trump’s inaugural National Security Strategy was no exception. If anything, the commentary became even more intense because of the unusual and (it is both obligatory and hackneyed to say it) unprecedented nature of the Trump presidency. Concerning the question of whether these strategy documents bear any weight on the actual conduct of American national security policy and strategy, ultimately that will be a question for historians to decide in the fullness of time, when the archives are opened and assessments can be made of to what extent a strategy document shaped or even resembled the policies that were implemented. However, it bears noting that the extensive commentary and attention that each strategy receives — this one being no exception — indicates that the document matters at least enough for those who think and write about strategy for a living to pay it some heed.
So what to make of this new National Security Strategy? First, congratulations are due to National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and his staff, especially Nadia Schadlow and Seth Center, for the intellectual energy and dispatch with which they developed and drafted this document and shepherded it through the interagency approval process. This is the first time since the National Security Strategy was mandated in 1986 by the Goldwater-Nichols Act that a new president has issued one in his first year in office. Given that many other strategy documents produced by the national security community — such as the National Defense Strategy, the National Military Strategy, the Quadrennial Defense Review, and so forth — take their cues from the National Security Strategy, the timing of its release also bodes well for the interagency process of strategy formulation.
Read the full essay in the Texas National Security Review.