January 10, 2018

To Strengthen Trump’s National Security Approach, Promote Human Rights

By Richard Fontaine and John Bellinger

In a  of  on New Year’s Eve, President Donald Trump expressed strong support for Iranians protesting against their autocratic regime. He added that the United States would be “watching very closely for human rights violations!” The president’s pronouncements have been valuable in emphasizing the importance of human rights in Iran. They also mark something of a departure for an administration that has only episodically expressed concern for the protection of fundamental freedoms abroad.

Given the president’s recent focus on human rights, it’s disappointing that the administration’s , which was released on Dec. 18, gives human rights such short shrift. The NSS emphasizes many familiar Republican foreign policy themes, like the need to deal with China and Russia, confront North Korea and Iran, protect against terrorism and increase military strength—and for those supportive of U.S. global leadership, there is much to like. But the omission of any mention of promoting human rights as a national security priority is striking, and unfortunate. The human rights effort has long been a priority in Republican as well as Democratic administrations. Done right, supporting human rights strengthens, rather than weakens, American national security.

The National Security Strategy is not wholly silent on issues like freedom and democracy. Indeed, a small portion of the document commits the administration to support individual dignity, freedom, and the rule of law. Such good things, however, are cast as “American values,” rather than rights to which all people are entitled. The strategy does make several references to “individual rights” but the term “human rights” appears just once  to warn  that the United States will deny admission to “human rights abusers.” 

Read the full op-ed in Lawfare.