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National Security Strategy set for 18 December release amid controversy

According to reporting from Just Security and The Atlantic, the Trump administration is preparing to roll out its new National Security Strategy on 18 December. While the document is meant to guide the government’s national security policies, it is already the subject of some controversy. A Trump administration staffer who reviewed a draft of the document describes it as “divorced from the reality” of Trump’s presidency.

The draft reportedly includes a few “classically Trumpian” themes, including the border wall and concern over trade imbalances, but much of the document reflects the values and priorities of the president’s predecessors.

Kori Schake, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and co-editor of the book Warriors and Citizens with Defense Secretary James Mattis, argues that these discrepancies render this national security strategy practically meaningless and widely ignored.

The current plan is to roll out the NSS on December 18, according to an anonymous administration official. As reported in a previous post, Trump has signed off on its core elements and the president’s cabinet was scheduled to review it this week.

The draft document currently runs to roughly 70 pages, and is broken into four pillars: defending the homeland, American prosperity, advancing American influence, and peace through strength. The principal author is Nadia Schadlow, senior director for strategy on the National Security Council (NSC). She joined the NSC at Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster’s request after he took over as national security adviser.

“The NSS drafters did an admirable job of trying to square the president’s views with longstanding American principles and interests, but the variance with the president’s own behavior is so wide as to make the document incredible.”
Kori Schake

The Trump administration’s NSS “is thematically consistent with many previous administration’s strategies,” according to the administration official. “In fact, it even shares many similarities with” the Obama administration’s 2015 Strategy, including identifying as a priority the security of the U.S. homeland, particularly against terrorist threats and weapons of mass destruction. Other similarities abound:

  • Both strategies recognize the promotion of economic prosperity as core to sustained U.S. global leadership.
  • Both highlight preservation of an open and liberal international order that has often times benefited the United States.
  • And both underscore the importance of preserving core American principles and values.

One passage of the draft reads:

The United States rejects bigotry, ignorance, and oppression and seeks a future built on our values as one American people … an active and concerned American citizenry is the fundamental requirement for a free and resilient nation. For generations, our society has protected free-press, free-speech, and free-thought … no external threat must be allowed to shake the commitment of Americans to their values, undermine our system of government, or divide the nation.

Another section states:

America’s core values are enshrined in the Bill of Rights, which proclaim that our respect for fundamental individual liberties beginning with the freedom of religion, speech, and assembly. Liberty, freedom, equal justice under the law, and the dignity of every human life are central to who we are as a people … the United States will always stand with those who seek freedom … [and] continue to lead in championing human rights.

The draft NSS also highlights the value of alliances and international partnerships, including “enhanced intelligence sharing domestically and with foreign partners” to disrupt terror plots. The NSS also argues that the United States must “rally our allies and like-minded partners … to confront shared threats,” and that by “honing our instruments of diplomacy and development, we will support aspiring partners who want to improve their conditions.”

However, the draft NSS does contain several themes from the Trump presidential campaign, such as multiple references to “sovereignty” and migration. It states that “the United States affirms its sovereign right to determine who should enter the country and under what circumstances.” It also discusses physical border security, such as through “a border wall, the use of multilayered technology, the deployment of additional personnel” and through the use of “enhanced vetting of prospective immigrants, refugees, and other foreign visitors.”

Another clear campaign theme in the draft NSS is the idea that, while the liberal international order has advanced U.S. interests in some cases, it has also hurt the United States. The NSS’s second pillar, “Advancing American Prosperity,” notes that “we oppose protectionism, but take the view that globalism and multilateralism have gone substantially too far to the point that they are hurting U.S. and global growth. Our partners and international institutions can and should do more to address economic and trade imbalances, including overcapacity in industrial sectors.”

There is also an entire section dedicated to regulatory reform and tax reform. The NSS asserts that “significant government intrusion in the economy” and “excessive regulation” have been particularly problematic.

According to Joshua Geltzer, a visiting professor at Georgetown Law School, and previously the senior director for counterterrorism on the NSC staff, the NSS should be viewed

“less as articulating substantive policies and more as offering, for domestic and foreign audiences alike, a language of foreign policy that’s most meaningful to the president, so that others can engage with him on his own terms and understand how particular policies of his fit into a broader world view. That has value if, in fact, it speaks the president’s language and makes sense of how the different specific policies he’s pursuing fit together in his mind. If it doesn’t reflect those things, it’s not clear what the exercise has to offer.”

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