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Peter Feaver on Trump’s National Security Strategy

Peter Feaver recently published an interesting article on the Trump administration’s forthcoming National Security Strategy. As the principal author of the Bush administration’s National Security Strategy, his insights are not to be missed. In the article, he outlines the challenges that are faced by the Trump administration in writing the strategy.

But the team does have some advantages:

  1. A capable national security advisor who knows a thing or two about writing strategy;
  2. A capable NSC staff tasked with running the drafting process; and
  3. Fairly good relations among the Cabinet principals with equities most directly involved.

Among the challenges:

  1. Trump, as candidate and president, has produced far less “source text” (speeches, white papers, etc.) with thoroughly hashed-out stances on a wide variety of issues than any of his predecessors;
  2. What source text he has produced is rife with apparent contradictions (e.g., Is NATO obsolete or vital? Is China a threatening rival or a partner?); and
  3. An administration riven with fundamental divisions that will require either painful policy debates to resolve or artful prose to mask.

And of course, there is Russia. Feaver points to the Trump administration’s relationship with and approach to Russia as the greatest challenge. “You cannot write a credible National Security Strategy today that ignores one of the biggest ongoing current threats to American national security: Russia’s effort to undermine our democratic institutions and divide our nation both internally and from our allies. It would be like writing an NSS in the late 1940s and not addressing global communism. Or in the early 1990s and not discussing nuclear proliferation. Or in the early 2000s and not mentioning militant Islamist terrorist networks.”

He argues that the outcome could go one of two ways: “Perhaps the awkwardness of drafting language on this problem in the NSS will help spur the administration to confront the challenge,” proving the value of the legislative requirement for the National Security Strategy. If the administration does not tackle the Russia problem and talk through its differences, then “it will be painfully evident for all to read when the NSS is published.”

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