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US National Security Strategy: Facta, Non Verba

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Shehab Al-Makahleh

By using a geostrategic approach that combines old rhetoric with the status quo, US President Trump’s new “National Security Strategy” (NSS) which was published on December 18, 2017, seems to raise many questions that match the number of answers he provides on how his administration conducts foreign policy especially from the viewpoint of the Great Middle East countries, Russia and China as well as North Korea which are very interested in the new NSS for being decisive for their future. The new NSS hinges on the American National Security Policy for 1940s though the present one focuses more on the economic factor, military power competition compared to pre-Trump administrations.

The good news is that this view avoids isolationism at a time it seems to correct some impurities and illuminate some of the ambiguities of modern US foreign policy, either by stressing the dangers of China and Russia, by not emphasizing global “good deeds”, or by rejecting the idea that the universal triumph of liberal values ​​is inevitable. Thus, Trump’s NSS document explicitly singles out “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence”.

However, the NSS has not been able to answer some questions:  Is there a global order that contributes more than American interests, it the world order wroth defending it?

Unlike former NSS, there is a conviction that the new “strategy” emanates from the president himself, making it far more important than those documents that have been issued irregularly. Trump had repeatedly raised questions about the essential content of American involvement in international affairs. Each national security strategy must answer two key questions: What is the central vision of American role in the world? What tools and policies should be used to strengthen this vision? This NSS reflects more nationalist view as it poses “America first” compared to previous policy documents with less national tone. Trump’s NSS plainly stresses the conventional American role and reaction to vital US interests and those of the international community.

The answer to these questions lies in what Trump refrained from commenting on. Previous American President Barack Obama’s administration has issued two different documents on the NSS in 2010 and 2015; however, it has maintained the following language to describe American main national interests which is “an international norm-based system provided by the US leadership to promote peace, security and opportunity through stronger cooperation to address global challenges”. This does not exist in Trump’s policy document.

Thus, the organizational vision of the new NSS does not appear to be a global but rather a view from the 19th century which represents the view of one of the Great Powers in that epoch. In other words, the new NSS is based on the 19th century mentality to compete for power as a fundamental continuity for the USA to be a leading country. This way of thinking sounds which suggests more globalization appears to be in one of the four pillars of the document: to “push the US influence forward,” “to turn the American influence in the world as a positive force for the sake of achieving peace, prosperity and society progress, “to establish partnerships with those who share aspirations for freedom and prosperity with the USA” and “to ally with those whom the US considers a great force and a positive addition to its policy worldwide”.

As per analysis and prognosis of the NSS, the present American policy shows that America will be facing 3 key rivals in the world: First, military and economic rivals: Russia and China, second the “rogue states: Iran and North Korea, and transnational groups and organisations represented by extremist, terrorist and jihadist factions which are all competing to terrify the Americans and their allies and gain more at the expense of the Americans. Moreover, the political conflicts between those who favor repressive regimes and those who favor free societies are also on the priorities of Trump in his NSS document. — Shehab Al Makahleh

Thus, what is required of countries in the Greater Middle East? Those who are US allies such as some Arab states are benefitting from the NSS new document while those who are not benefitting from it such as Iran and its advocates in the Greater Middle East are not content with what Trump is seeking to achieve.

In Trump’s NSS the Middle East has been allotted one short section covering Iranian expansionism, the collapse of states and regimes in the Middle East, jihadist ideology, social stability, economic stagnation and terrorism without giving any way out of the Middle East conflict but leaving the space wide open for further interventions and misconceptions.

“North Korea seeks the capability to kill millions of Americans with nuclear weapons. Iran supports terrorist groups and openly calls for our destruction. Jihadist terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al-Qa’ida are determined to attack the United States and radicalize Americans with their hateful ideology. Non-state actors undermine social order through drug and human trafficking networks, which they use to commit violent crimes and kill thousands of American each year”.

From the perspective of North Korea and Iran, the obvious answer is that these states do not challenge the United States as much as they challenge the fake world order which has been unilateral for decades, and which has been facing a geopolitical gap since 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the Americans have to form an alliance to liberate Kuwait from Iraq at that time which has led to Iranian military intervention in Iraq to safeguard its national interest. The NSS document scored the following as stated in page 49 of the document against Iran:

“Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, has taken advantage of instability to expand its influence through partners and proxies, weapon proliferation, and funding. It continues to develop more capable ballistic missiles and intelligence capabilities, and it undertakes malicious cyber activities. These activities have continued unabated since the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran continues to perpetuate the cycle of violence in the region, causing grievous harm to civilian populations. Rival states are filling vacuums created by state collapse and prolonged regional conflict”.

As for North Korea, it has considered itself under the threat from the South Korean government where a huge American base is located. North Korea’s communist regime has responded to Trump’s (NSS) with a statement from its foreign ministry condemning the document as “a typical outcome of the Yankee-style arrogance” and dismissing all of America as “a corpse.”

To address Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programmes, the NSS said Washington will augment its ballistic missile defence efforts and seek new methods to stop missiles before they are launched. On the other hand, .North Korean foreign ministry accused “previous U.S. administrations” of throwing “all the agreements reached with us into a garbage can like waste paper” and rejected the use of the term “rogue state” against them.

“For U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region, the NSS suggests the strategic importance this region has for the United States. For instance, the NSS signals that this administration considers the Indo-Pacific region the most strategically important geographical area by referring to the region at the top of the section devoted to discussing the regional implications of its “America First National Security Strategy.” The Indo-Pacific appears ahead of the Middle East, which has dominated past U.S. administrations’ strategic attention”.

The most important conclusion to be drawn from this new NSS is that Trump administration officially declares its position and supports two apparently contradictory matters: The pivotal vision that largely deviates from the emphasis of the “world order” and the group of values that this NSS should serve at the international level.

In other words, Trump’s NSS vision lacks realistic perspective to deal with critical matters and issues such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, terrorism, how to counter terrorism and democratisation without leading to the sudden surprising collapse of regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world that would lead to total anarchy and mass killing of innocent people and displacement of millions of citizens.

First published at Valdaiclub.com