Moon of Alabama — Dec 19, 2017
Reagan National Security Strategy was 41 pages, Bush 2002 was 31, Obama 2015 was 29. Trump’s is 55 pages: Buffet of priorities without much prioritization.
The first “fundamental responsibility” the NSS sets out is:
.. to protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life ..
Micah Zenko points out that does not really do that:
[A]lmost nothing in the .. document deals with the actual domestic threats, risks, and systemic harms that Americans experience every day.
The Trump NSS .. mentions terrorists 58 times, and pledges to “defeat jihadist terrorists,” just as all previous NSS documents have done since 9/11. Over the past 16-plus years, jihadis have killed 103 Americans within the United States, while right-wing terrorists have killed 68. During that same time period, drug-induced deaths have more than tripled, with over 59,000 Americans dying in 2016, while America’s suicide rate has risen by 25 percent, resulting in 43,000 deaths annually.
The Trump administration’s NSS fails to do what it claims — protect Americans — largely because it does not address the real threats and risks faced by Americans. It might be an “America First” foreign policy, as the president contends, but it does not put Americans themselves first.
While it touches lots of foreign policy issues, the emphasis of the new NSS is more realist than the – on paper – more idealistic version of Obama’s imperial strategy. There is less schmoozing about “values” and a new emphasis on “rivals”, most importantly China and Russia.
Labeling those two countries as rivals implies that they are again seen on a similar level than the U.S. itself. It thus marks the end of the “unilateral moment” moment that the U.S. felt entitled to after the end of the Soviet Union. Sure, the U.S. is still trying to set itself apart from others. It just ridiculously vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that reaffirmed the occupied status of Jerusalem. But voting against all other members of the UNSC, including close allies like Britain, is not a sign of global leadership but of a pariah state.
That the “unilateral moment” has passed might have some very positive aspects for the world. The end of a global competition had allowed the U.S. to wage more wars:
[W]hile the United States engaged in forty-six military interventions from 1948–1991, from 1992–2017 that number increased fourfold to 188.
The interventions after 1991 occurred even while the U.S. had lost the ideological rationale of “countering communism” and while the chance of military operations against itself was smaller than before. Moreover, many of these interventions were not successful. Other states have found means to counter overwhelming military might.
The unchecked United States felt no necessity to weight potential responses from competitors. It did not show a “decent respect for the opinions of mankind”. It proved itself to be a danger to global peace. It intervened because it could, not because there was a real national interest at stake, or even a decent chance of winning. The “unilateral moment” has cost the U.S. a lot of money and goodwill, and it brought little gain.
A rational U.S. strategy would recognize that the unilateral approach failed and thus emphasize other means. Real global cooperation and increasing economic and diplomatic power would likely be more successful than military might. The new National Security Strategy does not do that. While it says it “will advance American influence” it ignores or rejects climate change and international “rules of the road”, like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Trump administration in putting more resources into the military and less into diplomatic and economic foreign policy measures. It is thereby, true to Trump’s campaign stance, isolationist.
One can either have an overwhelming role or finesse ones influence through cooperation with others. The overwhelming role, demonstrated by military interventions, has not been successful. The cooperation approach is spelt out in the words of the NSS but rejected in its specific policies. The third way it is paving is one of isolation.
As a global citizen, I welcome this development. A U.S. that again feels limited in its global reach will likely be more careful when it considers initiating new conflicts. It will do less damage to others and to itself.