Press Release

Stimson Experts Preview Trump’s National Security Strategy

in Program

For Immediate Release
December 18, 2017
Contact: Jim Baird; [email protected]; (202) 478.3413

In advance of the official release of the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy (NSS) today, experts from the nonpartisan Stimson Center issued the following statements examining how the strategy will impact U.S. efforts to address transnational global challenges: 

Brian Finlay

“Global rebalancing demands a new U.S. strategy, but this one is self-defeating. It rightly abandons the old constructs of “exceptionalism,” an “indispensable” America, global “leadership,” and democracy promotion. But it replaces these with an aggressive nationalism that will further alienate nations around the world. Instead of seeing more global cooperation to enhance U.S. influence, the strategy abandons multilateral institutions and chides allies. Instead of using all the tools of statecraft, it sacrifices U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance on the altar of aggressive militarization of U.S. global engagement. The inevitable result will be accelerated rebalancing as other countries assert leadership and seek to accomplish what the U.S. rejects  stability, growth, and global and regional cooperation.”
 Gordon Adams, Distinguished Fellow, Stimson Center

Brian Finlay

“I’m hoping the new strategy will resolve the continuing ambivalence in U.S. security policy. The president has supported an “America First” strategy. This go-it-alone policy disparages allies as “free-loaders” and views trading partners as one would view a competitor in business. On the other hand, the senior officials appointed to implement U.S. security policy – Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and General McMaster, the National Security Advisor – clearly prefer a more traditional globalist policy in which the United States works in tandem with other nations to achieve common objectives. This latter approach is far more likely to protect America’s security and help to create a world compatible with American values.”
 Barry Blechman, Co-Fonder, Stimson Center

“President’s Trump’s three predecessors all recognized the flaws in the international order but believed in engaging to lead, including in liberalizing international trade. Unfortunately, President Trump in his strategy will weigh the balance of global engagement versus isolationism and turn inward. This is not good. He could draw on more pragmatic ‘America First’ elements to strengthen the U.S. economy and use that strength to bolster America’s commitments to allies and to engage  and even lead – in many international areas important to America’s own interests. President Trump would do well to note that one’s approach to foreign affairs has similarities to television programming  your show is basically off the air if you don’t engage.”
 Debra Decker, Senior Advisor, WMD, Nonproliferation, and Security Program, Stimson Center  

Brian Finlay

“The new National Security Strategy will signal a return to the fundamentals of statecraft and geopolitics. It will likely bring stated policy in line with the lessons learned over the last two administrations – that America must match its mission to its means, and avoid undertaking unnecessary and costly interventions rife with unintended consequences. There is nothing wrong with a leaner approach to foreign policy that puts the interests of ‘America First,’ so long as those interests are not so narrowly defined so as to render the United States feckless. The U.S. will seek more burden-sharing from its allies, and prioritize efforts to counter competitors, particularly in the realms of unconventional – information – and electronic-warfare. Ironically, a more confrontational posture vis-à-vis other major powers may serve to exacerbate cold-war dynamics and increase the likelihood of spiraling escalation.
 Brian Finlay, President and CEO, Stimson Center

“Any effective National Security Strategy must clearly prioritize U.S. objectives and methods to achieve them. We often declare an unwieldy set of goals, disregarding the numerous tensions or contradictions between them. Our aversion to hard choices was most recently displayed in the August announced “South Asia strategy”. The NSS offers another opportunity to chart out a clearer political-military means-ends chain. To compete better in geopolitics requires concentrating focus and assets, not spreading them thin on unnecessary fights. And if we’re to harness all instruments of national power  including intelligence, diplomacy, and R&D  they need to be respected and resourced appropriately.”
 Sameer Lalwani, Co-Director, South Asia Program, Stimson Center

“What I’m watching for: Is the trade/economic piece geared to more saber-rattling or true strategy-setting? The administration has said it equates economic security with national security in this NSS, and to that end makes ‘promoting prosperity’ one of four pillars. But there are good and bad ways to do this kind of linkage. The more strategic and the less transactional, the better the odds it will contribute to tangible, positive outcomes. And don’t forget: Others  yes, China  can play this game, too.”
 Nate Olson, Director, Trade21 Program, Stimson Center


“When the Trump administration successfully secured support from 129 countries in September for a 10-point declaration that backs Secretary-General António Guterres’ efforts to reform the United Nations, it demonstrated that ‘America First’ does not necessarily mean ‘America Alone.’ The new National Security Strategy will hopefully reaffirm that a strong and revitalized global collective security system can advance fundamental American values and policy goals. American leadership in New York, for example, has resulted in unanimous condemnation this year by the Security Council, including from China and Russia, of North Korea’s provocative missile and nuclear tests, thereby improving conditions for effective diplomatic action.”
 Richard Ponzio, Director, Just Security 2020 Program, Stimson Center


“The new National Security Strategy will do much benefit if it can articulate a U.S. vision to leverage regional alliances and partnerships to manage major power competition, respond to urgent threats, and realize its ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific region’ concept.”
 Yuki Tatsumi, Director, Japan Program, Stimson Center

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