On December 18, 2017, the Trump Administration released its first National Security Strategy (NSS). The document maintains that, in addition to the threats posed to the United States by rogue regimes and violent extremist organizations that have been a central focus of national security policy since the end of the Cold War, great power rivalry and competition have once again become a central feature of the international security landscape. To advance U.S. interests effectively within this strategic context, the Administration argues, the United States must improve domestic American security and bolster economic competitiveness while rebuilding its military. The NSS is organized into four interconnected "pillars":
The 2017 NSS retains many of the same themes as those articulated by previous Administrations, particularly its prioritization of combating threats from weapons of mass destruction, promoting U.S. global leadership, and advancing economic prosperity. It differs in several key respects, including the degree of its emphasis on homeland security and American economic growth, its declaration that the United States will no longer "impose [its] values on others" (p.37), its assertion that the United States will defend its sovereignty "without apology," (p.4) and its argument that the United States must better compete with other actors in a complex international security environment in which many adversaries are blurring the lines between war and peace. Some observers maintain that the 2017 NSS's emphasis on advancing U.S. interests and global competition is a return to principled realism. Others take the view that the document dismisses the importance of "soft power," in particular promulgating U.S. values as a source of American strength.
The NSS is a congressionally mandated document, originating in the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-433, §603/50 U.S.C §3043). The NSS has been an unclassified document published by the President since the Reagan Administration in 1987. The FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), P.L. 114-328, Section 944, amended 50 U.S. Code, Section 304, to delete "both a classified and unclassified form" and insert "to Congress in classified form, but may include an unclassified summary."
Many observers and practitioners have long noted that NSSs are not strategies as traditionally understood; that is, successive Administrations' National Security Strategies generally fail to link overall national objectives to the tasks and resources necessary to accomplish stated goals. The Trump Administration's NSS is no different, as it broadly describes key strategic challenges and "priority tasks," without articulating the resources necessary to accomplish stated goals, or asserting which of the 117 identified tasks are most important. What NSSs do provide is a broad assessment of the international strategic context in which the United States is operating, as well as an articulation of an Administration's underlying philosophy for advancing U.S. interests.
One could infer from the NSS that the Trump Administration regards homeland security, economic growth, and national security as more fundamentally interrelated than its predecessors have argued, and that at times, the United States must cooperate with those states with which it also competes. Some key specific points in the new NSS include
As it ponders the 2017 NSS, Congress may wish to consider what, if any, additional resources may be required to implement the strategy effectively, and to what degree it will be supported by the forthcoming National Defense Strategy to be issued by the Pentagon in early 2018.