Report: Obama Leaving Trump With No 'Formal National Security Strategy'

New administration faces strategic challenges from China, Russia, Iran

Barack Obama
January 19, 2017

The Obama administration is leaving incoming President Donald Trump with no formal national security strategy, according to research by a non-partisan think tank that puts forth a defense strategy for the U.S. military in Europe and Asia.

The report, released by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments one day before Trump's inauguration, assesses that China is the greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests, with Russia and Iran as secondary challenges. It recommended the incoming administration bolster American forces in the Western Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East.

"At present, the United States does not have a formal national security strategy, as it appears that no classified national security strategy was formulated during the Obama administration," the report states. "The importance of a classified strategy cannot be discounted."

Congress has aimed to reform and streamline the way the Pentagon develops its national military strategy using annual defense policy legislation. Last month, lawmakers passed the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for the current fiscal year, laying out multiple requirements for the defense secretary's national defense strategy, which is submitted to congressional defense committees every four years. The policy bill also established a commission of experts, appointed by Congress, to review the defense strategy and make recommendations.

The think tank report called for "major changes" to the U.S. defense posture.

"[The United States'] longstanding security interests along Eurasia's periphery are being challenged by revisionist powers—in this case, China, Russia, and Iran—that seek to overturn the international order in the Western Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East, respectively, through coercion, subversion or other means outside the rules-based international system," the report states. "As their military capability grows, one cannot rule out their resorting to overt aggression, either by miscalculation or design, to achieve their aims."

The report proposes the next administration prioritize deploying a major war force and air and naval operation reserves in the Western Pacific, followed by expeditionary postures in Europe and the Middle East.

Military leaders have consistently pointed to Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and terrorist groups as the principal challenges facing the U.S. armed forces. The Trump administration will be challenged to develop a strategy to deter aggression from emerging powers as well as fight ISIS and other terrorist organizations.

Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, the former head of the U.S. Central Command, to serve as defense secretary. Congress passed a waiver last week allowing Mattis to serve as defense secretary despite being out of uniform for less than seven years, paving the way for his confirmation as soon as Friday.

Mattis emphasized the need to build an "integrated strategy" for U.S. national security during opening remarks at his confirmation hearing last week, underlining his commitment to reforming the Defense Department and strengthening America's military readiness and alliances.