Trump Announces 'America First' National Strategy

Security strategy outlines new direction for countering China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and ISIS

Donald Trump
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December 19, 2017

President Trump unveiled his vision for a new world order dominated by American values and economic ideals on Monday by presenting the administration's "America First" national security strategy.

The 68-page strategy report warns the country is facing a new era of confrontation from threats ranging from traditional military powers to new cyber and space threats.

The strategy repudiates many of the security and foreign policies of the former President Barack Obama who sought to subordinate American power and influence in seeking greater comity with foreign states and international organizations.

The strategy reflects many of Trump's presidential campaign statements and promises that brought him to power, such as the need for tighter immigration controls, including a border wall, adopting trade policies more directly favorable to U.S. interests, increasing defense spending, and for the first time since the end of the Cold War, aggressively promoting American ideals such as liberty, constitutional democracy, and free trade.

"With this strategy, we are calling for a great reawakening of America, a resurgence of confidence, and a rebirth of patriotism, prosperity, and pride," Trump said at the White House announcing the National Security Strategy.

"And we are returning to the wisdom of our founders: In America the people govern, the people rule, and the people are sovereign."

The strategy identifies five major threats and suggests China poses a more significant national security challenge than the dangers from Russia, North Korea, Iran, and Islamic terrorism.

"China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity," the report says. "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."

American military power remains preeminent but is eroding as the militaries of "revisionist powers" China and Russia and rogue regimes such as Iran and North Korea are moving ahead with high-tech strategic arms and capabilities.

The strategy report identifies four vital security interests: Protecting the American people and homeland; promoting prosperity; preserving peace through strength; and advancing American influence.

"We will strengthen America’s capabilities—including in space and cyberspace—and revitalize others that have been neglected," the report says.

Trump in remarks at the White House said previous U.S. policies produced "disastrous" trade deals, policies of nation-building abroad that neglected domestic infrastructure, failed to provide the military with adequate resources, and neglected the menace of North Korea.

Also, excessive government regulation hampered development of U.S. energy resources and borders were opened to immigration over the "profound objections" of the American people, the president said.

"A nation that does not protect prosperity at home cannot protect its interests abroad," Trump said. "A nation that is not prepared to win a war is a nation not capable of preventing a war. A nation that is not proud of its history cannot be confident in its future. And a nation that is not certain of its values cannot summon the will to defend them."

Trump labeled China and Russia as key rivals that are challenging American influence, values, and wealth.

"We know that American success is not a foregone conclusion," he said. "It must be earned and it must be won. Our rivals are tough. They're tenacious and committed to the long term, but so are we."

To be successful, Trump said the nation must "integrate every dimension of our national strength, and we must compete with every instrument of our national power."

"With the strategy I'm announcing today, we are declaring that America is in the game and America is going win," he declared.

New threats are posed by cyber attacks and electromagnetic strikes, and the administration views space as a near area of potential conflict.

Trump plans to build up U.S. missile defenses, including long-range interceptors capable of defending the U.S. homeland.

The Pentagon currently has around 44 anti-missile interceptors based in Alaska and California. A third missile defense site is planned for the East Coast.

The strategy says that America began to drift after the end of the Cold War, and Trump will seek to reverse the exploitation by nations and international institutions.

According to the strategy report, the Trump doctrine will be "principled realism" that promotes individual liberty, rule of law, democratic governance, tolerance, and opportunity.

"America’s values and influence, underwritten by American power, make the world more free, secure, and prosperous," the strategy says.

On missile defenses, the new strategy calls for developing weapons capable of defeating missile threats "prior to launch."

The Pentagon has dubbed the effort "left of launch," for the position at the beginning stage of a timeline for a missile attack.

To knock out missiles before launch will require increased intelligence, cyber attacks that can disable or destroy missiles in the launch preparation phase, and drones that can knock out missiles on launchers or in storage areas.

The report said North Korea is developing nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States while China and Russia are building "advanced weapons and capabilities that could threaten our critical infrastructure and our command and control architecture."

On cyber security, the strategy calls for strengthening critical infrastructure, such as the electric grid, from cyber attacks. Other sectors facing risk of cyber attack include banking and finance, health and safety, communications, and transportation.

The report singles out China for its massive theft of American technology.

"Every year, competitors such as China steal U.S. intellectual property valued at hundreds of billions of dollars," the report said. "Over the years, rivals have used sophisticated means to weaken our businesses and our economy as facets of cyber-enabled economic warfare and other malicious activities."

Decades of efforts to coax China into becoming an international participant in the U.S.-led world order have not succeeded.

"Contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others," the report said. "China gathers and exploits data on an unrivaled scale and spreads features of its authoritarian system, including corruption and the use of surveillance. It is building the most capable and well-funded military in the world, after our own. Its nuclear arsenal is growing and diversifying. Part of China’s military modernization and economic expansion is due to its access to the U.S. innovation economy, including America’s world-class universities."

Both China and Russia are engaged in information warfare against the United States, the report said.

"They employ sophisticated political, economic, and military campaigns that combine discrete actions," the report said. "They are patient and content to accrue strategic gains over time—making it harder for the United States and our allies to respond. Such actions are calculated to achieve maximum effect without provoking a direct military response from the United States. And as these incremental gains are realized, over time, a new status quo emerges."

The Trump strategy calls for developing policies to counter the operations of both states.

"We must convince adversaries that we can and will defeat them—not just punish them if they attack the United States," the report says.

Militarily, the United States will seek forces that will "overmatch" all adversaries and ensure that U.S. forces are stronger in all aspects than potential enemies.

American intelligence capabilities also will be increased under the strategy. Foreign states' economic policies will be studied to prevent the theft of sensitive information.

Diplomacy also will be reformed with the goal of advancing American interests, suggesting that current U.S. diplomacy has not been effective.

"We must upgrade our diplomatic capabilities to compete in the current environment and to embrace a competitive mindset," the report said.

Economic tools, such as sanctions, also will be employed strategically to deal with security threats.

The strategy also calls for the use of "information statecraft" counter foreign information warfare threats, such as disinformation and propaganda. The danger is increasing as adversaries prepare to use artificial intelligence and machine learning, combined with large databases, in information operations.

"U.S. efforts to counter the exploitation of information by rivals have been tepid and fragmented," the report said. "U.S. efforts have lacked a sustained focus and have been hampered by the lack of properly trained professionals."

New tools for advancing American communications campaigns will be developed to "counter challenges from the ideological threats that emanate from radical Islamist groups and competitor nations."

"These campaigns will adhere to American values and expose adversary propaganda and disinformation," the report said.

"Our America First foreign policy celebrates America's influence in the world as a positive force that can help set the conditions for peace and prosperity and for developing successful societies."

To promote American policies, the Trump administration will work with "reformers" who share U.S. ideals and values.

That strategy is in stark contrast to the Obama administration's failure to back Iranian opposition groups that challenged the theocratic regime in Tehran during 2009 elections.

Counterterrorism efforts will include preempting and disrupting plots before they can be carried out and direct action attacks.

The report appears to have adopted the conciliatory approach to political Islam similar to the Obama policy. A section of the report on confronting terrorist ideology emphasizes that the United States "rejects bigotry and oppression" and seeks to unite with American Muslims.

That narrative has been used by advocates of political Islam to stifle debate in the United States on the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood by defending the group as a persecuted religious minority.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters on the strategy was asked if the Muslim Brotherhood is considered part of the jihadist terror threat outlined in the strategy report. The official said Muslim Brotherhood is not a monolithic Islamist organization, suggesting that some of its offshoots are not linked to terrorism.

The Muslim Brotherhood is the ideological precursor to al Qaeda and the Islamic State whose five-part slogan is: "Allah is our objective; the Quran is the constitution; the prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; death for the sake of Allah is our wish."