White House Strategy Stresses Increasing American Influence

Trump's 'America First' national security strategy will focus on use of 'information statecraft'

Donald Trump
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• December 15, 2017 5:00 am


President Donald Trump's new national security strategy calls for expanding America's influence around the world in promoting peace and countering an array of threats from adversaries such as China, Russia, and jihadist terrorists.

The new strategy, set to be made public Monday by the president, aims to reset American national security and foreign policies through four strategic pillars reflecting Trump's publicly stated goals of making America more prosperous at home and a greater force for good abroad, according to a senior Trump administration official.

The strategy recognizes five main threats confronting the nation as China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and jihadist terrorism, the official said.

"A central continuity in history is the contest for power," the strategy states.

The four pillars of the strategy include protecting the American people and homeland, advancing U.S. prosperity, preserving Peace Through Strength, and advancing American influence.

On expanding American influence, the strategy states that "we celebrate American influence as a positive force that can set the conditions for peace and prosperity," the senior official said.

The United States needs to increase its influence around the world as a leading democratic power and important alternative to revisionist, rival states such as China and Russia that are promoting authoritarian and anti-democratic worldviews.

"It doesn’t mean that we impose our views, but it means we are a beacon for liberty," the official said. "We will encourage people who want to join our community of like-minded states."

The official said the strategy was written in straightforward terms designed to be easily understood by Americans "because the American people need to understand that in order shift the momentum back in favor of the United States, we have to change the way we do things.

"We have to be more effective in competing," said the official who took part in developing the strategy for the new administration. "That actually is what America First is all about."

The official provided additional details to the strategy preview provided by Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the White House national security adviser, earlier this week.

"In the national security strategy you’ll see a big emphasis on competitive engagement, competitive engagement across what we're calling arenas of competition, that is vitally important for us to be engaged in," McMaster said in remarks to a think tank.

"I think we could agree that in many ways we vacated a lot of competitive space in recent years and created opportunities for these revisionist powers."

McMaster called the pillars four vital national interests.

"And these are important because this is the lens through which we view national security challenges so we can craft overarching goals, we can develop specific objectives based on an understanding of what is most important to the American people," he said.

A major theme will be the need for the United States to better understand and respond to global competitors.

In the section on preserving Peace Through Strength, a strategy first adopted by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the strategy calls for rebuilding and modernizing American power, including countering ideological threats through "information statecraft."

International ideological competition is increasing and the United States will seek to develop greater information operations capabilities to counter competitors' narratives, the official said.

"We're talking about renewed capabilities, not only in the nuclear realm, not only in the space realm, not only in the intelligence realm, but also in terms of information capabilities," the official said.

Russia and China are among what the strategy terms revisionist powers that have been "weaponizing" information capabilities through such elements of power as controlled media, propaganda, cyber operations, and other soft power activities.

Jihadist terrorists also are using information as weapons.

The Peace Through Strength pillar calls for using all elements of American power—diplomatic, military, intelligence, and financial—to preserve freedom in various regions of the world, including the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East, and South Asia.

The strategy calls for making sure regional states can live and operate freely without coercion.

The strategy also outlines the need to modernize U.S. nuclear forces, a priority for the president, along with increased missile defenses.

On boosting American prosperity, the strategy urges U.S. "energy dominance" and protecting "national security innovation base," dubbed NSIB by the administration, the official said.

The United States over the past several decades has lost billions of dollars worth of advanced technology and other valuable know-how through cyber attacks and a lax protection of proprietary data.

To advance American prosperity, U.S. policies will seek greater protection for one of the main drivers of the current economy, the high-technology sector and its ability to apply technologies for new products and services. "It's not just the defense industrial base anymore," the official said.

The strategy calls for greater protection of the homeland through enforcing immigration laws and increasing border security. It also stresses countering the growing threat of what the strategy terms "jihadist terrorists" that continue seeking to attack the Untied States and its interests.

Transnational criminal organizations also are a target, based on their major role in the opioid crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 60,000 Americans through overdoses and drug-related deaths.

The official said Trump was actively involved in approving the strategy, which is unusual for being produced in the first year of the administration. The president was briefed on the four pillars several weeks ago.

Many topics of the strategy were drawn directly from Trump's campaign speeches and he has continued to mention the same issues and challenges in recent speeches.

"I think [the new strategy] is significant because it restores a sense of confidence in America and it says we're a positive force for good out there," the official said.

"And if we acknowledge the competitions that are out there and compete more effectively, we will better protect our interests and our values, which are values that are shared by our allies and partners," the official added.

All major cabinet secretaries from the State, Defense, Justice, Treasury Departments supported the final document, along with Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The strategy will contrast with previous strategies, required annually under 1986 defense law, in more substantively outlining U.S. interests, goals, and objectives that can be used by policymakers throughout government, the official said.

The most recent strategy was the Obama administration's 2015 report that emphasized collective action and U.S. restraint.

Published under: Donald Trump, Military, White House