Trump's security strategy reflects campaign rhetoric

US President Donald Trump speaks about his administration's efforts in Washington, DC on Dec 14, 2017.
US President Donald Trump speaks about his administration's efforts in Washington, DC on Dec 14, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

His first National Security Strategy declares China a competitor, advocates stronger US

President Donald Trump's first National Security Strategy (NSS) declares China a "strategic competitor" to the United States.

It also advocates a stronger America to deal with new challenges, in line with his "America First" rhetoric.

The NSS, which Mr Trump was due to unveil here yesterday (early this morning Singapore time), drops climate change from the administration's list of threats.

It instead lists three main challenges: revisionist powers that seek to shape a world "antithetical to American interests and values"; rogue regimes that spread terror, threaten neighbours and pursue weapons of mass destruction; and transnational threat organisations that foment hatred and incite violence against innocents in the name of ideology.

A revisionist power is one that seeks to change the status quo, said senior administration officials who briefed journalists hours before Mr Trump's speech on the NSS.

"Most people would argue that Russia… sought to change the status quo in Europe. With China's building in the South China Sea, they're trying to change the status quo, usually with military means… in their favour," one of the officials said.

China competes effectively across the political, economic, military and information domains, the officials said. But that does not mean cooperation is ruled out, they emphasised.

"We know that we need China, and we continue to work with them on the (North Korea) problem," one official said. "It is not mutually exclusive. We are working together to cooperate, at the same time acknowledging that competition exists as well. Competition doesn't mean you don't also cooperate."

Asked yesterday about the new US strategy, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying defended US-China economic and trade ties, calling them "mutually beneficial".

The NSS lays out four pillars or "organisational principles" - protecting the homeland, the American people and the American way of life; promoting American prosperity; peace through strength; and advancing US interests.

The first pillar includes border security, cyber security and ballistic missile defence. The second is essentially about renegotiating trade deals and strengthening America's innovation base. The third is on defence modernisation, with a particular focus on technological innovation and nuclear security.

The authors of the NSS appeared to have tried to make coherent policy out of campaign promises given to Mr Trump's base, Dr Zachary Abuza, professor at the National War College in Washington, DC, told The Straits Times by e-mail.

But he said the US' trade policy had been a "disaster". "No country wants a bilateral trade agreement with the US. It does not work in today's global economy where countries are part of a supply chain."

Withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Paris accord on curbing global warming; recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; and questioning the relevance of Nato had set back US interests across the board, he wrote.

"I do not see how the actions and policies of the administration in their first year will stem the revisionist states of China and Russia that the strategy identifies. If anything, they have been enabled," Dr Abuza concluded.

The Soufan Group consultancy said in a commentary that it remains to be seen whether the US can achieve progress on its policy goals.

"By insisting that allies that share common goals and values should pay for US support, while withdrawing from global challenges that require cooperative diplomacy, the White House seeks not to move boldly into the future but to cling to a past that no longer exists," it said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2017, with the headline 'Trump's security strategy reflects campaign rhetoric'. Print Edition | Subscribe