On December 18, 2017, the Trump administration released its first National Security Strategy (NSS). The NSS is a congressionally-mandated document (dating to the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act) that outlines an administration’s appraisal of U.S. national security interests, the global security environment, challenges to U.S. interests, and policies and tools for securing such interests.
The Trump administration’s first NSS has been anticipated with special interest in light of President Trump’s questioning—expressed both during the course of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and also while in office—of many principles and policies previously embraced for several decades by elected leaders and foreign policy experts associated with both major political parties.
Below, experts from across Brookings offer their comments on the Trump administration’s first NSS. Hover over or click on highlighted text to see what they have to say.
Participants: Madiha Afzal, Scott R. Anderson, Célia Belin, Jessica Brandt, Charles Call, Tarun Chhabra, Tamara Cofman Wittes, Brahima Coulibaly, David Dollar, Robert Einhorn, Khaled Elgindy, Samantha Gross, Shadi Hamid, Ryan Hass, Thomas Hill, Dhruva Jaishankar, Kemal Kirişci, Suzanne Maloney, Chris Meserole, Michael O’Hanlon, Jung H. Pak, Ted Piccone, Tony Pipa, Alina Polyakova, Natan Sachs, Landry Signé, Amanda Sloat, Mireya Solís, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Torrey Taussig, and Thomas Wright.
My fellow Americans:
The American people elected me to make America great again. I promised that my Administration would put the safety, interests, and well-being of our citizens first. I pledged that we would revitalize the American economy, rebuild our military, defend our borders, protect our sovereignty, and advance our values.
During my first year in office, you have witnessed my America First foreign policy in action. We are prioritizing the interests of our citizens and protecting our sovereign rights as a nation. America is leading again on the world stage. We are not hiding from the challenges we face. We are confronting them head-on and pursuing opportunities to promote the security and prosperity of all Americans.
The United States faces an extraordinarily dangerous world, filled with a wide range of threats that have intensified in recent years. When I came into office, rogue regimes were developing nuclear weapons and missiles to threaten the entire planet. Radical Islamist terror groups were flourishing. Terrorists had taken control of vast swaths of the Middle East. Rival powers were aggressively undermining American interests around the globe. At home, porous borders and unenforced immigration laws had created a host of vulnerabilities. Criminal cartels were bringing drugs and danger into our communities. Unfair trade practices had weakened our economy and exported our jobs overseas. Unfair burden-sharing with our allies and inadequate investment in our own defense had invited danger from those who wish us harm. Too many Americans had lost trust in our government, faith in our future, and confidence in our values.
Nearly one year later, although serious challenges remain, we are charting a new and very different course.
We are rallying the world against the rogue regime in North Korea and confronting the danger posed by the dictatorship in Iran, which those determined to pursue a flawed nuclear deal had neglected. We have renewed our friendships in the Middle East and partnered with regional leaders to help drive out terrorists and extremists, cut off their financing, and discredit their wicked ideology. We crushed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, and will continue pursuing them until they are destroyed. America’s allies are now contributing more to our common defense, strengthening even our strongest alliances. We have also continued to make clear that the United States will no longer tolerate economic aggression or unfair trading practices.
At home, we have restored confidence in America’s purpose. We have recommitted ourselves to our founding principles and to the values that have made our families, communities, and society so successful. Jobs are coming back and our economy is growing. We are making historic investments in the United States military. We are enforcing our borders, building trade relationships based on fairness and reciprocity, and defending America’s sovereignty without apology.
The whole world is lifted by America’s renewal and the reemergence of American leadership. After one year, the world knows that America is prosperous, America is secure, and America is strong. We will bring about the better future we seek for our people and the world, by confronting the challenges and dangers posed by those who seek to destabilize the world and threaten America’s people and interests.
My Administration’s National Security Strategy lays out a strategic vision for protecting the American people and preserving our way of life, promoting our prosperity, preserving peace through strength, and advancing American influence in the world. We will pursue this beautiful vision—a world of strong, sovereign, and independent nations, each with its own cultures and dreams, thriving side-by-side in prosperity, freedom, and peace—throughout the upcoming year.
In pursuit of that future, we will look at the world with clear eyes and fresh thinking. We will promote a balance of power that favors the United States, our allies, and our partners. We will never lose sight of our values and their capacity to inspire, uplift, and renew.
Most of all, we will serve the American people and uphold their right to a government that prioritizes their security, their prosperity, and their interests. This National Security Strategy puts America First.
President Donald J. Trump
The White House
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Pillar I – Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life
- Pillar II – Promote American Prosperity
- Pillar III – Preserve Peace Through Strength
- Pillar IIII – Advance American Influence
- The Strategy in a Regional Context
An America that is safe, prosperous, and free at home is an America with the strength, confidence, and will to lead abroad. It is an America that can preserve peace, uphold liberty, and create enduring advantages for the American people. Putting America first is the duty of our government and the foundation for U.S. leadership in the world.
A strong America is in the vital interests of not only the American people, but also those around the world who want to partner with the United States in pursuit of shared interests, values, and aspirations.
This National Security Strategy puts America first.
An America First National Security Strategy is based on American principles, a clear-eyed assessment of U.S. interests, and a determination to tackle the challenges that we face. It is a strategy of principled realism that is guided by outcomes, not ideology. It is based upon the view that peace, security, and prosperity depend on strong, sovereign nations that respect their citizens at home and cooperate to advance peace abroad. And it is grounded in the realization that American principles are a lasting force for good in the world.
“We the People” is America’s source of strength.
The United States was born of a desire for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and a conviction that unaccountable political power is tyranny. For these reasons, our Founders crafted and ratified the Constitution, establishing the republican form of government we enjoy today. The Constitution grants our national government not only specified powers necessary to protect our God-given rights and liberties but also safeguards them by limiting the government’s size and scope, separating Federal powers, and protecting the rights of individuals through the rule of law. All political power is ultimately delegated from, and accountable to, the people.
We protect American sovereignty by defending these institutions, traditions, and principles that have allowed us to live in freedom, to build the nation that we love. And we prize our national heritage, for the rare and fragile institutions of republican government can only endure if they are sustained by a culture that cherishes those institutions.
Liberty and independence have given us the flourishing society Americans enjoy today—a vibrant and confident Nation, welcoming of disagreement and differences, but united by the bonds of history, culture, beliefs, and principles that define who we are.
We are proud of our roots and honor the wisdom of the past. We are committed to protecting the rights and dignity of every citizen. And we are a nation of laws, because the rule of law is the shield that protects the individual from government corruption and abuse of power, allows families to live without fear, and permits markets to thrive.
Our founding principles have made the United States of America among the greatest forces for good in history. But we are also aware that we must protect and build upon our accomplishments, always conscious of the fact that the interests of the American people constitute our true North Star.
America’s achievements and standing in the world were neither inevitable nor accidental. On many occasions, Americans have had to compete with adversarial forces to preserve and advance our security, prosperity, and the principles we hold dear. At home, we fought the Civil War to end slavery and preserve our Union in the long struggle to extend equal rights for all Americans. In the course of the bloodiest century in human history, millions of Americans fought, and hundreds of thousands lost their lives, to defend liberty in two World Wars and the Cold War. America, with our allies and partners, defeated fascism, imperialism, and Soviet communism and eliminated any doubts about the power and durability of republican democracy when it is sustained by a free, proud, and unified people.
The United States consolidated its military victories with political and economic triumphs built on market economies and fair trade, democratic principles, and shared security partnerships. American political, business, and military leaders worked together with their counterparts in Europe and Asia to shape the post-war order through the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and other institutions designed to advance our shared interests of security, freedom, and peace. We recognize the invaluable advantages that our strong relationships with allies and partners deliver.
Following the remarkable victory of free nations in the Cold War, America emerged as the lone superpower with enormous advantages and momentum in the world. Success, however, bred complacency. A belief emerged, among many, that American power would be unchallenged and self–sustaining. The United States began to drift. We experienced a crisis of confidence and surrendered our advantages in key areas. As we took our political, economic, and military advantages for granted, other actors steadily implemented their long-term plans to challenge America and to advance agendas opposed to the United States, our allies, and our partners.
We stood by while countries exploited the international institutions we helped to build. They subsidized their industries, forced technology transfers, and distorted markets. These and other actions challenged America’s economic security. At home, excessive regulations and high taxes stifled growth and weakened free enterprise—history’s greatest antidote to poverty. Each time government encroached on the productive activities of private commerce, it threatened not only our prosperity but also the spirit of creation and innovation that has been key to our national greatness.
A COMPETITIVE WORLD
The United States will respond to the growing political, economic, and military competitions we face around the world.
China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. 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. At the same time, the dictatorships of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran are determined to destabilize regions, threaten Americans and our allies, and brutalize their own people. Transnational threat groups, from jihadist terrorists to transnational criminal organizations, are actively trying to harm Americans. While these challenges differ in nature and magnitude, they are fundamentally contests between those who value human dignity and freedom and those who oppress individuals and enforce uniformity.
These competitions require the United States to rethink the policies of the past two decades—policies based on the assumption that engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners. For the most part, this premise turned out to be false.
Rival actors use propaganda and other means to try to discredit democracy. They advance anti-Western views and spread false information to create divisions among ourselves, our allies, and our partners. In addition, jihadist terrorists such as ISIS and al-Qa’ida continue to spread a barbaric ideology that calls for the violent destruction of governments and innocents they consider to be apostates. These jihadist terrorists attempt to force those under their influence to submit to Sharia law.
America’s military remains the strongest in the world. However, U.S. advantages are shrinking as rival states modernize and build up their conventional and nuclear forces. Many actors can now field a broad arsenal of advanced missiles, including variants that can reach the American homeland. Access to technology empowers and emboldens otherwise weak states. North Korea—a country that starves its own people—has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that could threaten our homeland. In addition, many actors have become skilled at operating below the threshold of military conflict—challenging the United States, our allies, and our partners with hostile actions cloaked in deniability. Our task is to ensure that American military superiority endures, and in combination with other elements of national power, is ready to protect Americans against sophisticated challenges to national security.
The contest over information accelerates these political, economic, and military competitions. Data, like energy, will shape U.S. economic prosperity and our future strategic position in the world. The ability to harness the power of data is fundamental to the continuing growth of America’s economy, prevailing against hostile ideologies, and building and deploying the most effective military in the world.
We learned the difficult lesson that when America does not lead, malign actors fill the void to the disadvantage of the United States. When America does lead, however, from a position of strength and confidence and in accordance with our interests and values, all benefit.
Competition does not always mean hostility, nor does it inevitably lead to conflict—although none should doubt our commitment to defend our interests. An America that successfully competes is the best way to prevent conflict. Just as American weakness invites challenge, American strength and confidence deters war and promotes peace.
AN AMERICA FIRST NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY
The competitions and rivalries facing the United States are not passing trends or momentary problems. They are intertwined, long-term challenges that demand our sustained national attention and commitment.
America possesses unmatched political, economic, military, and technological advantages. But to maintain these advantages, build upon our strengths, and unleash the talents of the American people, we must protect four vital national interests in this competitive world.
First, our fundamental responsibility is to protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life. We will strengthen control of our borders and reform our immigration system. We will protect our critical infrastructure and go after malicious cyber actors. A layered missile defense system will defend our homeland against missile attacks. And we will pursue threats to their source, so that jihadist terrorists are stopped before they ever reach our borders.
Second, we will promote American prosperity. We will rejuvenate the American economy for the benefit of American workers and companies. We will insist upon fair and reciprocal economic relationships to address trade imbalances. The United States must preserve our lead in research and technology and protect our economy from competitors who unfairly acquire our intellectual property. And we will embrace America’s energy dominance because unleashing abundant energy resources stimulates our economy.
Third, we will preserve peace through strength by rebuilding our military so that it remains preeminent, deters our adversaries, and if necessary, is able to fight and win. We will compete with all tools of national power to ensure that regions of the world are not dominated by one power. We will strengthen America’s capabilities—including in space and cyberspace—and revitalize others that have been neglected. Allies and partners magnify our power. We expect them to shoulder a fair share of the burden of responsibility to protect against common threats.
Fourth, we will advance American influence because a world that supports American interests and reflects our values makes America more secure and prosperous. We will compete and lead in multilateral organizations so that American interests and principles are protected. America’s commitment to liberty, democracy, and the rule of law serves as an inspiration for those living under tyranny. We can play a catalytic role in promoting private-sector-led economic growth, helping aspiring partners become future trading and security partners. And we will remain a generous nation, even as we expect others to share responsibility.
Strengthening our sovereignty—the first duty of a government is to serve the interests of its own people—is a necessary condition for protecting these four national interests. And as we strengthen our sovereignty we will renew confidence in ourselves as a nation. We are proud of our history, optimistic about America’s future, and confident of the positive example the United States o ers to the world. We are also realistic and understand that the American way of life cannot be imposed upon others, nor is it the inevitable culmination of progress. Together with our allies, partners, and aspiring partners, the United States will pursue cooperation with reciprocity. Cooperation means sharing responsibilities and burdens. In trade, fair and reciprocal relationships benefit all with equal levels of market access and opportunities for economic growth. An America First National Security Strategy appreciates that America will catalyze conditions to unleash economic success for America and the world.
In the United States, free men and women have created the most just and prosperous nation in history. Our generation of Americans is now charged with preserving and defending that precious inheritance. This National Security Strategy shows the way.