President Trump’s National Security Strategy: NSI Experts Weigh In

President Donald Trump unveiled a new National Security Strategy earlier today. Linked below are views and analyses on the new National Security Strategy from our NSI Visiting Fellows.

December 18, 2017

Dmitri Alperovitch – NSI Visiting Fellow

The National Security Strategy rightly focuses on China, mentioned no fewer than 23 times in the document (by far more than any other country), as the predominant strategic threat to the United States leadership in the world. The strategy highlights its efforts to achieve dominance in the Pacific (now referred to as Indo-Pacific, highlighting the importance of India in the efforts to counter China) and attempts to bring into its orbit countries in the Western Hemisphere and Africa. China, like no other country, presents the main challenge to the United States in the 21st century via its economic power, rising military and space capabilities, and highly aggressive cyber operations against the United States and its allies and requires a long-term all-government effort to confront their global revisionist ambitions with economic, diplomatic, political, and military power. This realistic assessment of China as mainly competitor and rival to U.S. interests is a welcome change from past largely failed attempts by prior U.S. administrations going back decades to find mutually beneficial ways to cooperate with China.

Megan Brown – Cybersecurity Practice Lead, Wiley Rein, LLP; Former Counsel to the Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice

The NSS commits to protect U.S. industry but does not address the liability culture facing businesses. The President says “we will . . . go after malicious cyber actors.” But there was inadequate recognition that U.S. businesses need to be treated like other victims of crimes. We should change the culture of recrimination, and discourage the use of regulation or enforcement actions to punish companies that suffer a cyber attack.

Heightened expectations of network operators oversimplify things. He says that “threats transit globally, passing through communications backbones without challenge”—this overlooks extensive work by the communications sector to manage traffic. He wants the “U.S. Government [to] work with the private sector to remediate known bad activities at the network level,” reasoning that “malicious activity must be defeated within a network and not be passed on to its destination whenever possible.” This simplifies the challenge and misses an opportunity to include the entire ecosystem of actors needed for Internet security.

The NSS does not endorse online vigilantism. The President is right that attacks are perpetrated with a “troubling degree of deniability.” This is why vigilantism on the Internet—through hack back and other self-help—is dangerous, because it is so hard to know who is perpetrating the crimes and aggressive acts risk collateral damage. I am heartened that we see no call in the NSS for enhanced private cyber operations outside current authorizations.

Dr. Nicholas Dujmovic – Visiting Assistant Professor in Intelligence Studies, Catholic University of America; Former Historian, Central Intelligence Agency

The National Security Strategy document highlights the importance of the work of the U.S. Intelligence Community in key areas: strategic warning of emerging threats as well as tactical intelligence on current issues, support to military operations as well as anticipation of the future battle environment, the need for intelligence to gauge the capabilities and intentions of foreign leaders. These are all crucial and relevant goals–generally what the men and women of U.S. intelligence signed up for. The NSS also very helpfully identifies for the U.S. Intelligence Community the administration’s priorities for collection–the state-based, regional, and transnational threats to our nation. However, the NSS seems to emphasize the use of intelligence to support strong action and response over its contribution to quiet and sober understanding. Intelligence helps policymakers to react more effectively to current threats and anticipate future ones, to be sure, but intelligence also enables policymakers to understand when the best response is no response. Another concern is that the National Security Strategy addresses “intelligence” mainly in the abstract. In contrast to the NSS discussion about American “sons and daughters” serving in the U.S. military, or the many references about the vital work of “our diplomats,” the men and women of the U.S. Intelligence Community don’t get a shout-out. It’s as if intelligence is something that just happens–a disembodied process that provides U.S. policymakers what they need to act and react. There has already been some concern in the workforces of the various intelligence agencies that the President doesn’t respect their work, so many intelligence officers will be disappointed by a document that seems to take the fruits of intelligence for granted.

Matthew Heiman – Vice President, Corporate Secretary, and Associate General Counsel, Johnson Controls; Former Attorney, National Security Division, U.S. Department of Justice

President Trump’s National Security Strategy expresses an engaged, realist approach to diplomacy and defense. While reciting some of the campaign rhetoric of America First and the need for fair trade, it does not call for a global retreat. It recognizes the importance of U.S. allies. It recognizes the importance of a strong economy, and it calls for a stronger military. It is very direct about China, citing it as an adversary along with Russia, Iran, and North Korea. The strategy also reflects the times by citing cyberspace and outer space as areas that will be subject to global competition and possible friction. Actions always speak louder than words, but this strategy indicates that the United States will continue to engage with the world in a way that maximizes its own interests.

Jamil Jaffer – Founder, National Security Institute; Former Chief Counsel, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Today’s new National Security Strategy represents a major, positive strategic shift in our nation’s approach to the very real threats and challenges America faces in the world. It does so by forthrightly acknowledging the clear threats posed by China and Russia, reiterating the clear and present danger that international terrorism and its root causes pose to our way of life, highlighting the reality that economic security is national security, making clear that we intend to lead in the world, and that we will compete for influence and advantage at every turn, whether through diplomacy or other tools of statecraft.

In many ways, today’s NSS is a restatement of America’s role in the world, as a nation set apart, destined for greatness, and one willing to assert its power and influence in a way that benefits not only ourselves, but also our partners and allies across the globe. It also represents an approach that shows a willingness to flex American muscle where needed, but also taking a judicious approach to the use of such capabilities.

Moreover, the new NSS highlights America’s unique contribution to global politics and economics through its emphasis on freedom and democratic institutions, fair and open competition in areas ranging from trade to diplomacy, and the notion of seeking peace and cooperation through strength. In particular, on critical issues like cybersecurity and economic competitiveness, the new NSS also highlights the need to empower the private sector and to ensure that we, as a nation, take clear and decisive action based, at its core, on our strategic goals and values.

This new NSS is, in many ways, a template for renewed American greatness globally and it represents a unique opportunity for our nation to fundamentally reshape the international sphere, if we as a nation are prepared to do what it takes to implement the critically important aspirations and ideals it embodies.

Andrew Keiser – Principal, Navigators Global; Former Senior Advisor, U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

With America’s adversaries aggressively attempting to re-shape the post-World War II international order, it is an ideal time for the new Trump Administration to re-evaluate America’s National Security Strategy (NSS). Dr. Nadia Shadlow did a commendable job of focusing the document on the competitive nature of geopolitics that sometimes seemed lost on the previous Administration, while promoting the strength of America’s leadership in the world – her economic prosperity. In my view, the trick of the new NSS will be whether or not the Administration from top-to-bottom can stay disciplined to target its foreign and domestic policy within the confines of this document, which lays out a thoughtful, sober version of Trump-style foreign policy realism.

Dr. Andrea Limbago – Chief Social Scientist, Endgame; Former Senior Technical Lead, Joint Warfare Analysis Center

Although some of the major technological shifts underway – such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and autonomy – are largely absent in the National Security Strategy (NSS), it does take some welcome steps when it comes to cybersecurity. The NSS accurately acknowledges that adversaries integrate the range of malicious digital activities – including disinformation, propaganda, espionage, and data theft – as part of a concentrated strategy. In contrast, the NSS notes that the U.S. response to these digital attacks and weaponization of information has been ‘tepid and fragmented’, but fails to provide an overarching strategy on how to counter this range of digital attacks on the American economy, political system, and security. The NSS reiterates U.S. support of a global free and interoperable internet, but fails to mention norms or other means to protect internet freedoms. Similarly, although the NSS describes the role of prevention, resilience, and swift responses to deter adversaries from pursuing digital attacks, it is unclear how this will be achieved. The NSS acknowledges the success adversaries, including Russia and China as well as non-state actors, have had implementing information statecraft and digital attacks as part of a comprehensive strategy. The next step is coherently structuring the U.S. strategy to counter this playbook.

Lester Munson – Vice President, International, BGR Group; Former Staff Director, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

President Trump’s national security strategy is a mixed bag. On the positive side, the emphasis on a strong defense of American interests with an understanding of the importance of American democratic values is refreshing and welcome. The strategy recognizes the threats from China, Russia, and Iran. The role given to foreign assistance and development seems appropriate and defensible. On the other hand, the strategy furthers the very unfortunate notion that free trade is somehow inimical to U.S. interests, when the opposite is clearly the case.