US President Donald Trump published his first National Security Strategy report on December 18, bringing up the main security threats facing the US and the measures he plans to counter it. The language and nature of the document highlight the America First mindset and aims to guarantee US leadership in the future, showing Trump’s pragmatic governing style.
It is not common for a US president to release the national security strategy in the first year of presidency. The report is the guiding light of national security and diplomacy, and should be based on much deliberation. Trump came up with the strategy now to seek clarity of thought, reduce difference of opinion within his team and avoid contradictory policies.
The report describes the world as competitive and sees China and Russia as rival powers challenging US strength, interests and influence, eroding American prosperity and security, and affecting US dominance of the world. The Kommersant, a leading liberal business broadsheet in Russia, notes that the core of this report points out the revival of the competition between China, US and Russia after many years.
Portraying China and Russia as rival powers is not a new tactic and many US presidents have done it. This report differs in the reiteration of the importance of the China-US-Russia triangular relationship. It adjusts the priority order of China and Russia and the notion of the three countries’ position in the triangle.
The US thinks that China and Russia can be threats in several ways. In global order, it sees China and Russia as revisionist countries that want to challenge its status because Washington cannot accept a multipolar world order. In regional politics, the US thinks that China aims to replace it in the Indo-Pacific region and Russia is increasing its influence in its surrounding region. In global governance, the US thinks China and Russia are expanding their influence with the help of worldwide investment to fortify their position in comparison to the US.
The triangular relationship between China, the US and the Soviet Union dominated international politics during the Cold War. Later, the international power structure turned more horizontal, and the triangle between China, the US and Russia did not remain as important. Now, as de-globalization and the status of nation states become more important, political and security issues come to the fore, including the Korean Peninsula nuclear crisis which cannot be resolved without cooperation between China, the US and Russia.
As other powers become stronger, it is not a surprise for the US to see China in the dual role of the main security rival and partner. While US mainstream public opinion always badmouths Russia, Washington is more realistic and knows that Moscow can still be US’ competitor in security. The strategy report stresses the significance of interactions between the three powers, showing competition between major powers is still the most important part of international politics and security.
The report mentions China 33 times and Russia 26 times, showing the importance the US attaches to its rivals in the current power structure. After the Ukrainian political crisis in 2013, the US has used sanctions and diplomatic isolation to pressure Russia. In the meantime, it maintained the Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy. Trump’s Indo-Pacific strategy could be seen as its expansion because US elites thought China would replace the US in the region and change the regional order with its growing strength. US security strategy and foreign policy have been steeped in ideology.
Since Trump came to power, strained US-Russia relations have seen rivalry spiraling. But the ties are not so hopeless as they appear. After all, Americans know that Russia no longer has the muscle to challenge US dominance. For the US, security threats from Russia are temporary while such threats from China’s rise are long-term and structural.
The US strategy report shows intensifying competition between major powers at a time world order is being re-established.
The consolidation of power and rising competition between major powers both reflect de-globalization. The world faces a critical moment as the current world order dissolves and restructures, during which conflicts between major powers are most fierce. Of this, China should have full consideration.