Jan. 30, 2018

Jan. 11, 2018—


The United States’ new National Security Strategy (NSS) marks a departure from that of previous administrations. It is unapologetically about promoting American wealth and prosperity, with less attention paid to whether its friends and allies benefit or not. President Donald J. Trump has dubbed this strategy “principled realism.”

The new strategy seeks to build up US military forces—including a modernization of the US strategic nuclear enterprise. It also promises the administration will work to get Congress to repeal the Budget Control Act of 2011, which has been suppressing military budgets, and bolster US military strength by building up economic strength and therefore, influence.

In unveiling the strategy, Trump, in a Dec. 18 speech at the Ronald Reagan building in Washington, D.C., made no mention of promoting democracy around the world, as his predecessors have since WWII, nor did he echo the strategies of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, which sought to advance global prosperity along with that of the US. Rather, Trump said the world is filled with competitors large and small, vying among themselves both economically and militarily, and, “we are declaring that America is in the game, and America is going to win.”

The full document states flatly that efforts to bring other countries into the fold of liberal, capitalist democracies were overly optimistic but ultimately unsuccessful.

The US must “rethink the policies of the last 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,” according to the NSS text.

The document acknowledges Russia’s efforts to interfere with US democratic institutions and bluntly charges that China, as the US tried to promote what China calls its “peaceful rise,” stole its way to advanced weaponry and technological parity. China has succeeded in building a military “second only to our own.” The US will aggressively counter cyber threats and challenge military aggression, the NSS asserted, correcting what the administration sees as too long a period when the US did not “lead,” allowing “malign actors [to] fill the void.”

Although the new NSS acknowledges that allies and partners “magnify our power,” it quickly adds that “we expect them to shoulder a fair share of the burden of responsibility to protect against common threats.”

US defense leaders in recent years have uniformly promoted alliances, all echoing some version of the sentiment that these relationships are America’s asymmetric advantage versus China and Russia. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, addressing AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber conference last September, said he’s never fought in “an all-American formation. I’ve always fought alongside coalition partners.” He added that the US needs to listen more to its allies and “be willing to … be persuaded by them.” He joked that “not all good ideas come from the country with the most aircraft carriers.”

Nevertheless, Trump, in his December speech, declared that there must be reciprocity with allies, especially those who are wealthy, and the US protective umbrella will come with a monetary price.

Last September, addressing the United Nations for the first time, Trump said the US would always be a friend to its allies, but “we can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return.”

At a Florida rally in December, Trump was more direct: “You gotta pay. You gotta pay. … You don’t pay, we’re out of there, right?” In other speeches, Trump has, through comment or omission, demonstrated discomfort with the NATO Article 5 provisions that say all signatories will come to the aid of any member who is attacked. At the Florida rally, he lamented that an ally who gets “frisky with whoever—Russia,” could drag the US into “World War III for somebody that doesn’t even pay.”

The NSS document—which is different from the National Military Strategy—posits four “pillars” of the new approach to American security. They are:

      Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life
        Promote American Prosperity
          Preserve Peace Through Strength
            Advance American Influence

Each pillar was accompanied by “priority actions” the US will take to ensure it is successful.


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For homeland defense, the NSS promises a more robust and layered missile defense system focused on North Korea and Iran, and claims the right of preemption. Missile defense “will include the ability to defeat missile threats prior to launch.” Other priority actions include stepping up the ability to detect and neutralize weapons of mass destruction both abroad and at the US border, while working with other countries to stop proliferation overseas.

The administration also promises a more forceful involvement in the world health system to quickly spot and neutralize outbreaks of potential pandemic diseases like Ebola.

Many of the priority actions associated with homeland defense will center on building a southern border wall, changing the immigration system, and “enhancing intelligence” to detect and stop terrorist threats worldwide.

The NSS also devotes a long section to the cyber threat, promising to work with industry to create more capability in “prevention, protection, and resiliency” against cyber crime and attack. It will do so “in a way that respects free markets, private competition, and the limited but important role of government in enforcing the rule of law.”

Under homeland security, the NSS also warns that the American people need to be encouraged and trained to do more to defend themselves and develop the means to ride out cyber attacks, possible nuclear attacks, and the effects of natural disasters. In the same section, the NSS said the American public and private sectors must recognize the attempts of “Russia and other actors” to “undermine the legitimacy of democracies” through their attacks on “media, political processes, financial networks, and personal data” and take steps against them.


In the pillar of promoting American prosperity, the NSS pledged to advance fair-trade deals, and not turn a “blind eye” to “cheating or economic aggression.” The administration said big government is an enemy and pledged deregulation and budget-cutting to reduce its size and influence. Recently enacted tax cuts will be paid for with commensurate economic growth, it claimed. It also put a priority on infrastructure improvement in which government at all levels will “work with private industry” to improve air and seaports, rail, transit, and telecommunications. The government will work to create new markets for American goods overseas.

In research and development, the NSS said it will attempt to “attract and retain inventors and innovators” both from other countries and into government, while making it easier for those talented in science and technology to move more easily in and out of government. It promised more streamlined approval of security clearances and to offer “competitive salaries.” The administration also pledges to “rapidly field inventions and innovations” to “regain the element of surprise” both economically and militarily, while doing more to protect intellectual property and safeguard national security secrets.

The NSS pledges the US will become an “energy-dominant” power and do whatever is necessary to assure access to energy markets and promote cheap energy as a means of stimulating the American economy.


Under the third pillar, peace through strength, the administration flatly assesses China as seeking to “displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region … and reorder the region in its favor.” Meanwhile, Russia aims to “restore its great power status and establish spheres of influence near its borders.” Russia views the European Union and NATO as threats. The US will try to cooperate with its competitors “across areas of mutual interest.”

“Rogue regimes” like Iran and North Korea are the “scourge of the world today,” threatening to use ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction to extort their ends, the NSS said.

The administration pledges an all-of-government approach to competing with foreign powers and terror groups in order to shape the geopolitical landscape favorably for the US and world markets. Only a perception of the US as a strong nation willing to flex its military muscle will make those efforts credible, the NSS said.

Toward these ends, the NSS pledges to grow the US military while modernizing and ensuring readiness.” It pledges a clear “military overmatch” of any other power in capabilities and action to “eliminate bureaucratic impediments to innovation” and speed up deployment of new capabilities. The military will be sized to be capable of “operating in sufficient scale and for ample duration” to defeat enemies and achieve “sustainable outcomes.”

Still, the administration said it will develop “new operational capabilities and concepts” in order to “win without assured dominance in air, maritime, land, space, and cyberspace domains.” It also promised to plan irregular warfare campaigns for the long-term, not on an ad-hoc basis.

The NSS promises to modernize the entire US nuclear triad, the nuclear development and testing element, and command and control system that underpins it. At the same time, “to avoid miscalculation,” it will negotiate with other countries to “build predictable relationships and reduce nuclear risks.” New arms control deals will only be considered if they add to stability and are verifiable, however. The administration said it would not be coerced by adversaries using “threats of nuclear escalation.”

The NSS pledges a vital space enterprise and maintaining a lead in space technology and exploration.


Finally, under advancing American influence, the NSS said the US will “lead by example” but will not “impose our values on others.” Partnerships will be of mutual benefit, wherein the US is enabled to “achieve our goals while our partners achieve theirs.”

The US will encourage countries that want to join alliances with the US to “improve the condition of their peoples.”

The NSS acknowledges that China and Russia are buying influence with cash grants, but the US will provide “an alternative to state-directed investments,” offering instead market ties and friendship. The US will extend friendship to anyone basing their relationships on “free-market principles, fair and reciprocal trade, private sector activity, and rule of law.”

The US will “emphasize reforms that unlock the economic potential of citizens, such as the promotion of formal proper rights, entrepreneurial reforms, and infrastructure improvements— projects that help people earn their livelihood and have the added benefit of helping US businesses.”


Russia has been using the anti-ISIS/pro-regime fight in Syria as a proving ground for its weaponry, to gain combat experience for its airmen, and to learn about how the US operates in an air campaign, Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance Lt. Gen. VeraLinn Jamieson said in early January.

Speaking at an AFA Mitchell Institute event on Capitol Hill, Jamieson offered some glimpses into what USAF intelligence has observed about the way Russia has operated in Syria, and how that compares to what is being seen in Chinese exercises and the development of that country’s own air forces.

Russian air units in Syria “have employed precision guided munitions for the first time in a combat role in their history,” Jamieson said. Russian air forces “do not use the same mindset nor do they have the same employment concept, but they are using PGMs at a much greater rate” than at the outset of Russia’s involvement in the conflict, “by their own account,” she said.

She further noted that Russia has “cycled nearly 85 percent of all line-unit aircrew from across the air force into combat operations,” and have learned that there’s a big difference between training and “to be in combat and face an adversary and a threat.” A goal of Russia’s involvement is to “test the mettle, not just of a specific few, but of the majority of their line aircraft and pilots.”

Besides precision-guided bombs and missiles, Jamieson said Russia has used new cruise missiles, air-to-air missiles, and long-range bombers flying “18-24 hours long” missions to and from Syria, in “what I would characterize as their first ‘away game.’?”

China, too, has been flying long bomber missions “six to eight-plus hours, where they used to only fly in their little world.” Both countries have been taking a building-block approach of adding and integrating ISR capabilities, advanced command and control, and aerial refueling.

“They are learning from us,” too, Jamieson allowed, describing the opportunity for Russia to view US operations at close range as “a treasure trove for them,” while China’s first out-of-area base, at Djiboiti, is going to “provide them a unique opportunity to actually … monitor our operations in the region.”

Broadly, US intelligence has observed Russia integrate” some of what we would call their advanced fourth generation fighters, but we do not assess them to be fifth generation fighters.” Troubling, Jamieson said, is the fact that technology advances have allowed both Russia and China to “use a little more flexibility” in air operations. “There is a little more fusion of data in the aircraft, and so they’re able to be a little more flexible” in their tactics, techniques, and procedures, with reduced reliance on ground controllers.

“I think that’s an important distinction they have learned,” and Russia especially has “gained confidence in a combat setting,” she pointed out. Although the Air Force has in recent months been sounding the alarm about the advancement of Russian combat aviation, Jamieson said, “We are really not as far ahead of our adversaries as we are used to being.” She also said, “I don’t want to make the threat 10 feet tall.”

Russia, having observed the US for many years, is attempting—with some success—to emulate the American model of jointness. “While it is not as integrated as we operate, it is a change for them,” she noted.

China, too, has studied the American jointness model and is imitating it with greater success, Jamieson reported.

“China’s exercises are truly of a joint nature,” she said. “They exercise all of their components together because they see the value of joint interoperability.”

She said Russia and China gauge themselves differently in comparison to the US. Russian defense white papers released recently reveal that they view themselves as a full-on “competitor in air and air defense,” while China takes a humbler approach. China views itself as “about a decade behind us. … They are the underdog but they are trying, in the next 10 years or so … to be a competitor in the air and air defense arena.”

Jamieson reported that she is readying an “ISR Flight Plan,” a summary of which will be released in the spring, which will lay out how USAF’s ISR force will “transform,” and it will answer “where does our next generation really need to be.”