The new National Security Strategy talks tough — but here are the options the United States actually has, and the pros and cons of each.
The Trump administration’s new National Security Strategy is remarkably critical of China, warning that its “efforts to build and militarize outposts in the South China Sea endanger the free flow of trade, threaten the sovereignty of other nations, and undermine regional stability.” Yet even as U.S. leaders have championed a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” they have yet to explain how this approach will apply to and be implemented in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the situation there has reached a critical stage as Chinese advances accumulate, America’s room for maneuver diminishes, and observers throughout the region wonder whether the United States is up to the challenge.
Donald Trump doesn’t seem to have much interest in spreading American values abroad. His administration has publicly denigrated the importance of promoting human rights and democracy, and Trump himself has repeatedly shown greater personal affection for dictators than democrats. The Wilsonian tradition in American statecraft –- the practice, most closely associated with America’s 28th president, of using American power to disseminate U.S. ideals and institutions overseas – has been rudely shunted aside.
After the sudden collapse of preliminary coalition talks among four of Germany’s political parties, the once hypothetical scenario of another grand coalition – not to mention a minority government, a hybrid “cooperation coalition,” or even a fresh election – is now very real. The Free Democratic Party (FDP) withdrew from the talks, dashing the hopes of building a so-called “Jamaica Coalition” among the remaining Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Greens. Although the talks stalled due to a “lack of trust” and irresolvable differences over climate and migration, the future of European defense policy will emerge as an important debate going forward. Should one of the political outcomes bring the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to the formal negotiating table, here are three key defense issues to watch.
As ISIS goes down to military defeat, the United States requires a longer-range plan and an enduring force presence to deny Iran total victory in Syria. Otherwise, the United States risks losing influence as a new Middle Eastern order is being forged.
A disunited, politically paralyzed, and anti-democratic Europe would erode the ability of NATO to defend and uphold transatlantic norms, values, and institutions, seriously undermining and ultimately questioning the future of the alliance.
America is suffering from a strategy deficit in the South China Sea. For nearly a decade—and at accelerated speed since 2014—Beijing has been salami slicing its way to a position of primacy in that critical international waterway, while eroding the norms and interests Washington long has sought to defend. To date, however, Washington has struggled to articulate an effective response. The Obama administration opposed Chinese maritime expansion rhetorically and worked to improve the overall American military and geopolitical posture in the Asia-Pacific. Yet the administration only occasionally mustered the leverage necessary to check China’s quest for dominance of the South China Sea, and often it was unable even to impose substantial long-term costs on Beijing for its short-term assertiveness. For its part, the Trump administration has yet to formulate or implement a coherent South China Sea strategy, and it has swung from suggesting that America might deny Chinese access to islands in the South China Sea physically—something approaching an act of war—to appearing subsequently to deprioritize the issue.