By M. R. Josse
TAMPA, FL: Last week, I promised to proffer some observations on US President Donald Trump’s unveiling, December 6, of a new national security strategy.
The strategy document, the preparation of which was overseen by Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. McMaster, placed China and Russia in focus – the former described as a ‘revisionist power’ seeking to undermine US security and society; the latter portrayed as a dangerous rival trying to restore its great power status and establish spheres of influence by using state-funded media and cyber elements to undermine Western democracies.
Yet administration insiders have been quoted as claiming that China is seen as a ‘strategic competitor’, not an ‘adversary’, and, as such, that the White House is still seeking to cooperate with Beijing over North Korea.
As Gregory Korte, of the ‘USA Today’, assessed it, Trump placed economic factors – trade, energy independence and tax policy – on an equal footing with traditional military priorities such as nuclear defense.
In consequence, what emerges is a doctrine that seeks to reduce competing objectives: emphasizing political and economic competition with countries such as China and Russia while enlisting their help with security challenges such as North Korea’s nuclear programme.
Incidentally, the convergence of core strategic interests between the US, China and Russia was underscored December 22, when China and Russia joined the US is imposing tough new sanctions on North Korea via an unanimous UN Security Council resolution in an endeavour to force Pyongyang into talks.
It might be noted that Trump’s ‘America First’ speech to cabinet colleagues and others, while introducing the strategy document, as per the Tampa Bay Times, “side-stepped the report’s thrust.”
Two further points may be made: first, instead of taking up the serious allegations of Russian meddling in US’s 2016 presidential elections, Trump proudly disclosed that Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked him for passing on crucial actionable intelligence useful to Moscow that American intelligence had recently acquired; secondly, as a report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reminded, “some past strategies have been derided as heavy on platitudes and short in policy prescription.”
As Hudson Institute senior fellow, Arthur Herman, points out in his thoughtful WSJ opinion piece, ‘The New Era of Global Stability’, “this new period of history is defined by the balance-of-power geopolitics embraced by Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump”, even as “ideology no longer matters, but power does” and as “the grand ideological conflicts that began in 1917 are giving way to old-fashioned geopolitics.”
Reading the fine print on the new US security strategy, I must refer to two additional illuminating commentaries, beginning with blunt critique to the ‘USA Today’ on American foreign policy by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. The French dignitary summed it up by charging that it smacks of ‘isolationism’ and ‘retreat.’
To buttress his drastic conclusion, Le Drian referred to Trump’s repudiation of the Paris climate agreement, UNESCO, trade deals, the Iran nuclear deal and the broad international consensus that Jerusalem should not be recognized as Israel’s capital until its status is resolved by Palestinian and Israelis.
The other exegesis refers to a WSJ column by Andrew Browne that focuses on US-China relations. Though Browne, writing from Shanghai, admits that some of the language of the new American strategy document has “strong Cold War overtones, including talk of US nuclear deterrence” he points out that “the document is also a frank acknowledgement of wholly shared concerns about China’s rise.”
Browne is of the view that Trump’s “challenge will be to translate these grievances into a program. His security document vows US leadership and technology to keep open common domains. The question is whether he can summon resources – and the will – to confront China.”
He quotes Australian strategic studies professor Hugh White who argues that in the struggle for dominance in Asia, “America will lose, and China will win.” His reasoning? “No US President is going to risk war with China to hold on to American hegemony in Asia. It hasn’t helped matters that White House efforts to counter China in the past have in the end amounted to little.
“If anything, Mr. Trump’s task is more daunting than his predecessor’s. The Chinese economy is on a roll, defying Western predictions of collapse. More than ever, Asian economies are drawn into China’s orbit. And national wealth buys military power.”
Moreover, White says he believes the US president will get tougher on trade, but doubts he has the intention or the capacity to push back effectively against the strategic challenge from Beijing.
In concluding this segment, one can hardly ignore America’s eloquent current diplomatic isolation, showcased in the recent 14-1 vote in the UN Security Council on a resolution to invalidate Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Though it was not adopted due to the US veto, the same bleak message of seclusion came across even more powerfully in the emergency session of the UN General Assembly, days later, when a (non-binding) resolution on condemned the US decree on Jerusalem was carried 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions.
Incidentally, it may be recalled that the General Assembly resolution was co-sponsored by Pakistan which receives billions of dollars of American aid every year! No less eye-popping was Trump’s threat to cut off aid to nations voting against the US – a threat that has understandably not gone down very well in the international community.
Such, then, constitutes some of the fascinating fine print on America’s new strategy document.
As far as Nepal is concerned, a few pointers: while China is crucial to the US, both as a serious competitor and strategic partner, India hardly figures. Our policy pundits must hence take this crucial geopolitical factor into account in policy formulation, even as Hindustan, plainly miffed at the election results, attempts, by hook or by crook, to undermine it.
India would do well to recognize that geopolitical reality.