As we enter 2018, the stage for defense is now set. The president has signed the NSS. The secretary of defense has released the NDS and NPR; the MDR is soon to follow. The White House has made its FY 2019 budget request, and posture hearings are close at hand. However, ambition often outpaces resources, and as with the Obama administration, there is reason for concern with the administration’s plans.
Despite the brief notoriety of U.S. special operations activities after the tragic ambush in Niger last October, U.S. strategic priorities in Africa remain inscrutable. For a recent example of the administration’s enigmatic approach to the continent, look in turn at the Africa sections in the National Security Strategy (NSS) and the National Defense Strategy (NDS). You will find a curious disconnect.
The release of the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy offers a window to evaluate current and ongoing U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific region. But while the documents offer bold, clear strategic direction at a time the United States and the world need clear guideposts, the administration’s actions are at odds with the strategies.
The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy outline a U.S. shift from counterterrorism to inter-state competition with China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. However, U.S. policymakers need to be prepared for much of this competition to occur at the unconventional level, since the costs of conventional and nuclear war would likely be catastrophic.