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Trump national security strategy emphasizes strength at home

by Vivian Salama /
U.S. President Donald J. Trump speaks on his 'America First' national security strategy in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC, Dec. 18, 2017. Trump's strategy puts American sovereignty over international relations, particularly on issues of border security.Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday warned of global rivals that are “tough, tenacious and committed” as he emphasized the need for strength at home and foreign relationships that prioritize American national security.

Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, Trump rolled out his administration's long-awaited national security strategy, translating campaign promises into official government policy.

“The entire world has heard the news and has already seen the signs — America is coming back and America is coming back strong,” Trump declared. “Upon my inauguration, I announced that the United States would return to a simple principle — the first duty of government is to serve its citizens.”

“Every American has a role to play in this grand national effort,” he added.

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Reiterating his vow that Americans would no longer suffer the burden or pay the price for the policies of his predecessors, Trump touted his interest in pursuing deals that create jobs and contribute to American prosperity.

“As the world watches and the world is indeed watching, we are days away from passing historic tax cuts for American families and American businesses,” he said. “Optimism has surged, confidence has returned.”

In a departure from past administrations, which stressed the need for diplomacy and dialogue with adversaries, Trump declared that his administration will use military power as a means for earning respect from allies and keeping adversaries in line.

The plan is broken down into four pillars: Defending the homeland, American prosperity, advancing American influence, and peace through strength.

Trump asserted the need for cooperation, even with competitors like Russia and China, and maintains that American dominance can best be achieved through economic growth.

“Our rivals are tough, tenacious and committed,” he said.

In large part, the Trump administration’s new strategy echoes many of the key policy goals outlined in former President George W. Bush and Obama’s strategies. Obama’s last strategy touted the need to lead with strength and by example. It also asserts, as a priority, efforts for preventing threats or attacks against U.S. citizens at home and abroad and for deterring nuclear proliferation or use of weapons of mass destruction.

Related: Trump's new national security strategy sticks to past presidents

The strategy outlines three main challengers in America’s global “contest for power.” The first, the administration describes as “revisionist powers” — namely China and Russia, which it says are seeking to shape the world through values contradictory to those of the U.S. Second, the administration warns of “the rogue states of Iran and North Korea.” Finally, it underscores the challenges posed by transnational threat organizations, specifically jihadist groups.

“Although differing in nature and magnitude, these rivals compete across political, economic, and military arenas, and use technology and information to accelerate these contests, in order to shift regional balances of power in their favor,” the policy says, according to advanced excerpts.

The framework also echoes the president’s longstanding views on the need for pushback against China as a competitor — in the military, economic and informational domains.

While the White House acknowledges the policy isn’t dramatically different from past strategies, it describes President Trump’s emphasis on border and Homeland security as “unprecedented.”

Trump called for “a policy where the wrong people are allowed into our country and the right people are rejected,” he said. “A nation without borders is not a nation.”

Trump declared that cooperation must always come with American national security interests in mind. He touted his administration’s efforts to help Russia thwart a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke twice in four days, including on Sunday, when Putin called to thank Trump for the assistance of U.S. intelligence agencies in deterring an attack, according to a White House readout.

The White House also emphasizes the need for cooperation with China on deterring the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

“That is the way it’s supposed to work,” he said. “We will stand up for ourselves and our country like we have never stood up before.”

Unlike his predecessors, Trump, who describes himself as the “law and order president,” is moving forward with several controversial measures in the name of bolstered homeland security. He is slowly moving forward with his plans to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico — part of his approach to tackling illegal immigration and drug trafficking into the country.

He’s also battling the courts to implement a ban on travelers and refugees from countries the administration deems high-risk for suspected terrorists.

Most notably, Trump’s policy removed the Obama-era designation of climate change as a national security threat.

Mandated by the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Defense Department Reorganization Act, national security strategies were originally intended as annual updates submitted by the White House to Congress. However, recent administrations have not done annual updates to their policies.

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