After last year’s fears that President Donald Trump would undermine NATO unity, we now have a clearer understanding of the administration’s ambition for transatlantic security. An unclassified version of the new U.S National Defense Strategy was released on Jan. 19, and it was generally well-received.
Critics have lauded the strategy for clearly hierarchizing among competing priorities while others focused on funding issues, but all recognized the important shift towards prioritizing strategic competition with Russia and China (although the specifics of this competition with Moscow and Beijing are unclear), which consequently degraded the relative importance of fighting terrorism.
Simultaneously, the National Defense Strategy heavily emphasizes strengthening alliances:
“Mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are crucial to our strategy, providing a durable, asymmetric strategic advantage that no competitor or rival can match. This approach has served the United States well, in peace and war, for the past 75 years.”
When it comes to NATO, the National Defense Strategy states the United States “will deter Russian adventurism, defeat terrorists who seek to murder innocents, and address the arc of instability building on NATO’s periphery,” thus creating a juxtaposition, rather than a hierarchy, of those issues.
This phrasing might be an attempt to avoid inflaming the current intra-alliance debate on how to balance issues on the southern flank (terrorism and mass migration) and the eastern flank (Russian aggressive military activities), but this choice seems to contradict the strategy’s overall message that great power competition is back, and will be the focus of U.S. effort.
Therefore, an unintended effect of the National Defense Strategy may be to force Europeans to address difficult questions they have so far been happy to delay answering. (excerpt)
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