United States President Donald Trump after nearly a year in office has announced his security strategy document which generally has large-scale implications for the world in general and South Asia in particular. The underlying theme of the new security strategy is “America First”. Trump’s security strategists, being cognizant of the fact that security in the twenty first century is a multidimensional concept, have made economic security the core of Washington’s new security strategy. The new document “affirms the belief that America’s economic security is national security.”
The new US security strategy has four important strands which include: protecting the country and the American people, promoting American prosperity, preserving peace through strength and advancing American influence. While protecting the country and its people and promoting American prosperity are very much understandable and is the sovereign right of Washington, but the emphasis on preserving peace through strength and promoting American influence are quite problematic. Peace could only be preserved through cooperation and establishing cooperative associations between and among states. However, it is the reality of the international system that it is very much anarchical and it requires according to certain experts a “hegemon” to stabilize the system and the US consider this hegemon itself. President Trump emphasis on “preserving peace through strength” is an indication of this mindset. Promoting American influence is again very confused as Washington already has sweeping influence around the world, but promoting American influence means to curtail the growing influence of other countries, particularly China. Beijing, through such initiatives like the One Belt One Road (OBOR) and by linking the Eurasian land mass, wants to dominate these regions and the US obviously would not like to see an increase in Chinese influence.
Making economic security the kernel of the US new security strategy is a candid admission by the Trump Administration that more than anything else, economics is important for Washington. This has always been the case with US foreign policy and, under it, the defense policy of Washington, but arguably no US president in the past has acknowledged it in such unequivocal terms.
President Trump’s administration has described its new security strategy as a comprehensive vision for tackling America’s complex security challenges. This is something dichotomous on the part of Washington because, on the one hand, placing the economy at the core of the new security strategy while on the other hand saying that there are complex security challenges to the US is incompatible. In other words, here the Trump administration’s assertion regarding its new security strategy is hazy. There should have been a clearer explanation from Washington that the security challenges are more to the economic hegemony of the US, than to its physical existence.
The new security strategy of the US with economics at its core calls for bringing a balance in US economic relations with the rest of the world, especially China. This clearly points towards the growing tilt in the balance of trade between Washington and Beijing to the latter. This means that the US strategists under President Trump are concerned about the growing economic prowess of China. This increasing economic strength of China obviously comes at the cost of the US’s shrinking economic power. It may be remembered that President Trump has taken an aggressive stance on trade and has had vowed to reduce the trade deficits, particularly with China and has said that he wants to level the playing field for American companies. Circumventing China economically, by Washington, does not augur well for Pakistan, one of the closest allies of Beijing and with whom it is engaged in giving a practical shape to multibillion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Against this backdrop, the US opposition to CPEC under President Trump becomes more understandable. However, it is important to note that by trying to reduce its trade deficits, Washington may politically and strategically destabilize other regions, which ultimately would boomerang on the US.
On its part, China has felt the heat from the new security strategy of the US. The media quoted Beijing foreign ministry spokesman, Hua Chunying, as saying that US-China economic and trade relations “are mutually beneficial.” At the same time she said that her country hoped the new US policy would contribute to “our common safeguard of international peace and security.” This is a clear indication that Beijing is seriously perturbed by President Trump’s security strategy with economics at its core and China as its target. Apparently, President Trump considers that US-China economic relations are not mutually beneficial and has contributed more to Beijing than Washington. However, the Chinese spokesperson is apt is stating, as we analyzed above, that by pursuing its economic objectives, Washington would make the world more unstable.
According to US defence secretary, Jim Mattis, “the greatest weapon is our (US) strong GDP.” This is indeed a very important statement because without a strong GDP, which is number one in the world, the US would not have been able to sustain its military dominance. Otherwise, at the height of the Cold War between the US-led capitalist world and Soviet Union-spearheaded communist world, the latter had more nuclear and conventional weapons than Washington. But as the Soviet Union could not sustain its economy, it simply fragmented because it could not continue to spend on its expensive wars like the one in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
President Trump’s security strategy would have large-scale implications for the world and particularly our region, because of the focus on China. It is important to note that Washington no more considers non-state actors like Al Qaeda and Islamic State as a grave threat to the US. It might be recalled that Al Qaeda, under its founder Osama bin Laden, had its objective to target the US economic power and symbols because the group thought that compelling Washington to pull out of the Middle East and other Muslim countries was only possible by economically devastating it. Only time would reveal the real impact of Washington’s new security strategy.