The 2017 National Security Strategy is a statement of Trump administration priorities, and its central tenets can be directly traced to statements made by Donald Trump on the campaign trail, albeit now framed in more genteel terms. National security experts are busily analyzing the strategy to discern its insights, pivots, oversights, inconsistencies, and priorities. This essay, however, concerns itself solely with the strategy’s implications for American seapower.
Seapower advocates have long made the case for freedom of the seas and the security and prosperity benefits that such freedom provides. The strategy comes out of the blocks strong on this front, stating, “Americans have long recognized the benefits of an interconnected world, where information and commerce flow freely” (p. 7). But this recognition is quickly qualified:
Engaging with the world, however, does not mean the United States should abandon its rights and duties as a sovereign state or compromise its security. Openness also imposes costs, since adversaries exploit our free and democratic system to harm the United States.
Here we find the fundamental tension between worldwide freedom of the seas (provided by globally deployed American seapower), and the Trump administration’s view that the United States is often taken advantage of, a tension that is never satisfactorily resolved in the document.
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