The Trump Administration recently released its National Security Strategy (“NSS”), a statutorily-mandated public report identifying security challenges and priorities of the new Administration. The NSS signals the Administration’s embrace of an assertive posture in a multipolar world of increasing political, economic, and military competition.

The NSS has no direct policy impact, and, in truth, policy is made through individual decisions, not broad declarations. When making individual decisions, policymakers are obliged to do the difficult work of balancing competing interests. The NSS does, however, set a tone for how this Administration intends to proceed, and in many ways seeks to mark a departure from prior Administrations. With a series of major trade decisions on the agenda for early 2018, this policy statement foreshadows an eventful period. The NSS is divided into four pillars: Protect the American People, the Homeland, and the American Way of Life; Promote American Prosperity; Preserve Peace through Strength; and Advance American Influence.

Reciprocity and enforcement

The NSS’s second pillar, “Promote American Prosperity,” identifies fairness and reciprocity as the central issue in international trade, and calls for confronting countries that have used “dumping, discriminatory non-tariff barriers, forced technology transfers, non-economic capacity, industrial subsidies, and other support from government and state-owned enterprises to gain economic advantages.” Priority actions include:

  • adopt new trade and investment agreements with countries that commit to fair and reciprocal trade and modernize existing agreements;
  • counter unfair trade practices that distort markets;
  • counter foreign corruption using economic and diplomatic tools so U.S. companies can compete fairly in transparent business climates; and
  • work with like-mind partners to preserve and modernize the rules of a fair and reciprocal economic order, relying on fair trade enforcement actions when necessary.

The Administration is right to identify imbalances in the international trading system (e.g., higher tariffs and more restrictions on investment in emerging markets than advanced countries). However, it could prove difficult to find “like-minded partners” and negotiate new agreements if countries grow skeptical of the Administration’s willingness to find common interests.

U.S. technological leadership

The NSS section “Promote and Protect the U.S. National Innovation Base” outlines steps to protect the National Security Innovation Base (NSIB) against competitors who “steal or illegally acquire America’s hard-earned intellectual property and proprietary information to compensate for their own systemic weaknesses.” It names China as a competitor that steals U.S. intellectual property, accuses rival states of engaging in cyber-enabled economic warfare, and highlights efforts of some countries to use “largely legitimate, legal transfers and relationships to gain access to fields, experts, and trusted foundries” to fill their capability gaps and erode America’s long-term economic advantage. Priority actions include:

  • develop a capability to monitor and better understand national security implications of actions of U.S. rivals, and share information with the private sector and academia to encourage them to curtail activities undercutting America’s NSIB;
  • reduce illicit appropriation of U.S. technology and technical knowledge by hostile foreign competitors, including by working with Congress to strengthen the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS);
  • review visa procedures to reduce economic theft by non-traditional intelligence collectors, including by considering restrictions on foreign students from designated countries; and
  • protect data and underlying infrastructure, and encourage practices across companies and universities to defeat espionage and theft.

The NSS also espouses support for continued use of sanctions as an important part of “broader strategies to deter, coerce, and constrain adversaries,” and contemplates using them to “isolate states and leaders who threaten our interests and whose actions run contrary to our values.”

A Busy 2018

Turning to the practicalities of governing, the Trump Administration has a series of major trade and investment decisions on the near horizon:

  • China technology transfer (s. 301);
  • national security investigation (s. 232) — steel imports;
  • national security investigation (s. 232) — aluminum imports;
  • safeguard investigation (s. 201) — solar;
  • safeguard investigation (s. 201) — dishwashers;
  • trade (re)negotiations involving NAFTA (Canada and Mexico) and South Korea; and
  • congressional review of foreign investment screening legislation.

The Trump Administration will have plenty of opportunities to convert its NSS vision into actual policy.