The Atlantic

Trump Wants Little to Do With His Own Foreign Policy

The clash between America First and the global shift to great-power competition
Source: Win McNamee / Reuters

In recent months, the Trump administration has called for a dramatic shift in the direction of American foreign policy. How drastic of a shift? As the administration’s National Defense Strategy pithily put it: “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” This means that when it comes to investing in new capabilities and planning for the future, the United States will focus more on threats and challenges from Russia and China than on counter-terrorism, rogue states, and nation building.  

Russia and China both represent very different types of power. They use different tactics to exert their influence, but both seek to erode the U.S.-led regional orders in Europe and East Asia, and to promote a spheres-of-influence-based model. Russia uses hard power, including military interventions in Ukraine and Syria, and political warfare against western democracies. China has expanded its presence in the South China Sea, launched major mercantilist economic initiatives to enhance its influence abroad, and has used its power to pressure American companies, universities, and mediabetween mainstream Democratic and Republican foreign-policy experts that the president had under-reacted to Russian and Chinese assertiveness. Many of them welcome the focus suggested by Trump’s National Defense Strategy and his

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