What does Donald Trump’s “principled realism” involve?

The Day experts opine on the US’s new defense strategy

On December 18, US President Donald Trump unveiled a new national security strategy, outlining the basic principles and priorities of the nation’s foreign policy in his administration’s time in power. The document, which took 11 months to prepare, contains 68 pages. “With this strategy, we are calling for a great reawakening of America, a resurgence of confidence, and a rebirth of patriotism, prosperity, and pride,” the resident of the White House described this document. A number of media outlets have noticed that the strategy echoes Trump’s campaign slogan of “America first.” “We recognize that weakness is the surest path to conflict and unrivaled power is the most certain means of defense,” the head of state emphasized.

The document itself consists of four sections: protection of the homeland, the Americans, and the American way of life; promotion of America’s prosperity; keeping peace through strength, and advancing America’s influence.


During his speech, Trump labeled Russia and China as “rival powers.” According to the CNN, the document referred to these two countries as those that “challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.” “With its invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, Russia demonstrated its willingness to violate the sovereignty of states in the region,” the strategy says. Also, the document draws attention to Russia’s attempts to meddle in the American elections in 2016. However, the American president stressed during the speech that his nation needed to establish “great partnerships” with both countries.


In addition, Trump mentioned such, as he said, “rogue regimes” as North Korea and Iran. According to the Voice of America, Trump called the challenge of the DPRK a problem that would be dealt with.


The head of state also noted that for the first time in such a document, economic security became an integral part of national security. According to the CNN, the document makes it clear that the slogan “America first” is more than just a slogan; it is now a guiding force in foreign policy making. The strategy states: “The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to violations, cheating, or economic aggression.”


The media also noticed that the previous defense strategy, unveiled by former US President Barack Obama in 2015, called climate change “an urgent and growing threat to national security.” At the same time, Trump’s strategy references the “importance of environmental stewardship” only in passing in a section focused on “energy dominance.”


The president also addressed the border issue, reiterating his idea of building a wall on the border with Mexico and promising to put an end to the “chain migration” of immigrants’ relatives and to close “loopholes that undermine enforcement of immigration restrictions.”


The CNN writes that after Trump’s speech, a key takeaway became evident: “the document may never fully translate to the president’s words and actions.” “While the national security strategy document refers to Russia nearly two dozen times, criticizing its meddling in other countries’ affairs and its attempts to undermine the US, Trump referenced Russia only once, alongside China, when he called both ‘rival powers.’”

Meanwhile, The New York Times believes that “the disconnect between the president’s speech and the analysis in his administration’s document attests to the broader challenge his national security advisers have faced, as they have struggled to develop an intellectual framework that encompasses Mr. Trump’s unpredictable, domestically driven, and Twitter-fueled approach to foreign policy.”

The Voice of America reports, citing senior administration officials, that, unlike previous strategies, this document contains a “clear view” of the threats and challenges facing the country.

“National security strategies are usually released without fanfare, but President Trump wanted to make an event out of it,” reads a comment by Barbara Plett, a BBC correspondent. Meanwhile, the BBC article “Trump’s National Security Strategy: A pragmatic view of troubled world” states that the document presents both “a decidedly more pessimistic view of the world but nonetheless a markedly optimistic view of America’s place in it.”

Meanwhile, the DW notes that “the strategy from the Republican president could sharply alter US international relationships if fully implemented.”

Former Foreign Minister of Sweden Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter: “The previous US National Security Strategy in 2015 favoured a ‘rules-based International order.’ That concept is totally absent from the new document.” He also noted that the document mentions the EU only in the context of “ensuring fair and reciprocal trade practices and eliminating barriers to growth.”


Oleksandr TSVIETKOV, americanist, Professor at Borys Hrinchenko University of Kyiv:

“This is the first large-scale document of the Trump administration to present its views on world processes as seen from the standpoint of ‘America first.’ It is based on the ideology of ‘principled realism’ – recognition of the factor of force in international politics and assertion of the national sovereignty as the best basis for peaceful development of the world and the advancement of national interests.

“For us, the emphasis on aggression of Russia, which demonstrates its intentions to undermine the sovereignty of states in the region, is important. And on the world stage, it intends to weaken the US position in Europe, undermine transatlantic unity and European institutions and governments.”


Aliona HETMANCHUK, director of the New Europe Center:

“By and large, the National Security Strategy is an improved version of Trump’s election platform, repackaged as a security vision. The main difference is that while during the US presidential election, Trump explained why his concept of ‘America first’ was the best strategy for Americans, in the national security strategy, he tries to show why ‘America first’ is the best strategy not only for the US, but for the whole civilized world.

“A positive signal is that the document reflects a certain departure from isolationism he declared while campaigning. More emphasis is placed on global engagement. However, it seems that global engagement in Trump’s vision is based on strategic competition rather than on strategic partnership with some countries.

“Just like during the campaign, Trump has made it very clear that he considers economic insecurity the main threat to national security. For Ukraine as well as for Europe as a whole, it is important that the strategy clearly defines the significance of Europe as understood by the White House: ‘The United States is safer when Europe is prosperous and stable, and can help defend our shared interests.’

“It is also important that the strategy’s text reflects the fact of the Russian invasions of Ukraine and Georgia, as well as the current attempts by the Kremlin to intimidate its neighbors. However, one needs to see clearly that not everything stated in the document aligns with Trump’s personal vision. This was clearly seen once more during his presentation of the strategy, when he substantially moderated the wording of the document on Russia and China: instead of the revisionist powers, as stated in the text, they became just rivals with whom, according to Trump, the US must build great partnerships.”