Trump To Unveil National Security Strategy For Military, Foreign Policy

Dec 18, 2017
Originally published on December 18, 2017 8:11 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Later today, President Trump gives a speech outlining his new national security strategy. The document lays out a plan to confront both China and Russia. And we're going to discuss that with David Sanger, national security correspondent for The New York Times - is in our studios. Welcome back, sir.

DAVID SANGER: Great to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why those two countries, China and Russia?

SANGER: Well, if you read the strategy, it refers to both of them as revisionist powers. Now, I get that for China - a revisionist power wants to rewrite the global rules in a way that will favor itself. It's what we did after World War II. It's what the Chinese, who see this as their moment, are trying to do now.

INSKEEP: They want to revise the U.S.-led global order - is what you're saying?

SANGER: That's right. And make it a Chinese-led global order, or at least in part of it. And, you know, they don't make a whole lot of apologies about this. If you look at Xi Jinping's long, three-hour speech during the Communist Party Congress a few months ago, he lays out a plan whereby 2049, China emerges as the world's biggest military and economic power.

For Russia, I'm not sure they're trying to revise the global order. They are trying to re-establish their glory within a sort of superpower rivalry. They don't have the financial means to go do what China has in mind. And, you know, on the military side, most of what they've got is nuclear weapons. So I thought it was interesting they were lumped together. The other interesting Russia part of this, Steve, is that the strategy is more critical of what Vladimir Putin has done in Crimea, in elections in Europe, in Ukraine than you've ever heard from the president the United States whose strategy it is.

INSKEEP: OK. Kind of silent - kind of silent on U.S. election meddling, for example.

SANGER: Very little on that and nothing on what a long-term - you would expect a long-term strategy after this kind of election issue to contain something about what we would do to keep that from happening.

INSKEEP: OK, so you've got to have a strategy for China. You've got to have a strategy for Russia. What does the document say about the U.S. strategy toward Russia?

SANGER: Well, toward Russia, it describes a bit of a pushback, but it's very vague when it comes to the most important issues. So, you know, I would like to see - as I'm sure many in Congress who've talked about this would like to see - you know, what is - how would we combat information operations of the kind that we've now discovered on faking and...

INSKEEP: Hacking and propaganda, yeah.

SANGER: ...Google - that kind of propaganda - never contained and never a problem before that had to be addressed in previous national security strategies. And these documents, by the way, are required by Congress, allegedly, once every two years. Most administrations do one at the beginning. And if they have a second term, they do a second one. And you have to commend the Trump administration - they're the first one I can remember that did one in their first year.

INSKEEP: OK. So they're at least producing the document. But it doesn't say all that much about Russia, you report. Is that because President Trump himself doesn't really believe Russia is that much of a threat? Just over the weekend, he spoke with Vladimir Putin on the phone. And they put out a statement praising some joint cooperation in a terrorism operation, and the statement says, this is an example of positive things that can occur when our countries work together.

SANGER: Well, it is an example of positive things that can happen when you work together. I can't remember another time where a president has turned out a statement about the sharing of highly confidential secret intelligence reports or that ended with an exclamation point that said, you know, good job.

INSKEEP: Job well done...

SANGER: Job well done...

INSKEEP: ...Exclamation point.

SANGER: Yeah. So that at least tells you who wrote because...

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: You think the president at least edited or maybe wrote this...

SANGER: That's right.

INSKEEP: ...Statement you're saying?

SANGER: That's right.

INSKEEP: But do you believe that the president believes that Russia is really a threat to the United States?

SANGER: That's what we can't really tell. Certainly, nothing he has ever said indicates that. Certainly, he doesn't view the election interference as a threat because he keeps saying that it was created by...

INSKEEP: A hoax, he says.

SANGER: ...His political enemies. And so what's happened in this administration is you don't get a real sense of what the Russia strategy is. Now, I was in late last week as this was coming together, talking to a senior official of the administration about that. And he said, we do have a Russia strategy. We just haven't published it.

INSKEEP: OK. David, pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

SANGER: Great to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: David Sanger of The New York Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.