Written By: Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
The Trump administration released new “National Security Strategy of the United States of America” on December 18, 2017. It provides an important window into the thinking of Trump administration’s means, ways and ends. It underlines the steady transformation in the global politics that is causing new strategic alliances or partnerships formation. The materialization of new partnerships is advantageous for a few regional actors and alarming for the smaller states, particularly in Asia. Indeed, Trump’s National Security Strategy (NSS) 2017 will not only steward the United States during the next three years, but also immensely influence the global strategic environment. Importantly, it stresses on great power competition with China, flatters India, and snubs Pakistan. The great power’s strategic competition would not only make Pakistan’s strategic environment vulnerable, but also drag it into their strategic theater. In addition, the Trump administration officials’ recent mantra that India is a reliable natural partner and Pakistan is an unreliable partner in South Asia is a critical development. Therefore, the NSS 2017 needs to be taken seriously and the document’s critical examination is imperative for chalking out a befitting coherent strategy to uphold Pakistan’s national interest.
Realistically, the NSS 2017 specifically targeted Pakistan. It claimed, “The United States continues to face threats from transnational terrorists and militants operating from within Pakistan.” Importantly, it reiterates the allegations, which were levied in the Trump Afghanistan and South Asia policy statement on August 21, 2017. He accused: “For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror.” He pointed out: “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.” On December 21, 2017, during his Afghanistan visit Vice President Mike Pence also stated that “President Trump has put Pakistan on notice.” Secretaries of Defense and State and the National Security Advisor also hinted for punitive measures including stopping U.S. economic and military assistance to Pakistan. These alarming developments have germinated four important interlinked questions: What is NSS 2017? Why is the Trump administration flattering India? Could NSS 2017, President Trump’s South Asia and Afghanistan policy, and other official’s warnings serve the intellectual pretext to impose economic sanctions against Pakistan and conduct extended drone strikes on the Pakistani territory in the near future? What is Pakistan’s response? The following discussion is an attempt to explain the philosophical constructs of the NSS 2017, shift in the American policies in the changing global strategic environment, destabilizing repercussions from the promotion of India and Pakistan’s cautious response.
Trump administration is determined to give India a bigger role in Afghanistan. It is blaming Pakistan for its own failure in the region. The people of Pakistan are disturbed by the Trump administration’s repeated mantras of ‘do-more’; ‘placing on notice’.
The philosophical constructs of Trump’s NSS 2017 are ‘internationalism’ blended in principles of ‘realism’. It is a strategy of principled realism that is guided by outcomes, not ideology. It equates the international politics with the Hobbesian world in which sovereign states compete for advantage and militarily advantageous nations coerce the smaller/dependent partners for maximizing their gains. The procurement of modernized high-tech military hardware, therefore, is inevitable to pursue objectives in competitive geopolitical affairs. While confirming the recurrence of the era of balance of power, it echoes the realization that era of United States’ role as the ‘sole super power’ to structure and administer a ‘new world order’ is checkmated by rising China and the assertive Russian Federation. Therefore, it applauds India’s “leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region” to balance China in the Asian strategic setting. Secondly, the NSS document reflects the American frustration due to protracted warfare in Afghanistan, unending war on terrorism, radicalized outfits or lone wolf terrorists’ presence in the American and European societies, crises in west Asia, advancing nuclear arsenal of North Korea and Pakistan’s endeavor for a sovereign foreign policy and its shift towards Eurasian powers. Third, the document also signals Trump administrations apathetic approach towards climate change; promoting democracy and human rights, and disarmament of conventional and nuclear weapons.
The edifice of NSS 2017 document is realism. It “acknowledges the central role of power in international politics, affirms that sovereign states are the best hope for a peaceful world, and clearly defines our national interests.” In theory, realism depicts states as operating in a nasty and brutish Hobbesian world that prompts them to compete for power and influence at the expense of other nations. Sovereign states subordinate or disregard moral principles while pursuing their objectives in the anarchical international society. In such a world sovereign states maximize their gains through competition instead of cooperation. Two senior members of Trump administration, H.R. McMaster, National Security Adviser, and Gary Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council wrote in the Wall Street Journal (May 30, 2017) that the world is “an arena where nations, non-governmental actors, and businesses engage and compete for advantage.” Similar theme was spelled out in the NSS 2017. It expresses distress on the current international economic order because it is disadvantageous for the interest of America. President Trump is convinced that free-trade deals undermine the U.S. national interest and are advantageous for its adversaries. Hence, the United States has to maximize its military strength to play a decisive role in the international geopolitical affairs. This precisely why the Trump administration is inclined towards mercantilist economic philosophy.
Pakistan cannot be apathetic to India’s increasing military capability and its role in its Western neighborhood at the behest of the United States. Islamabad’s renunciation of Washington’s attempt to demonstrate India as a great power in South Asia is a source of annoyance for the Trump administration. Therefore, President Trump and his cohorts are accusing and reprimanding Pakistan.
The document reveals the strong leaning of the Trump administration towards internationalism. It says, “An America that is safe, prosperous, and free at home is an America with the strength, confidence, and will to lead abroad.” It also rationalizes the internationalist policy by reminding that in the absence of the American leadership in the aftermath of World War I, the world descended into World War II. “We learned the difficult lesson that when America does not lead, malign actors fill the void to the disadvantage of the United States.” The irony is that during the 2016 presidential election campaign the impression was given that Donald Trump foreign and strategic policy would be influenced by the isolationist norms. As a presidential candidate he stated: “the problems in Europe, Asia, NATO, and Syria, are for others to worry about.” The NSS 2017 document sounds different. It completely discards the isolationist approach in making the United States foreign and strategic policy. Therefore, in the current changing international politics, Washington remains assertive for its leadership to steward the like-minded states, allies and partners.
The NSS 2017 clearly reiterated to endure the United States leadership in the global politics and also identified China and the Russian Federation as strategic competitors of the United States in the twenty-first century. It underscored that: “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.” It added: “China and Russia are developing advanced weapons and capabilities that could threaten our critical infrastructure and our command and control architecture.” The formulation of a favorable balance of power necessitates rebuilding America’s military strength. The NSS 2017 accentuates President Trump’s promised defense spending spree. In February 2017 at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, he admitted that American troops lacked equipment. Nevertheless, they would see “beautiful new planes and beautiful new equipment.” The NSS 2017 document says: “We will modernize our nuclear enterprise to ensure that we have the scientific, engineering, and manufacturing capabilities necessary to retain an effective and safe nuclear triad and respond to future national security threats.” It also indicated that the United States is deploying a layered missile defense system. The modernization of both conventional and nuclear weapons intensifies the security dilemma puzzle of many states, including China and the Russian Federation, which are pilloried by NSS 2017 as challengers to United States primacy in the global geopolitical affairs.
The United States, today, is aimed for promoting a balance of power that favors the United States, its allies, and its partners. Perhaps, the pursuit of global leadership through the military buildup and constituting strategic partnerships alarm other great powers. They struggle to sustain their influence in their neighborhood. The strategic opposition by other leading powers is natural. On December 19, 2017, Beijing and Moscow decried President Donald Trump’s NSS 2017 as a “Cold War mentality” with an “imperialist character”. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated: “We urge the United States to stop intentionally distorting China’s strategic intentions and to abandon outdated notions such as the Cold War mentality and zero-sum game, otherwise it will only harm itself or others.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov opined: “The imperialist character of this document is obvious, as is the refusal to renounce a unipolar world, an insistent refusal.” The Chinese and Russians response marked that Trump’s National Security Strategy disturbs both nations and thereby they adopt political, economic and military countermeasures.
The NSS 2017 document exhibits a shift in the American perceptions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Previously, the Americans maintained, “Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the center of the Middle East’s (if not the world’s) troubles”. The new NSS says: “For generations the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been understood as the prime irritant preventing peace and prosperity in the region. Today, the threats from jihadist terrorist organizations and the threat from Iran are creating the realization that Israel is not the cause of the region’s problems. States have increasingly found common interests with Israel in confronting common threats.” The alarming variable in the shift is that the current American administration is setting aside the legitimate demand for right of self-determination of the people of Palestine. It is instead diverting the attention of the world towards jihadist terrorists and Iran. Admittedly, the Islamic State had posed a serious threat to entire region. However, currently, it is losing its influence in the Middle East and gaining influence in Afghanistan whereas the Iran issue was baselessly aggregated in the NSS. Many Americans have also expressed their serious concerns over Trump’s Iran policy. This shift in the American policy will be having serious repercussion for the South-West Asia.
The NSS reiterated Washington’s commitment to strengthen India’s military power and enhance its role in the Asian strategic setting. It says, “We welcome India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defense partner. We will seek to increase quadrilateral cooperation with Japan, Australia, and India.” United States, Australia and Japan constituted strategic partnership with India. Indeed, this strategic partnership is to check China’s increasing clout in the global affairs, particularly in Asia-Pacific. China’s assertiveness in South China Sea is a nuisance for United States and its South East Asian allies. Moreover, its increasing naval presence throughout the Indian Ocean irritates India that regarded India Ocean as part of its immediate sphere of influence. On July 10, 2017 the United States, Japan, and India lunched a tri-nation Malabar exercise in the Bay of Bengal. The naval exercise was aimed at achieving deeper military ties between the three nations. In the exercise, the U.S. navy’s largest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, the Indian Navy’s solitary aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and Japan Izumo-class helicopter carrier participated. They deployed front-line warships, submarines and aircraft as part of the maritime exercise. The U.S. Navy spokesperson stated: “As members of Indo-Asia-Pacific nations, our maritime forces are natural partners, and we look forward to continuing to strengthen our bonds and personal relationships.” Certainly, United States, Japan and India maritime forces cooperation is advantageous for their national interests, but disturbing for the other Indo-Pacific littoral states.
Since the beginning of 21st century, India and United States strategic partnership is on a positive trajectory. The strategic partnership facilitates New Delhi in the pursuit of its regional and global agenda. Washington supports unconditionally New Delhi at the international forums against Pakistan. It facilitated India’s entry into Missile Technology Control Regime in 2016 and Wassenaar Arrangement in 2017. Washington has been lobbying to make New Delhi a full member of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) since May 2016. The former also endorses India’s great power ambitions in South Asia, Indian Ocean and beyond. The NSS 2017 claims: “We will expand our defense and security cooperation with India, a Major Defense Partner of the United States, and support India’s growing relationships throughout the region.” In the political context, the document pointed out, “We will deepen our strategic partnership with India and support its leadership role in the Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region.” The United States is preparing India to play a regional leviathan role in South Asia and the Indian Ocean to keep in check the increasing influence of China in the region. The NSS promises, “We will help South Asian nations maintain their sovereignty as China increases its influence in the region.” The Americans are deliberately ignoring the fact that a politically and militarily strong India would be perilous for strategic stability in South Asia. India has already unleashed hybrid warfare against its neighboring states, including Pakistan, to pacify their demand for sovereign equality in the regional affairs. New Delhi typically operates below the threshold of conventional warfare, using a blend of military and paramilitary tools, including proxy forces/militants/separatists, cyber tools, and information operations to shape and coerce neighboring states to its advantage. Consequently, India succeeded against its small neighbors. Nevertheless, Islamabad has been resisting New Delhi’s endeavors to establish its hegemony in the region through the conventional and hybrid warfare.
Ironically, the Trump administration does not condemn India’s frequent violations of the Line of Control and butchering of innocent Kashmiris in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). Conversely, they endorse New Delhi’s claims that the Indian border forces fire at LOC to prevent infiltration of the militants and they are killing terrorists in the Indian Occupied Kashmir. In reality, Indian armed forces are killing innocent civilians on both sides of the LOC. The NSS says “U.S. interests in the region include countering terrorist threats that impact the security of the U.S. homeland and our allies, preventing cross-border terrorism that raises the prospect of military and nuclear tensions, and preventing nuclear weapons, technology, and materials from falling into the hands of terrorists.” It failed to express its concerns over the reckless behavior of the Indian ruling elite. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Air Force Chief had openly expressed their desire to conduct surgical strikes or hot pursuit against nuclear-armed Pakistan. This hawkish irrational attitude of the Indian leadership is alarming for the South Asian strategic stability. Indeed, it is an accurate conclusion of the NSS 2017 that: “The prospect for an Indo-Pakistani military conflict that could lead to a nuclear exchange remains a key concern requiring consistent diplomatic attention.” India and Pakistan tense relations and formal warmongering to blackmail the latter threaten to spiral into escalated conflict entailing nuclear strike exchanges. Instead of addressing New Delhi’s irresponsible surgical strike mania, the document says: “The United States will also encourage Pakistan to continue demonstrating that it is a responsible steward of its nuclear assets.” It is indirectly raising a questions on the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal when taking the history of Pakistan’s nuclear program into account proves that it is a responsible nuclear weapon state. Pakistan has always handled its nuclear assets responsibly. Islamabad cannot compromise on its nuclear weapons because they are essential to prevent a nuclear attack, non-nuclear strategic attacks, and large-scale conventional aggression.
Realistically, today, America’s military remains the strongest in the world. Despite this the military advantages of the United States are shrinking or limits are exposed in the prevalent global politics. Its mighty military machine has failed to secure unconditional victory in Afghanistan. The continuous Afghan Taliban resistance in Afghanistan is a source of frustration for the Americans. On August 21, 2017, President Trump in his South Asia plan highlighted American frustrations. He stated: “I share the American people’s frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money — and most importantly, lives — trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations.” At various occasions, Trump administration accused Islamabad of providing safe haven to the Afghan Taliban. The Americans have been scapegoating Pakistan to conceal their failure in Afghanistan.
The NSS 2017 completely ignored Pakistan’s sacrifices in the global war on terrorism. It repeats the old mantra of unsubstantiated allegations and unreasonable demands. It demanded, “Pakistan decisive action against militant and terrorist groups operating from its soil.” Pakistan has successfully been conducting military operations like Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad against terrorist organizations and their facilitators. It seems that the NSS 2017 the Indian point of view, i.e., ‘cross-border terrorism that raises the prospect of military and nuclear tensions.’ The Government of Pakistan responded candidly without caving into Trump administrations threats. It warned that “unsubstantiated allegations” will only “trivialize Pakistan’s efforts for fighting terrorism.” It also reminded Trump administration: “Pakistan has long been at the forefront in the fight against regional and global terrorism. It is because of Pakistan’s cooperation with the international community, acknowledged and appreciated by the U.S. leadership, that the Al-Qaeda core was decimated from the region.”
The preceding discussion confirms that the Trump administration is determined to give India a bigger role in Afghanistan. It is blaming Pakistan for its own failure in the region. The people of Pakistan are disturbed by the Trump administration’s repeated mantras of ‘do-more’; ‘placing on notice’; ‘U.S. could take unilateral action’; etc. On December 28, 2017, DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor voiced Pakistani’s concerns by saying: “We have done enough and we can’t do it anymore for anyone. It is time Afghanistan and the U.S. do more for Pakistan.” The befitting diplomatic response and Islamabad’s unwillingness to ‘do more’ may enrage President Trump, entailing drone strikes on Pakistani territory. Islamabad categorically stated that any unilateral actions taken inside Pakistan by the U.S. would be met with an emphatic response. General Ghafoor specified: “The armed forces are working with friends and want to continue doing so, but there can be no compromise on our national honor. We do not want a conflict with our friends, but will ensure the security of Pakistan.”
To conclude, Pakistan cannot be apathetic to India’s increasing military capability and its role in its Western neighborhood at the behest of the United States. Islamabad’s renunciation of Washington’s attempt to demonstrate India as a great power in South Asia is a source of annoyance for the Trump administration. Therefore, President Trump and his cohorts are accusing and reprimanding Pakistan. Conversely, Pakistani ruling elite is doing its best to convince the Americans that it is neither interested in undermining American supremacy in the global politics nor desires to quash Pakistan-United States strategic partnership.
The writer is Associate Professor at School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.