26 Jul 2017

Trump’s national security process implications for US foreign policy and international relations

Risa Brooks

In the United States, presidents vary significantly in the processes through which they evaluate and decide national security matters. Basic structures, such as the National Security Council, remain relatively constant across administrations. But presidents employ those institutions differently. [i]

More broadly, they choose with whom they will consult from their Cabinet and staff and what will be the norms of discussion in those deliberations. A president’s character, worldview and management style, in turn, can have a profound impact on these national security processes.[ii]

With Donald Trump now in office for six months, the nature of his national security processes is starting to come into view. The president’s background and personality have heavily shaped how foreign policy and security issues are being analyzed and decided. Below I discuss several key characteristics and emerging patterns within the advisory process in the White House.

That emerging national security process has important implications for the character of U.S. foreign policy and international relations. Several trends are apparent. Combined these provide important insights in how Donald Trump will manage the country’s foreign relations during his presidency and the impact his approach will have on the U.S. role in the international arena.

[i] For an overview of the president’s impact on these processes see, “The National Security Policy Process: The National Security Council and Interagency System” Alan G. Whittaker, Shannon A. Brown, Frederick C. Smith, and Ambassador Elizabeth McKune, August 2011, p. 24 http://www.virginia.edu/cnsl/pdf/national-security-policy-process-2011.pdf

[ii] A recent analysis of U.S. national security policymaking appears in Kori Schake and William F. Wechsler, “Process Makes Perfect: Best Practices in the Art of National Security Policymaking,” Center for American Progress, 5 January 2017. Available at: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2017/01/05/295673/process-makes-perfect/

Other useful academic works include: Patrick J. Haney, Organizing for Foreign Policy Crises (University Of Michigan Press, 2002); Alexander George, Presidential Decisionmaking in Foreign Policy-making (Boulder, Co.: Westview, 1980); William W. Newmann, Managing National Security Policy, (Pittsburg: University of Pittsburg Press, 2003), 19-37; Alex Mintz and Karl DeRouen Jr., Understanding Foreign Policy Decision-Making (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

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