Trump National Security Strategy Promotes, Protects Space

Trump National Security Strategy Promotes, Protects Space

President Donald Trump released his first U.S. National Security Strategy today.  It is broadly scoped and space is not the focus, but it does promise to defend U.S. space assets, promote space commerce, and maintain American leadership in space.  Trump rolled out the strategy with a speech at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. this afternoon (December 18, 2017).

President Donald Trump delivering address on National Security Strategy, December 18, 2017, at the Ronald Reagan Building, Washington, DC. Snip from White House TV.

Presidents are required to issue a National Security Strategy pursuant to the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act.  The law requires an annual report, though recent Presidents have not abided by that timetable.  President Barack Obama issued them in 2010 and 2015;  President George W. Bush in 2002 and 2006; President Bill Clinton in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2001; President George H.W. Bush in 1990, 1991, and 1993; and President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and 1988.

The four major “pillars” of the Trump strategy released today are:

  • Protect the homeland, the American people and the American way of life
  • Promote American prosperity
  • Preserve peace through strength
  • Advance American influence

One major change in today’s strategy compared to the Obama Administration is the omission of climate change as a global threat.  In his 2015 strategy, Obama cited it as an “urgent and growing threat to our national security.”

Trump says America “will remain a global leader in reducing traditional pollution, as well as greenhouse gases,” but vowed to counter the “anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to U.S. economic and energy security interests.”  The term “climate change” does not appear in the report.  In his speech today, Trump cited his decision to withdraw from the “very expensive and unfair Paris Climate Accord” as an accomplishment.

Space is not a focus of the 55-page document, but there is substantially more than in Obama’s 2015 strategy.  That may be because Obama issued a National Space Policy in 2010 that contained extensive guidance about U.S. civil, commercial, national security, and cross-sector space activities, followed by a National Security Space Strategy in 2011. Trump has not issued similar guidance yet.  Therefore what was released today is the most formal statement to date of Trump’s views on these issues, although he, Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the White House National Space Council, and other administration officials have expressed many of them already.

While it is not the only part of the strategy that mentions space, the following is the major section.

Extract from President Donald Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy, p. 31

Freedom of action in space remains a core element of U.S. national security strategy.  “The United States considers unfettered access to and freedom to operate in space to be a vital interest.  Any harmful interference with or an attack upon critical components of our space architecture that directly affects this vital U.S. interest will be met with a deliberate response at a time, place, manner, and domain of our choosing.”

During his speech, Trump said the strategy “recognizes space as a competitive domain and calls for multi-layered missile defense.”  “Multi-layered” does not appear in the text of the strategy (only “layered”), but the term often is used to refer to including space-based weapons in a missile defense system to engage missiles during certain phases of their trajectories. The concept was promoted by President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”), but fell out of favor because its high cost and technical complexity.  Support has been growing more recently, however.

Trump Administration officials have promoted the concept of space as a warfighting domain for months.  Rather than a “benign environment” that supports the warfighter, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and other Air Force officials proclaim that “space is now a warfighting domain, similar to the more familiar air, land, and maritime domains our men and women are fighting in today.” Gen. John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, often notes, however, that there is no such thing as war in space — there is only war, which may extend into space.  If it does, the United States must be prepared to deal with it.

The Trump strategy, like Obama’s before it, also addresses other aspects of space activities, including commercial space and international cooperation.

The one space-related paragraph in Obama’s 2015 strategy covered the waterfront of these issues.

Extract from President Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy, p. 13.

The Trump strategy goes further, especially with regard to commercial space and American leadership in space.  It lists three “priority actions”:

  • Advance space as a priority domain
  • Promote space commerce
  • Maintain lead in exploration

Trump hails the fact that the government is partnering with the private sector “to improve the resiliency of our space architectures,” and then, in what appears to be a new policy, adds that the government will “consider extending national security protections to our private partners as needed.”

The document notes that commercial space has its drawbacks, too, however, from a national security standpoint.  The “democratization” of space with its relatively easy access to imagery, communications and geolocation services “allows motivated actors to access previously unavailable information” and “has an impact on military operations and on America’s ability to prevail in a conflict.”

As for American leadership in space, the document says the National Space Council will develop a “strategy that integrates all space sectors to support innovation and America leadership in space.”  In addition, the United States will “enable human exploration across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities, we will increase public-private partnerships and promote ventures beyond low Earth orbit with allies and friends.”

Elsewhere in the document, Trump asserts that the United States will —

  • support “a solid defense industrial base…”
  • “lead and engage in multinational arrangements that shape many of the rules that affect U.S. interests and values.”  It is “vital” that international institutions uphold rules to keep common domains — land, sea, the Arctic, outer space, and the digital realm — open and free.
  • “provide leadership and technology to shape and govern common domains — space, cyberspace, air, and maritime — within the framework of international law.  The United States supports the peaceful resolution of disputes under international law but will use all of its instruments of power to defense U.S. interests and to ensure common domains remain free.”


User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.