Week 17: Current Global Challenges

Week 17: Current Global Challenges



“Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens – to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values.”

President Donald J. Trump

In December of 2017, President Trump’s Administration released a new National Security Strategy outlining the necessary strategic direction to advance America’s interests and respond to growing political, economic, and military competition. The Strategy identifies four vital national interests, known as the “four pillars”:

Protect the American People, the Homeland, and American way of life: We will strengthen control of our borders and reform our immigration system. We will protect our critical infrastructure and go after malicious cyber actors. A layered missile defense system will defend our homeland against missile attacks. And we will pursue threats to their source, so that jihadist terrorists are stopped before they ever reach our borders.

Promote American Prosperity: We will rejuvenate the American economy for the benefit of American workers and companies. We will insist upon fair and reciprocal economic relationships to address trade imbalances. The United States must preserve our lead in research and technology and protect our economy from competitors who unfairly acquire our intellectual property. And we will embrace America’s energy dominance because unleashing abundant energy resources stimulates our economy.

Preserve Peace through Strength: By rebuilding our military so that it remains preeminent, deters our adversaries, and if necessary, is able to fight and win. We will compete with all tools of national power to ensure that regions of the world are not dominated by one power. We will strengthen America’s capabilities—including in space and cyberspace—and revitalize others that have been neglected. Allies and partners magnify our power. We expect them to shoulder a fair share of the burden of responsibilities to protect against common threats.

Advance American Influence: A world that supports American interests and reflects our values makes America more secure and prosperous. We will compete and lead in multilateral organizations so that American interests and principles are protected. America’s commitment to liberty, democracy, and the rule of law serves as an inspiration for those living under tyranny. We can play a catalytic role in promoting private-sector-led economic growth helping aspiring partners become future trading and security partners. And we will remain a generous nation, even as we expect others to share responsibility.

The NSS further discusses the strategy in a regional context, noting that the US must tailor our approach to different regions of the world to protect US national interests. Changes in a regional balance of power can have global consequences and threaten US interests.

The strategy specifically identifies the following regional challenges:

➢Indo-Pacific: A geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order is taking place in the Indo-Pacific region. The region, which stretchesfrom the west coast of India to the western shores of the United States, represents the most populous and economically dynamic part of the world.

➢Europe: A strong and free Europe is of vital importance to the United States. We are bound together by our shared commitment to the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. Today, Europe is one of the most prosperous regions in the world and our most significant trading partner.

➢Middle East: The United States seeks a Middle East that is not a safe haven or breeding ground for jihadist terrorists, not dominated by any power hostile to the United States, and that contributes to a stable global energy market.

South and Central Asia: With over a quarter of the world’s population, a fifth of all U.S.-designated terrorist groups, several fast-growing economies, and two nuclear-armed states, South and Central Asia present some of the most complicated national security challenges and opportunities. The region spans the terrorist threats emanating from the Middle East and the competition for power unfolding in Europe and the Indo-Pacific.

Western Hemisphere: Stable, friendly, and prosperous states in the Western Hemisphere enhance our security and benefit our economy. Democratic states connected by shared values and economic interests will reduce the violence, drug trafficking, and illegal immigration that threaten our common security, and will limit opportunities for adversaries to operate from areas of close proximity to us.

➢Africa:A continent of promise and enduring challenges. Africa contains many of the world’s fastest growing economies, which represent potential new markets for U.S. goods and services. People across the continent are demanding government accountability and less corruption, and are opposing autocratic trends.

(Source: 2017 National Security Strategy)

Then, in January 2018, the Secretary of Defense published our National Defense Strategy. As the Deputy Secretary, Pat Shanahan, explains, “The NDS builds upon the President’s National Security Strategy, and is the living framework that will drive DoD plans, organization, and activities.”


It is the Department of Defense’s enduring mission to provide combat-credible military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of our nation. The central challenge to the US prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the NSS classifies as revisionist power. In the NDS, Secretary Mattis highlights four distinct challenges the U.S. faces: China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. (Source: Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy)

➢China is leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to their advantage. As China continues its economic and military ascendance, asserting power through an all-of-nation long-term strategy, it will continue to pursue a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.

➢Russia seeks veto authority over nations on its periphery in terms of their governmental, economic, and diplomatic decisions, to shatter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and change European and Middle East security and economic structures to its favor.

➢North Korea seeks to guarantee regime survival and increased leverage by seeking a mixture of nuclear, biological, chemical, conventional, and unconventional weapons and a growing ballistic missile capability to gain coercive influence over South Korea, Japan, and the United States.

➢Iran is competing with its neighbors, asserting an arc of influence and instability while vying for regional hegemony, using state-sponsored terrorist activities, a growing network of proxies, and is missile program to achieve its objectives.

(Source: 2018 National Defense Strategy)


America’s long-term strategic approach will require us to focus on our key values:

Be strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable

➢Integrate with U.S. interagency

➢Counter coercion and subversion

➢Foster a competitive mindset.

Secretary Mattis defines how America will expand our competitive space by pursuing three distinct lines of effort:

➢Build a More Lethal Force

➢Strengthen Alliances and Attract New Partners

➢Reform the Department for Greater Performance and Affordability

(Source: Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy)

“As it has for generations, free men and women in America’s military will fight with skill and valor to protect us. To carry out any strategy, history teaches us that wisdom and resources must be sufficient. I am confident this defense strategy is appropriate and worthy of the support of the American people.”

Secretary James Mattis


  1. 2017 National Security Strategy Report is available on the White House website at:
  2. Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy:

WEEK 17: Supplemental Learning Objectives

XVII. Current Global Challenges

1. Comprehend the National Security Strategy’s four vital national interests. (Pro-Book)


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2. Understand the United States’ central challenges to prosperity and security. (Pro-Book)


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3. Comprehend the National Defense Strategy’s Strategic Approach. (Pro-Book)


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