As a church committed to peace, we should find the National Security Strategy (NSS) released by the Trump Administration today deeply concerning. This strategy, typically released every four years, addresses the priorities of the president as they relate to security issues- including the military, humanitarian aid, and any other facet of public policy that is deemed to have an impact on the security of the nation.
The concerning elements of the NSS are not unique to the current presidential administration. With each new President and each new security strategy, we see values and worldviews that are inconsistent with an ethic of peacebuilding. While this blog post is in reference to the most recent iteration of our nation’s strategy, we remain opposed to all of the military-focused strategies that have made up our national security policies in the past.
One of the concerning elements of this National Security Strategy is that it positions other nations as competitors. While unveiling the plan, President Trump noted that “America is in the game, and America is going to win.” The text of the NSS itself suggested that the United States must start viewing conflict as “an arena of continuous competition.” Viewing national security as a zero-sum game and pitting the U.S. against other countries is not conducive to the peaceful existence we desire for all of humanity. Adversarial relationships with China, Russia and other increasingly powerful nations will only fuel unnecessary economic and military conflict that will impact both Americans and communities around the world.
The strategy also focuses heavily on increasing military might and coercive strength, rather than relying on the preventative and peacebuilding measures long espoused by the Church of the Brethren. On this point, President Trump claimed that “unrivaled power is the most certain path to success.” In the text of the strategy itself, the administration calls for the modernization of the United States’ nuclear arsenal and the growth of our military’s size and funding. The 1996 Church of the Brethren Statement on Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention affirms the church’s commitment to a peace-oriented approach to national security, saying:
“Out of love toward victims of poverty, oppression, and violence, we are called to earlier, more profound, and more lasting efforts to address the conditions that gives rise to violence. Our church should press for more effective preventive diplomacy to defuse rising tensions before they erupt into war, more serious economic development to avert desperate conditions, and more concerted peacebuilding to weave new strong social fabrics that cross boundaries of race, class, religion, ethnicity, and nationality. We have abundant though underused evidence that where socio-economic cooperation occurs, former adversaries study war no more. We believe our church, nation, and the UN, should focus on such measures to achieve equity and justice. As equity and justice increase, new social stability and deepening commitment to community can reduce the occasions for military interventions.”
We appreciate the NSS’s inclusion of language surrounding the importance of empowering women and youth, but are disappointed that they have emphasized military might and defense spending over the programs and policies that can address root causes of violence.
The National Security Strategy views the success and influence of the United States as more desirable than peace and stability facilitated through cooperation with the rest of the world. In his speech, President Trump articulated his belief that the United States has “surrendered sovereignty” to international organizations and foreign diplomats. The 1996 Church of the Brethren statement also addresses the concerns churches should have with this paradigm, saying:
“The Church of the Brethren believes that, although national sovereignty may serve good purposes, it may also tempt us to idolatry, in which we serve the gods of national power and wealth rather than the God of love calling us to care for “the least of these” throughout the world. Nationalism wedded to militarism is a particularly harmful idol because it obstructs genuine respect for others and the growth of world community among all of God’s creation. If we do not bow down to today’s idols, we can through the grace of God be loving without killing.”
As Christians, and especially as members of a historic Peace Church that has consistently opposed violence, it is essential that we hold our government to high standards as it sets out the national security agenda. National security should not be our highest priority- instead, our highest priority should be following the call of Jesus. The tone of this National Security Strategy contrasts starkly with the principles laid out in the Sermon on the Mount.
He said:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
As an alternative to the priorities set out in the National Security Strategy, we suggest increased attention to diplomacy, civilian protection, conflict mitigation, and development assistance instead of increased militarization of our approach to national security threats. We urge the United States government to adopt a peace-focused worldview, and to consider the important role of the United States in modeling such a worldview as it carries out its national security duties.