The US National Security Strategy
A summary of remarks of the Bush Administration
07.04.2003 · Kenneth B. Moss (*)
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The Political and Historical Context
First, it is important to consider that this document is a Congressional reporting requirement-a fact that is probably not widely known here. In 1986, the Congress passed legislation (the Goldwater-Nichols Act) that among other things required the President to submit an annual national security strategy to the Congress. The purpose was twofold. The Congress hoped the requirement would compel the President and his advisers to undergo a systematic and comprehensive study of just what exactly U.S. national security objectives and strategy should be. Also, the Congress would use the strategy as a road map in shaping its own decisions regarding funding of programs related to defense, foreign aid, and other national security issues.
Therefore, a reader of this document has to keep in mind that its first audience is a domestic and political one. Like any President, George W. Bush and his staff have to present a report that is written in language that assures and reaches out to key bases of support in the Congress-meaning the core constituency. This President's strongest base of support is in the conservative wing of the Republican Party that rests in the American South and Rocky Mountain West. Many members of this constituency are nationalistic--they do not hesitate to assert their pride in the United States and the rightness of its role in the world--suspicious of the surrender or compromise of U.S. sovereignty to outside bodies like the United Nations, and supportive of a strong military. The President has to have the support of his political base in the public and in the Congress before he can effectively implement his national security strategy on the world stage. It should not be surprising that his strategy is one that speaks of America's special mission, indeed obligation, in the world while at the same time asserting that the United States must retain the ability to act on its own and not let others compromise its sovereignty.
That last sentence refers to two major themes that one finds in this strategy and, in fact, in much of U.S. history. Judged against the framework of all of American history there is much more continuity to this document than there is change. It resonates with two contradictory themes in America's relationship with the outside world. The first propels the United States outward with its conviction about the nation's special mission in promoting democracy and commerce. The other reflects a suspicion, even fear, of the world beyond American shores. This is a viewpoint that has stressed isolationism, unilateralism, and the protection of the ability of the United States to act independently without foreign restraint.
The strategy strongly reflects the belief in special mission. Consider these words from the strategy statement. "The aim of this strategy is to help make the world not just safer but better. Our goals on the path to progress are dear; political and economic freedom, peaceful relations with other states, and respect for human dignity." Elsewhere, the document observes, " .only nations that share a common threat to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure their future prosperity."
Historical uniqueness is evident throughout these words. The United States has the responsibility of shaping the world to make it a better place. It is a challenge set forth in the Declaration of Independence and echoed by numerous Presidents-Jefferson's "empire of liberty," Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, Woodrow Wilson in his vision for a postwar order after World War I, Franklin D. Roosevelt in his "Four Freedoms," or Ronald Reagan, when he invoked the Puritan-inspired image of the United States as a "city upon a hill." National leaders have drawn on this sense of mission and responsibility to push the American people to accept responsibility beyond their shores. The message believes in a universal appeal of American values; it is a highly optimistic view of what the American nation can do. Its content provided Americans with a confidence that they could help rebuild a war-torn world after World War II, but it also inspired the dismissal of history and overestimation of American capabilities that took the United States into the debacle of Vietnam.
Seen especially in the wake of 9/11, the Bush Administration's national security strategy is a remarkably optimistic document. The world is a dangerous place to be sure, but the authors of this strategy see a singular moment in history because there is a convergence of movement toward democracy caused by the apparent movement toward democratic reform by Russia and China. One can disagree with this assessment of both China and Russia, but their actions confirm in the eyes of the Bush Administration that history is moving in a direction that embraces democracy and the open movement of commerce. This conviction that history moves in linear progression did not originate with the arguments made by Francis Fukuyama in The End of History, whose work was certainly influential in the conception of this strategy; it is a thread that runs through American thought since the 19th century.
The American interpretation of democracy carries with it the assumption that democracy and free market capitalism travel hand-in-hand. While this can be disputed, much of America's historic strategic vision has rested on Kantian and classical liberal assumptions that the free flow of commerce will remove causes of conflict among nations. Combined with the establishment of democratic systems, the world will witness a significant reduction in conflict. In the introductory letter to the strategy signed by President Bush he writes, "the international community has the best chance since the rise of the nation-state in the 17th century to build a world where great powers compete in peace instead of continually prepare for war." "Compete" implies commercial rivalry, not political. The Bush strategy is no different from the vision of many of its predecessors in its desire for stability, democracy and prosperity. It is in that environment where the United States, its people, and its friends can best live in material and emotional comfort.
Yet, the American stance towards the outside world has always been a schizophrenic one. If there is a desire to transform the world beyond America's shores, there is also a fear that that world can harm America. To prevent that, the United States must retain an ability to act independently of any foreign country or combination of foreign countries. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson cautioned the early republic against the dangers of foreign entanglements. Throughout the history of the United States, it has asserted its right to be and act alone in the political arena, if necessary. In the Bush Administration's strategy that right is asserted in the qualified support given to multinational institutions like the United Nations. The document stresses the importance of the UN, but it does not see it as a sovereign authority whose voice is required for the U.S. to act in its own defense or interests. Therefore, the strategy develops a doctrine to justify pre-emptive and preventive measures.
President Bush's position reflects a long-lasting American concern about sovereignty. To those who live in the member states of the European Union, the position of the United States on sovereignty must seem archaic and maybe incomprehensible. You are witnessing the voluntary surrender of part of your sovereignty to institutions in Brussels. Such concessions, while not impossible, would be very difficult for the United States.
Keep in mind that the American Constitution reflects the unease and fear of many of its writers about the outside world. Therefore, they drafted a document that intentionally makes the conduct of foreign policy and the concession of sovereignty to any foreign body very difficult. Not only is the American system of checks and balances intended to prevent the dominance of a single branch of government, it is also intended to assure that no branch, especially the executive, willingly or easily surrenders American sovereignty.
No President can take this fact lightly or try to dismiss it. The perception by his critics of Woodrow Wilson's willingness to yield a portion of American sovereignty to the League of Nations literally destroyed Wilson's presidency as well as his health. In preparing the United States to be a founding member of the United Nations, Franklin D. Roosevelt had to assure Congress that he was not undermining national sovereignty. Today, there is a tendency to think that NATO requires automatic assistance in case of attack one member, but that is not so, and it is because of the insistence of the United States that the Treaty of Washington contain a provision that enables each member to determine its response in accordance with its political processes. The concern was the protection of sovereignty and the ability to act independently. President Harry S. Truman used a UN authorization as one his justifications for deploying U.S. forces to Korea in 1950. Members of Congress from both parties as well as many constitutional scholars argue Truman was wrong. It is the power of the U.S. Congress to authorize the use of U.S. military forces--not that of the UN.
In the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton actually considered the prospect of placing a select number of U.S. into a UN military force. This concept of "assertive multilateralism" and a militarily active UN was wrecked against the disastrous consequences of the Somalia operation in 1993. Many in the Congress reacted negatively against any arrangement that would concede Congressional powers and sovereignty to the United Nations. More will follow about pre-emptive and preventive measures in the closing part of these remarks. Right now, it is just i mportant to keep in mind the origins of the American position and to remember that no President, Republican or Democrat, could easily reverse the American position. For George W. Bush, whose political foundation is so firmly fixed in the conservative wing of his party, it would be political suicide. Some have called the Bush strategy the latest assertion of Wilsonian attitudes, and it is so in regards to its acceptance of special mission. However, in terms of national sovereignty the strategy is a rejection of Wilson's dream of a more multilateral world where the U.S. yields some of its political sovereignty.
Implications for NATO
Europeans wonder how much America's defense of its right to act independently will affect the United Nations and, more specifically, the transatlantic relationship and NATO. When NATO invoked Article V of the Treaty of Washington after 9/11, the U.S. did not quickly grasp the offered hand. Although the help of individual NATO countries in Afghanistan has been pivotal, and Germany's has been among the foremost, the Bush national security strategy has raised further doubt about the degree of value that the U.S. places on the alliance.
The overall message in the document reaffirms the pivotal importance of the U.S. European relationship, but it also adds a warning that Europe should not believe that the relationship can continue as it has in the past and present. With the underlying emphasis that the strategy places on commerce, democracy, and international stability, it is noteworthy that the document weighs the U.S.-European relationship in this light. It states that "economic growth in Europe and Japan is vital to U.S. national security interests." The choice of the word "vital" is telling; it is a word that in the strategic community means a factor related to national survival-in this case that of the U.S. The writer could have easily said "significant," "important," "valuable," etc., but "vital" means that without such growth the well-being of the U.S. and its ability to achieve its strategic vision will be undermined. These should be assuring words to Europeans.
The political and strategic merit of the U.S.-European relationship also holds a central place in the strategy's framework. Nothing could say this better than the observation that "[t]here is little of lasting consequence that the United States can accomplish in the world without the sustained cooperation of its allies and friends in Canada and Europe." This is a powerful acknowledgment of the value the United States places on relations with allies in Europe and Canada, and the inclusion of the latter seemingly implies that this statement means NATO. Elsewhere, though, the strategy helps create the impression that the present Administration does not necessarily see NATO and close cooperation with Europe as being synonymous.
The reason for observation rests with two questions. What does the U.S. want NATO to do, and will the alliance change itself enough to be able to do these missions? Although NATO invoked Article V of the treaty after the attacks of 9/11, it is clear the U.S. does not see NATO's potential just as an "Article V" organization. The Bush strategy would like to see the alliance prepared and willing to act in non-traditional areas, which means "out of area" or beyond the European and U.S/Canadian theaters. This has been an objective that the U.S. has sought more vigorously since the end of the Cold War. NATO's strategic concept documents in 1991 and, especially, in 1999 emphasized this.
Yet, for NATO to be able to do this, there must also be a transformation of its capabilities. Transformation is one of the buzzwords in Washington these days, and it means adoption of new technologies by the military in command, control, communications, computer and information (C4I), as well as the deployment of more precision guided munitions, improved air lift capability, and measures to counter chemical, biological, radiological (so-called dirty bombs), and nuclear weapons. The Bush Administration pushed for an allied commitment to these goals at the NATO Prague Summit last November. The national security strategy states, "if NATO succeeds in enacting these changes, the rewards will be a partnership as central to the security and interests of its member states as was the case during the Cold War." But what if it does not?
The answer is found in the strategy's reliance on the term "coalition of the willing." Clearly, the Bush Administration thinks that some NATO members will not want to support out-of-area missions or to spend the money necessary for transformation. The prospect that the alliance will be marginalized in U.S. strategic thinking is evident in the answer the strategy provides concerning how the United States and other countries can react. Alliances are preferable but not necessary. To be honest, there are even those in the broader Washington policy community (including think tanks and the media) who would prefer that NATO not so transform itself, because bringing NATO in makes it more difficult on both reaching consensus on strategic objectives as well as accomplishing them. The document's guidance to the other members of NATO is not that hard to define. What happens to NATO is ultimately more in the hands of U.S. allies. Clearly, the U.S. would like to see the alliance sustained, but it is ready and willing to act on its own, or with willing partners, if the alliance is not.
Balance of Power and Strategic Pre-eminence
Thus, the Bush national security strategy has combined a long-standing American assertion of the right of independent American action alongside an assessment of the current strategic environment that seems to beg for a determined use of American power-be it unilaterally or multilaterally. Not only should the U.S. be motivated by the movement towards democracy found in much of the world, it should also act because it holds a place of strategic pre-eminence that enables it to serve the advance of history towards democracy, political freedom, and economic prosperity.
The President speaks in his introductory letter of creating "a balance of power that favors human freedom." The positive turn of events in Russia and China enables him to have this vision, where the underlying structure and governmental processes of the major power push all towards a climate that promotes democracy and freedom. As noted earlier, it is a vision where competition, with its implication of commercial traffic, will rule rather than the preparations for war that have so often governed other power rivalries.
The balance of power for freedom will nevertheless depend on a military imbalance that allows for no balance of power in military terms at all. Is this an imbalance that the rest of the world is comfortable in accepting-one in which no country or combination of countries is capable of matching U.S. military power? This national strategy operates with the assumption that most of the world-certainly the allies and even the other great powers like China and Russia-will see the benevolent intentions behind U.S. strategy. The U.S. will be a benign guarantor that protects the balance of power of freedom in terms of commerce, culture, and political influence (excluding military might). As implied above, it will be ready to act with other willing governments or alone to push back those, be they states or non-state-actors - who may try to destabilize this balance through military power - especially if it is power obtained through the development of weapons of mass destruction.
If the U.S. insists on holding to this concept of a balance of power, it is certainly one that contradicts most understanding of this framework. A balance of power normally carries with it the recognition that all forms of power held by each state will be counterbalanced in some form or another by other states. In fact, those practitioners of balance of power who often receive the greatest praise, such as Otto von Bismarck, are those who appreciate that a power must at times be willing to place limits on its own power. To do otherwise is to risk destabilization and the chance of a more forceful effort by others to counter or, worse, destroy the power of the dominant actor. Of course, Bismarck, did not represent a government or a set of values that he believed were universally desirable or applicable. The Bush Administration does believe so, and, therefore, it apparently believes that its strategic goal will not have to contend with the challenges that dominant power can create. In this regard, the U.S. strategy seems to think the U.S. can defy or escape history.
This last theme about American dominance will be explored further in the remarks about pre-emptive and preventive measures. Here, attention falls on a different question. Namely, can the United States itself support a strategy that is so open-ended and geographically limitless? In his determination to fight terrorism, President Bush said the U.S. will fight terrorism and those who support it anywhere. That promises an unlimited campaign in terms of geography or types of settings. The President has now merged this with a determination to maintain strategic pre-eminence.
Strategy has a two fold dimension to it. One is the determination of national objectives and them selecting the instruments of power or measures that one must use in order to accomplish them. The other is to assure that you have the necessary resources on hand to obtain strategic goals and then mobilize those resources in ways that will provide you the best instruments and make them the most effective. Like any strategic vision, the President's has laid out what is desired, and that is what such thinkers must do. However, fundamental doubt exists about the ability of the nation to support this strategy in a sustained way.
If additional terrorist attacks occur in the United States, then the speculation that follows may be irrelevant. However, the President has proposed an active domestic agenda alongside his national security one. The budgetary cost of federal health care programs will increase during the decade, as will pressures on Social Security. This will occur against a projected pattern of growing budget deficits, and, if the Republicans get their way, a cut in federal income taxes. At the same time, President Bush wants to increase defense spending by $20 annually until it is $500 billion in Fiscal Year 2010. No one knows the possible costs of action against Iraq or the peacekeeping and institution building that must follow there. Furthermore, what will be the costs if the U.S. takes action later against other rogue states?
There is a geographical and budgetary open-endedness about the Bush national security strategy that is disturbing. Will the U.S. indeed pursue terrorists, states who support them, and developers and proliferators of WMD capabilities as far and as aggressively as the President's speeches and strategy suggest? President Bush believes strongly in the importance of doing so, but he also knows what happened to Winston Churchill and his father. Namely, electorates have very short memories when it comes to military victories; they want to know what their president or prime minister will be doing for them for their well-being and health.
Consequently, the goal of strategic pre-eminence sought by President Bush is likely to reached for a very short time, if at all. The costs in resources may prove too great, even for a President who is as strongly committed to reaching this goal as President Bush is. At the same time, American leadership will have to keep on asking itself whether or not a strategy of pre-eminence is contributing to a mounting international resistance to this objective that also makes it unobtainable.
Pre-emptive and Preventive Measures
for pre-emptive and preventive measures. Explicit reference to them has generated in the world community a fear that they are the favorite parts of a one-size-fits-all strategy, a game plan the U.S. will execute first against Iraq, the North Korea, Syria, Iran, Libya Combined with the determination of the U.S., as explained in the strategy, to let no country or combination thereof to match its military capabilities, use of such measures will be a key means to establish and maintain an American controlled world-order.
How did the U.S. come to such an outlook towards the outside world? The answer quite simply is the impact of 9/11. That day has created a gap between the United States and Europe as well as bonds of common grief and anger. Quite simply, it altered the American strategic outlook on the world, while it did not do so for Europe. One can legitimately argue whether or not the U.S. should have allowed 9/11 to have such an effect on its strategy and policies, but as of February 2003 it has clearly done so. For Americans it was a traumatic tear in the national psyche-the first attack of consequence on the American homeland (meaning here the "Lower 48") since the British invaded Washington, D.C. in 1814 and ransacked the Capitol and White House.
The attack of 9/ll pushed aside most of the remaining arguments that favored a continued emphasis on the policy of strategic deterrence as one of the keystones of U.S. strategy. Of course in the context of U.S.-Soviet or Russian relations, critics had challenged the practice of deterrence for over twenty years. The end of the Cold War and the obvious desire of Russia to reduce its strategic nuclear forces further weakened the case for deterrence; although one can argue that it is still a part of U.S. policy towards Russia and China, but not as prominent as once featured. The disappearance of much of the strategic environment that justified deterrence is one of the reasons that the Bush Administration believed it could proceed with a ballistic missile defense (BMD) program to deal with threats posed by rogue states and non-state actors. The Russians, the Administration correctly concluded, would largely accept the deployment of an American B MD program because larger issues with the U.S. were at stake.
However, without 9/11 a strong case can be made that the U.S. might not have moved away from the combined policy of containment and deterrence that had guided its actions towards Iraq since 1991. True, Bush had campaigned on a promise to deal with Saddam Hussein- a criticism the Republicans had leveled against Bill Clinton, especially after Saddam had thrown out UN inspectors in 1998. Look, though, at U.S. policy in the first months of the Bush Administration; the focus of it was on ways of making the sanctions regime more effective and stopping efforts by the French, Russians, and others to circumvent them. Saddam was a serious problem, but the prevalent view in Washington was that he had not done anything radically different during the past decade.
9/ll changed that assessment. Like a new frame for a painting, the events of that day placed Saddam Hussein, his contempt for the UN resolutions, and his apparent WMD capabilities in a different context for judgment. One could not be as certain that Saddam would not strike back at the United States. This was not because he now had the technological ability to strike the United States with missiles; he clearly did not. The question was whether or not Saddam might allow terrorists - Al Qaeda, Hamas, or others, to become the delivery system for him. Saddam's past support of terrorist groups and his possession of unaccounted for WMD capabilities presented a question mark that seemed like an unacceptable risk to tolerate.
Three lines of argument may help understand this conclusion a little better. The first is presented explicitly in the strategic document. Deterrence simply is not applicable to non-state actors, particularly terrorists motivated by religious extremism. They do not define their interests and goals like governments and states. Unlike the geriatric Soviet leadership of the 1970's and early 1980's, they are not risk adverse. They are quite ready to accept their own immolation for reasons that further the cause of their religion on earth as well as their treatment in an afterlife. The latter is certainly not a customary concern of strategic policy at the state level. In short, if there is the potential of a link between a rogue state and terrorists who are religious extremists, it appears that a lot of conventional strategic wisdom would not apply.
It would be inaccurate to suggest that everyone in Washington agrees on this point. There are at least two schools of thought, if I may oversimplify. There are those who argue Saddam would not aid Al-Qaeda in particular because he does not like to provide such capabilities to groups he cannot control. Bin Laden has criticized Saddam Hussein's secular system of government, and, at some point, could well use against Saddam the very capabilities he and his minions might have provided. The opposite view may even concede the differences between the two but argues that their common hatred of the United States could lead to a marriage of temporary convenience-a marriage that might not last, but one that could cause a great deal of destruction if left unchecked. Admittedly, some in Washington draw immediate conclusions from either argument and advocate them aggressively. Yet, for other policy makers this is a gray zone where both arguments may be correct but the possible danger to national security requires one to take the cautious route that implies serious danger. I do not think any President-George W. Bush, Al Gore, or Bill Clinton would do otherwise.
The second argument shapes much of the discussion in Washington. It is the use of the "Munich analogy." This analogy has arguably been the most prominent historical analogy in U.S. national security policy since the origins of the Cold War. Its lesson shaped the Truman Doctrine, the U.S. response to North Korean aggression in 1950, and the Kennedy Administration's course in the Cuban Missile Crisis. It figured prominently in the reaction of George H.W. Bush in 1990-1991 to Iraq's invasion. It also figured significantly in the decisions that lead to the U.S. commitment to South Vietnam. The Munich analogy simply argues that Europe and the U.S. tragically lost opportunities between 1936-1938 to stop the rise of Nazism and Fascism. What might have been Europe's fate if the Europeans had thwarted Hitler's remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936? How might France and Britain responded if the U.S. had not been so isolationist towards the tragedy unfolding in Europe? By the time of the Munich conference in 1938 events might have gone too far, but in itself the conference has always symbolized the shameful course of appeasement in order to avoid responsibility or, at best, to buy more time. As the U.S. looks at Iraq, it sees a country controlled by a dictator who with further WMD capabilities could dominate the region. Advocates of the Munich analogy in the United States are puzzled when they find, in their opinion, that their European allies cannot see the similarity with events that so burdened Europe's history.
As a personal aside, it is interesting to see how the U.S. and Europe are increasingly separated by the watershed of World War II. The U.S. has drawn most of its historical lessons from the prewar period whose isolationist climate prevented the U.S. from assuming a more responsible role to prevent the disaster that enveloped Europe. (I should add that our stance in the Pacific was definitely less isolationist.) For much of Europe, and certainly Germany the lessons of the war come from the actual time of conflict. In February 2003 alone, Germany has observed the 60th anniversary of the surrender at Stalingrad and the 58th anniversary of the Dresden bombing - two anniversaries from the war that one be certain are not etched in American memories. Both lessons interestingly carry a certain element of "never again" in the minds of national leaders.
The third argument is another historical analogy, and one that has not figured prominently in discussions in the U.S. Yet, I think it explains a good deal of the reason why the U.S. believes the strategic climate of 2002-2003 is so different from previous decades. On the morning of December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt received the translation of last minute instructions being sent from Tokyo to its embassy in Washington. On reading them, Roosevelt turned to his close friend and advisor, Harry Hopkins, and remarked, " this means war." Roosevelt and Hopkins knew a Japanese attack in the Pacific was imminent. They simply did not know where. Hopkins, nonetheless, asked the President whether or not it would be prudent for U.S. forces to launch a pre-emptive strike if any Japanese force was encountered. Roosevelt, aware of the strong isolationist sentiment that existed even on that Sunday morning, responded no and added that the Americans are a peaceful people. In effect, such action would not be true to character.
In the climate of 2003 it is hard to imagine that any President could give this answer. However, Roosevelt's world was a world of largely predictable certainties - of carrier task forces, of air raids, and beach landings. It was a type of warfare that, aside from air attack, was traditional. This form of warfare has governed most international law and multilateral institutions concerned with the conduct of war. Today, a President is faced with some very different possibilities. Terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction, perhaps developed by themselves or supplied by a state actor, present a very different strategic problem to a President.
The point drawn from this is that the U.S. is trying to argue that existing international law and multilateral practices do not present as clear guidance as some would argue. Furthermore, given the degree of threat to the U.S. that this Administration and much of the Congress believes, neither is comfortable with giving the multilateral community the necessary time to try to answer the questions raised by this new environment. One can justly argue that the Americans should have tried to obtain changes in international law and practice through more negotiation, but, in the tradition of preserving independence of action that is part of the historical outlook of the U.S., Washington has sought to act first, if necessary.
The U.S. position on pre-emption is more widely accepted than the case for use of military force as a preventive measure. Although some international lawyers may disagree, there is a body of argument that accepts a pre-emptive attack as a justifiable measure of self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter. Pre-emption can be justified when there is evidence of "clear and present danger" and "imminent" attack. The justifications for it are not totally ironclad, but they are reasonably specific. The U.S., in fact, played an important part in developing the legal case for pre-emption in the Caroline case of 160 years ago. The Caroline was a ship on Lake Ontario controlled by American nationalists who hoped to instigate a rebellion in British-controlled Canada. Learning of the scheme, the British in 1837 attacked the vessel and set it on fire; it ultimately went over Niagara Falls. For nearly five years the U.S. and Britain struggled over an agreement over the controversy, but in 1842 Secretary of State Daniel Webster conceded to the British the right of pre-emption in the future when the situation posed "a necessity of self-defense, instant overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation." In short, Webster's statement acknowledged that there are settings where diplomacy has no chance. Lack of time and imminence of danger rule diplomacy out.
Preventive measures, which can include diplomacy, sanctions, termination of relations, and also military force, push the criteria further upstream. The goal is to try to prevent developments that could enable a country to attack or to intimidate an entire region. As Robert Litwak has explained in an article in the Winter 2002-2003 issue of Survival, some of the antecedents for the Bush Administration's position on preventive measures originated from discussions concerning different active countermeasures that could be taken as part of a U.S. policy stressing counter proliferation. Convinced that non-proliferation on its own was not doing enough to contend with the mounting dangers posed by the spread of WMD capabilities, the Clinton Administration wanted to pursue active measures that could counter or prevent such proliferation. Military force was one them. The Clinton Administration seriously weighed the use of military force against North Korea in 1994 because of that country's apparent plans to develop nuclear weapons, but ultimately ruled it out in favor of a course based on diplomacy. Among other considerations was the terribly high losses, both military and civilian, that could result from a war on the Korean Peninsula. In 1998, the Clinton Administration ordered a preventive measure in the form of a Tomahawk missile strike on an alleged chemical weapons site in Khartoum, Sudan.
Consider the following quotation:
We act in concert with the international community whenever possible; but do not hesitate to act unilaterally when necessary. Having decided (in the context of humanitarian and other interests**) that use of military forces is appropriate, the decision on how they will be employed is based on two guidelines. First, our forces will have a clear mission and the means to achieve their objectives decisively. Second, as much as possible, we will seek the support and participation of our allies, friends, and relevant international institutions. When our vital interests are at stake, we are prepared to act alone.
That is not from any statement of the present Bush Administration but rather from the National Security Strategy of Clinton Administration in 1999. The only word that needs to be dropped to make it acceptable to the present administration would be the adjective "humanitarian," a justification for intervention that the Bush Administration has tried to avoid. The word carries with it the missions of Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo-open-ended missions in nation building with no clear strategic end-state that President Bush Condoleeza Rice and others have promised not to pursue.
My intention in citing it, though, is to remind you that the right of unilateral action is not something invented or reawakened by the present Administration. It was part of the Clinton Administration's framework, too, but presented in a way that resonated with the values and ideals of that administration and that would resonate with the core following and constituency of the Democratic party in Congress and in part of the public. The Bush Administration has a different constituency to consider, and, therefore, its vocabulary has to contain words, phrases, and promises that assure the President's backers. Clearly, it is a more nationalistic and assertive vocabulary, but the key point being stressed here - and it is not a reassuring one to many European audiences - is that the U.S. will retain what it regards as the "right" of independent or unilateral action.
The argument for this case is not just grounded in American concern about preserving its power and stature in the world, although, that is admittedly part of it; it also originates from long-standing historical traditions and perceptions about the American role in the world. It will be very difficult to dissuade the United States from holding to this position. And, looking beyond the questions the present national security strategy has generated in light of Iraq, North Korea, or Iran, American allies still need to ask themselves whether it is in their interests to push the United States to abandon its position.
Numerous commentators have spoken and written about the dangers of the Bush national security strategy. Some of that criticism has influenced these remarks, as should be evident in the questions raised about the ability of the United States to support or sustain this strategy over an extended time. Even if they agree with the right of pre-emptive or preventive measures, there are some who question the wisdom of stating it as doctrine. Doctrine creates the expectation that this is how the U.S. will act when presented with certain scenarios. Is such a step that wise? In the wake of the release of the national security strategy, President Bush in State of the Union Speech and others in the White House have tried to argue that each case, be it Iraq, North Korea, or others, has to be handled differently. Likewise, critics have pointed out that action based on this doctrine creates a precedent for later action not only by the United States but by governments with pure aggressive intentions. Europe, more than the United States, has memories of attacks undertaken by Nazi Germany for reasons linked with pre-emption and prevention.
In closing, I bring these remarks back to the observation I opened with. The national security strategy, like many of the President's remarks, has both a domestic and international audience. Today, on both sides of the Atlantic we are having trouble sorting out the words and phrases by heads of government and other political leaders that are aimed more at domestic audiences. It has been hard for us at time in the United States as we follow the discussions in Germany, and I think it is equally hard here to do so for the debate and discussion in the United States, especially since we tend to fight many of our policy disagreements in the public eye. I just ask that as you weigh the President's statements, as is the case with any President, that you try to remember the domestic purpose of his remarks. Considering that can be both troubling and reassuring, but it is important never to lose sight of this fact.
* Kenneth B. Moss is associate dean for academic programs in the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. The opinions that follow are his own and do not reflect any official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense or National Defense University.
** Emphasis in the original.
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11.09.2020 · Tichys Einblick 10/20