Homeland Security Insider

A Strategic Focus on Security

UNDETERRED by the erosion of public support for the war in Iraq, the Bush administration issued an updated version of the U.S. National Security Strategy, stating that Iran may now pose the greatest challenge to U.S. security and reasserting of his preemptive war doctrine. The doctrine's stated focus is "to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system while reaffirming the doctrine of preemptive war against terrorists and hostile states with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons."

From the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 and, even after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the United States has not had a consistent national strategy that enjoyed the support of the American people and our allies. This situation is markedly different from the Cold War era, when the United States had a perfectly clear, coherent and widely supported strategy that focused on containing and deterring Soviet communist expansion. During the first decade of the post-Cold War era, the Clinton administration implemented a "win hold win" two-war strategy, which was criticized by its opponents as "win hold oops" because of the inadequate forces available to fight two wars simultaneously. The same skepticism is being directed at the Bush administration's national strategy.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the increase in terrorism and possible threats from countries and non-state actors that are capable of developing weapons of mass destruction now make it imperative to develop a security strategy to safeguard the United States. Americans are beginning to recognize the need for a vigorous debate over what the new strategy should be. There are three approaches that come to mind. In brief, these choices call for first leveraging American dominance with preventive military action; second, creating stability by using American military superiority for deterrence and containment; and third, working toward a more cooperative, rule-based international system backed by American power that is used in genuine concert with U.S. friends and allies.

Policy makers are far from reaching a consensus on which of these approaches to pursue. The debate over the U.S. national security strategy is particularly important and its outcome will have a profound impact on U.S. success in the war against terrorism.

The administration expands the original security framework first published in September 2002 before the invasion of Iraq. That strategy shifted U.S. foreign policy away from five decades of deterrence and containment toward a more aggressive stance of attacking enemies before they attack the United States. The strategy document has no legal force, but serves as a guideline for agencies and officials drawing up policies in a range of military, diplomatic and other arenas. Although a 1986 law requires that the strategy be revised annually, this is the first revision since 2002.

The preemption doctrine unveiled in 2002 generated fierce debate at the time, and many critics believe the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq fatally undermined an essential assumption of the strategy -- that intelligence about an enemy's capabilities and intentions can be sufficient to justify preventive war.

Some security specialists are criticizing the administration's continued commitment to preemption. While the strategy cautions potential adversaries not to use fear of a preemptive attack as a pretext to launch their own preemptive attack, the strategy needs to spell out with greater clarity what U.S. policies actually are. Moreover, a preemptive war doctrine heightens the need for accurate threat assessment, which then heightens the need for accurate intelligence and, in turn, requires multilateral information sharing.

But the new version of the strategy underscores the administration's desire to make the spread of democracy the fundamental underpinning of U.S. foreign policy, as President Bush expressed in his second inaugural address. The opening words of the strategy, in fact, are lifted from that speech.

"It is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world," Bush said.

The strategy commits the administration to speak out against human rights abuses, hold high-level meetings at the White House with reformers from repressive nations, use foreign aid to support elections and civil society, and apply sanctions against oppressive governments. It makes special mention of religious intolerance, subjugation of women and human trafficking. At the same time, it acknowledges that "elections alone are not enough" and sometimes lead to undesirable results. These principles are tested by the recent victory of the terrorist organization Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

Without saying what action would be taken against them, the strategy singles out seven nations as prime examples of "despotic systems" -- North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe. Iran and North Korea receive particular attention because of their nuclear programs and the strategy vows in both cases "to take all necessary measures" to protect the United States against them.

"We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran," the security strategy said, echoing a statement made by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

It recommits to efforts with European allies to pressure Tehran to give up any aspirations of nuclear weapons then adds, "This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided."

The language about confrontation is not repeated with North Korea, which said it already has nuclear bombs, an assertion believed by U.S. intelligence. But Pyongyang is accused of a "bleak record of duplicity and bad faith negotiations," as well as of counterfeiting U.S. currency, trafficking in drugs and starving its own people.

The strategy offers a much more skeptical view of Russia than in 2002.

"Recent trends regrettably point toward a diminishing commitment to democratic freedoms and institutions," it said. "We will work to try to persuade the Russian government to move forward, not backward, along freedom's path."

It also warns China that it must act as a responsible stakeholder that fulfills its obligations and guarantees political freedom, as well as economic freedom.

"Our strategy," the document said, "seeks to encourage China to make the right strategic choices for its people while we hedge against other possibilities."

To assuage allies antagonized by the administration's go-it-alone style, the White House stresses alliance and the use of what it calls "transformational diplomacy" to achieve change. At the same time, it asserts that formal structures, such as the United Nations or NATO, may at times be less effective than coalitions of the willing or groups responding to particular situations, such as the Asian tsunami of 2004.

Beyond the military response to terrorism, the document emphasizes the need to fight the war of ideas against Islamic radicals whose anti-American rhetoric has won wide sympathy in parts of the world.

The strategy also addresses topics largely left out of the 2002 version, including a section on genocide and a new chapter on global threats such as avian influenza, AIDS, environmental destruction and natural disasters. Critics have accused the administration of not doing enough to stop genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, responding too slowly to the Asian tsunami and disregarding global environmental threats such as climate change.


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