Why was the Bush Doctrine created

An Analysis of the Bush Doctrine of Preventive War

What legal, political and institutional foundations does the new world order need? Will the US alone determine the pattern of world politics? Will power in the future be based primarily on military strength? What role should international law and the UN play? Joseph S. Nye analyzes these problems in ZEIT.

He writes:
The war in Iraq shows how dramatically American foreign policy has changed since September 11, 2001. Some of the neoconservatives in George Bush's administration already had the intention of overthrowing the Iraqi regime when they took office in early 2001. But in the first eight months of government they failed to get the issue high on the political agenda. It was not until September 11th that they had the chance to implement their Iraq policy. Unfortunately, their insistence resulted in Bush's new security strategy being tested on the wrong object.

When George W. Bush took office in January 2001, he was committed to a "realistic" foreign policy. He wanted to focus on great powers like China and Russia and not on failed nation-states in the less developed world. From then on, China was regarded as a “strategic competitor” and no longer - as during Bill Clinton's tenure - as the “strategic partner”. The US also took a more rigid stance towards Russia.

By September 2002, the Bush administration had presented a new national security strategy. It assumes that the United States is "less threatened by fleets and armies than by disastrous technologies that fall into the hands of a few embittered ones." Instead of strategic rivalry, "we great powers of the world are on the same side today - united by the threat of terrorist violence and chaos".

Under this rhetorical surface made of strategy papers, of course, traditional world politics largely lived on. In addition, some of the rhetoric attracted widespread criticism. The document only trumpeted American primacy instead of following Teddy Roosevelt's old advice: If you carry a large stick, walk gently. America will remain number one, but you didn't have to rub that under everyone's nose. In turn, the neoconservative promises to work for democracy and freedom in Iraq and in other countries appeared to some realists as dangerous, because they were limitless, endeavors. The plans seemed to follow the Woodrow Wilson tradition, but they did not spring from the left but from the right half of the political spectrum. The commitment to cooperation and coalitions was neither followed by an equal discussion about the relevant institutions nor by the United Nations. And the much-criticized right to “preventive self-defense”, to the pre-emptive strike , could be understood as a common form of self-defense or as a dangerous precedent, depending on the reading.

John Lewis Gaddis, the renowned historian at Yale University, has compared the recent shift in strategy with the redefinition of American foreign policy as it was carried out in the decisive days of the 1940s. That may be an exaggeration. But the new strategy reacts to the far-reaching developments in world politics that September 11, 2001 brought to light. Globalization is more than an economic phenomenon. They shrank the natural buffer zones with which America was equipped thanks to its great distance from other powers and two oceans. The impact of this development on terrorism is particularly worrying.

Many Europeans rightly point out that terrorism is nothing new. They have coped with it for decades without any particular damage to their democracies. However, as technology advances, terrorists have grown in both killing potential and agility over the decades, and this trend seems unbroken. In the 20th century, malicious people like Hitler or Stalin still needed the power of a government apparatus to kill millions of people. If the terrorists of the 21st century acquire weapons of mass destruction, this destructive power is available for the first time to renegade groups or individuals. This "privatization of war" means a considerable change in world politics. It is to be feared that certain dissenting states like Iraq or North Korea will support such terrorist groups. Bush understood this and expressed it in his new strategy.

The American government, however, is unsure of how to implement its new strategy. It showed itself to be deeply divided between neoconservatives and decidedly imperialist unilateralists on the one hand and the more multilaterally oriented, deliberate, traditional realists on the other. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, multilateral approaches were initially required. The American Congress finally paid its debts to the United Nations, and the President was actively forging an international coalition against terrorism. However, from the rapid success of the military operation in Afghanistan, some government officials and commentators concluded that unilateralism works. Conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, for example, argued that the success against the Taliban government was in fact the success of a “new unilateralism” in which the US shed its role as a “tame global citizen” and blatantly pursued its own goals.

The tug-of-war between these two currents within the government became evident in Iraq policy. Last August, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld expressed disapproval of the United Nations, warning that a return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq would leave you with a "false sense of security". Traditional realists among the Republicans such as Brent Scowcroft or James Baker, on the other hand, intervened in the debate with public pleadings for multilateral strategies. President Bush's speech to the United Nations on September 12, 2002 was a victory for Secretary of State Colin Powell. The UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441, placing the burden on Saddam Hussein of proving his disarmament progress. Powell was convinced that he had made an agreement with the French: If Saddam Hussein did not meet his obligations, Paris would support a second resolution that would approve the use of military force.

But Powell's policies were undermined on the one hand by Rumsfeld's impatience and on the other by Chirac's policy change in January. Suddenly France seemed to focus more on rejecting American use of force than on Saddam Hussein's unfulfilled conditions. In addition, the Bush administration's credibility suffered from its inconsistent rhetoric: sometimes it focused on disarming, sometimes on regime change in Iraq. Thanks to clumsy diplomatic awkwardness on both sides of the Atlantic, Saddam Hussein's failures to disarm were ultimately less and less up for debate. Instead, it was about America's power and the point of preemptive strikes. This meant failure of both the UN and the US. Because Saddam Hussein is a dictator with the clear intention to manufacture weapons of mass destruction - and with the demonstrated will to use them.

Since 1945, Article 51 of the United Nations Charter has preserved the broad consensus that a state may only use force for personal or collective self-defense. Preventive military strikes in the face of an imminent attack - as in Israel in 1967 - are widely viewed as a defensible form of self-defense, but preventive wars to remove a latent threat are not recognized. With the new threat of transnational terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, as President Bush has argued, the price of waiting may be too high. Therefore, the definition of “imminent attack” needs to be broadened.

However, a prerequisite for the transition from military anticipation to military prevention should be some kind of collective legitimation, ideally under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which regulates cases of threats to peace as well as acts of aggression. A multilateral preventive war can be justified if it weren't for a unilateral preventive war. Otherwise, the ghastly lessons of the first half of the 20th century would be forgotten, and any state could play itself as judge, jury jury and executioner at the same time. Such a precedent would inevitably fall upon us like a curse.

However, a careful list of criteria must also be drawn up for permitted multilateral preventive wars so that the number of future cases remains limited. The Iraq case, of course, fulfills these conditions: the UN Security Council has adequately condemned the regime's aggressiveness. Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction. He supported terrorism. The regime suppressed all pluralistic policies. A multilateral war would therefore have met the requirements of justice. But one important prerequisite for the current war against Iraq is missing: the broad coalition of allies. So Iraq became the case of a right-wing war at the wrong time.

It is unlikely that the inspectors would have convinced Saddam Hussein that disarming Iraq was his only chance of survival - even if Bush had waited another month or six. But the war coalition could have been expanded in this way. If Bush had tried, in return for a yes to an inspection extension, to set concrete disarmament goals and to get a fixed deadline from France and Russia, then he would have set a far better precedent for the new Bush doctrine than if he had gone it alone.

Opinion polls show that while the Americans were ready to approve of the use of force, they would have preferred an approach with broad international support. President Bush asked the right question about preventive war. But due to a lack of perseverance and diplomatic skills, Bush has refrained from working through the complete checklist for an emergency.

In the case of North Korea, America is unlikely to find it easier to implement the new strategy. Last fall, the Pyongyang regime admitted that they were looking to build a nuclear weapon with enriched uranium. The Bush administration reacted cautiously and in consultation with allies. Many ask why Iraq was threatened with violence and North Korea was not. The answer seems to be that deterrence works. In this case, it is North Korea's ability to deter the Americans from military action, because in the event of war the country could conventionally devastate the South Korean capital, Seoul.

Pyongyang is taking advantage of the Bush administration's distraction from the Iraq crisis to improve its negotiating position. It has withdrawn from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, expelled inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, and announced that it will begin reprocessing plutonium from spent reactor water. Estimates suggest that North Korea could have an arsenal of six to eight nuclear weapons at its disposal within a year. Given the willingness of the impoverished regime to sell dangerous substances, this could open the way for plutonium or weapons to end up in the hands of other states or terrorist groups. Because of this, critics are urging the US government to accelerate its direct negotiations with North Korea. However, Washington has to coordinate closely with Japan and South Korea as well as with China and Russia.

The Iraq and North Korea cases reveal both the opportunity and the limits of American primacy. The new problems are real. But the paradox of American power is a change in world politics in which the strongest country since the Roman Empire cannot achieve some of its most pressing international goals by acting alone. President Bush has correctly recognized the new challenges since September 11, 2001. May he learn to work better with other countries in order to meet these challenges successfully.
(ZEIT Nr.17, translated from English by Andreas Ross)