The Bush Doctrine of Preemptive Strike. Significance and Consequences

Term Paper, 2005

12 Pages, Grade: 2,3




1. Introduction

2. The National Security Strategy
2.1 The NSS after the Cold War
2.2 Preemption and Prevention
2.2.1 Defining the Terms
2.2.2 Preemption in International Law

3. The 2002 National Security Strategy
3.1 The New NSS - An Analysis
3.2 Consequences of the 2002 National Security Strategy
3.2.1 Consequences for the United States
3.2.2. Consequences for the International Community

4. Conclusion

5. References


With the release of the National Security Strategy (NSS) in September 2002, the administration of President George W. Bush developed the ideological keystone for U.S. foreign policy for the beginning of the 21st century. The document is therefore often referred to as the Bush Doctrine. Its publication, and more so, its application in the American foreign policy agenda, has caused tensions among politicians, diplomats and citizens all around the globe. The consequences, however, may be more consequential than just a temporary low in the international political climate. The Bush Doctrine “[…] affirms the legitimacy of an American preventive strike and emphasizes the notion that ‘If you are not with us, you are against us.’ U.S. foreign policy, therefore, is […] about shedding the multilateralism favored by the Clinton administration and pursuing a more active, unilateral approach” (Glazov 2002, 1).

In the following, I intend to analyze what consequences the U.S. foreign policy issued in the 2002 NSS has on America itself and on the international community in general In particular, I will deal with the definition of prevention and preemption and the Administration’s unilateral approach towards global politics. As both friends and enemies evaluate the meaning of the 2002 NSS, it becomes evident that great danger might lie in the ambiguous wording of the Doctrine. The question is now, whether it will prove to be a sound and effective strategy in the War on Terror or continue to disunite America and its allies, if its content is not properly clarified and addressed

2.The National Security Strategy

2.1 The NSS after the Cold War

“The U.S. national security strategy is based on a distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and our national interests. The aim of this strategy is to help make the world not just safer but better.” This introductory statement, taken from the Department of Defense website, clearly shows what policy makers ideally want the NSS to be.

In the wake of a major reorganization of U.S. foreign policy through the National Security Act of 1947 (NSA) the NSS Report was institutionalized. “The President shall transmit to Congress each year a comprehensive report on the national security strategy of the United States [...]” (NSA 1947, section 108 a, 1). The National Security Council, also created by the NSA, became the president’s coordinating and supporting tool in creating the NSS and, over the decades, the Council’s degree of influence has varied with every president.

After decades marked by clear separation of the world in two blocks, the end of the Cold War confronted the U.S. with a wholly new security situation. The end of the superpower conflict resulted in a reorientation of the American national security strategy, as the United States was no longer confronted with such a clearly defined threat. Especially under President Clinton, multilateralism characterized U.S. foreign policy, but America’s military and economic supremacy at the end of the 20th century could also be interpreted as an undisputed American hegemony. While running for president in 2000, Bush already voiced his inclination towards a more realistic approach to foreign policy and a general skepticism of Clinton’s multilateralism. The attacks of 9/11 only accelerated the return to a unipolar policy and the “[…] announcement of a new spirit in US security policy” (Conetta 2002, 1).

Even though international terrorism had occurred before, 9/11 proved to be a decisive turning point in the American security strategy. The attacks did not overthrow the international power structure like the events of 1989 and on the morning of September 12, 2001 the U.S. still was the world’s only remaining superpower. (Müller 2003, 11-12, 43) It was the setting of the attacks on American soil and the lack of a clearly defined enemy that constituted the newness of the threat. Consequently, the response to emerging terrorism led to the adoption and application of new policies. (Müller 2003, 21, 31)

2.2 Preemption and Prevention

2.2.1 Defining the Terms

“Preemption is not a new concept. There has never been a moral or legal requirement that a country wait to be attacked before it can address existential threats,” as Condoleezza Rice stated in the 2002 Wriston Lecture (Rice 2002). However, under the Bush Administration, the concepts of prevention and preemption have been widely discussed and analyzed. Although each word has its own meaning, official documents and the public discussion of the 2002 NSS oftentimes uses the terms more or less synonymously. Chapter V of the NSS, which defines and outlines the concept of preemption, uses both ‘prevent’ and ‘preemptive’ to address the same issue, for instance, “[t]o forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively” (NSS 2002, 15). By using both terms, the Bush Doctrine can be interpreted in many different ways with the potential to lead to considerable policy reactions by U.S. enemies, partners, and allies which will be addressed under 3.2. ‘Prevention’ and ‘preemption’ derive from the Latin verbs praevenire (to forestall) and praemere (to buy before others). According to the Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary, two of the appropriate meanings of the verb ‘prevent’ are ‘to deprive of power or hope of acting or succeeding’ and ‘to keep from happening or existing’. Until recently, ‘prevention’ was widely used in strategic discourse to refer to crisis prevention or preventive operations, usually as an alternative to the use of military action. Most likely, this concept of prevention, as a way to avoid violence, is not the proposed in the 2002 NSS. It is exactly that military action the Bush Doctrine builds their first-strike strategy on. Potential for confusion is even greater when it comes to preemption. ‘Preemptive’ has been taken to mean “[…] the initiation of military action because it perceives an imminent attack and identifies the clear advantages of striking first.” On the same lines, ‘preventive’ can be seen as “[…] the immediate use of force in order to avoid the risk of war later under less favorable circumstances […]” (Brailey 2003, 2). Long before the Bush Doctrine became an issue, these multi-faceted interpretations have allowed the two terms to be mixed in various instances; Brailey refers to publications on these distinctions in the 1950s, 1980s, and 1990s.


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The Bush Doctrine of Preemptive Strike. Significance and Consequences
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