Bush Shifts Strategy From Deterrence to Dominance

 

By Karen DeYoung and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 21, 2002; Page A01

In a muscular new statement of U.S. strategic priorities, President Bush declared yesterday that the United States must maintain unchallenged military superiority to win the fight against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction that now pose the greatest threat to U.S. national security.

Deterrence and containment, the previous foundations of U.S. strategy, are no longer valid, Bush said in a 31-page document titled "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America." Instead, the United States must identify and destroy the terrorist threat "before it reaches our borders," if necessary acting alone and using preemptive force.

The report is the first Bush has issued under a 1986 law requiring the president to present Congress with an annual strategic statement. Overall, it gives the United States a nearly messianic role in making the world "not just safer but better."

Possessing "unprecedented -- and unequalled -- strength and influence in the world," it begins, and "sustained by faith in the principles of liberty and the value of a free society," the United States also has "unparalleled responsibilities, obligations and opportunities. The great strength of this nation must be used to promote a balance of power that favors freedom."

Bush's strategy, it says, is a "distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and our national interests."

While the report describes goals such as cooperation among "world powers" and the promotion of freedom, democracy and free trade as intrinsically desirable and important parts of U.S. policy, it sets them largely within the context of their contribution to the fight against terrorism.

Most of what is contained in the report language is adapted from a series of speeches Bush has made since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But a senior administration official, who briefed reporters, said the strategic statement brings "these common themes . . . together into one coherent document."

The "three strategic priorities," the official said, were to "lead the world" against terrorists and "aggressive regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction," to preserve the peace by "fostering good relations among the world's great powers," and to extend the benefits of liberty and prosperity through the spread of American values and tangible rewards for good governance.

The most recent strategy document, drawn up by President Bill Clinton in December 1999, presented a far more traditional view of the world. It stressed the need for a strong army to deter and defeat large-scale, cross border attacks by the military forces of adversary countries but said that U.S. security was primarily maintained through international alliances and security treaties.

Bush has adopted "a distinctively different approach," said James B. Steinberg, who served as Clinton's deputy national security adviser. "It sees the world as one problem -- terrorism and weapons of mass destruction -- and builds a strategy around it. That is not to say that terrorism isn't the dominant problem. But we face a broad range of challenges that it is critical not to lose sight of."

The report says that the end of the Cold War and new relationships with countries such as Russia and China have provided the opportunity to rethink national strategy, and the Sept. 11 attacks demonstrated what the focus of attention should be. "It has taken almost a decade for us to comprehend the true nature of this new threat," it says. "Given the goals of rogue states and terrorists, the United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past."

Rogue states are defined as those that brutalize their own people, display no regard for international law, are determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction for offensive use or as threats to achieve aggressive aims, sponsor terrorism, "reject basic human values and hate the United States and everything for which it stands."

The report mentions only two such states: Iraq and North Korea. Both were included in the "axis of evil" Bush identified in his State of the Union speech in January, along with Iran. But a senior administration official said in an interview that Iran was not considered a "rogue" state, and that, so far at least, efforts to disarm North Korea were focused on a diplomatic track.

"We are not making the case that we'll just go around preempting every threat that we see," the official said. "It's a pretty special category -- a pretty limited category. . . . In a case like Iraq, it's not as if we haven't tried other methods."

In its campaign to "disrupt and destroy terrorist organizations" and those allied with them, the document says, the United States will employ "direct and continuous action using all the elements of national and international power," and will defend U.S. interests "at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders.

"While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country."

All national security institutions must be transformed to meet the threat, the report says. Intelligence is "the first line of defense," but military superiority is crucial.

"The United States must and will maintain the capability to defeat any attempt by an enemy -- whether a state or nonstate actor -- to impose its will on the United States, our allies, or our friends," it states.

The administration official briefing reporters said that while the report "quite clearly states that the United States wants to dissuade military competition," it continued to urge European allies to boost their own defense capabilities. "It's not a statement that says the United States wants to alone be militarily so superior to everyone," the official said, but that "we will not allow an adversarial military power to rise."

The official offered the example of China, saying that the United States believed China would be better off spending its money on developing a free economy and political system than building its military capabilities.

Release of the report, which was delayed for many months, came the day after Bush asked Congress to authorize the use of preemptive military force against Iraq.

Yesterday, Bush continued his efforts to gain international support for a similar resolution at the United Nations, saying that military force will be used if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein fails to allow the resumption of U.N. weapons inspections. But although the White House said Bush was confident that a toughly worded, U.S.-inspired resolution would prevail in the U.N. Security Council, he drew no promises of support during a half-hour phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin and an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

The Russian officials indicated they favored a more effective weapons inspection regime, but deflected questions about whether Russia would back U.S. insistence that the inspections be coupled with the threat of force. Instead, they compared U.S. arguments for strikes on Hussein to Russia's own desire for attacking Chechen rebels in Georgia, suggesting that Russia had a better case.

"These are two completely different problems," Defense Minister Ivanov said. "If we are talking about Georgia, it's our firm belief that there is no need to give any further proofs to anyone. In our view, everything is already completely clear. They're real and not mythical -- not hypothetical threat emanat[ing] from the territory [of] Georgia, threatening our security, including our military security."

The senior administration official interviewed yesterday agreed that they were different problems, but said that while preemption was justified in Iraq, there were "other ways to solve the problem" in Georgia, including political negotiations and helping train Georgian forces to fight against terrorists there.

The official said that negotiations over a Security Council resolution would likely begin in earnest next week, and that U.S. determination was beginning to move opinion in Washington's direction. But regardless of whether the administration prevails at the United Nations, the official said, Iraq "is a threat that's going to have to be dealt with and the United States will do it, with whomever else would like to come along."

Staff writer Dana Milbank contributed to this report.

 

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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