Confusing Ends and Means: The Doctrine of Coercive Pre-emption

Author data: 
John Steinbruner
Publication Date: 
January 2003
Description: 
Arms Control Today, January/February
Project: 
The Advanced Methods of Cooperative Security Program
File Name: 
Document Type: 
Articles and Op-Eds

In a speech at West Point last June, in a more formal statement of national security strategy submitted to Congress in September, and in a White House document published in December, President George W. Bush has proclaimed what appears to be a new security doctrine. Reduced to its essentials, the doctrine suggests that the United States will henceforth attack adversaries to prevent them not only from using but also from acquiring the technologies associated with weapons of mass destruction. If it were systematically implemented, this doctrine would represent a major redirection of policy and a radical revision of established international security rules.

The Bush administration evidently intends to make Iraq the first test case, but the doctrine also has direct implications for the two other countries North Korea and Iran that the president has named as members of an "axis of evil." The doctrine is backed by the unprecedented degree of military superiority the United States has acquired. It has also been accompanied by repudiation of prominent agreements that have long been pillars of international regulation most notably the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In that context, the announced doctrine projects an assertive form of American nationalism that is sure to inspire considerable animosity and not just among potential adversaries. Signs of an international backlash are already evident to those who are willing to look for them in the recent elections in South Korea and in Germany, for example.

John Steinbruner is director of the Center for International Security Studies at Maryland.