Prevention, pre-emption and the nuclear option: an examination of the Bush doctrine

Warren, A 2010, Prevention, pre-emption and the nuclear option: an examination of the Bush doctrine, Global Studies Social Science and Planning, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Prevention, pre-emption and the nuclear option: an examination of the Bush doctrine
Author(s) Warren, A
Year 2010
Abstract The Bush Doctrine was constructed over a period of approximately eight months in response to the events of 9/11. Beginning with the 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush laid the foundation for a ―newly‖ proactive strategy of counter-proliferation. In one of his first hints of prevention, Bush stated that he would ―not stand as peril draws closer and closer... and permit the world‘s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world‘s most destructive weapons.‖ Six months later, in a commencement speech to the US Military Academy at West Point, Bush elaborated upon the burgeoning national security doctrine, emphasising the need for a more forward-thinking strategy that would not wait for ―threats to fully materialize.‖ The West Point speech expressed Bush‘s new world concerns in which the spread of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology, enabled ―weak states and small groups‖ to attain a catastrophic power to strike ―great nations.‖ Finally, in September 2002, the White House released the National Security Strategy of the United States of America – the most comprehensive articulation of the Bush Doctrine, officially adopting preventive self-defense as a key element of the United States‘ security strategy. Here, Bush justified the use of preventive war and argued that the greatest threat that the US faced were entities at ―the crossroads of radicalism and technology.‖ He emphasised that the US must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they were able to threaten or use WMD against the US and its allies.

As arguably the most defining words of his doctrine, Bush argued that ―where uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy‘s attack – to forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the US, if necessary, will act pre-emptively.‖ This thesis will argue that despite its portrayal as a bold departure, the Bush Doctrine was not the ―new‖ or ―revolutionary‖ policy instrument that many at the time portended. Firstly, the National Security Strategy of 2002 and its pursuit of strategic counter-proliferation policies as a means to thwart potential and real adversaries, has been a core pillar encompassed in each National Security Strategy release since its inception in 1986/87. Secondly, the most controversial aspect of the National Security Strategy pertaining to its official adoption of ―pre-emption‖ or preventive war, has long pervaded the strategic thought of policy-makers, officials, and military planners at the highest levels of the US government. Indeed, the historical record of the last half century is replete with examples of high level US decision- vii makers who seriously considered the undertaking of major unilateral preventive military actions as a means to thwart the proliferation of nuclear weapons by rogue states. Since the dawning of the nuclear era in 1945, at least three other US Presidents have faced the potential threat of nuclear technology in the hands of states hostile to their respective Administrations and each dealt with the same decision problem faced by President Bush in 2003: whether or not to use preventive military force as a means to counter the proliferation of such nuclear weapons technology. It is evident that prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US had considered waging preventive war against no less than three additional rogue proliferators, only to be inhibited in most instances by practical factors. While it was clear that the Bush Doctrine certainly qualified as a preventive war policy, it is apparent that the adoption of this strategy did not mark a total break with American tradition or earlier Administrations. However, while this thesis attempts to dispel arguments pertaining to the supposed ―revolutionary,‖ ―new,‖ or ―radical‖ nature of the Bush Doctrine – based on comparisons with previous National Security Strategies and previous Administrations‘ penchant for prevention – it is apparent that what was ―new‖ and ―bold‖ about the Bush Administration‘s National Security Strategy of 2002, was its willingness to embrace ―innovation within the armed forces... experimentation with new approaches to warfare... exploiting US intelligence advantages, and taking full advantage of science and technology,‖ to the extent, of reinvigorating a nuclear option that could ultimately be used in the context of preventive war.

In its punctuating and reaffirming policy instruments (released over the course of Bush‘s tenure), the doctrine revitalised the role of nuclear weapons in US security strategy and signified the broader quest of the Bush Administration to upgrade US offensive forces, deploy missile defenses, reconfigure communications and satellite systems, and overall, revitalise the nuclear complex. As the second argument of this thesis asserts, the nuclear policy releases and documental arteries espoused by National Security Strategy cultivated and defined such resurgence, providing the platform for the ―quiet revolution‖ undertaken by the Administration during the period of 2002-2008. While it had taken the Clinton Administration ten years to dismantle more than 11,000 warheads in the 1990s, it would take more than fifteen years to dismantle less than half that number under Bush‘s plan. In fact, the Bush Administration dismantled the smallest number of nuclear weapons of any US administration since 1957. Its rationale was straightforward: the focus was never on disarmament but rather on extending the life of the remaining stock of nuclear weaponry. Indeed, it was this deeper policy within the Bush Doctrine that foreshadowed a new nuclear viii era in which the Administration pursued a path of retaining and upgrading its enormous strategic arsenal as a means to defeat any adversary. It was an option that placed nuclear weapons back to the fore; ―a strategy‖ that endorsed ―repeated regime change... a large, steadily modernizing nuclear arsenal‖ and ―a determination to retain nuclear weapons forever.
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global Studies Social Science and Planning
Keyword(s) Bush
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Created: Fri, 22 Nov 2013, 09:24:55 EST by Denise Paciocco
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