Six Steps to a Safer America:
National Security and the 2005 Budget

• Five-Point Failure
• Download: PDF, RTF, DOC.

In recent years, the United States has faced new and formidable challenges, including the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the war against Iraq and its bloody aftermath, the increase in global terror, continuing threats from countries such as North Korea and Iran, and failed states in the developing world. It is imperative today that the United States design and implement a comprehensive national security strategy that will safeguard our national interests; deter our enemies or potential adversaries; and enjoy the support of the American people and our allies.

The Bush policy of preventive war correctly argues that the most serious threats to the security of the American people come from the combination of terrorists, rogue states and WMD. And yet, the administration’s actions do not add up to a coherent short- or long-term strategy capable of reducing these risks. Their arguments and actions fall short on five fronts.

First, as a recent U.S. Army War College study notes, the Bush administration has diverted our forces and energies from the primary threats to our security by conflating our enemies into a single monolithic threat and threatening preemptive action against all of them. Moreover, it has given rogue regimes precisely the justification they need to develop their own nuclear, chemical and biological weapons capabilities. In effect, the "Bush doctrine" legitimizes their disregard for international norms under the guise of defensive measures. This is true of North Korea, which resumed reprocessing of plutonium after the Bush administration included it in its rhetorical "axis of evil."

Second, the administration has inconsistently implemented its preventive war strategy and has created opportunities for our enemies. The administration justified a preventive war against the Iraqi regime in large part by claiming that it was dangerously close to acquiring nuclear weapons. We now know this not to be true. Yet, when it comes to the rogue regime in North Korea, which is reported to have nuclear weapons capability, the Bush administration has pursued an inconsistent course on both military and diplomatic fronts that has given North Korea the time to continue developing nuclear weapons.

Well before September 11, 2001, virtually all intelligence assessments ranked North Korea ahead of Iraq as a threat to our most vital interests. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, as chair of the Congressionally-mandated "Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States," concurred with these assessments in a document produced by that group in 1998. In fact, the current deployment scheme for the limited National Missile Defense capability being established this year in Alaska and California is designed to counteract the North Korea threat first, and only subsequently the Middle East. Yet, in the face of provocative and potentially destabilizing actions by North Korea, the Administration put North Korea on the back burner.

Third, as we have seen most vividly in Iraq, there is a mismatch between the administration’s policies and the resources it has devoted to carrying them out. The U.S. Army, which is the administration’s primary instrument for waging preventive war against rogue regimes, does not have the mix of capabilities required to carry out these tasks. To paraphrase recently retired Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki, the administration is trying to implement a 12-division strategy with a ten-division Army. Given the administration’s decision to invade Iraq – a "war of choice" without adequate international involvement or support – the U.S. Army cannot meet all of its commitments without "breaking the force."

Fourth, by attempting to maintain military superiority and trying to impose democracy and free markets throughout the world, our country will ultimately over-extend itself and take on the trappings of an empire. President Bush claims that we do not have imperial ambitions, but our actions abroad have already unleashed a global anti-American backlash – especially in the Islamic world – that makes it ever more difficult to protect our people at home and abroad. At the same time, we are on the verge of losing track of our most important security priorities and suffering battle fatigue at home – a situation very similar to the war in Vietnam, when successive American Presidents committed national blood and treasure to a peripheral cause that was not essential to the overarching strategic goal of containing Soviet Communist expansion.

Fifth, by emphasizing military action as our primary strategic weapon, the Bush administration gives short shrift to the threats to our national security posed by global poverty, growing international crime and the increasing isolation of the United States from like-minded states. Pursuing a unilateral foreign policy may make for effective partisan politics at home, but it has poisoned our relations abroad and increased the burden on our military and taxpayers. The result: more American deaths in Iraq since the President proclaimed “Mission Accomplished” than during active combat; a $120 billion bill for hard-working Americans that will likely double over the next two years; and much less global influence as we seek help in combating threats that know no borders.

We advocate a different national security strategy – one based on reality, not ideology and false illusions. It agrees that terrorists with a global reach (as opposed to all terrorists), rogue states, and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and materials are the most serious threats to U.S. security and the American way of life. Our strategy is based, however, on a hard-headed analysis of each individual threat and on the knowledge that we cannot deal with these threats effectively in all places and every time through the unilateral use of U.S. military force.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Lawrence J. Korb

Senior Fellow