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A New National Security Strategy in an Age of Terrorists,Tyrants, and Weapons of Mass Destruction:

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Memorandum to the President

FROM: “The National Security Adviser”
SUBJECT: Implementation of the National Security Strategy: Alternative Policy Speeches


From the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to the fall of the Twin Towers in 2001, and even now after the Iraq war of 2003, the United States has not had a consistent national security strategy that enjoyed the support of the American people and our allies. This situation is markedly different from the Cold War era, when our nation had a clear, coherent, widely supported strategy that focused on containing and deterring Soviet communist expansion. The tragic events of September 11, the increase in terrorism, and threats from countries such as North Korea and, until recently, Iraq create an imperative once again to fashion and implement a coherent national security strategy that will safeguard our national interests.

It is always something of a challenge to reduce major policy directions into stark, concise options without distorting the arguments and without losing the flavor of real choices that inherently overlap to some degree. But there are genuinely different thrusts to the national security strategies being discussed within and outside the administration. We have discerned three approaches that we feel represent these different thrusts, each of which would lead our country in a different direction. In brief, these choices call for leveraging American dominance with preventive military action, creating stability by using American military superiority for deterrence and containment, and working toward a more cooperative, rule-based international system backed by American power that is used in genuine concert with our friends and allies.

The first of these policy thrusts is advocated mainly by those identified as “neoconservatives” and a number of conservatives as well; both groups are found principally within the Republican Party. Their argument holds that the most serious threats to American security come from the combination of terrorism, rogue states, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).The temptation to try using these weapons against Americans is high for several reasons, including the fact that clearly identifying and punishing the attacker is inherently difficult. The United States is not going to be able to talk others out of developing these weapons and is also unlikely to be able to build an international coalition to help get rid of them. This country must therefore have both the capability and the will to use force preemptively, if necessary, against those states and groups that represent the most serious threats to U.S. security and the American way of life. Furthermore, the United States should be prepared to do this essentially on its own, unbound by the need for allies or United Nations (UN) approval. In the longer term, the United States must undercut any potential adversaries by ensuring the spread of free-market democracy throughout the world. Many contend that the first test of this policy was the war in Iraq.

The second thrust is associated with those generally called “moderates”—i.e., some moderately conservative Republicans and most moderate liberals within the Democratic Party. This approach holds that terrorism, rogue states, and weapons of mass destruction represent the most serious threats to U.S. security and the American way of life, but that these threats cannot be dealt with effectively in all places and every time through the unilateral use of American military force. The best way, if not the only way, to manage and eventually defeat these threats is by using American power in conjunction with international support. Although the United States alone can inflict military defeat on just about any state in the world, it will not have the capacity to turn military victory into a stable peace or to fully remove threats without ongoing international cooperation. To gain that international support will require the United States to take the views of others into account and to make serious efforts to contain and deter the threats before actually employing military force.

The third thrust is advocated primarily by people with a liberal approach, most of whom identify themselves as Democrats. Supporters of this policy point out that, although the short-term threats to U.S. security and the American way of life come from terrorists, rogue states, and weapons of mass destruction, the United States is also threatened by the longer-term effects of global poverty, growing lawlessness, and the increasing isolation of the country from like-minded states. Resort to force as the centerpiece of a national strategy, either by means of preventive war or through a dominant kind of deterrence, will not by itself be able to address either the near- or long-term threats. The United States must therefore change its emphasis from military force to diplomatic and economic cooperation. The United States needs to remain the strongest military power on earth, but it should also be an organizer of international coalitions aimed at solving major international problems and building world order.

You entered into this debate on September 17, 2002, when you formally outlined your new national security strategy. This National Security Strategy (NSS) was mandated by the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act.According to that law, this document is supposed to be issued annually. Because of the change of administrations and the events of September 11, 2001, however, the strategy had not been updated since December 1999.

On December 12, 2002, you also made public the unclassified portions of National Security Presidential Directive 17 and Homeland Security Policy Directive 4 (NSPD-17/HSPD-4). This document was drafted by the National Security Council and approved by you in June 2002. It formed the basis for the NSS, and for your speeches at West Point and Fort Drum that same June. These two speeches laid the groundwork for the release of the NSS. These documents, the NSS and NSPD-17/HSPD-4, which will be referred to throughout this memorandum as “the strategy,” are the most detailed and comprehensive statements of how you intend to protect the national security interests of the United States in the post–September 11 world. In effect, they form the essence of what some have referred to as the “Bush Doctrine.” Most elements of the media construe this doctrine to stand for the principle that this country will not hesitate to take anticipatory action to defend itself. They view it as a departure from the strategies of deterrence and containment carried over from the Cold War era by successive administrations. And they view the war on Iraq as the first manifestation of this policy.

Some analysts, like the diplomatic historian John Lewis Gaddis, have argued that the Bush Doctrine represents the most profound shift in U.S. grand strategy in the past 50 years and the first coherent statement of national security policy since the end of the Cold War. Others, including your secretary of state, have claimed that the items contained in the NSS and in NSPD-17/HSPD-4 are not radically different from existing policy.

Few mainstream policymakers, analysts, or commentators—either in the United States or around the world—have disagreed with the goals and strategic principles outlined in the strategy. There has been a great deal of controversy, both at home and abroad, however, about how these goals and principles would be implemented in specific cases, particularly when they seem to conflict with one another—for example, promoting democracy while conducting the war against terrorism, which requires cooperating with dictators. In addition, some people—even within the administration—support some aspects of the strategy while disagreeing with others. For example, some officials support the concept of preventive action but are wary of making the extension of democracy an explicit goal of U.S. national security policy. Still others support the promotion of democracy and individual rights but chafe at the perceived over-reliance on American military power to achieve these goals.

To clear up any confusion and allay concerns at home and abroad, we recommend that you give a major policy speech that lays out in specific terms how these concepts will be put into practice and how the different aspects of American foreign policy can be woven together in a broader intellectual framework. Such a framework will clearly set forth U.S. interests and values, embody your understanding of how today’s world operates, clarify the U.S. role in it, and promulgate a set of strategies that can best serve those interests and values in light of the opportunities and constraints created by the new security environment. A great power such as the United States cannot afford to send mixed messages about its intentions, whether to its allies, to its competitors, or to its adversaries.

To help clarify your thinking on the ways that your strategy will be implemented and on how its parts relate to certain unifying themes and ideas, we present this memorandum. It is designed to make the best case for each of three plausible implementation strategies, providing relevant background information and discussing the strengths of each approach relative to the other two alternatives. Each strategy offers a distinct direction for American foreign policy and suggests a different set of priorities. This memo is followed by three draft speeches that elaborate on the strategic rationale for and flesh out the contents of each approach. The three specific policy options are as follows:

U.S. Dominance and Preventive Action. The most serious threats to American security come from the combination of terrorism, rogue states, and WMD. The temptation to try using these weapons against Americans is high for several reasons, including the fact that clearly identifying and punishing an attacker is inherently difficult. We are not going to be able to talk others out of developing these weapons, nor are we likely to be able to build an international coalition to help us get rid of these weapons. Therefore we must have both the capability and the will to use force against those states and the groups within them that represent the most serious threats to our security and way of life. And we should be prepared to do this essentially with U.S. military power alone, unbound by the need for allies or UN approval. In the longer term, we must undercut our potential adversaries by ensuring the spread of free-market democracy throughout the world.

Larger trends have conspired to make the threat posed by radicalism much greater in recent times. Given the rapid dissemination of destructive technologies, sensitive information, and capital flows in today’s globalized world, threats from terrorist networks and rogue states can and will materialize more rapidly than in the past. Moreover, any attacks promise to be much more devastating if and when these actors get their hands on WMD. As the world’s leading military and economic power, the United States is the most likely target of these terrorists and tyrants. In the face of, and in response to, these imminent dangers, it has not only the duty but also the legal and moral right to launch preemptive attacks, unilaterally if necessary. Common sense dictates that the government not stand idly by and wait to act until catastrophic attacks are visited upon the American people.

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