WASHINGTON - The Bush administration unveiled a sweeping new national security strategy yesterday, declaring that the United States is prepared to launch pre-emptive strikes against terrorists and nations that threaten America with weapons of mass destruction.
The new strategy, outlined in a 35-page document, boldly states that as the pre-eminent political and economic power, the United States will use its might to spread democracy and to vanquish its enemies - by acting alone, if necessary.
In a sharp break with the past, the policy also brushes aside the concepts of containment and deterrence that America relied on during the Cold War to counter the military threat of the Soviet Union.
"The gravest danger our nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology," President Bush says in the introduction. "Our enemies have openly declared they are seeking weapons of mass destruction. As a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed."
Deterrence, the document says, succeeded against the Soviet Union, a "status quo, risk averse" adversary that considered weapons of mass destruction a "last resort." Today, it says, terrorists and hostile states regard such an arsenal as "weapons of choice," and deterrence won't work against those who "seek martyrdom in death."
Much of the strategy has been outlined before by Bush or his advisers since the Sept. 11 attacks. Still, it represents the first comprehensive summary of an aggressive new national security policy, far more so than President Bill Clinton or Bush's father articulated in their own similar documents.
The Bush document declares that while America will try to build multinational coalitions to fight terrorism, "we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively."
In addition, it says, the United States will act to head off any potential enemy's challenge to America's military superiority.
"The president has no intention of allowing any foreign power to catch up with the huge lead the United States has opened since the fall of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago," the document states. "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States."
The plan also calls for increased foreign aid as a way to encourage the spread of democracy throughout the world.
A senior administration official said the new strategy rests on three key concerns - defending against weapons of mass destruction; working with other world powers, such as Russia and China, to promote global security; and extending free trade and economic aid to the developing world.
The document makes only a passing reference to Iraq, even though Bush's advocacy of pre-emptive attacks could get its first test in that country, as the administration seeks to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime.
Some critics contended that the Bush strategy amounted to unilateralism - a go-it-alone approach that ignores America's allies and smacks of the arrogance of an empire.
"It does sound as unilateralist as ever," said Gordon Adams, a visiting professor of international affairs at George Washington University who was an adviser to Al Gore's presidential campaign. Adams said he was most concerned about the use of pre-emptive military action. "It sets a precedent for many other countries to follow - Russia against Chechnya, and the Israelis against the Palestinians."
The risk of pre-emptive strikes, Adams said, is that you create a world that is "mistrustful" and "fearful" of America.
"You end up creating the enemy you seek to prevent," he said.
More details sought
Ashton Carter, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration who is a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, criticized the Bush strategy for lacking detailed discussion of the tools needed for homeland security, or of how the United States would handle "nation-building" in countries such as Afghanistan.
The U.S. military, Carter said, is not equipped to handle that task alone.
Parts of the document involve the Bush administration's plans to clean up the environment, improve public health and encourage the growth of democracy throughout the world, by offering American cooperation and financial aid.
Despite the administration's decision not to take part in the Kyoto treaty to reduce the world's greenhouse gases, the strategy pledges to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions relative to the size of its economy, cutting such emissions per unit of economic activity by 18 percent over 10 years.
Moreover, the strategy pledges more money for a global HIV/AIDS organization organized by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, "if the global fund demonstrates its progress."
"We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets and free trade to every corner of the globe," Bush said in the strategy. "Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders."
The administration plans a 50 percent increase in core development aid, though no specific dollar amount was mentioned.
The additional dollars, the strategy said, would go into a new Millennium Challenge Account, for projects in countries whose governments "rule justly, invest in their people and encourage economic freedom."
Improving lives of poor
The administration also pledges to help reform the World Bank and other international organizations to be "more effective" in improving the lives of the world's poor.
The strategy also says the administration will continue to demand that any U.S. aid dispensed by international organizations must have "measurable goals" and "concrete benchmarks."
Jack Spencer, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said it made sense to "tie aid to progress."
Spencer said the approach of encouraging democracy through assistance is more effective than the Clinton administration's efforts to "build democracy under gunpoint" in Haiti and Kosovo.
"It's in America's interest and the interest of the world to have democracy wherever possible," Spencer said.
Adams, the George Washington University professor, said that while spreading democracy is a noble goal, "large amounts of money don't buy you democracy."
"It's very hard to impose from the outside," he said. "And there are times when the U.S. must ally itself with non-democratic countries - such as Uzbekistan in the war on terrorism - because other interests are more important."
Support of moderates
In aiming to fight terrorism, the Bush strategy calls for supporting "moderate and modern government, especially in the Middle East."
Asked whether such efforts applied to non-democratic allies - such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait - the senior administration official noted that the Saudi government has a number of "reform efforts" under way.
At the same time, the official said, through free trade and other assistance, the Bush administration would seek to dissuade a possible military power, such as Russia and China, from equaling or surpassing America's military prowess.
The administration, the official said, doesn't want to see another power such as the Soviet Union emerge again "and keep half of Europe in darkness and oppression for 50 years."
Here is an excerpt from the Bush administration's document on national security:
For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of pre-emption on the existence of an imminent threat - most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and air forces preparing to attack.
We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means. They know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction - weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered covertly and used without warning.
The targets of these attacks are our military forces and our civilian population, in direct violation of one of the principal norms of the law of warfare. As was demonstrated by the losses of September 11, 2001, mass civilian casualties is the specific objective of terrorists and these losses would be exponentially more severe if terrorists acquired and used weapons of mass destruction.
The United States has long maintained the option of pre-emptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction - and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act pre-emptively.