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US Security Strategy Reaffirms Preemptive War Doctrine


The White House recently released a new national security strategy that reaffirms President Bush's doctrine of preemptive war, but says diplomacy is the strong preference in combating the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The strategy also identifies Iran as the country likely to be the greatest challenge to the United States in the future.

This latest version of the Bush administration's national security strategy updates one published in September 2002, a year after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and before the invasion of Iraq.

The new edition offers no changes to the preemption policy, saying the United States may use force before attacks occur because it cannot afford to "stand idly by as grave dangers materialize."

The document does stress that diplomacy is the strong preference over military action.

Carlos Pascual is the director of the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution.

He says the spread of democracy is still the key element of the administration's strategic policy.

"In particular it focuses a great deal of attention on democracy," he said. "Democracy as an endpoint, democracy as a tool, democracy as a factor that is a function of a whole range of other tools such as foreign aid."

Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution specializing in U.S. defense strategy.

O'Hanlon agrees with the administration's policy on using preemptive strikes, saying the focus on expanding special forces within the Pentagon is an important element in fighting terrorism.

"The military tools are in pretty good shape with the one huge caveat that the all-volunteer force is being enormously strained by the Iraq operation," he explained. "But I am not too worried that if an al-Qaida cell pops up in Yemen, or pops up in Somalia or somewhere else I am not too worried that we won't have the capacity to address it. I think we will have the capacity."

The national security strategy calls for the creation of effective democracies, suggesting that countries should not simply conduct free elections, but also must create democratic institutions.

Middle East specialist and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk points to the recent victory of Hamas in voting for the Palestinian parliament as a concern that radical Islamist groups could benefit from elections.

"The very forces that we are seeking to defeat in the war of ideas, that democratization is supposed to be our vanguard idea that we are trying to defeat them with, those very forces are using democratization to come to power," he noted. "So democracy cannot be the antidote to terror if the terrorists use democracy to gain advantages against us."

The administration's security strategy says diplomatic efforts with Iran over its nuclear program must succeed to avoid confrontation. The document does not specify what would occur if diplomacy fails.

President Bush's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, says there are signs that Iran is beginning to listen to international concerns.

"There is beginning to be a debate within the leadership, and I would hope a debate between the leadership and their people, about whether the course they are on is the right course for the good of their country," said Mr. Hadley. "That has only come about because they have heard a coordinated message from the international community."

The national security document says the ultimate goal of democracy is to end tyranny around the world.