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Shift Planned in Bush Administration's Strategic Thinking - 2002-06-10

The Bush administration is working on a detailed report to Congress that will spell out the president's national security strategy. There are strong indications the report will signal a sharp break from the past, reflecting a shift from Cold War deterrence to pre-emptive action to prevent terrorist attacks.

The report is still in the final drafting stages, but disclosures of its contents are already making headlines.

These reports on national security strategy are prepared annually, except in the first year of a new presidential term. And there are already signs that this year's document will be unlike any other, and will highlight the shift in strategic thinking that has occurred since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In the days of the Cold War, the focus was on deterrence and containment. Now, there are indications that for the first time the term "pre-emptive strike" will appear as an option for dealing with a threat from abroad, the threat posed by terrorists and hostile states that seek weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush signaled the change in January when he spoke of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil" and warned he would not allow them to threaten the United States with biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. On June 1, he told graduates at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, the military must be prepared to launch pre-emptive strikes as part of the war on terrorism.

Putting this new doctrine into the formal National Security Strategy is likely to prompt major shifts in the military and intelligence communities. No one at the White House will publicly confirm the contents of the report, but high-level officials leave little if any doubt that big changes are likely.

In a speech Monday to an international gathering in Washington of center-right politicians, the International Democrat Union, Vice-President Dick Cheney said a first-strike military policy is needed because past approaches to world security will not work against terrorists. He made specific mention of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, saying containment is not possible when "unbalanced dictators" can deliver weapons of mass destruction.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer acknowledges there have been a lot of clues as to the administration's thinking. He told reporters that the National Security Strategy is a broad document that will incorporate many policies the president has articulated since September 11 - including military strategy, diplomacy and foreign aid.