chapter  5
37 Pages

The nuclear option: Bush and the “real” doctrine

The Bush Doctrine can be defined as the set of pol icies that President George W. Bush implemented in response to the Septem ber 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and formalized on the Septem ber 20, 2002 in his National Security Strategy. Bush declared that the United States would make “no distinction between terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,”1 a statement that defined “the doctrine” and launched the pol icy of “pre-emptive” war against potential aggressors before they were capable of launching an attack against the United States. As the core rationale and justification for the 2003 Iraq invasion and subsequent conflict, the National Security Strategy of 2002 has been often depicted as a marked departure from the pol icies of deterrence that characterized US foreign pol icy during the Cold War and “Phase 1” of the post-Cold War period (1991-2001). But if one is to thoroughly examine this subject, it is evid ent that elements of the Bush Doctrine pertaining to pre-emption, preventive con siderations and regime change have been implicit in US foreign pol icy over the course of the last 65 years. Critics and com ment ators have often viewed the doctrine as a “hawkish” moment in time, the quest of a belligerent war mon ger, the beginning of “Phase 2” of the post-Cold War era, and in doing so, define it in isolation. While there may be some merit to these views, they fail to comprehend the broader crit ical dimension of the doctrine-that being, the nuclear pol icy instruments and docu ments that it indirectly and directly sponsored throughout the entirety of Bush’s two terms in office. It is with this in mind that the National Security Strategy cannot be moribund to 2002 perceptions, but a docu ment that must be viewed as a dangerous and living cata lyst; a docu ment that punctuated, updated, refined, and reaffirmed its core sentiments through the unclas si fied and clas si fied docu ments it spawned over the period of 2002-2008. In simple terms, these nuclear arteries of the Bush Doctrine can be viewed as formal pol icy instruments that ad voc ated the United States’ willingness to use nuclear weapons on states that it deemed to be adversarial. The 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the 2002 National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction (NSCWMD), the 2003/04 CONPLAN (Concept Plan) 8022 (Global Strike), the 2005 Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, the 2006 Strategic Operations Joint Operating Concept Version 2.0, and in recent times, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW)

program, clearly illus trate that the Bush Doctrine should not be simply dismissed or defined as a doctrine of preventive inter ven tion alone, but as one that ad voc ated nuclear weapon reactivation. Specifically, it was these docu ments that signified the resurgent role of nuclear weapons and the Bush Administration’s push to modernize US offensive forces, deploy missile defenses, upgrade communication and satellite sys tems, and overall, revitalize the nuclear milit ary complex. Behind the Administration’s rhet oric of post-Cold War restraint were expansive plans to revitalize US nuclear forces and all the elements that would sup port them within a so-called “New Triad” of cap abil it ies that combined nuclear and conventional offensive strikes with missile defenses and nuclear weapons infrastructure.2 Not since the escalation of the Cold War in Ronald Reagan’s first term had there been such an emphasis on nuclear weapons in US defense strategy. The deeper pol icy within the Bush Doctrine and its accom panying documents foreshadowed a new nuclear era in which the once-termed “weapon of last resort” evolved into a usable and “neces sary” device. Russell and Wirtz de scribed this as a “quiet revolu tion” in which the specter of nuclear reactivation would become the Bush Doctrine’s main legacy.3 As Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated in May 2007, the assertion of nuclear weapons will “play a crit ical role in the defense of the United States . . . their unique cap abil it ies con trib ute in vital and irreplaceable ways to the abil ity to deter adversaries and dissuade others from pursuing nuclear cap abil it ies on their own.”4 These words coincided with the release of the Reliable Replacement Weapon program,5 clearly signifying both the culmination and continuum of a nuclear reactivation pro cess that began with the National Security Strategy of 2002. When the Iraq conflict began on March 20, 2003, the United States’ inter vention strat egy rested on four core prin ciples found in the Bush Doctrine: first, that the United States should act preventively to thwart strikes on US targets; second, that Washington should be willing to act unilaterally, alone or with a select co ali tion when the United Nations or allies balk; third, that Iraq was the next cornerstone in the global war on terrorism; and, finally, that Baghdad’s transforma tion into a new “demo cracy” would foster region-wide change. Of course, the Bush Doctrine’s quest to legitimize a state inter ven tion based on such pillars was under mined by the initial failure to find WMD, the in abil ity to prove Iraq’s ties to al Qaeda, the ongoing specter of viol ence, limited reconstruction, the US’s apparent in abil ity to cope with an asymmetrical threat and mounting Arab disillusionment with the US leadership and occupation.6 When critics point to the Iraq war as a clear repu di ation of the Bush Doctrine, perhaps they are not considering all of the applica tions of the doctrine in a broader con text. True, Iraq was where the Bush Doctrine was most vis ible and most notice ably put to the test. It was equally true that it failed this test-re gard less of the 2007 surge and claims of success made by General Petraeus at the time. But while it is crucial to highlight the doctrine’s key tenet failures, it is also imperative to ac know ledge that it remained “alive” in the nuclear clas si fied and unclas si fied instruments it engendered over the course of the Bush Administration’s tenure.