How Will the Iraq War Change Global Nonproliferation Strategies?

By Cirincione, Joseph | Arms Control Today, April 2003 | Go to article overview
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How Will the Iraq War Change Global Nonproliferation Strategies?


Cirincione, Joseph, Arms Control Today


Trying to determine what the Iraq war will mean for global nonproliferation regimes is difficult. The war is less than a month old, and the many uncertainties that remain make it hard to render an assessment with sufficient confidence. Even within the time that it takes to write these words and print them, dramatic events might occur that change this article's tentative conclusions. As Yogi Berra said, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." Nonetheless, even at this point, it is useful to examine how leading policy-makers in the administration would like the nonproliferation regimes to change and to outline the key questions we must answer to forge a new strategy.

From Eliminating Weapons to Regimes

If President George W. Bush's vision of a quick military victory, a benign and untroubled occupation, and the quick construction of a democratic Iraq is correct, the rules and structures of the international system might be further rewritten in favor of a U.S.- centric system. But even if the war goes badly and the occupation is difficult, many in the Bush administration can be expected to push on boldly, lest they lose momentum. In Washington, the executive branch almost always sets the agenda, and the Bush administration is particularly good at this.

Still, it is a bit erroneous to talk about "the administration" as a single unit. Until the White House makes final decisions, there is fierce contention among various groups within the government on national security issues. Most observers see three main factions: the moderate internationalists, led by Secretary of State Colin Powell; the national conservatives, sometimes epitomized by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; and the aggressive neoconservatives, led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Mark Danner of The New Yorker characterizes what I call the moderates as the pragmatists in line with the policies of the administration of President George H. W. Bush. "These are so-called realists. They believe that foreign policy is the patient management of alliances, competitions and, to some extent, conflict."1

The neoconservatives, on the other hand, "take a somewhat ideological and almost evangelical view of the world," says Danner. They believe that American power "should be used to change the world, not simply to manage it." Finally, the traditional conservatives have little use for international organizations and would not favor overseas deployments unless vital U.S. interests were threatened.

Unless the war turns into a quagmire, the neoconservatives can be expected to continue their dominance of the policy apparatus and to press their carefully constructed agenda. That consists primarily of a "permanent regime change" policy focused on the Middle East. "There is tremendous potential to transform the region," says Richard Perle, a prominent neoconservative who recently resigned as chairman of the Defense Policy Board. "If a tyrant like Saddam [Hussein] can be brought down, others are going to begin to think.. .and act to bring down the tyrants that are afflicting them."2

There might be less unity among neoconservatives after the war, however, as some might want to turn their sights on Iran, others on Syria, and still others might argue for action against North Korea. Traditional conservatives who support the Iraq war might split from the neoconservatives' radical and expensive agenda, preferring to consolidate gains and start bringing troops home. They might find that they have a lot more in common with moderate Republicans concerned about deficits and homeland defense than with neoconservative ambitions for global transformation.

Still, the neoconservatives are firmly established in the administration, and their ideas have captured the minds of the president and his key advisers. Most now see this as a pivotal moment in world history, comparing it to the years 1945-1947 when a small group in the White House led the construction of the institutions that shaped the Western world throughout the Cold War, including the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the development of the doctrine of containment.

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