President George W. Bush

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, January/February 2004 | Go to article overview

President George W. Bush


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


President George W. Bush's approach to addressing proliferation reflects skepticism toward the effectiveness of formal arms control agreements and international institutions to deal with threats posed by regimes and nonstate actors intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Instead, it relies heavily upon unilateral U.S. actions and coalitions of the willing to frustrate, punish, shame, and eliminate those seeking WMD capabilities.

Bush took office convinced that the spread of weapons of mass destruction posed the greatest danger to the United States. As the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Bush said May 23, 2000, "The emerging security threats to the United States, its friends and allies, and even to Russia, now come from rogue states, terrorist groups and other adversaries seeking weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them."

The September 11 terrorist attacks upped the urgency of this assessment, encouraging Bush to broaden his proliferation response beyond missile defenses and embrace a more assertive defense posture to ward off and protect against future, more lethal attacks.

As the president explained in his Jan. 29, 2002, State of the Union address, "I will not wait on events, while dangers gather." He also left no doubt about the dangers, denouncing Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an "axis of evil."

The administration spelled out its tactics in a September 2002 national security strategy and December 2002 national strategy to combat weapons of mass destruction. Both offered a wide menu of policy options, but the two documents emphasized the United States should act first. "We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction," the national security strategy stated.

After dismissing international efforts to disarm Saddam Hussein as ineffective, the administration soon applied its new proactive principles to Iraq, invading the country and deposing Hussein. Although an intensive, months-long search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction has so far turned up empty-handed, administration officials claim that is beside the point. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton said in a Dec. 2, 2003, speech, "our concern was not the imminence of Saddam's threat, but the very existence of his regime, given its heinous and undeniable record, capabilities, intentions, and long-standing defiance of the international community."

Bolton's statement underscores that, although the administration argues the "gravest danger" to U.S. security is the nexus between weapons of mass destruction and hostile regimes, the regime's nature is the determining factor. Consequently, the administration has devoted little attention to rolling back the weapons programs of India, Israel, and Pakistan-three nuclear-armed countries currently friendly to the United States.

On the other hand, Washington has backed a European-led initiative securing Iran's suspension of certain nuclear activities and consent to more intrusive international arms inspections and has united four other countries in confronting North Korea over its nuclear ambitions. Most recently, the administration joined the British government in persuading Libya to dismantle its WMD programs.

At the same time, the administration is exploring new types of nuclear weapons, such as bunker busters and low-yield warheads. …

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