Prevention, Pre-Emption and the Nuclear Option: From Bush to Obama

Prevention, Pre-Emption and the Nuclear Option: From Bush to Obama

Prevention, Pre-Emption and the Nuclear Option: From Bush to Obama

Prevention, Pre-Emption and the Nuclear Option: From Bush to Obama


Despite its portrayal as a bold departure, the Bush Doctrine was not the "new" or "revolutionary" policy instrument that many at the time portended. This work seeks to argue that while it was clear that the Bush Doctrine certainly qualified as a preventive war policy, it is apparent that the adoption of this strategy did not mark a total break with American tradition or earlier Administrations.

Warren seeks to dispel arguments pertaining to the supposed "radical" nature of the Bush Doctrine - based on comparisons with previous National Security Strategies and previous Administrations' penchant for prevention. However, the work also highlights that what was new and bold about the Bush Administration's National Security Strategy of 2002, was its willingness to embrace reinvigorating a nuclear option that could ultimately be used in the context of preventive war.

While Obama has struck bold rhetorical notes and promises in relation to limiting the role of nuclear weapons, he has stopped short of changing the status quo on critical issues that have lingered since the Cold War - such as tactical nuclear weapons and keeping missiles on alert. This book's final section examines the extent to which Obama has attempted to 'adjust' the nuclear option with the recent release of the congressionally mandated Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

Offering new insights into the Bush doctrine and providing a comprehensive analysis of the current status of the US nuclear weapons strategy, this volume will be of great interest to scholars and students of American foreign policy, security studies and international relations.


To President George W. Bush, September 11, 2001 represented “the Pearl Harbor of the 21st century;” the first salvo in a new era of asymmetrical warfare against an enemy bent on the abolition of Western culture and a willingness to go to extremes as a means to attain that objective. Moreover, it signified an epic struggle between darkness and light. “We are here in the middle hour of our grief,” Bush acknowledged at a national prayer service held on September 14. “But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.” Six days later, speaking to a joint session of Congress, he expanded on this theme, declaring:

What is at stake is not just America’s freedom. This is the world’s fight.
This is civilization’s fight…. Great harm has been done to us. We have suf
fered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and
our moment. Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human free
dom—the great achievement of our time, and the great hope of every time—
now depends on us. Our nation—this generation—will lift a dark threat of
violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this
cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and
we will not fail…. The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome
is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war,
and we know that God is not neutral between them.

The grand work awaiting America in a dawning age of “new and uncertain challenges” demanded bold action —this was to come in the form of the National Security Strategy of 2002.

The release of the National Security Strategy on September 20, 2002, was perceived by many as marking an end of an era in US security strategy and policy. In response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the previous structures of US security strategy were replaced with an explicit strike policy that advocated both the identification and destruction of terrorist threats “before” they were able to “reach” the United States’ “borders;” even if this entailed acting alone and using what was referred to as “pre-emptive” force. Indeed, the increasing possibility that chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons could fall . . .

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