Magazine article The Christian Century

Power Play. (the New `National Security Strategy')

Magazine article The Christian Century

Power Play. (the New `National Security Strategy')

Article excerpt

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION's grand design for foreign policy, spelled out last September in a document titled "The National Security Strategy," declares that the U.S. will exercise the responsibilities of the dominant power in international politics in order to resist terrorism and rogue states and to shape a global ethos of human dignity and prosperity. The authors of the document believe that history has thrust the U.S. into this role and has established a coincidence between its national interests and the larger interests of the world. "The great straggle of the 20th century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom--and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise." It is the responsibility of the U.S. to preserve, protect and extend--that is, to universalize--this model.

What are we to make of this political-moral declaration? Is it a rational recognition of the fact that dominance imposes leadership responsibilities on the U.S. in every comer of the world? Or does it express the arrogance of power more than the responsibilities of power, with an implicit sense of providential election? The answer is not entirely clear, though the historical antecedents of this document give us reason to fear that arrogance is indeed at work.

The ancestors of the September document are the Defense Policy Guidance paper of 1992, prepared in the Department of Defense under then Secretary Richard Cheney, and "Rebuilding America's Defenses; Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century," issued in September 2000 by the Project for the New American Century. These earlier documents were explicit in their frank commitment to seizing and exploiting the opportunity for American global hegemony on a permanent basis. Toward this end, "Rebuilding America's Defenses" called for U.S. control of outer space and cyberspace, the development of smaller nuclear weapons to dig out embedded weapons of hostile states, regime change where necessary, the expansion of regular military forces, substantial increases in defense budgets, and the relocation and extension of American military forces around the world, including the establishing of bases in Southeast Asia.

By contrast, the National Security Strategy paper speaks not of permanent superiority but of leadership, calls for a secure presence in space but not control of it (or cyberspace), implies the possibility of regime changes without stating it explicitly, and does not mention developing smaller nuclear weapons. However, it agrees on the need to upgrade and transform U.S. military capabilities and to relocate military positions so as to cope with distant crises. Both documents advocate the development and deployment of missile defenses, and both call for proactive leadership to counter the dangers of terrorism and rogue states. Which of the two visions prevails in this administration may depend on which individuals prevail in the struggle for dominance within the Bush foreign-policy team.

Although there are problems with the National Security document, it is important to acknowledge that most of its premises are defensible. The U.S. is in fact the dominant power in world politics. It is the only state able to exercise its power with global reach. Other states acknowledge this leadership, however grudgingly, and at times they demand it. Inevitably, the U.S. is criticized for its interventions, and just as inevitably criticized when it does not intervene where its dominant power seems needed.

And there is nothing controversial in the document's commitment to freedom and democracy throughout the world, to peaceful cooperation in international relations, and to "the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity; the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property. …

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