Northeast Asia Policy under George W. Bush: Doctrine in Search of Policy

By Gurtov, Mel | North Korean Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Northeast Asia Policy under George W. Bush: Doctrine in Search of Policy


Gurtov, Mel, North Korean Review


Introduction

The Bush Doctrine stipulates that unilateral action, regime change, and preemptive attack now define U.S. foreign policy. In Northeast Asia, however, the doctrine has run up against unpleasant realities that ought to be causing-but so far do not appear to have caused-its abandonment. Instead, the doctrine's new realism, embellished with strong ideological predispositions, has made the United States odd man out in Asia. This paper critically examines the Bush administration's policy toward the People's Republic of China (PRC; China), the Korean peninsula, and Japan. It concludes that, contrary to the view of some observers (Rose 2005) and notwithstanding tactical modifications, the Bush Doctrine remains the essential underpinning of U.S. policy in George W. Bush's second administration. Northeast Asia's present and future look very different to Chinese, North Korean, Japanese, and U.S. officials. Reconciling those perspectives will have great bearing on prospects for security in the region, but there must also exist the will to reconcile them. Domestic political factors come into play here-the roles, for example, of bureaucratic selfinterest, party alignments, interpretations of history, and ideological preconceptions. In the Bush administration, these factors have lent themselves to a worldview that is unprecedented exceptionalist and hegemonic in its approach to national security affairs. The predominant influence behind this worldview is the group of so-called neoconservatives-people such as Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz who held national security posts in the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations. Even so-called realists around the president, such as Condoleezza Rice, seem to subscribe to the neoconservatives' belief that the "unipolar moment" for the United States has arrived.

The Bush Doctrine dubs this new realism a "distinctly American internationalism." The doctrine asserts that the United States should take advantage of its enormous and unchallengeable power in world affairs to shape the new century (White House 2002; Gurtov 2006; Ikenberry 2002; and Hendrickson 2002). The 9/11 attacks have provided the opportunity to do so. No state can effectively challenge the United States militarily; nor is there any other viable political or economic model that can pose an alternative to the American way of life. In sustaining superiority, Bush administration officials have said, the use and threat to use force-preventively if necessary-must have wider application than in the past; however, diplomacy-multilateral diplomacy in particular-must operate on a shorter leash than previously. A sustained military buildup, with new capabilities to match wider missions, is crucial to implementing the new doctrine. The help and advice of allies, friendly countries, and international organizations of all kinds are useful only so long as they serve U.S. purposes; otherwise, they are dispensable. International law and cooperation must serve the larger objective of restoring order in the international system.

If the above summary has merit, its implications for U.S. policy in Northeast Asia are considerable. First, it means that the Pentagon plays a key role in shaping national security policy. Second, neoconservative domination of the policy process means that intelligence findings run a considerable risk of being politicized to serve ideological predispositions. Third, the overall thrust of U.S. policy is to seek to impose U.S. will by relying on military preponderance to send a message to rival states, with scant appreciation for their security concerns and historical sensitivities. But, as seems to have happened in the second George W. Bush administration, such predilections may be undercut by other developments: the high costs of counterinsurgency in Iraq and the accompanying revelations of illegalities and false pretenses in that war, the resistance to U. …

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