The Magazine

The Bush Doctrine

ABM, Kyoto, and the New American Unilateralism

Jun 4, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 36 • By CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
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I. THE WORLD AS IT IS

Between 1989 and 1991 the world changed so radically so suddenly that even today the implications have not adequately been grasped. The great ideological wars of the twentieth century, which began in the '30s and lasted six decades, came to an end overnight. And the Soviet Union died in its sleep, and with it the last great existential threat to America, the West, and the liberal idea.

So fantastic was the change that, at first, most analysts and political thinkers refused to recognize the new unipolarity. In the early '90s, conventional wisdom held that we were in a quick transition from a bipolar to a multipolar world: Japan was rising, Europe was uniting, China was emerging, sleeping giants like India were stirring, and America was in decline. It seems absurd today, but this belief in American decline was all the rage.

Ten years later, the fog has cleared. No one is saying that Japan will overtake the United States economically, or Europe will overtake the United States diplomatically, or that some new anti-American coalition of powers will rise to replace the Communist bloc militarily. Today, the United States remains the preeminent economic, military, diplomatic, and cultural power on a scale not seen since the fall of the Roman Empire.

Oddly enough, the uniqueness of this structure is only dimly understood in the United States. It is the rest of the world that sees it -- undoubtedly, because it feels it -- acutely. Russia and China never fail in their summits to denounce explicitly the "unipolarity" of the current world structure and to pledge to do everything to abolish it. The French -- elegant, caustic, and as ever the intellectual leader in things anti-American -- have coined the term "hyperpower" to describe America's new condition.

And a new condition it is. It is not, as we in America tend to imagine, just the superpowerdom of the Cold War writ large. It is something never seen before in the modern world. Yet during the first decade of unipolarity, the United States acted much as it had during the preceding half-century.

In part, this was because many in the political and foreign policy elite refused to recognize the new reality. But more important, it was because those in power who did recognize it were deeply distrustful of American power. They saw their mission as seeking a new world harmony by constraining this overwhelming American power within a web of international obligations -- rather than maintaining, augmenting, and exploiting the American predominance they had inherited.

This wish to maintain, augment, and exploit that predominance is what distinguishes the new foreign policy of the Bush administration. If successful, it would do what Teddy Roosevelt did exactly a century ago: adapt America's foreign policy and military posture to its new position in the world. At the dawn of the 20th century, that meant entry into the club of Great Powers. Roosevelt both urged and assured such entry with a Big Stick foreign policy that built the Panama Canal and sent a blue water navy around the world to formally announce our arrival.

At the dawn of the 21st century, the task of the new administration is to develop a military and foreign policy appropriate to our position of overwhelming dominance. In its first four months in office, the Bush administration has begun the task: reversing the premises of Clinton foreign policy and adopting policies that recognize the new unipolarity and the unilateralism necessary to maintain it.

II. ABM: BURYING BIPOLARITY

In May 2000, while still a presidential candidate, George W. Bush gave a speech at the National Press Club pledging to build a national missile defense for the United States. A year later, as president, he repeated that in a speech at the National Defense University. This set off the usual reflexive reaction of longtime missile defense opponents. What was missed both times, however, was that Bush was proposing far more than a revival of the missile defense idea that had been put on hold during the Clinton years. Bush also declared that he would make unilateral cuts in American offensive nuclear arms. Taken together, what he proposed was a radical new nuclear doctrine: the end of arms control.

Henceforth, the United States would build nuclear weapons, both offensive and defensive, to suit its needs -- regardless of what others, particularly the Russians, thought. Sure, there would be consultation -- no need to be impolite. Humble unilateralism, the oxymoron that best describes this approach, requires it: Be nice, be understanding. But, in the end, be undeterred.

Liberal critics argue that a missile defense would launch a new arms race, with the Russians building new warheads to ensure that they could overcome our defenses. The response of the Bush administration is: So what? If the Russians want to waste what little remains of their economy on such weapons, let them. These nukes are of no use. Whether or not Russia builds new missiles, no American defense will stop a massive Russian first strike anyway. And if Russia decides to enlarge its already massive second strike capacity, in a world in which the very idea of a first strike between us and the Russians is preposterous, then fine again.

The premises underlying the new Bush nuclear doctrine are simple: (1) There is no Soviet Union. (2) Russia -- no longer either a superpower or an enemy, and therefore neither a plausibly viable nor an ideological threat -- does not count. (3) Therefore, the entire structure of bilateral arms control, both offensive and defensive, which was an American obsession during the last quarter-century of the Cold War, is a useless relic. Indeed, it is seriously damaging to American security.

Henceforth, America will build the best weaponry it can to meet its needs. And those needs are new. The coming threat is not from Russia, but from the inevitable proliferation of missiles into the hands of heretofore insignificant enemies.

Critics can downplay and discount one such threat or another. North Korea, they say, is incapable of building an intercontinental ballistic missile. (They were saying that right up to the time when it launched a three-stage rocket over Japan in 1998.) Or they will protest that Iraq cannot possibly build an effective nuclear capacity clandestinely. They are wrong on the details, but, even more important, they are wrong in principle: Missile technology is to the 21st century what airpower was to the 20th. In 1901, there was not an airplane in the world. Most people did not think a heavier-than-air machine could in theory ever fly. Yet 38 years later, the world experienced the greatest war in history, whose outcome was crucially affected by air power and air defenses in a bewildering proliferation of new technologies: bombers, fighters, transports, gliders, carriers, radar.

It is inconceivable that 38 years from now, we will not be living in a world where missile technology is equally routine, and thus routinely in the hands of bad guys.

It is therefore inexplicable why the United States should not use its unique technology to build the necessary defense against the next inevitable threat.

Yet for eight years, the U.S. government did nothing on the grounds that true safety lay in a doctrine (mutually assured destruction) and a treaty (the antiballistic missile treaty) that codifies it. The logic of MAD is simple: If either side can always launch a second strike against the other, then neither side will ever launch a first. And because missile defenses cast doubt on the efficacy of a second strike capacity, they make the nuclear balance more unstable.

This argument against missile defense was plausible during the Cold War. True, it hinged on the very implausible notion of a first strike. But at the time, the United States and the Soviet Union were mortal ideological enemies. We came close enough in Berlin and Cuba to know that war was plausible. But even then the idea of a first strike remained quite fantastic because it meant initiating the most destructive war in human history.

Today, the idea of Russia or America launching a bolt from the blue is merely absurd. Russia does not define itself as our existential adversary. It no longer sees its mission as the abolition of our very way of life. We no longer are nose-to-nose in flashpoints like Berlin. Ask yourself: Did you ever in the darkest days of the Cold War lie awake at night wondering whether Britain or France or Israel had enough of a second strike capacity to deter an American first strike against them? Of course not. Nuclear weapons are not in themselves threats. They become so in conditions of extreme hostility. It all depends on the intent of the political authorities who control them. A Russian or an American first strike? We are no longer contending over the fate of the earth, over the future of Korea and Germany and Europe. Our worst confrontation in the last decade was over the Pristina airport!

What about China? The fallback for some missile defense opponents is that China will feel the need to develop a second strike capacity to overcome our defenses. But this too is absurd. China does not have a second strike capacity. It has never had a second strike capacity. If it has never had one in the absence of an American missile defense, why should the construction of an American missile defense create a crisis of strategic instability between us?

But the new Bush nuclear doctrine does not just bury MAD. It buries the ABM treaty and the very idea of bilateral nuclear coordination with another superpower. Those agreements, on both offensive and defensive nuclear weapons, are a relic of the bipolar world. In the absence of bipolarity, there is no need to tailor our weapons to the needs or threat or wishes of a rival superpower.

Yet the Clinton administration for eight years carried on as if it did. It spent enormous amounts of energy trying to get the START treaties refined and passed in Russia. It went to great lengths to constrain and dumb down the testing of high-tech weaponry (particularly on missile defense) to be "treaty compliant." It spent even more energy negotiating baroque extensions, elaborations, and amendments to the ABM treaty. Its goal was to make the treaty more enduring, at a time when it had already become obsolete. In fact, in one agreement, negotiated in New York in 1997, the Clinton administration amended the ABM treaty to include as signatories Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus, thus making any future changes in the treaty require five signatures rather than only two. It is as if Britain and Germany had spent the 1930s regulating the levels of their horse cavalries.

That era is over.

III. KYOTO: ESCAPE FROM MULTILATERALISM

It was expected that a Republican administration would abrogate the ABM treaty. It was not expected that a Republican administration would even more decisively discard the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gases. Yet this step may be even more far-reaching.

To be sure, Bush had good political and economic reasons to discard Kyoto. The Senate had expressed its rejection of what Clinton had negotiated 95-0. The treaty had no domestic constituency of any significance. Its substance bordered on the comic: It exempted China, India, and the other massively industrializing polluters in the Third World from CO2 restrictions. The cost for the United States was staggering, while the environmental benefit was negligible. The exempted 1.3 billion Chinese and billion Indians alone would have been pumping out CO2 emissions equal to those the United States was cutting. In reality, Kyoto was a huge transfer of resources from the United States to the Third World, under the guise of environmental protection.

All very good reasons. Nonetheless, the alacrity and almost casualness with which Bush withdrew from Kyoto sent a message that the United States would no longer acquiesce in multilateral nonsense just because it had pages of signatories and bore the sheen of international comity. Nonsense was nonsense, and would be treated as such.

That alarmed the usual suspects. They were further alarmed when word leaked that the administration rejected the protocol negotiated by the Clinton administration for enforcing the biological weapons treaty of 1972. The reason here is even more obvious. The protocol does nothing of the sort. Biological weapons are inherently unverifiable. You can make biological weapons in a laboratory, in a bunker, in a closet. In a police state, these are unfindable. And police states are what we worry about. The countries effectively restricted would be open societies with a free press -- precisely the countries that we do not worry about. Even worse, the protocol would have a perverse effect. It would allow extensive inspection of American anti-biological-warfare facilities -- where we develop vaccines, protective gear, and the like -- and thus give information to potential enemies on how to make their biological agents more effective against us.

Given the storm over Kyoto, the administration is looking for a delicate way to get out of this one. There is nothing wrong with delicacy. But the thrust of the administration -- to free itself from the thrall of international treaty-signing that has characterized U.S. foreign policy for nearly a decade -- is refreshing.

One can only marvel at the enthusiasm with which the Clinton administration pursued not just Kyoto and the biological protocol but multilateral treaties on everything from chemical weapons to nuclear testing. Treaty-signing was portrayed as a way to build a new structure of legality and regularity in the world, to establish new moral norms that would in and of themselves restrain bad behavior. But the very idea of a Saddam Hussein being morally constrained by, say, a treaty on chemical weapons is simply silly.

This reality could not have escaped the liberal internationalists who spent the '90s pursuing such toothless agreements. Why then did they do it? The deeper reason is that these treaties offered an opportunity for those who distrusted American power (and have ever since the Vietnam era) to constrain it -- and constrain it in ways that give the appearance of altruism and good international citizenship.

Moreover, it was clear that the constraints on American power imposed by U.S.-Soviet bipolarity and the agreements it spawned would soon and inevitably come to an end. Even the ABM treaty, the last of these relics, would have to expire of its own obsolescent dead weight. In the absence of bipolarity, what was there to hold America back -- from, say, building "Star Wars" weaponry or raping the global environment or otherwise indulging in the arrogance of power? Hence the mania during the last decade for the multilateral treaties that would impose a new structure of constraint on American freedom of action.

Kyoto and the biological weapons protocol are the models for the new structure of "strategic stability" that would succeed the ABM treaty and its relatives. By summarily rejecting Kyoto, the Bush administration radically redefines the direction of American foreign policy: rejecting the multilateral straitjacket, disenthralling the United States from the notion there is real safety or benefit from internationally endorsed parchment barriers, and asserting a new American unilateralism.

IV. THE PURPOSES OF UNILATERALISM

This is a posture that fits the unipolarity of the 21st century world. Its aim is to restore American freedom of action. But as yet it is defined only negatively. The question remains: freedom of action to do what?

First and foremost, to maintain our preeminence. Not just because we enjoy our own power ("It's good to be the king" -- Mel Brooks), but because it is more likely to keep the peace. It is hard to understand the enthusiasm of so many for a diminished America and a world reverted to multipolarity. Multipolar international structures are inherently less stable, as the catastrophic collapse of the delicate alliance system of 1914 definitively demonstrated.

Multipolarity, yes, when there is no alternative. But not when there is. Not when we have the unique imbalance of power that we enjoy today -- and that has given the international system a stability and essential tranquility it had not known for at least a century.

The international environment is far more likely to enjoy peace under a single hegemon. Moreover, we are not just any hegemon. We run a uniquely benign imperium. This is not mere self-congratulation; it is a fact manifest in the way others welcome our power. It is the reason, for example, the Pacific Rim countries are loath to see our military presence diminished.

Unlike other hegemons and would-be hegemons, we do not entertain a grand vision of a new world. No Thousand Year Reich. No New Soviet Man. By position and nature, we are essentially a status quo power. We have no particular desire to remake human nature, to conquer for the extraction of natural resources, or to rule for the simple pleasure of dominion. We could not wait to get out of Haiti, and we would get out of Kosovo and Bosnia today if we could. Our principal aim is to maintain the stability and relative tranquility of the current international system by enforcing, maintaining, and extending the current peace. Our goals include:

(1) To enforce the peace by acting, uniquely, as the balancer of last resort everywhere. Britain was the balancer of power in Europe for over two centuries, always joining the weaker coalition against the stronger to create equilibrium. Our unique reach around the world allows us to be -- indeed dictates that we be -- the ultimate balancer in every region. We balanced Iraq by supporting its weaker neighbors in the Gulf War. We balance China by supporting the ring of smaller states at her periphery (from South Korea to Taiwan, even to Vietnam). One can argue whether we should have gone there, but our role in the Balkans was essentially to create a micro-balance: to support the weaker Bosnian Muslims against their more dominant ethnic neighbors, and subsequently to support the (at the time) weaker Kosovo Albanians against the dominant Serbs.

(2) To maintain the peace by acting as the world's foremost anti-proliferator. Weapons of mass destruction and missiles to deliver them are the greatest threat of the 21st century. Non-proliferation is not enough. Passive steps to deny rogue states the technology for deadly missiles and weapons of mass destruction is, of course, necessary. But it is insufficient. Ultimately the stuff gets through.

What to do when it does? It may become necessary in the future actually to preempt rogue states' weapons of mass destruction, as Israel did in 1981 by destroying the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. Preemption is, of course, very difficult. Which is why we must begin thinking of moving to a higher platform. Space is the ultimate high ground. For 30 years, we have been reluctant even to think about placing weapons in space, but it is inevitable that space will become militarized. The only question is: Who will get there first and how will they use it?

The demilitarization of space is a fine idea and utterly utopian. Space will be an avenue for projection of national power as were the oceans 500 years ago. The Great Powers that emerged in the modern world were those that, above all, mastered control of the high seas. The only reason space has not yet been militarized is that none but a handful of countries are yet able to do so. And none is remotely as technologically and industrially and economically prepared to do so as is the United States.

This is not as radical an idea as one might think. When President Kennedy committed the United States to a breakneck program of manned space flight, he understood full well the symbiosis between civilian and military space power. It is inevitable that within a generation the United States will have an Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Space Force. Space is already used militarily for spying, sensing, and targeting. It could be uniquely useful, among other things, for finding and destroying rogue-state missile forces.

(3) To extend the peace by spreading democracy and free institutions. This is an unassailable goal and probably the most enduring method of promoting peace. The liberation of the Warsaw Pact states, for example, relieved us of the enormous burden of physically manning the ramparts of Western Europe with huge land armies. The zone of democracy is almost invariably a zone of peace.

There is significant disagreement, however, as to how far to go and how much blood and treasure to expend in pursuit of this goal. The "globalist" school favors vigorous intervention and use of force to promote the spread of our values where they are threatened or where they need protection to burgeon. Globalists supported the U.S. intervention in the Balkans not just on humanitarian grounds, but on the grounds that ultimately we might widen the zone of democracy in Europe and thus eliminate a festering source of armed conflict, terror, and instability.

The "realist" school is more skeptical that these goals can be achieved at the point of a bayonet. True, democracy can be imposed by force, as both Germany and Japan can attest. But those occurred in the highly unusual circumstance of total military occupation following a war for unconditional surrender. Unless we are willing to wage such wars and follow up with the kind of trusteeship we enjoyed over Germany and Japan, we will find that our interventions on behalf of democracy will leave little mark, as we learned with some chagrin in Haiti and Bosnia.

Nonetheless, although they disagree on the stringency of criteria for unleashing American power, both schools share the premise that overwhelming American power is good not just for the United States but for the world. The Bush administration is the first administration of the post-Cold War era to share that premise and act accordingly. It welcomes the U.S. role of, well, hyperpower. In its first few months, its policies have reflected a comfort with the unipolarity of the world today, a desire to maintain and enhance it, and a willingness to act unilaterally to do so. It is a vision of America's role very different from that elaborated in the first post-Cold War decade -- and far more radical than has generally been noted. The French, though, should be onto it very soon.

Charles Krauthammer is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.