Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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4.1 The US national security strategy in 2002 and 2006

The publication of the US National Security Strategy in 2002 – updated in 2006 – shifted US foreign policy. It has moved away from decades of deterrence and containment (using power to forestall attacks by promising to respond with deadly force when attacked) towards a more aggressive stance of being prepared to attack an enemy before it attacks the US or its allies:

If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack … .When the consequences of an attack with WMD [weapons of mass destruction] are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize … . To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act pre-emptively … . America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones. We are menaced less by fleets and armies than by catastrophic technologies in the hands of the embittered few … . The US National Security Strategy will be based on a distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and our national interests. The aim of this strategy is to help make the world not just safer but better … .

(US State Department, 2002)

The key objective of this strategy, described as the Bush Doctrine, is that the willingness to wage war to prevent a threat need not entail pre-emptive war (war waged against an opponent who is just about to attack), but rather a preventative war (a war fought, according to the US National Security Strategy, in order to ‘act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed’ (ibid)). In addition, it asserts that formal structures such as the United Nations or North Atlantic Treaty organisation (NATO) may at times be less effective than ‘coalitions of the willing’, or groups responding to particular situations, such as in the case of the intervention in Iraq in 2003.

The US, because it, again in the words of the US National Security Strategy, ‘possesses unprecedented – and unequalled – strength and influence in the world’ (ibid), enjoys safety from conventional, peer competitors. The US National Security Strategy of 2002, however, focuses on the belief that the greatest threat to the US no longer comes from conquering states, but from failed ones and an ‘embittered few’ who possess ‘catastrophic technologies’. Hence, in 2006, the US singled out seven nations as prime examples of such ‘despotic systems’: North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe. According to one US military analyst, Lt Col Arnel Enriquez, the US now faces threats not from conventional nation-states, but from terrorists and such ‘rogue states’ who would use weapons of mass destruction and other non-conventional means to attack – not necessarily to conquer but to instil fear. (Enriquez, 2002)

To prevent dangers, the National Security Strategy sets out new ‘use of force principles’:

Table 1 Use of force principles

Primary PrincipleForce should be used proactively against rogue states and terrorists that possess the capability and motivation to harm the United States and its allies.
Preferential principlesUS partners in the region of interest should be the first to take up the fight, and the United States will assist. If the United States must use force, multilateral action is preferred, but the United States reserves the right to act unilaterally, if necessary, in self-defense.
Practical principlesThe action must target a specific threat and eliminate it. The use of force should be measured.
Source: Enriquez (2002)

In this regard, the US National Security Strategy of 2002 – heavily influenced by the experience of 9/11 – marked a significant departure from US military strategy. It had previously argued that the US should use its military might sparingly, only when absolutely necessary, and should bring overwhelming and decisive force against the enemy, minimizing US casualties. This would end conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate. For many commentators, then, the National Security Strategy of President Bush could be the most important reformulation of US foreign policy in over half a century.

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