Professor of Economics, Political Science, and Policy Studies, UCLA
Senior Fellow, The Milken Institute and The Gorbachev Foundation of North America
A Presentation to the GRAD Conference on “Regional Cooperation and Global Security”
International Business School, Budapest 30 June – 4 July, 2004


There have been remarkable recent changes in U.S. nuclear weapons policy under the current Bush administration that were announced in 2001, 2002 and 2003 in three official documents but are not widely known or adequately discussed and critiqued. They constitute a new doctrine, the Bush doctrine, ending the security system and policies of the Cold War and thus representing a discontinuous sea change in the international security system that calls for discussion, debate, and analysis, which have not occurred. The bipolar world has been replaced by a unipolar world with the U.S. as the dominant power or sole superpower. Alliance systems that had existed in the earlier epoch have been replaced by unilateral U.S. actions. Arms control has been replaced by unilateral U.S. arms initiatives.

The purpose of this paper is to present these new concepts related to nuclear weapons doctrine, to evaluate them, and to consider an alternative approach, that of global security. The new concepts as well as alternatives, such as global security, call for a wide-ranging debate both nationally and internationally. Unfortunately, this has not happened, possibly due to the concern over the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that were, ironically, examples of the new policies put into action. Both the new policies and their underlying goals should be subjects of intense scrutiny.


The background to these new nuclear weapons doctrines include the end of the Cold War in 1989; the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991; the Project for a New American Century established in 1997 “to promote American global leadership” by a group of individuals who eventually took major leadership positions in the Bush Administration in 2001; the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; and the declaration by this administration of a “War on Terrorism.


These changes in U.S. nuclear weapons policy were announced in three official documents that were released by the administration in 2002. The first of these documents is the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that was issued by the U.S. Department of Defense in January 2002. It is a classified document that is mandated by law and produced periodically, the last one having been that of the Clinton administration in 1994. The latest version was leaked in March 2002 by the Los Angeles Times. According to the NPR, “A combination of offensive and defensive, and nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities is essential to meet the deterrence requirements of the 21st century.” It is a wide-ranging analysis of the requirements for deterrence in the 21st century. It states that it does not provide operational guidance on nuclear targeting or planning. Rather, it states that the Department of Defense continues to plan for a broad range of contingencies and unforeseen threats to the U.S. and its allies in order to deter such attacks in the first place. It does, however, refer to the “Possible use of nuclear weapons in an Arab-Israeli conflict, in a war between China and Taiwan, or in an attack from North Korea on the South.” It also refers to the use of nuclear weapons against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack, in retaliation for attacks by nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, or “in the event of surprising military developments.” It also states that the administration is fashioning a more diverse set of options for deterring the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Overall, according to the NPR, nuclear weapons play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends. They provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD and large-scale conventional military force. The NPR states that these “nuclear capabilities possess unique properties that give the United States options to hold at risk classes of targets [that are] important strategic and political objectives.”

The second of these documents is the National Security Strategy of the United States of America (NSS) that was issued by the Office of the National Security Advisor to the President in September 2002. It is an unclassified and open public document that is available on the White House web site. According to the NSS, there are plans to ensure that no nation could rival U.S. military strength. The emphasis is on defeating rogue states and terrorists, noting that deterrence will not work against such enemies. It proclaims the doctrine of U.S. preemption, where it “Cannot let our enemies strike first” and gives arguments for preemption. For example, it notes that, “For Centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack.” It further states that, “The U.S. has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security.” It might be noted, however, that the U.S. did not preempt in most of the recent wars it has fought, including the two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War, while its attempt at preemption in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba was a failure. Far from there being historical precedents, this new policy represents a fundamental shift from a U.S. policy of reaction to one of initiation. It is too early to say that this policy of preemption in the Iraq War was a success. The NSS notes that “To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary act preemptively.” Such a policy of preemption is, of course, a violation of the UN system that was set up in large part to prevent precisely such preemption, as in Hitler’s invasion of Poland or Japan’s invasion of China. The UN Charter forbids a member state from taking military action against another member state unless it has itself been attacked or it has the authorization of the Security Council. The U.S. acted preemptively in the Iraq War, which was consistent with the NSS policy, but a violation of the UN Charter. In terms of international law, the U.S. was as much an outlaw in its attack on Iraq as Saddam Hussein was in his attack on Kuwait.

President Bush’s West Point Commencement Speech of June 2002 articulates many of the points in the NPR and the NSS. In fact, this speech set the stage for the NSS, which quotes at length from it.

The third of these documents is the National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) that was issued by the White House in December 2002. As in the case of NSS, WMD is an unclassified and open public document that is available on the White House web site. It notes that WMD, including nuclear biological, and chemical weapons in the possession of states hostile to the U.S. or terrorists represents one of the greatest security challenges facing the U.S. It notes that an effective strategy for countering WMD, including their use and further proliferation, is an integral component of the National Security Strategy of the U.S. It states that, as in the war on terrorism, the strategy for homeland security, and the new concept of deterrence, the new approach to WMD represents a fundamental change from the past. It notes that the highest priority is accorded to protection of the U.S. and its allies from the threat of WMD. The three pillars it announces are counterproliferation to combat WMD use, strengthened nonproliferation to combat WMD proliferation, and consequence management to respond to WMD use. Among the policies it discusses are interdiction of WMD, new methods of deterrence with threats of overwhelming force, and defense and mitigation, including the destruction of an adversary’s WMD before their use, as well as traditional nonproliferation approaches.


According to the NPR the U.S. reserves the right to use nuclear weapons, thereby possibly breaking the taboo against their use that has existed since 1945. They are treated like other weapons with no sharp distinction from non-nuclear weapons. Nuclear targeting discussions have been a part of U.S. military strategy for some time, but the leak of the NPR provides the first time that an official “hit list” of targets for nuclear weapons has come to light.

The NPR lists seven nations as possible targets for U.S. nuclear weapons. First are the two “old” enemies of Russia and China. Second are the three countries listed as members of the “Axis of Evil” in President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech, namely Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Third are two countries that are listed by the U.S. as terrorist states: Syria and Libya.

Of these seven nations that could be targets of U.S. nuclear weapons, three are non-nuclear weapons states that are parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the NPT, namely Iran, Syria, and Libya (Iraq has been invaded and defeated while North Korea has pulled out of the NPT). The U.S. along with other nuclear weapons states that are parties to the NPT gave so-called “negative assurances” to non-nuclear weapons states in the NPT, stating that it would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear stages unless they were allied with nuclear powers. Thus, targeting these three with nuclear weapons would be a violation of these U.S. negative assurances that were an inducement for these states to join the NPT and that were reiterated at the time of the NPT Review and Extension Conference in 1995.

The NPR also calls for lesser reliance on the massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to attack, with greater reliance on precision-guided weapons to deter attacks. It states that because of improvements in precision-guided weaponry, as demonstrated in the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. military can now rely more on powerful, highly accurate conventional bombs and missiles that could provide an inducement to start a war.


According to the NPR there is a new triad. The old triad consisted of three different basing modes for nuclear weapons: long-range bombers, land-based missiles, and submarine launched ballistic missiles.

By contrast, the NPR refers to a new triad with three component parts of the U.S. strategic system. First are offensive strike weapons, nuclear and non-nuclear, including all three components of the old triad. Second are defenses, both active and passive, including the new national missile defense system. Third is a revitalized defense infrastructure that could “design, develop, manufacture, and certify new warheads in response to new national requirements and maintain readiness to resume underground testing if required.”

The Bush administration has recently obtained agreement from Congress to lift its ban on designing new nuclear warheads, and there are plans to develop two new weapons. One is a low-yield weapon that could potentially be used as a weapon in regional conflicts thus possibly changing the role of nuclear weapons from that of deterring war to that of instruments of war. The other is a “bunker buster” that can destroy underground facilities, including missile silos in Russia and elsewhere. The administration has already started to construct a missile defense system at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and the Secretary of Defense has asked his Science Board to look into the possibility that the new system will use nuclear-tipped interceptors. Such interceptors would be much more effective in destroying incoming missiles than the more conventional hit-to-kill interceptors that are being testing now, and they could even neutralize the Russian second-strike deterrent.

Thus, the NPR is a strategy for indefinite reliance on nuclear weapons with plans to improve the capabilities of the existing arsenal and to revitalize the infrastructure for improving US nuclear forces in the future. It promotes a nuclear strategy of maximum flexibility as opposed to measures for irreversible nuclear disarmament as agreed to at the 2000 NPT Review Conference.


The NSS places major emphasis on preemption and calls for preemption rather than deterrence as the fundamental basis of national security. The Afghanistan and Iraq Wars are the initial cases of such preemption, with the U.S. retaining the right to preempt in defending its vital interests.

Such a policy of preemption requires massive defense spending, and the U.S. now spends about $400 billion annually on defense, more than the rest of the world combined. In addition to its costs, there are significant dangers of preemption. First, it creates antagonism toward toe U.S. and possible terrorist attacks. Second, it sends a message to the rest of the world, that they should not attempt to fight the U.S. with conventional weapons, leading to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Third, this policy sets a precedent for other nations to also engage in preemption, including China in Taiwan and India in Pakistan. Fourth, there are dangers stemming from U.S. hubris after its quick defeat of Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, with the next step possibly being an invasion of the other nations on President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” list: Iran and North Korea or possibly others on the NPR nuclear hit list, such as Syria or Libya, or yet others, such as Sudan or Cuba. These nations will see such a possibility as looming and try to protect themselves, possibly by building nuclear weapons, as has already happened in North Korea.


The new proliferation agenda included “old approaches” such as controls on materials and technology and “new approaches” such as reserving the right to destroy facilities used to make WMD. A precedent for the latter was the Israeli destruction of the Baghdad reactor before it could be used to make nuclear weapons. Many nations criticized Israel for this action that was in violation of international law, including the U.N. Charter, given that the Security Council did not authorize it. Similar criticisms could be directed at the U.S. if it engaged in such acts. Furthermore, if the U.S. claims a right to such acts other nations could also make such a claim, creating very dangerous situations. For example, India might claim the right to destroy Pakistani nuclear facilities using the same logic or China could claim a right to destroy the nuclear infrastructure of Taiwan. Such policies and actions would make the world a much more dangerous place.

One could also argue that the “old” problem of proliferation was that of nations acquiring nuclear weapons, while the “new” problem is one of terrorist groups acquiring such weapons. More should be done on a cooperative international basis to deny such weapons to terrorist organizations or subnational groups in general. This should be done under the auspices of the U.N. as a truly international cooperative effort. As to the old problem, involving such nations as Iran and North Korea, a case could be made that their acquiring such weapons could be stabilizing rather than destabilizing if the effect is to deter the U.S. from using its nuclear weapons against these nations. The world has noted that the U.S. invaded and occupied two non-nuclear nations, Afghanistan and Iraq, but did not invade North Korea and Iran, possibly since the former already has nuclear weapons while the latter could possibly acquire them in the near future.


There is an alternative to the policies that are enunciated in the NPR and the NSS, namely global security. The concept refers to security for the planet as a whole to replace the concept of national security, which is outmoded. National security, which defined up to certain well-defined borders, makes little sense given the globalization that has occurred. The goal of global security would be that of protecting the planet as a whole from threats to its vital interests. This approach recognizes the value of global cooperation, in particular, the value of cooperative efforts among the current great powers of the U.S., the E.U., Japan, Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, and others. It recognizes the need to create a new global system comparable to the creation of a new world system after World War II, one that would encompass not only security but also economics, politics, and other issue areas. This new global system would treat problems of security, both military and non-military, through strengthening existing international institutions or creating new global institutions. These new institutions could be built, in part, on the UN system and its components. They would involve supranational decision making and authority, with enforcement capabilities, transparency, and accountability and with global perspectives and responses. Participation in the global decision making process would be through cooperation. There would be a prohibition against preemption by any one nation, no matter how powerful, in favor of collective action. Such a system of global security should be preferred to the current system of the U.S. as a hegemonic global power.


Gaddis, John Lewis, “A Grand Strategy of Transformation,” Foreign Policy 133 (2003): 50-57.
Gould, Robert M. and Patrice Sutton, “Global Security: Beyond Gated Communities and Bunker Vision,” Social Justice 29.3 (2002): 1.
Guoliang, Gu, “Redefine Cooperative Security, Not Preemption,” The Washington Quarterly 26.2 (2003): 135.
Heisbourg, Francois, “A Work in Progress: The Bush Doctrine and Its Consequences,” The Washington Quarterly 26.2 (2003): 75.
Hoffman, Stanley, “The High and the Mighty: Bush’s National Security Strategy and the New American Hubris,” The American Prospect 13.24 (2003): 28.
Intriligator, Michael D., “Global Security After the End of the
Cold War,” Presidential Address, Peace Science Society (International), Conflict Management and Peace Science, 13(2) (1994), 1-11.
MccGwire, Michael, “Shifting the Paradigm (Western Ideology of the Cold War),” International Affairs 78.1 (2002): 1.
O’Hanlon, Michael E., “The New National Security Strategy and Preemption,” Brookings Institution (2002.
U.S. Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, The Pentagon, January, 2002.
U.S. Office of the National Security Advisor, The National Security Policy of the United States of America, The White House, September, 2002.
U.S. Office of the President, National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, The White House, December 2002.