US president George W Bush released the latest US National Security Strategy in Washington on March 17, 2006. The NSS is the definitive US strategic policy document which, by law, is supposed to be announced annually but has now been released after a gap of four years. The previous version of the NSS in 2002 was the first strategic policy document of the Bush administration, shaped by the neo-conservative vision driving the Bush presidency, and heavily influenced by the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. Since then, the US administration has been preoccupied with its invasion and occupation of Iraq, ostensibly a continuation of the “war on terror” launched after 9/11 but really arising directly from that strategic vision.
Many strategic experts and foreign policy commentators have been critical of NSS06 for not containing well thought-out analyses leading to a cogent practical guide to action that such a document would normally be expected to be. But this apparent “failure” ceases to be a puzzle if National Security Strategy 2006 (NSS06) is viewed as a primarily ideological document rather than one based on cold facts and examination thereof, a text that should be deconstructed rather than read literally.
NSS06 is of immediate interest for two other reasons. First, it completes a series of policy formulation exercises that together form the US security strategy. The Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR) was released on February 3 this year, the first QDR to be drawn up exclusively under the leadership of secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld and widely expected to reflect the neo-con strategic vision. A series of foreign policy pronouncements were also made in January by secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. An opportunity therefore arises to examine all these together. Second, NSS06 throws more light on the recent US-India strategic engagement leading up to the nuclear deal during the visit of president Bush to India. Various policy statements made prior to and during the visit, as well as in his Purana Qila speech, which had whole passages lifted directly from NSS06, can now be examined in their broader perspective and against the backdrop of this US strategic vision.
In its essentials, NSS06 is an extension of the 2002 NSS, guided by the same neo-con vision of the US as a unique superpower, with a “military without peer”, leading a worldwide crusade to advance “freedom and democracy”. NSS06 claims to be “founded upon two pillars” namely “promoting freedom…, effective democracies…, free and fair trade” and “[forging] a growing community of democracies… [which] America must continue to lead.” Emphasising that “America is at war” and therefore NSS06 is “a wartime security strategy”, NSS06 adds further to the messianic zeal and pro-active stance of neo-conservatism: “We will fight our enemies abroad instead of waiting for them to arrive in our country. We seek to shape the world, not merely be shaped by it.”
NSS06, more clearly than its 2002 predecessor, identifies this new enemy and the nature of this “war” as a long-term confrontation. The document likens the present context to the early years of the cold war, when fascism had been overthrown and the US was leading a world-wide struggle against communism. The US and the world, it says, now faces “a new totalitarian ideology… grounded not in secular philosophy but in the perversion of a proud religion”. Besides combating this ideology, the US goal, which is not short term but “the work of generations”, is to end “tyranny… forged under the rule of despots and despotic systems”.
With this perspective, NSS06 reiterates the policy framework first enunciated in 2002 that shifted US strategy away from deterrence and containment towards a more aggressive stance, and introduced the notorious doctrine of preemption.
Every military commander, combatant or even street fighter knows the value of striking first and seizing the initiative instead of waiting for the other’s impending attack. Preemption is good tactics but, as numerous experts have pointed out, elevating it to a strategy and even making it central to policy is fatal.
NSS06 claims that a “preemptive” strike against Iraq was necessary in a situation when “the consequences of an attack with Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) are potentially so devastating”, as if Saddam Hussein was actually poised to launch a nuclear attack on the US! The lie is clearly nailed by NSS06 itself which quotes conclusions of the Bush-appointed Iraq Survey Group not even about Iraq possessing any actual weapons, leave alone getting ready to launch them, but only about “intentions”, about Saddam giving the “impression” he possessed WMDs, his “refusal to remove the ambiguity,” and about Iraq’s “intellectual capability” to build such weapons.
“The place of preemption in our national security strategy remains the same” as in 2002, claims NSS06. “The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, the cause just.” Fact is that in Iraq, Bush and the neo-cons had already decided on regime change for ideological reasons, to impose US hegemony or, as they see it, to “spread… democracy in the broader Middle-East” and only invoked WMDs as a pretext. And fact is that the US doctrine of preemption is simply a deceptive terminology to disguise naked military aggression, turning Clausewitz’ famous dictum on its head by adopting a strategy of war as diplomacy by other means!
OTHER TARGETS, OTHER MEANS
NSS06 makes no bones about who is next on the US hit list. On Iran, where just a possibility of nuclear weapons capability sometime in the future is perceived, the threat is explicit: “the diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided” (emphasis added). And if even greater clarity is required as to US intentions, it will also not be enough if Iran ceases its nuclear activity but it must also “make the strategic decision to… open up its political system and afford freedom to its people” which of course will be judged by the US!
Yet confrontation is not mentioned in the case of North Korea even though NSS06 acknowledges that DPRK is “boasting a small nuclear arsenal”. If Iran were indeed pursuing nuclear weapons capability, this should not come as a great surprise since the US would not think of attacking it if it did!
In any case, as NSS06 itself declares, the US strategic goal of “ending tyranny” is not to be achieved by military means alone and are not linked only to WMDs. NSS06 names North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe as the “despotic states” where, put simply and without all the verbiage, the US would seek regime change. (Bush recited the same list in his Purana Qila speech, but leaving out Belarus.). Then there are other states which “have regressed, eroding the democratic freedoms their people enjoy” (read Russia), or which “have not delivered the benefits of effective democracy and prosperity to their citizens, leaving them susceptible to or taken over by demagogues peddling an anti-free market authoritarianism” (read Venezuela) or “seek to separate economic liberty from political liberty, pursuing prosperity while denying their people basic rights and freedoms” (read China). NSS06 spells out the various non-military pressure tactics and open interference envisaged in the affairs of other countries “to promote effective democracy”, including “publicly supporting democratic reformers in repressive nations”, “using foreign assistance”, “forming creative partnerships with non-governmental organizations and other civil society voices to support and reinforce their work” etc. With such explicit policy statements, it is no wonder that Russia has instituted curbs on foreign-funded NGOs. No one can any more doubt or ascribe to conspiracy theory, the direct US hand in the “colour revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyztan which NSS06 hails as successes of US policy or the intention to persist with such tactics as currently being witnessed in Belarus.
THE INDIA FACTOR
Whereas the US-India nuclear deal is not mentioned as such in NSS06, thedocument reveals the US thinking. In different places in the document, NSS06speaks of a policy orientation to “develop agendas of cooperative action withthe other main centres of global power” and on the US having “set aside decadesof mistrust and put relations with India, the world’s most populous democracy,on a new and fruitful path” through the “bold” Indo-US Strategic Agreementbetween president Bush and prime minister Manmohan Singh in July 2005 throughwhich “India now is poised to shoulder global obligations in cooperation withthe United States in a way befitting a majorpower”.
The NSS and the QDR whose main points the Indo-US strategic agreement of 2005 incorporates throw interesting new light on the US strategic views of India. In economic terms, the US vision is to push India, along with “other nations that serve as regional and global engines of growth” such as Russia, China, Brazil and South Korea, further along the road of “reforms to open [up] markets.” In military terms, The QDR discusses three powers “who find themselves at strategic crossroads” and who have the potential to become “near-peer competitors” of the US, namely Russia, China and India. The QDR characterises Russia as a potential threat if it chooses to move in an authoritarian or nationalistic direction, China as a real long-term rival if it seeks hegemony in East, Southeast and Central Asia, (this perceived threat being used in QDR to justify increased US expenditure on a new generation of conventional weapons) and India as a key strategic partner.
In what is a new strategic formulation by the US, the NSS06 postulates that “US relations with the nations of South Asia can serve as a foundation for deeper engagement throughout Central Asia” with Afghanistan fulfilling its “historical role as a land-bridge between South and Central Asia, connecting these two vital regions”. This US vision linking India with Central Asia, viewed by the US as “an enduring priority for [its] foreign policy”, places India in a vital position on the US strategic map while also seeking to pull India in a direction opposite to that of China, and Russia, in the nascent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. A policy of containment of China reminiscent of US strategy during the cold war, an era that NSS06 began by arguing was past!
STRAWS IN THE WIND?
The US policy towards India, and the US push for the strategic agreement and the nuclear deal with it, appear to both follow and go against the broad trend of the neo-con approach to foreign affairs. The nuclear deal, both in content and in the method of negotiation, is along the lines of many other unilateralist policy measures initiated by the Bush team keeping even the US Congress in the dark. At the same time, the approach towards India has been characterised more by the carrot than the stick, notwithstanding US threats over the IAEA vote on Iran or over the Iranian gas pipeline, the US objections on the latter now formally and publicly withdrawn. It is difficult to imagine the Bush team during its first term acting with this relatively soft approach especially when one compares it with the bull in a china shop approach even towards close US allies France or Germany during the disagreement over the Iraq war.
Part of this could be explained by the keenness of the US to get the strategic relationship with India off the ground. But perhaps it also owes to some recent departures from the earlier neo-con style or even policy, prompted by the failures of the Iraq war and also by some differences in approach brought about by the ascendancy of Condoleezza Rice in the Bush strategic team.
Some commentators in the US have pointed out that NSS06 has an emphasis on cooperation and alliances which was missing not only in NSS02 but also throughout the first term of president Bush. Secretary of State Rice’s January policy statements do contain several formulations that find echo in NSS06 especially as regards alliances with different current or emerging global centres of power, departing from the strictly unipolar neo-con vision, or about discarding the “illusory stability of authoritarian [structures]” that had for decades characterised the US approach in theatres such as the Middle-East.
Rice’s influence is no doubt visible but the evidence also perhaps point to some changes, to a weakening of the neo-con hold over the US polity. Some long-term neo-con influence has no doubt been secured by the appointment of John Bolton as US Ambassador to the UN, neo-con ideologue Paul Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank and by packing the US Supreme Court with conservative judges with an impact stretching over a whole generation. Yet the Bush presidency is clearly and increasingly on the defensive, its domestic approval rating percentages in the mid-thirties closely matching the low approval trends abroad, badly scarred both by the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan and by successive domestic failures as with the Katrina hurricane relief efforts. Vice president Dick Cheney, who many believe is the real power behind the Bush presidency, is currently keeping away from the limelight especially after several funding scandals and the quail-hunting-friend-shooting episode. Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld is no longer the heavy-weight he once was, much diminished by the reverses in Iraq and by the consequent ascendancy of Condi Rice, and calls for his resignation are reaching a crescendo. Bush has actually felt compelled, uncharacteristically, even to dismiss some of his team, implicitly accepting mistakes and denting the we-are-always-right airs of the Bush presidency. Perhaps these are only straws in the wind, but the brash go-it-alone neo-con unilateralism, thrusting its own vision on an unwilling world, has seen its best days and can only go downhill from now on.