The Bush Strategy in Historical Perspective

  • Marc Trachtenberg
Part of the Initiatives in Strategic Studies: Issues and Policies book series (ISSIP)


In September 2002, a year after the terror attacks on New York and Washington, the U.S. government published an important document, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. This document laid out what was called a strategy of preemption. The enemies of the United States—countries such as Iraq and North Korea—were intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and those weapons, it was argued, could be used “offensively to achieve the aggressive designs of these regimes.” In such circumstances, a purely “reactive” policy—a strategy of “deterrence based only upon the threat of retaliation”—was no longer sufficient to defend the United States. America would instead exercise its “right of self-defense by acting preemptively,” that is, by dealing with “such emerging threats before they were fully formed.” And in dealing with these threats, the U.S. government would “not hesitate to act alone.” “In the new world we have entered,” the National Security Strategy document declared, “the only path to peace and security is the path of action.”1


Nuclear Weapon Nuclear Force Bush Administration Terror Attack American Foreign Policy 


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  1. 33.
    A.J.P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (New York: Atheneum, 1961), 278.Google Scholar
  2. 34.
    Robert Dallek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932–1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979; paperback edition, 1981), 285.Google Scholar
  3. 39.
    Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948). The “Theme of the Volume” appears at the beginning of the book, just before the table of contents. A key passage from the Churchill book, stressing the importance of acting before it is too late—i.e., while the balance of power is still favorable—was quoted in one document that made the case for a preemptive attack on the Chinese nuclear facilities: “Can the Genie Be Put Back in the Bottle?” This document, probably written by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Arthur Barber around June 1963, was declassified in 1997 and can be found in the “Briefing Book on US-Soviet Non-Diffusion Agreement for Discussion at the Moscow Meeting,” in box 265, National Security Files, John F. Kennedy Library, Boston.Google Scholar
  4. 40.
    Lord Castlereagh State Paper of May 5, 1820, in Harold Temperley and Lillian Penson, eds., Foundations of British Foreign Policy from Pitt (1792) to Salisbury (1902) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938), 60, 62.Google Scholar

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© James J. Wirtz and Jeffrey A. Larsen 2005

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  • Marc Trachtenberg

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