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Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Powell on Preemption

Regular readers of this blog may be surprised by this news, but Secretary of State Colin Powell, writing in the January/February 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs, asserts that the Bush administration has been “remarkably candid” about its foreign and security policy strategies. The September 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States, Powell says, succinctly and publicly lays out the Bush administration’s strategy, which he describes as “integrated…broad and deep, far ranging and forward looking.”

Despite releasing for public consideration an apparently frank and clear explication of US strategy, Powell notes that both domestic and foreign observers (including many partisans) have frequently misunderstood or actively distorted the meaning of US foreign policy strategy.

The Secretary points out that “U.S. strategy is widely accused of being unilateralist by design” and “of being imbalanced in favor of military methods.” Furthermore, Powell notes, “it is frequently described as being obsessed with terrorism and hence biased toward preemptive war on a global scale.” This last point receives even more direct attention, as the Secretary points out that “some observers have exaggerated both the scope of preemption in foreign policy and the centrality of preemption in U.S. strategy as a whole.”

According to Powell, while the NSS “made the concept of preemption explicit” its “novelty…lies less in its substance than in its explicitness.” There's more:
“As to preemption's scope, it applies only to the undeterrable threats that come from nonstate actors such as terrorist groups. It was never meant to displace deterrence, only to supplement it. As to its being central, it isn't. The discussion of preemption in the NSS takes up just two sentences in one of the document's eight sections.”
Contrast Powell's words to those of John R. Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. This is from a December 2003 speech:
“Rogue states such as Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya and Cuba, whose pursuit of weapons of mass destruction makes them hostile to U.S. interests, will learn that their covert programs will not escape either detection or consequences. While we will pursue diplomatic solutions whenever possible, the United States and its allies are also willing to deploy more robust techniques, such as the interdiction and seizure of illicit goods. If rogue states are not willing to follow the logic of nonproliferation norms, they must be prepared to face the logic of adverse consequences. It is why we repeatedly caution that no option is off the table.”
I'll edit this later.

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