A New National Security Strategy in an Age of Terrorists, Tyrants, and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Three Options Presented as Presidential Speeches

May 28, 2003


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Almost exactly a year after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush released to Congress and the American public his National Security Strategy, the most detailed and comprehensive statement of how his administration intends to protect the security of the United States in the post-September 11 world. While few have disagreed with the goals of the strategy, a great deal of controversy has arisen about how these goals should be implemented. This innovative paper, written by Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb, an expert with decades of experience on national security issues, lays out the best case for three different ways in which the administration could implement the president’s strategy.

The first option recognizes that the traditional strategies of deterrence and containment will not work against tyrants and terrorists. Hence, it proposes that the United States adopt a bold new strategy of dominance and preventive action that elevates pre-emption to a cardinal norm, maintains military dominance, and actively seeks to extend free-market democracy throughout the globe. The second option asserts that active deterrence and containment will continue to work against even the most ruthless tyrants, that pre-emption should be reserved for exceptional circumstances, and that the United States needs only sufficient military power to protect its vital interests and should not overextend itself by trying to remake the world in its own image. The final option emphasizes that even with its great power, the United States cannot win the war against terrorists and tyrants unilaterally. Therefore, the best way for the United States to protect its interests is to work multilaterally with its allies and partners to create a more cooperative, rule-based international system backed by American power.

With the aim of generating thought and debate about national security, Lawrence Korb has written an insightful book that presents each alternative as presidential speeches, along with a memo that explains the strengths, weaknesses, and politics of each option. The Bush administration’s original National Security Strategy is included in an appendix to complement the three foreign policy proposals it inspired.