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National Observer Home > No. 59 - Summer 2004 > Articles

The Bush Doctrine and the Emerging New World Order

Dr. Sharif Shuja

The war in Iraq heralds the coming of a new international order. At issue are implications for how the world should be run. The United States is bitterly disappointed with the United Nations and the failure of major powers such as France, Germany, Russia and China to support its invasion of Iraq. This has led to a dramatic shift in the international system between those who identify themselves with Washington's intention to change the international order, including by military pre-emption if necessary, and others who are determined to resist what they see as U.S. hegemony.

Many critics reject Washington's world leadership role because they believe it involves hubris (the presumption that only America can save the world), and is immoral, since it sanctions interference in the internal affairs of other nations. The problem is that not all countries, and not even all democratic countries, will agree with the United States. about how the world should be run. Even the inner U.S. alliance circle has unravelled. Canada did not support this war on Iraq, and the fighting was being done only by the United States, Britain and Australia.

Given this context, the basic question that must be asked is this: why did America adopt the pre-emptive interventionist policy? It is also relevant to explore why America, after so many years of multipolar co-operation with major powers as well as working through the U.N. system, decided on this occasion to act unilaterally. Put differently, what factors led America to opt for an aggressive unilateral policy, relinquishing its earlier posture of multilateralism? How did we get to this desperate situation?

The intense feeling of anger and humiliation in Washington, after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, was the main factor that compelled the United States to adopt such a policy. The United States now has a more bellicose attitude. The United States fully intends to eliminate the terrorist threat, even if that takes many years, and will also pursue regime change, if necessary through the use of military force, in the "axis of evil" countries.

The second factor is that Washington wants to change the geopolitics of the Middle East. Although unseating the Saddam Hussein regime was at the heart of the military campaign, the U.S. objective appears to go beyond precipitating a "regime change" in Baghdad.

The third factor relates to the United Nations itself. So long as the United Nations has universal membership and maintains that it is the sole authority that can legitimately authorise violence by one state against another, it presents a problem for the Bush Government.

The Bush Administration does not want any government to be in a position to check it through international institutions or legal opposition, which is why the United Nations has been disregarded. Washington wants a new international regime of democratic coalitions, which it says would possess a legitimacy the United Nations lacks, and could deal expeditiously and effectively with threats to the international order. Put simply, the Bush Administration envisages a world run by the United States, backed by as many states as will sign on to support it in maintaining order.

Since the end of the Cold War, theorists, such as Kenneth Waltz,1 have argued that in the absence of effective countervailing pressures, the United States is likely to become increasingly unilateral in seeking to secure its foreign policy interests, and in so doing will rely on its military preponderance to realise its vision of a new world order. September 11 2001, and subsequent terrorist attacks in Yemen, Bali, Kenya, Morocco and, more recently, Saudi Arabia, have changed little in this regard. Instead, the effect of September 11 has been "to enhance American power and extend its military presence in the world".2

After September 11, Washington has significantly extended its military presence across Asia. For example, the United States currently has a strong military presence in Central Asian Republics such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and exercises potent control over turbulent states such as Sri Lanka, Nepal and Myanmar. Further east, the U.S. military is combating Al Qaeda cadres in the Philippines and in Indonesia, besides bolstering its presence in the South China Sea with the Indian Navy's help.

The Events of September 11

Did the world change on September 11?3 Despite the shock, outrage and hyperbole, the answer is no. As London-based writer Tariq Ali suggests, "The notion that September 11 represents a new epoch or a historic turning point is little more than propaganda."4 However, the course of international politics changed forever on September 11.

The attack on the United States compelled its leaders to undertake a profound assessment of this nation’s defence and foreign policies. Following the attacks, Americans quickly received international support and sympathy, while, at the same time, the U.S. Administration and other nations started looking for a global strategy to eliminate terrorism, a new form of war where the enemy is often unidentified.

Osama bin Laden, the Taliban of Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda were identified by the United States as partners in conducting terrorist activities. The Bush Administration declared a "war on terrorism", bombed Afghanistan in order to crush terrorist cells and brought about the downfall of the Taliban.

Some fundamentalist Muslim clergymen called on Muslims to unite against the United States and its allies, to wage a "holy war", but the majority of people in the Muslim world did not listen. The rest of the world was far too ready to equate Islam with terror and radical fundamentalism while, at the same time, the voices of the Muslim mainstream continued to go largely unheard.

The events of September 11 have generated much comment and discussion regarding the extent to which the United States was justified in seeking to wage its war against Afghanistan. The arguments put forth by commentators such as Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Michael Albert, Edward Herman and Stephen Shalom, regarding the unjustified nature of the U.S.-led war, centred around moral imperatives derived from an historical analysis of the previous effects of U.S. foreign policy around the globe. Conversely, those who believed the war to be justified sought no recourse to history or morality. They argued that U.S. efforts were completely justified to the extent that they were politically appropriate or served the interests of the American people.

When reflecting on war, moralists generally treat separately the questions whether we are right to go to war, and whether we act rightly in our conduct of war. The distinction is important, because theorists generally treat issues of justice in declaring war and of justice in conducting war separately. The distinction recognises that those who fight a war, even for a just cause, can do immoral things within it. It suggests, too, that we should be suspicious of those who argue that once we have accepted the justice of the cause, we should commit ourselves to the war without reservation.

In evaluating the morality of a war, we should ask whether it is fought for a just cause. To resist aggression and to defeat terrorism may be just causes. To take revenge would not be seen by most as a just cause. Understandably, the military action in Afghanistan has both its apologists and its critics.

The question is, do we fully understand what the terrorist attacks on the United States mean for the future world order? There are at least two schools of thought in contention here. The first (post-modern) school proclaims that the events of September 11 herald a paradigm shift and nothing will be the same again. According to this school of thought, September 11 was an epoch-making event. It marked the end of the so-called post-Cold War era. And it confirmed that "the end of history", to use Francis Fukuyama's phrase, was marked by global terrorism and not — as he asserted — by the establishment of capitalist liberal democracies as the end-state of the historical process. Many individuals and institutions are of the view that if America fails in its task of freeing the world from the scourge of terrorism, the concept of world order will be relegated to the realm of imaginative literature.

The second (geopolitical) school of thought proclaims that the events of September 11 did not herald any momentous change in the world order and that a year or two from now they will be seen as a rather nasty — but isolated — terrorist event. This line of reasoning argues that, appalling as the terrorist attacks on the United States were, they have not really affected the majority of the peoples of the world who live in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. It is the West that feels threatened. And it is the West that will provide the military forces to attack terrorism. The proponents of this school point to the cynical reactions of China and Russia, reactions that are designed primarily to legitimise the fight against their own secessionist Islamic regions.

Much of this is true. It is also true that the United States is never likely to forget the devastation wrought on its symbols of power in New York and Washington. As noted earlier, the September 11 attacks reinforced fears that the threat to the United States is now from terrorists and also from rogue states. From the security perspective, there is no doubt that the attacks could have been much worse if weapons of mass destruction had been used, or if nuclear sites had been targeted. The Bush Administration believes that the terrorist threat is unlikely to go away soon, and that steps might be taken by Al-Qaeda to seek weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush Doctrine

On 17 September 2002, a year after the September 11 attacks, President Bush unveiled a new strategic doctrine, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, which foreshadows a first-strike strategy against terrorist organisations and rogue states. It argues that defending the nation against its enemies is the first and fundamental commitment of the U.S. Government. The doctrine is the strongest possible indication that the Bush Administration is willing to deploy its power to deal with enemies of the United States before they attack or kill Americans.

This new doctrine explicitly reverses the policy of deterrence, which governed American policy since the 1950s. It argues that, during the Cold War stand-off between the democracies and the Soviet Union, deterrence was an effective defence; but a policy based on the threat of retaliation "is less likely to work against leaders of rogue states more willing to take risks, gambling with the lives of their people, and the wealth of their nations."5

The doctrine further says:6

"Today, that task has changed dramatically. Enemies in the past needed great armies and great industrial capabilities to endanger America. Now, shadowy networks of individuals can bring great chaos and suffering to our shores for less than it costs to purchase a single tank. Terrorists are organised to penetrate open societies and to turn the power of modern technologies against us".

The security strategy sets out in some detail Bush's approach to conducting the war against terrorism. This document asserts that the United States has the right to use military force anywhere in the world, at any time it chooses, against any country it believes to be, or it believes may at some point become, a threat to American interests.

The strategy paper declares its right to bomb or invade whatever country it chooses. The document refuses to respect as a matter of international law the sovereignty of any other country, and reserves the right to get rid of any regime, in any part of the world, that is, appears to be, or might some day become hostile to what the United States considers to be its vital interests.

The strategy represents a dramatic extension of what were identified before September 11 as unilateralist tendencies of the Bush Administration. Their determination to disarm Saddam Hussein by military force with or without the endorsement of the U.N. Security Council is the first and quite dramatic application of the Bush doctrine of pre-emption as outlined in the document.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush used the term "axis of evil", and accused Iraq, Iran and North Korea of developing weapons of mass destruction. He implied that all three also sponsor terror.

The assumption is based on the notion that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the greatest threat to global stability comes from a number of "outlaw nations" or "rogue states", which have noted the end of superpower rivalry and stand ready to exploit international complacency and threaten the new pillars of global order.

Washington considers these rogue states a threat to world order. These states share a siege mentality. In the first place, their leaders are portrayed not only as undemocratic, but as fanatical or crazy. In the case of Iraq, a probable clue can be found by questioning the sanity of Saddam Hussein; in the case of Iran, the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism has been invoked to stress the rejectionism and impenetrability of the Iranian leaders and people. The evidence from North Korea in particular suggests that it has indeed embarked on acquiring nuclear weapons. Pyongyang has been criticised also for its missile development and for alleged trading of nuclear technology to several Third World nations.

In response to the attacks of September 11 and perceptions that the United States faces new threats from weapons of mass destruction, Washington has announced a defence budget of almost $U.S. 380 billion — which is 40 per cent of world defence expenditure. Additionally, the U.S. is embarked on building a system of National Missile Defence ("N.M.D.") intended to protect the cities and people of the mainland United States.

If nuclear attack by a rogue state were a real danger, it would be logical to develop a broad international response. As it is, the pursuit of N.M.D. may cause damage, unless it is accompanied by skilful diplomacy. The risk is that, though it is intended to protect America from rogue countries such as North Korea, it will antagonise China, whose relatively few nuclear missiles would be rendered impotent were an anti-missile shield ever to work. The mere threat of deployment would play into the hands of those within Beijing's leadership that are looking for an American enemy to solidify their own domestic political positions on the basis of uncompromising nationalism. All of these factors have to be balanced in any consideration of an "axis of evil".

And there is a new U.S. nuclear posture, which proclaims that U.S. military forces, including nuclear forces, will now be used to "dissuade adversaries from undertaking military programmes or operations that could threaten U.S. interests or those of allies and friends".7 This raises the spectre of limited U.S. nuclear strikes against rogue nations developing nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

In fact, the new U.S. nuclear posture is undoubtedly designed as a deterrent against exactly such developments. Thus we have entered a new era. Nuclear weapons have not been used since 1945. Their use in the 21st century will break a norm of international behaviour that has lasted almost sixty years. But we now have to contemplate the use of nuclear weapons in an international environment not subject to the restraints that applied in the Cold War.

In the Cold War, there were rules of the game. Both the United States and the Soviet Union observed their respective spheres of influence. There were detailed arms-control agreements and intrusive military inspections. Crucially, neither side actually used military force directly against the other at any time during the half-century of the Cold War.

In the terrorists’ war, there are no rules of the game. There are no clear geopolitical divides. And there are no arms-control agreements with rogue regimes that may harbour terrorists. Instead, the United States and its allies "face an enemy determined to mock commonly recognised norms of civilised behaviour."8 Terrorists have mounted attacks against U.S. cities in a way that the Soviet Union simply dared not do.

This disordered world has a complicating factor. It is the risk that the war on terror and rogue regimes in the Middle East could slide into a war against Islam. The situation needs to be managed skillfully.

The War in Iraq

Washington had repeatedly threatened that if Iraq did not eliminate its weapons of mass destruction, it would attack Iraq pre-emptively, and has now done that. The reasons were: that Saddam Hussein posed an immediate security threat to the United States; he had a large quantity of weapons of mass destruction that he could use against the United States and the United Kingdom at short notice; to attain these objectives, it was necessary to kill Saddam Hussein, the head of a secular country; and after the defeat of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. and British forces would be welcomed by the Iraqis as liberators.9

All these premises have been proved to be questionable. The American and British troops are looked upon by many as invaders, not liberators. Almost all countries having friendly relations with the United States, including India, refused to send their troops to Iraq. The simple reason is that American plans and calculations for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq went totally wrong. Saddam was a dictator, but he was not presiding over a dysfunctional or failed state. More people have been killed in Iraq after the cessation of hostilities than during the war.

Washington's approach to managing the Iraq crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raises serious questions about its ability to generate a viable, stable world order.

The occupation of Iraq was supposed to enable the United States to strengthen its grip on the region and make it less volatile and more stable. The contrary has happened. The Iraqi state is in tatters, with the U.S. and British forces so bogged down that now there is little prospect of Iraq being rebuilt as a model for other countries, as the neo-conservatives had planned, in the foreseeable future. Iraq has become a cherished ground for radical Islamic anti-American activism.

The American soldiers have no way of knowing which Iraqis are Baath party, which are pro-U.S., which are Al Qaeda sympathisers, which do not want foreigners of any kind in their country, and which are just plain criminals. The U.S. military is now tied down by a security challenge it never expected.

The policy-makers in the Bush Administration believe that settling Iraq will decisively crush what they see as the emerging or growing nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism in West Asia; that a post-Saddam broad-based, multi-ethnic, and democratic government will spearhead the process of regenerating Iraq as a modern, prosperous and vibrant society; this this will, ultimately, become a model for the whole Arab world; and that the globe will then become a safe place to live in. The most ardent votary of this view is Paul Wolfowitz, along with Richard Perle. Mr. Wolfowitz clearly believes the climate of intolerance that fuels Middle Eastern terrorism can be undermined by democratisation.

These arguments are specious, but they are based on rosy assumptions or bad analogies. For one, it is hard to believe that the United States is seriously committed to rebuilding Iraq as a pluralistic and democratic society — any more than it is to reconstructing Afghanistan. The United States spent $4.5 billion on the latest war in Afghanistan. But it has annually committed only $300 million for the past two years to rebuilding it.

This is only a fraction of the amount spent on financing the Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation. But the United States spent something like $100-200 billion on the Iraq war. Notably, it wants to finance Iraq's post-war reconstruction with Iraq's own oil revenues.

The task of putting together a viable multi-ethnic coalition in Iraq is extremely difficult. The Kurds, for example, although they hated the Saddam regime, cannot possibly love the West for its repeated betrayal of them. Again, the Shias, who form sixty per cent of Iraq's population, have close cultural and political links with Iran. Iraq's Shia leaders are happy Saddam is gone, but they want the United States to go too. Forming a government under these circumstances will be a messy job.

It is possible that any free and fair democratic election held in Iraq would return a government hostile to the United States And it is likely that Islamists rather than democratic liberals will fill the power vacuum currently existing in Iraq. This will be seen by the United States as a very bad outcome, and, given the efforts Washington has gone to in bringing about regime change in Baghdad, it is quite certain the United States will not wish Islamists to flourish, irrespective of the wishes of the Iraqi people.

So, to encourage the creation of a secular regime and obtain a pro-U.S. government in Iraq, the United States has no choice other than to import a leader from exile. But it is hard to imagine any imposed government having any meaningful political dialogue with the Iraqi people, who will see it as nothing more than a U.S.-backed puppet regime. The only realistic possibility for such political authority to take root would be to back it with force; to create another military dictatorship. But this is diametrically opposed to the stated goals of the United States in bringing democracy, liberty and freedom to Iraq. Washington insists that it does not want to rule Iraq; its role is liberator not occupier.

Present indications are that, rather than accepting the American-led forces as liberators, the majority Shia population — the very people the United States sought to liberate — want their conquerors to depart quickly and leave the question of governance to the Iraqi people. The Shia religious scholars have been vocal in their condemnation of U.S. political designs for Iraq.10

This group presents a sectarian form of political leadership whose ideological motivation the United States appears to have trouble understanding. The United States should be prepared for resistance to their presence by many of the Iraqi Shia clerics, and this resistance will grow the longer U.S. forces remain in the country.


America has no countervailing power ranged against it. As the Iraq war demonstrated, if America decides to act, it will. And no force, individual or collective, can deter it. It indicated America's unwillingness to be tied down by institutions and alliances such as the United Nations and N.A.T.O.. The Bush Administration has shown that it is an advocate of a unilateralist approach to foreign policy.

The unipolar world and America’s paramountcy in it rest on two pillars. The first is the United States’ own strength, militarily and economically, which it has achieved. It is a power without parallel in world history. It accounts for 32 per cent of world G.D.P. and more than 43 per cent of world military expenditures. It spends more than U.S.$1 billion a day on defence, and accounts for more than half of global military production and almost sixty-per-cent of world military research and development spending. Accordingly, it is unlikely to face a peer competitor, or even a combination of hostile powers, in the foreseeable future.

The second pillar, yet to be achieved, is the willingness of a very large proportion of the society of states to support the United States. In the past such support has depended on an assumption that American foreign policies and purposes are reasonable and prudent, an assumption which was heavily eroded for many important governments on the war in Iraq issue. Other states listen to the United States on issues of weapons of mass destruction or international terrorism, and may well agree with them. And they want the United States to listen back. When the international community generally agrees with U.S. objectives, the unilateralist approach is seen as a strength. For example, the destruction of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was widely supported. When no such consensus exists however, unilateralism can be a weakness. Iraq is a case in point. Very few Western countries, let alone Middle Eastern states, publicly supported the Iraq invasion, although the overthrow of the Baathist regime was welcomed in many regional countries.

The long-term occupation of a country is where the disadvantages of unilateralism are most keenly felt, however, and where the Bush Administration made a major miscalculation in rushing quickly into an invasion rather than taking its time to seek a broader mandate for its actions.

There is little doubt that the miscalculations in U.S. planning for Iraq have led directly to the current situation.11 A preference for unilateralism and a belief that all Iraqis would automatically embrace the concept of democratic rule in general, and the American forces in particular, have resulted in the post-war chaos which is becoming a drain on the U.S. treasury, military power and international goodwill.

America's challenge, therefore, lies now in the recognition of its own pre-eminence but also in conducting its policy as if it were still living in a world of many centres of power. In such a world, the United States will find partners not only by sharing the psychological burdens of leadership, but also by shaping an international order consistent with freedom and democracy.

Although recent actions demonstrate U.S. hyper power, it is uncertain whether or not they will produce some kind of new world order. It will yet take a long time to shape a new order of international relations, but the key principle governing the new order should be non-interference in other nations’ internal affairs and social systems.

1. Kenneth N. Waltz, "The Continuity of International Politics", in Ken Booth and Tim Dunne (eds.), Worlds in Collision (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002), pages 348-53.

2. Scott Burchill, "Escaping the Zeitgeist", The Diplomat, Vol. 1, No. 6 (February-March), 2003, page 30.

3. On 11 September 2001 America was attacked by terrorists who used passenger jets as missiles to kill thousands of innocent civilians by destroying the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and part of the Pentagon building in Washington. Obviously, what happened here was an unspeakable act of barbarism, and what made it different from anything that preceded it was its magnitude.

4. Tariq Ali, The Clash of Fundamentalism: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (London: Verso, 2002), pages 1-342.

5. News Weekly, 19 October 2002, page 24.

6. Ibid.

7. Paul Dibb, "Managing a World without Order", Strategic and Defence Studies Centre Newsletter (The Australian National University), January-June, 2002, page 1.

8. Ibid.

9. For details, see Arthur Schlesinger, "History will judge Bush's Iraq strategy", The Weekend Australian, 7-8 September 2002; Clive Williams, "The Weakest Link", The Diplomat, Vol. 1, No. 6 (February-March), 2003; Paul Krugman, "Bush and his allies took us to war on a false premise", The Age, 4 June 2003; and Praful Bidwai, "An agenda for global hegemony", Frontline, Vol. 20, No. 7 (29 March-11 April), 2003.

10. For details see, Rodger Shanahan, "Understanding Shia Iraq", The Diplomat, Vol. 2, No. 2 (June-July), 2003, page 12.

11. Rodger Shanahan, "How the U.S. Miscalculated", The Diplomat, Vol. 2, No. 4 (October-November), 2003, pages 18-20.

National Observer No. 59 - Summer 2004