The US has historically been one of the most resolute advocates of the Rule
of Law. However, current trends indicate that it is moving dangerously towards
completely shunning this approach, resulting in US reliance on Rule of Force as
the principal means for solving global conflicts. While on the one hand the US
disavows current obligations under international law and refuses to participate
in new international legal mechanisms, it expects other countries to adhere to
such laws and to US directives. Continued US attempts to increase its military
domination combined with its withdrawal from international legal processes are
eroding national and international security in an already unstable and unbalanced
Security in the Post-September 11th World
President Bush has used September 11th to define a new dichotomy dividing states-the
states with the US and the states for terror-an overly simplistic dichotomy that
had been missing since the dissolution of the USSR and the end of the Cold War.
In the aftermath of September 11th, the US made an appeal to the international
community to join in the fight against terrorism. On the surface, the anti-terrorism
campaign initially offered a chance for many countries, including countries subsequently
labeled by the Bush administration as part of an "axis of evil," to realign themselves
to be on more friendly terms with the US.
As a result, many countries have changed their political priorities, diverting
large amounts of resources and attention to the US-led war on terrorism. Furthermore,
many countries in critical regions such as the Middle East, South Asia and North
East Asia are following the US example, countering domestic and regional disputes
with force and rejecting multilateral diplomacy and arms control. In fact, the
war on terrorism has only added fuel to fire in escalating regional crises.
September 11th also reinvigorated concerns about the proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction and their means of delivery. There are legitimate fears regarding
terrorists acquiring or making nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological weapons.
However, the US-led response to these fears has been to offer solutions that would
counter rather than prevent proliferation.
New Nuclear Policy: First Strike
Serious concerns about US plans were raised this year when portions of the
classified US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that was released to Congress in January
2002 leaked to the media in March. Despite treaty commitments to reduce its reliance
on nuclear weapons, the NPR reaffirms the role of nuclear weapons in US national
security policy. In the past, nuclear weapons have been viewed as a deterrent
against the use of nuclear weapons. However, the NPR reveals that the US intends
to integrate nuclear weapons into a full spectrum of war-fighting capabilities,
including missile defenses. The NPR unveils that nuclear weapons are no longer
weapons of last resort, but instruments that could be used in fighting wars. The
NPR also raises the possible resumption by the US of full-scale nuclear testing
and plans to develop and deploy new "earth-penetrating" nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, the NPR calls for the development of contingency plans to use
nuclear weapons against seven states-Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Russia
and China-constituting a disturbing threat in particular to the named states and
in general to international peace and security. Contrary to long-standing US assurances
not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear States, five of these named states
are non-nuclear states.
The Bush administration announced in June that it will release a document outlining
a strategy of striking first. The doctrine will be incorporated into the National
Security Strategy that will be released in Fall 2002. President George W. Bush
argues that the US needs such a strategy in order to counter "terrorists and tyrants,"
a phrase that encompasses both states and non-state actors, because Cold War policies
of deterrence and containment do not fit the post-September 11th world. The argument
also extends a justification for developing new low-yield, earth-penetrating nuclear
weapons that could be used preemptively to destroy deeply buried targets and bunkers.
While there remains an opportunity to address the prospect of terrorism from weapons
of mass destruction (WMD) and legitimate concerns about WMD and missile proliferation,
this opportunity is being rapidly squandered. When the US reserves to itself the
right to strike first with nuclear weapons, it relinquishes the moral high ground
and the right to tell other nations to give up their weapons of mass destruction.
Arms Control: Significant Nuclear Reductions or Maximum Nuclear Flexibility?
Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Strategic Offensive
Reductions Treaty between the US and the Russia during a summit in Moscow on 23
May. The treaty calls for the reduction of strategic forces of each country's
arsenal to 1,700 to 2,200 by 2012, the year in which the treaty expires. It also
does not require the destruction of a single missile launcher or warhead and each
side can carry out the reductions at its own pace and even reverse them to temporarily
build up its forces. In other words, the treaty allows either side to worry more
about protecting their own nuclear options than constraining the options of the
other country. A senior US administration official stated, "What we have now agreed
to do under the treaty is what we wanted to do anyway. That's our kind of treaty."
Under the terms of the treaty, either side can temporarily suspend reductions
or even build up forces without violating the treaty. This will allow maximum
flexibility to the US, which insists on continuing to rely on nuclear weapons
in its national security policy. The US Nuclear Posture Review, released in January
2002, stated, "In the event that US relations with Russia significantly worsen
in the future, the US may need to revise its nuclear force level and posture."
The new treaty will allow the US to do so. Rather than completely destroying the
strategic weapons, the US has repeatedly stated that it will shelve or stockpile
The alternative to a rule-by-force policy is the Rule of Law. Since its founding,
the US has historically sought to create a legal framework to foster national
and international security. Under Article VI of the US constitution, "all Treaties
made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall
be the supreme Law of the Land." A treaty becomes US law when two-thirds of the
US Senate give "advice and consent" to its ratification. Although treaties may
not be perfect, they are critical to articulating and codifying global norms and
standards. Among other things, treaties contribute to national and international
security by establishing mechanisms to enforce articulated norms, measure progress,
and promote accountability, transparency, and confidence building measures between
Although US support for international law and institutions slowly began to
decline as the 20th century progressed, since the Clinton administration, the
US has been more hostile toward international law and international legal mechanisms.
And the trend has only accelerated during the Bush administration. Under the Clinton
administration, the US refused to sign the Treaty Banning Anti-Personnel Mines
(Landmines Treaty); the Senate failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
(CTBT); and the US attempted to obstruct completion of the Rome Statute to create
an International Criminal Court (ICC), although Clinton did sign this Treaty at
the final moment. Since President Bush took office, among other actions demonstrating
its disdain for international law, the US has:
- withdrawn from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty;
- resisted the idea of a standardized procedure for reporting on nuclear disarmament
obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and, in fact, increased the
role of nuclear weapons in US national security policy;
- sought to terminate the process to promote compliance with the Biological
Weapons Convention (BWC);
- spurned proposals from Russia and China to ban weapons in Outer Space and
- withdrawn its signature from the International Criminal Court Treaty;
- withdrawn its support for the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, even though
it played a key role in its creation.
The shift in US policy to rely on force first and consider itself above law
is detrimental to its own security as well as to international insecurity. Unless
this process is reversed and unless the US begins to cooperate with other countries
to ensure a global Rule of Law above the Rule of Force, international disorder
will gain ground
Carah Lynn Ong (email@example.com)is
the Director of Research and Publications for the Nuclear
Age Peace Foundation