Bush policy a dangerous strike against diplomacy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 March, 2006, 12:00am

The reaffirmation this week by US President George W. Bush of his pre-emptive strike policy is a cause for concern. Since becoming part of his security strategy after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the doctrine has had a profound impact on US foreign policy. But it has not made the world a safer place.

Events in Iraq have highlighted the inherent dangers of this policy. The invasion was launched on the basis of flawed intelligence. The justifications put forward for it - that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and links with al-Qaeda - have since been discredited. And Iraq now teeters on the brink of civil war, with terrorism flourishing amid the chaos.

The Iraq experience should have sounded the death-knell for the pre-emptive strike policy. But this, regrettably, is not the case. As the policy unravels in Iraq, it is worth recalling a high-level American view of the lessons to be learned for US security from the September 11 attacks. It came in the official report on the catastrophe by a congressional committee in 2004 that gained wide support. This bipartisan group proposed a fresh approach to US foreign policy emphasising diplomacy.

In his national security report this week, Mr Bush pays little more than lip service to this advice. He merely restates the pre-emptive strike policy in softer language. Diplomacy is the preferred means of halting terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, but 'we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack ... the place of pre-emption in our national security strategy remains the same'.

This is worrying. There was little diplomacy to be seen in the way Mr Bush singled out Iran as a threat for a number of policies seen as hostile, including supporting terrorists and its nuclear activities, and North Korea for its nuclear programme. His commitment to diplomatic solutions, not to mention his enthusiasm for democracy, is being further tested by Hamas' victory in fair Palestinian elections.

The policy of a pre-emptive military strike by one nation or nations upon another is inconsistent with international law - and for good reason. A strike on the grounds of self-defence may be justified if an attack is imminent. But unless troops are massing on the border, how can any state be sure this is the case? The only way is through intelligence. The attack on Iraq has shown how easy it is to get it wrong.

Mr Bush's policy of spreading democracy around the world by backing reformers in repressive nations and using foreign aid to support fair elections and human rights is laudable. But the pre-emptive strike is a dangerous doctrine that has no place on the foreign policy agenda of any nation, let alone the world's only superpower.