George W. Bush's Arms Control Policies
Following the end of the Cold War, the United States found itself the sole remaining superpower with an arms control policy geared largely towards winning a race that was already over. George W. Bush's arms control policies were an attempt to make a clean break from the past, reasserting and verifying American military power and projection through a new set of policies designed to maintain the United States hard fought opportunity to remain the world's single superpower. Bush's policies can be understood largely in the terms of attitude and an event. Namely, the neo-conservative attitude primed Bush to respond precisely the way he did to the attacks on September 11th, such that the entirety of his arms control and national security strategy can be seen as a response to that event, filtered through the ideological framework of neo-conservatism. By parsing the Bush administration's nuclear arms control policies in the context of neo-conservatism's rise and terrorism surpassing all others as the preeminently perceived threat, it becomes clear that neo-conservatism, and Bush in particular, ultimately failed to achieve the ostensible goals of its policies essentially do to a commitment to ideology over political reality.
Before examining Bush's commitment to neo-conservatism and how this colored his administration's response to 9/11, it will be worthwhile to examine the state of arms control and international relations following the Cold War as a means of contextualizing the arms control and non-proliferation policies and decision's which would characterize the Bush administration's response to the challenges faced by the United States in a newly unipolar world. As mentioned in the introduction, "the bipolar competition of the Cold War provided the overarching security motif within which debates over nuclear policy took place," such that the United States' arms control policies focused largely on the deterrence of a nuclear equal
. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the old arguments and ideas surrounding arms control became largely irrelevant, but it took nearly a decade for the first fundamental rethinking of how the environment had changed. Although "certain unilateral U.S. actions, such as the removal of tactical nuclear weapons from overseas and surface ship deployments, were direct responses to these changed circumstances," it was not until 2002, when the Bush administration published its Nuclear Posture Review, that the United States had a clearly delineated position for how to deal with the question of arms control and non-proliferation in the post-Cold War world, and by that time the attacks of September 11th, coupled with the neo-conservative plans for the world which had been fermenting over the previous decade, had led the United States towards a disastrous and reactionary policy
This "gap" between the fall of the Soviet Union and the implementation of Bush's strategies is important to note, because it allowed Bush the room to implement a fairly radical reimagining of U.S. national security, implementing ideas which had been around for some time but which previously could never have seen the light of day in the context of Cold War thinking. The context of this ideological vacuum and the attacks on September 11th gave the Bush administration the perfect opportunity to deploy the neo-conservative platform, which retains many previous aspects related to the diversification of the nuclear arsenal while completely abandoning deterrence "as the central justification for U.S. nuclear armament
." It is nearly impossible to consider the underlying reasons for this shift without dealing with the attacks of September of 11th and the effect that had on the national discourse, because in many ways the neo-conservative military plan was legitimized and made to seem natural in the wake of these attacks. Thus, before examining Bush's arms control work after 9/11, one must be careful to realize that the attacks merely provided the justification by which preexisting neo-conservative policies were given the chance to be implemented on a massive scale.
The core of the Bush administration's arms control policy was laid out in three documents from 2002: the Nuclear Posture Review, National Security Strategy, and National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction. The 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, the first since 1994, "pursued more radical thinking about the future of nuclear weapons and their use in U.S. military policy" than any previous policy statement, arguing as it did for a much more relaxed standard governing the use of nuclear weapons and from a position that did not necessarily view nuclear disarmament as an...
The National Security Strategy and the National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction followed suit, to the point that "the concordance of the language among all of these documents is striking […] rarely has an administration put forth such a focused perspective of its place in the world."
Aside from a general retreat from the notion of arms control as a goal, these documents had dramatic consequences, including requiring "the United States to develop strategic defenses at the earliest opportunity, necessitating withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABMT), a step the United States took in June 2002."
The importance of this step cannot be understated, because actively withdrawing from this treaty is perhaps the strongest symbolic statement the administration could have made in order to demonstrate the dramatic break it desired from Cold War era policies of arms control.
Rather than embracing the international community following the collapse of the binary which had organized international relations for the second half of the twentieth century, the United States merely created a new binary in the aftermath of September 11th, "shifting its foreign relations focus away from cooperative instruments (such as arms control) to an approach that emphasizes active self-help and coalitions of the willing
." Instead of dividing the world between the United States and the Soviet Union, capitalism or communist, the Bush administration divided it into something far more fundamental and arguably unhelpful: "with us or against us," a child-like formulation of so-called "democratic peace theory," which argues that "mature democracies don't go to war with one another, [giving] intellectual backing to a division of the world into democratic friends and non-democratic foes."
Not only did this formulation allow the administration to go after any entity it deemed an enemy, it allowed the United States to ignore previously sacrosanct rules against non-proliferation in order to give nuclear technology and supplies to those countries deemed friends, such as India
In addition to actively withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the United States under the Bush administration took steps to severely undermine the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty by arranging a deal that included, among other things, allowing India to purchase equipment for the enrichment and processing of uranium and plutonium for possible use in civilian reactors or nuclear weapons.
One can better understand the significance of this decision by noting that India, alongside Pakistan and Israel, are the only three nuclear countries which have never signed the treaty in the first place (North Korea ratified the treaty but later withdrew), and the Bush administration's decision to grant India a nuclear trade relationship, alongside its continued refusal to broach the subject of Israel's nuclear stockpile, reveals the way in which its "us or them" depiction of the world granted it the license to disregard previous commitments in order to favor what it considered its allies in the War on Terror.
Even though "the issue of nuclear proliferation represents one of the more marked illustrations of the globalization of world politics," the Bush administration decided to steadfastly ignore this possibility, instead allowing itself to only view the world through a lens which elevates the United States above all others to the point that cooperation or compromise is deemed a weakness
. This was only the public declaration of what was already abundantly clear within the administration, considering that the vice president, along with all of the top political appointments, were very nearly the founders of the neo-conservative movement, having finally reached a position of comfortable authority after years of gradually pushing the Republican party, and the country as a whole, rightward. The Bush administration "subjected a range of arms control processes to an unaccustomed level of critical scrutiny," creating "discontinuities in arms control policy" as a result of different treatment for different regimes, depending on how useful they were deemed to be in the War on Terror
. The "with us or against us" ideology allowed the Bush administration to shift from focusing on non-proliferation in general and instead only address those "rogue states" which it claimed represented the greatest threat.
Thus, the Bush administration was staffed almost entirely by people willing and excited to implement a new, expansive military vision for the world that was entirely uninterested in the traditional role of arms control policies, as to the mind of the neo-conservatives in the administration, Reagan-era policies focusing on deterrence and non-proliferation failed to address the perceived threat of nuclear terrorism. By using the September 11th terrorist attacks as a justification for…
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