The Bush administration has proclaimed a doctrine of unilateral preemption as a core part of its National Security Strategy. The limits of this approach are demonstrated daily in Iraq, where the United States is bearing the burden for security, reconstruction, and reform essentially on its own. Yet the world cannot afford to look the other way when faced with the prospect, as in Iraq, of a brutal ruler acquiring nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Addressing this danger requires a different strategy, one that maximizes the chances of early and effective collective action. In this regard, and in comparison to the changes that are taking place in the area of intervention for the purposes of humanitarian protection, the biggest problem with the Bush preemption strategy may be that it does not go far enough.
It's not the most scintillating paragraph ever written, but it sure is a provocative claim. And, indeed, it's all the more provocative for the fact that one author was the highly-regarded Anne-Marie Slaughter and the other was Lee Feinstein, currently heading the Hillary Clinton campaign's foreign policy shop and certainly in line for a fairly important post in a Hillary Clinton administration.
The article in question appeared in the January/February 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs and I hope people will be able to convince the magazine to make the article available for free online since it's of considerable public interest in light of Feinstein's role. Thus far, the other Presidential contenders haven't seen fit to agree with John Edwards that unilateral preventive war should be discarded as a tool of non-proliferation policy, but they haven't seen fit to agree with him, either. Hillary and (especially) Bill Clinton have been attempting to muddy the waters on the question of what they thought about Iraq back in 2003, but the best evidence available from their conduct back then would be that they are supporters of unilateral prevention.
Feinstein's views as expressed in this article seem to offer further confirmation of that. Particularly telling are his ideas of how international institutions and international law fit into the picture:
The contentious issue is who decides when and how to use force. No one nation can or should shoulder alone the obligation to prevent a repressive regime from acquiring WMD. Although the Security Council, still reeling from the Iraq crisis last March, now seems more interested in papering over its differences than in tackling these questions, it remains the preferred enforcer of collective measures. The unmatched legitimacy that the un lends to Security Council actions makes it easier for member states to carry them out and harder for targeted governments to evade them by playing political games. On the other hand, rifts within the council allow states to pursue WMD to advance their programs, leaving individual nations to take matters into their own hands, which further erodes the stature and credibility of the United Nations.
Given the Security Council's propensity for paralysis, alternative means of enforcement must be considered. The second most legitimate enforcer is the regional organization that is most likely to be affected by the emerging threat. After that, the next best option would be another regional organization, such as NATO, with a less direct connection to the targeted state but with a sufficiently broad membership to permit serious deliberation over the exercise of a collective duty. It is only after these options are tried in good faith that unilateral action or coalitions of the willing should be considered.
This seems like a longwinded way of saying nothing. International organizations are very important and we should always work through them except in those instances when doing so might require us to do anything other than exactly what we wanted to do in the first place. For all the words, their guidelines turn out to be no guidelines at all. Force should only be used under such and such occasions and the appropriate group to decide whether or not the conditions apply is either the UN or a local security organization or an out-of-area organization or else unilateral action. Nice work if you can get it, but if applied universally it's just a recipe for endless war and universal chaos.
But one assumes that like Bush-style prevention, this isn't meant to be applied universally, it's supposed to be a For America Only license to attack other countries. That, however, isn't an international non-proliferation regime that's going to secure broad loyalty around the world. And without active cooperation from officials all around the world, it's very difficult in practice to make a non-proliferation regime work. Which is going to mean more nuclear programs and ultimately more nuclear weapons -- the precise reverse of what the policy is supposed to achieve.
It's a seriously flawed vision: One that's phrased calmly in the language of international law and pragmatism but that's lacks substantive differences with the way the Bush administration has been conducting itself.