Security strategy put to test

February 03, 2003|By Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON - In the world of diplomacy, it makes sense for the United States to adopt firm principles and state them clearly so the American people and other nations know exactly where this country stands, especially in times of crisis.

That presumably was one of the reasons the Bush administration in September laid out its new national security strategy in a policy paper that stated America's new strategic objectives: "We will defend the peace by fighting terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers."

But President Bush is learning, in the debate over how best to disarm Iraq, that in seeking the first objective he risks imperiling the second. His pressure to short-circuit U.N. inspections in Iraq has triggered outspoken resistance from two of Europe's greatest powers, France and Germany, and cautionary statements from Russia and China.

It may be, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has bluntly observed, that France and Germany represent the "old Europe" at a time the continent's influence is shifting eastward. And Russia and China are hardly dependable allies anyway.

As the president has emphasized, he has Britain and seven other European nations on his side. Led by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and the leaders of the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Portugal have signed a statement of strong support for the U.S. position.

But other European voices are lining up behind France and Germany. The European Parliament has narrowly passed a resolution opposing the use of military force against Iraq, and polls across the continent and in Britain indicate deep public resistance to a U.S.-led attack against Saddam Hussein.

The national security strategy paper made clear, however, that in this perilous era of global terrorism, defending peace would take precedence over building good relations among the great powers. While "the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community," the policy states, "we will not hesitate to act alone" if it comes to that.

The paper was issued long before the split in the United Nations had clearly surfaced. But it seemed to anticipate the possibility by saying that while "the United States is committed to lasting institutions like the United Nations ... coalitions of the willing can augment" the United Nations and other international organizations in fighting terrorism.

The threat from Iraq was specifically mentioned in the strategy paper, but so was the one from North Korea: "We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends."

Now, however, the administration faces the embarrassing circumstance that North Korea has defiantly revved up its nuclear weapons program. Under the Bush strategy, that development would seem to qualify for the use of American military muscle just as much as the Iraqi threat - maybe more so, since it is said North Korea may already have nuclear weapons.

The policy paper explicitly warns: "For rogue states, these weapons are tools of intimidation and military aggression against their neighbors [and] ... may also allow these states to attempt to blackmail the United States and our allies to prevent us from deterring or repelling the aggressive behavior of such states."

The president in his speech to Congress specifically said that "America and the world will not be blackmailed," yet he has agreed to join other regional powers in talks with North Korea that he at first had rejected.

The administration insists there is no contradiction with the new strategic security policy in the different ways it is dealing with Iraq and North Korea. The paper notes that "the United States will not use force in all cases to prevent emerging threats." But the reality is that war against Iraq seems the less risky of the two right now, so North Korea will get a bye - for now, anyway.

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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