Action and Global Peace
"Neither the United States of America nor the world community of
nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the
part of any nation, large or small. We no longer live in a world where
only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to
a nation's security to constitute maximum peril."
So said the commander in chief, the president of the United States, at
a time of maximum peril not only to the United States itself but to all
members of that world community of nations he mentioned. There had been,
as the president noted, no actual firing of weapons. Nonetheless, he said,
he was prepared to take whatever measures were needed to protect the American
people, and the U.S. homeland, from a demonstrably clear and present danger:
an attack on the United States by an implacable enemy possessing both
weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and the will to use them.
The maximum peril the United States was facing at that time, slightly
more than 40 years ago, was what later came to be known as "the Cuban
Missile Crisis." The president and commander in chief who successfully,
and with a considerable degree of personal courage, faced down Soviet
leader Nikita Khrushchev and his Cuban ally Fidel Castro was John F. Kennedy.
Last June, not quite four decades after what was quite possibly the finest
hour of President Kennedy's tragically shortened term of office, another
courageous president and commander in chief, George W. Bush, addressed
the graduating class of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.,
about a new and even more dangerous threat than the Soviet missiles being
shipped into Cuba in October 1962. Today, Mr. Bush said, the United States
and its allies face "a threat with no precedent." Because of
the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, "along
with ballistic missile technology," he continued, " ... even
weak states and small groups" already have or might soon possess
enough "catastrophic power" to kill millions of people and jeopardize
the peace and stability of the entire world.
If anything, the brave new world of the 21st century is even more dangerous
than the world of the Cold War era--when, despite numerous international
crises and confrontations, the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment
were sufficient to stave off a nuclear war between the United States and
the Soviet Union. Today, though, deterrence, "the promise of massive
retaliation," President Bush pointed out to the graduating Cadets,
"means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks ... [and] containment
is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction
can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist
Wishful thinking is not the answer, Mr. Bush made clear. His next words
were cold, concise, consistent, very carefully chosen--and obviously intended
to be heard not just at West Point but in all of the world's great capital
cities as well, specifically including Baghdad. "We cannot defend
America and our friends by hoping for the best. ... If we wait for threats
to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. ... The war on terror
will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy,
disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.
In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is ... to be ready
for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend
The West Point speech not only spelled out--in the most carefully crafted,
unambiguous language imaginable--how U.S. defense policy has been evolving
in recent years to meet the unprecedented new national-security challenges
posed by international terrorism, it also set the stage for the ongoing
preparations for a possible new war with Iraq. At year's end, combat units
of all of America's armed forces were en route to the Middle East to join
the estimated 60,000 U.S. troops already there, other units had been put
on stateside alert, and more than 200,000 Reserve and National Guard personnel
were waiting for a new call-up.
Among the principal sea-service forces ready to go or already on the way
were two aircraft carrier battle groups (CVBGs), a number of amphibious
ships, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Pendleton, Calif., several
MSC (Military Sealift Command) cargo ships fully loaded with combat supplies
and equipment of all types, and the 1,000-bed hospital ship USNS Comfort.
The USS Constellation and USS Harry S. Truman CVBGs were already on station
in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea, respectively.
The immediate availability of these fully combat-ready naval forces demonstrated
once again the validity of the Sea Power 21 vision paper unveiled last
year by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark. President Bush and
his senior defense advisors obviously recognize the numerous advantages
provided by forward-deployed, self-sustaining naval forces: speed, mobility,
and flexibility--the same CVBG in the Mediterranean today can be in the
Persian Gulf or Indian Ocean three days from now, and in the waters off
North Korea only a week or so later; precisely tailored power-projection
capabilities; and, most important of all for the deterrence of war, an
on-scene but virtually invisible over-the-horizon presence, in international
waters, that violates the sovereignty of no other nation.
Because they are so difficult to detect and, in contrast to U.S. air and
ground bases overseas, almost impossible to accurately target, much less
destroy or seriously damage, the Navy's forward-deployed CVBGs are already
not only the most combat-effective but also the most cost-effective forces
in the U.S. naval/military arsenal. They, and the new Navy/Marine Corps
expeditionary strike groups now being formed, will be even more effective
tomorrow, particularly under the preemptive-action strategy so well articulated
by President Bush in his West Point speech.
In an era when the most difficult threat to counter is the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction, not just buildings and bases but entire
cities have become vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Sea Basing, one of
the most innovative elements of the Sea Power 21 vision paper, is likely,
therefore, to be of critical importance to U.S. national security for
many decades to come.
And not only to U.S. national security, of course, but to global peace
and stability as well. In that context, it is worth noting that the naval
forces of several U.S. allies and coalition partners also were in the
Gulf region at year's end and apparently ready and willing to participate
in new strikes against Iraq, making it difficult for critics to substantiate
the charge that the United States is preparing to take "unilateral"
action against Baghdad.
President Bush has emphasized many times--in speeches, interviews, press
conferences, and his weekly radio addresses--that war with Iraq is not
inevitable: "The decision is up to Saddam Hussein." But he has
made it just as clear that, to avoid the start of new hostilities, Iraq
must completely shut down its WMD programs, account for all of the WMD
weapons and weapon components previously found, fully cooperate with the
U.N. arms inspectors, and otherwise comply with the commitments it made
in 1991 as the price it had to pay for the ceasefire that ended the Gulf
In an address to the United Nations General Assembly on 12 September
2002--one year and a day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks--Mr. Bush did
not depend on generalities to build his case against the Iraqi dictator.
Instead, he provided a long list of particulars. Following are a few specifics:
Acting under orders from Saddam Hussein, Iraqi forces attacked Iran in
1980 and Kuwait in 1990; Iraq has launched ballistic missiles at various
times against Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Israel; in 1991, Iraq pledged
that U.N. inspectors would have "immediate and unrestricted access"
to Iraq's weapons-production facilities, but never lived up to that promise
"before ceasing cooperation entirely" in 1998.
Finally, after insisting for years that it possessed no biological weapons,
Iraq conceded--after a senior weapons program official had defected and
exposed the previous lies--that it had produced "tens of thousands
of liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents for use with Scud
warheads, aerial bombs, and aircraft spray tanks."
The president paid particular attention to Iraq's human rights violations,
and to its repeated failure to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.
"Tens of thousands of [Saddam's] political opponents and ordinary
citizens have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, summary
execution, and torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation,
mutilation, and rape. Wives are tortured in front of their husbands, children
in the presence of their parents."
Most damning of all, perhaps, in the context of the post-9/11 global war
on terrorism, "Iraq continues [in violation of Security Council Resolutions
687 and 1373] to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct
violence against Iran, Israel, and Western nations. ... And al Qaeda terrorists
[who] escaped from Afghanistan ... are known to be in Iraq."
Despite such an abundance of evidence, despite Saddam Hussein's many
previous transgressions, broken promises, and failure to live up to his
previous pledges and commitments, and despite his brutal oppression of
his own people, there are still those who insist that there must be a
"smoking gun"--i.e., major, overt, and highly visible new Iraqi
crimes against humanity and international law--before military action
would be justified, even against such a murderous regime.
There are several problems with the smoking-gun argument, including three
of major importance. The first involves the legality of the situation,
and is relatively straightforward: Iraq is already in violation of numerous
earlier Security Council Resolutions, which are circumscribed by no statute
of limitations. No further evidence is needed, therefore.
The second counter-argument is a common-sense one, strongly fortified
by a knowledge of the history of the 20th century and years of bitter
experience with previous dictatorships: Delay is dangerous. All evidence
suggests that Iraq already possesses at least a few weapons of mass destruction--which,
in five years without weapons inspections, would not be difficult to hide
in a vast land slightly more than twice the size of Idaho. Each day that
passes gives Saddam Hussein that much more time to increase the size of
his WMD arsenal and/or ship some of those weapons to terrorist groups.
The third and by far the most powerful counter-argument looks at the
smoking gun not theoretically but literally. A gun does not smoke until
after it has been fired. The rubble of the World Trade Towers in New York
City smoked for months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which killed
more than 3,000 innocent people. The death toll from a terrorist attack
involving nuclear weapons might easily be 100 times that number. Or 1,000
times, depending on the size and population density of the smoking city
unfortunate enough to become the new Ground Zero.
In The Gathering Storm, the first book in his epic six-volume history
of World War II, Winston Churchill pointed out that Hitler could have
been stopped--at virtually no cost and with no loss of life--on any number
of occasions: in 1935, when he repudiated the disarmament provisions of
the Treaty of Versailles; in 1936, when he marched into the Rhineland;
in 1938, when he annexed first the Sudetenland and then Austria; and in
March 1939, when he took over the remainder of Czechoslovakia. It was
not until six months later--on 1 September 1939, when the Nazis invaded
helpless Poland--that the leaders of Britain and France summoned up enough
political courage to disavow their previous appeasement policies and declare
war on Germany.
If they had displayed that same courage just one or two years earlier,
World War II might easily have been averted, tens of millions of lives
would have been saved, and untold trillions of dollars could have been
used for productive rather than destructive purposes.
Today's world leaders face a situation similar to that faced by the leaders
of France and Britain in the late 1930s--but exponentially more dangerous.
President Bush recognized that grim reality when he reminded the delegates
to the General Assembly that sanctions have not worked against Iraq, and
patience has not worked either. "Saddam Hussein ... continues to
develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely
certain he has ... nuclear weapons is when, God forbid, he uses one. ...
The history, the logic, and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein's
regime is a grave and gathering danger. To suggest otherwise is to hope
against the evidence. To assume [his] regime's good faith is to bet the
lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. ...
This is a risk we must not take."
It is in that context that the preemptive-action doctrine should be viewed:
not as an attempt by the United States to impose its will, its economic
policies, and/or its political views on any other nation or group of nations
but, in cooperation with as many other nations as possible, to help preserve
The preemptive-action doctrine will ensure that tomorrow's world, the
world of the 21st century, will be one in which the people of all nations
will live in both hope and harmony, and in which the age-old dream of
peace on earth to men of good will is no longer a dream but a reality
that will endure for decades to come.
Timothy O. Fanning, National President