Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Dangerous Strategy for National Security

America is at war." So begins U.S. President George W. Bush's introduction to his administration's National Security Strategy, which was unveiled last week. But his approach to making the United States more secure will come at the cost of making many other nations feel less secure. The end result is a more dangerous world.

The 49-page document defines two pillars for national security. The second makes sense. It recognizes that the U.S. must "lead a growing community of democracies" to deal with challenges such as pandemic disease and terrorism; and that promoting democracy and economic growth abroad enhance U.S. security.

It's the first pillar that is dangerously askew. It builds on the controversial National Security Strategy of 2002, which raised worldwide alarm with its expansive definition of the right to preemptive attack. Bush's strategists might have reflected on the events of the last four years and corrected their strategic overreach. Instead, they have set about compounding their errors.

The embrace of preventive war, for example, is rationalized by the long-accepted doctrine of preemption. Bush made war on Iraq in part by arguing that Saddam Hussein's thirst for weapons of mass destruction constituted a grave threat to the region, and that toppling him would deny al-Qaida a base of operations after the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Neither justification was true. But in invading Iraq, Bush has created his own nightmare. Iraq is now a magnet for jihadists. And Iran is even more determined to develop nuclear weapons to forestall a fate similar to Iraq's.

Another dangerous policy reaffirmed in the document is the reliance on enhanced nuclear weapons as a cornerstone of U.S. national security, even as the U.S. continues to insist that other states not develop nuclear weapons to protect their own security. The U.S. asserts that a good offense must supplement the doctrine of deterrence. In the face of suicide attackers, conventional preemption -- bombing Osama bin Laden's headquarters -- makes sense.

But it's scary to suggest using nuclear weapons this way. The document says that the U.S. is developing "offensive strike systems (both nuclear and improved conventional capabilities)." The Pentagon's "global strike" program, designed to hit nuclear sites, is just such an initiative.

In a document that names as enemies Iran and North Korea, such an assertion is counterproductive. It provides all the justification those regimes need for a nuclear deterrent of their own. And it virtually guarantees a continuation of the very proliferation that Bush has identified as the greatest threat of all.

This piece ran as an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.