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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 46, May 2000

America the Rogue - the Search for Security through Superiority
By Deborah A. Ozga

"rogue n. 1. a dishonest or unprincipled person. 2. a mischievous person. 3. a wild animal driven away from the herd or living apart from it, rogue elephant."
The Concise Oxford Dictionary

"To be thus is nothing; but to be safely thus…" Shakespeare, MacBeth

Introduction: Insecurity as the Absence of Invulnerability

The decision as to whether the United States should go ahead on national missile defence (NMD) has triggered an emotionally charged debate within and outside of the United States. Notwithstanding significant differences over the scope and scale of the systems required, and over the timing of a decision to deploy, for the Administration and the great majority of the Congress NMD is a policy that needs to be adopted in order to ensure US security against weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threats from smaller or "rogue" nations that are developing long-range missiles. Internationally, this policy is viewed as highly unpopular. To date, early indications are that a deployment may be internationally destabilising and potentially trigger a strategic arms race with Russia and China. In spite of US government assurances, foreign governments do not perceive US moves as benign. They see the US as increasing its defensive capabilities against WMD at the expense of arms control in an attempt to solidify its global superiority.

US lawmakers have paid scant attention to this heightened international concern as they have been consumed with the notion that the national interest lies in building a technical system to defend against rogue missile attacks. So overarching is the threat for Congress that it is willing to choose NMD at the risk of losing current achievements in arms control. Foreign governments are at a loss in comprehending US fears as they unanimously regard the United States as the world's leading economic and military power. However, upon closer examination of the United States' history, its geopolitical situation, and a number of current environmental factors, the US pursuit of NMD and the Congress's rejection of arms control is hardly surprising.

This behaviour is driven by Democrats and Republicans alike regarding the country's security needs as being met when, and only when, the United States is militarily invulnerable. This need for superiority is required to fulfil a national mission of advancing its visions of freedom and democracy which are embedded deep in the nation's psyche, as reflected in a recent statement by Vice President Al Gore:

"America must always maintain a strong defense, and unrivalled national security - to protect our own interests, and to advance the ideals that are leading the world toward freedom…[F]rom our position of unrivalled affluence and influence, we have a responsibility to lead the world in meeting the new security challenges…That is why America must have a military capability that is second to none…"1

However, an international crisis is brewing as US national security interests directly clash with increasing trends towards international governance and the diffusion of technology. Thirty years after the nuclear-weapon states (NWS) committed themselves to disarmament under the NPT, the calls for disarmament and the expectations that the NWS will stop relying on nuclear deterrence have increased. Standing in stark juxtaposition to this trend was the refusal by the US Senate to ratify the CTBT. Although the Clinton Administration shared the chagrin felt around the world at this decision, there is considerable international apprehension that it may represent both a symbol of growing US dissatisfaction with, and a harbinger of future US policy on, arms control.

America's Failure to Adapt to Political & Technological Change.

There are deep roots to the current crisis. Historically, the United States' geographic location between two oceans and benign states or states with lesser military capabilities has kept it borders secure and relatively protected from foreign campaigns. Most of its major battles with foreign states have been conducted abroad. Only since World War II, with the maturation of aircraft carriers, long-range bombers and ICBMs has America experienced its first real homeland threats. However, the number of states that could pose serious threats was limited to those adversaries with large nuclear arsenals - namely the Soviet Union and China. Nevertheless, the need for superiority started to become visible during the early Cold War period as the United States raced to fill a missile gap that in reality did not exist.

As the United States has been a superpower for a half century, it has also become accustomed to utilising its considerable influence in promoting its interests. During this period, global power projection came to form a significant part of the calculus of US national security. As is evident in the case of the ABM Treaty, arms control can limit power projection. NMD, on the other hand, offers the advantage that in dealing with rogue states, forces can be deployed with a reduced risk of a theatre WMD attack. Thus, the political advantages derived from possessing a NMD deterrent are considerable if the rogue believes that it is credible.

This drive for unrivalled security is also identified with technological superiority. The Europeans' conquest of the North American continent, and the systematic destruction of its indigenous population, was made possible by their advanced military technology. Likewise, the outcome of the American Civil War was essentially determined by the greater military industrial capacity of the northern states. In the twentieth century, a combination of American geo-strategic and military-technological advantages produced decisive interventions in two World Wars as well as more recent engagements in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq.2 In a recent speech, Republican Presidential Candidate George W. Bush stressed the decisive importance of military-technological superiority:

"My…goal is to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity - given to few nations in history - to extend the current peace into the far realm of the future. A chance to project America's peaceful influence, not just across the world, but across the years. This opportunity is created by a revolution in the technology of war…This revolution perfectly matches the strengths of our country - the skill of our people and the superiority of our technology. The best way to keep the peace is to redefine war on our terms."3

In its pursuit of safety from new threats through an NMD system, America is fulfilling a central myth of its own ability to make itself safe - to technologically fabricate its own security.4 A choice by any US administration against NMD would thus represent a decisive break in the association of security with technological superiority. The difficulty of breaking this link was eloquently expressed recently by staunch arms control advocate Joseph Biden, Democratic Senator for Delaware:

"The issue of whether, when, or how to deploy a national ballistic missile defense is at once strategic, technical and political. The debate on this issue, which has gone on for more than a generation, taps into our philosophical and psychological predilections as well. … We Americans are an optimistic, problem-solving people. For over two centuries, we have used modern technology to improve our lives and our security, from canals and steam engines to transcontinental railroads, electric lights, air travel, antibiotics, the Internet, nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. We are most comfortable when we are pressing forward. Sometimes we press too far, however, or too soon. There is a long history of missile defense systems that have simply failed or have not provided the security we sought. Similarly, when we led the world in deploying land-based missiles with multiple re-entry vehicles, we set off a costly arms race that we later concluded was a threat to crisis stability. A generation later, we are still trying to correct that mistake by securing Russian ratification of the START II treaty that bans those missiles. Ironically, if we should press ahead imprudently with a ballistic missile defense, the START process may be one of the first casualties."5

While NMD fulfils America's myth, arms control contradicts it. Arms control is based on co-operative security and agreements that are often designed to limit the use of technology. The arms control approach thereby denies America the utilisation of one of its greatest nationally perceived assets to provide for its self-defence.

The Proliferating Chessboard

America's "philosophical and psychological predilections," in Senator Biden's phrase, has left the country ill-prepared for the emerging post-Cold War environment. Extraordinary changes in technology have impacted tremendously upon international relations and how states define their military security. Access to WMD technology is rapidly opening up. The Web is a tremendous resource for determined states looking for basic entry-level WMD technology. Although 1950s technology is not sophisticated, it is sound and useful if a state wishes to develop a deterrent based on holding population centres hostage. One needs only to consider the clichés - if Iraq or Serbia had nuclear weapons, would invasions have taken place? The result of this change in technology is that opportunities are being opened up for smaller states that once lived in the shadow of the superpowers to increase their abilities to project power. The United States and western suppliers may be able to slow diffusion of critical technologies, but they cannot stop it.

This development is in some respects proving to be a difficult adjustment for the United States. For 50 years, America focussed its energies and resources in a game of chess with one enemy, namely the Soviet Union. Later on, China also became a concern. Due to the changes in technology, numerous threats are arising from different parts of the world. They are more complex and they are considerably more difficult for the United States to formulate a defense posture that provides a level of security to which it is accustomed, to which it feels it is entitled and with which it feels comfortable. Traditional deterrence is radically less reassuring with multiple threats to deter, each with their own interests, ideology, strategic culture, and force posturing.

The post-World War II experience has been profoundly different for much of the rest of the world. Through their involvement in the NPT regime, non-nuclear-weapon states (making up 182 of the Treaty's 187 parties) have had decades of experience learning to place faith in global community controls, implicitly accepting that for a limited period the five NWS can, for all intents and purposes, obliterate them with their nuclear weapons - a degree of vulnerability justified through a belief in the benefits of working towards a disarmed world. A limited number have sought out nuclear umbrella type arrangements with allies, but most have had to simply accept the situation and have attempted to extract security guarantees from the NWS. Even though full guarantees have not been forthcoming, through to the present, their trust has remained in building a global community based on the search for politically equitable, multilateral solutions rather than the pursuit of unilateral security through the capacity to annihilate potential adversaries. That trust, however, is delicate and cannot be indefinitely extended or presumed upon. A US NMD deployment, for example, may break not only the strategic reductions process with Russia, but also that bond of trust that has been so difficult to build.6

The US's greater sense of vulnerability - or its particular inability to factor a limited amount of vulnerability into its national security equation has basically defined and driven its response to the threat of missile proliferation. While Russia, which has suffered as much as any other state from military attacks against its territory, supports an arms control response to the problem, the US is prepared to put at risk decades of efforts in setting up an arms control regime because one of the agreements leaves it exposed to the possibility of a small number of missiles reaching its territory.

To some extent, all the NWS desire superior security for different reasons. The United States is not alone in fearing both the consequences of losing its own weapons of mass destruction and the consequences of other states acquiring them. However, of the NWS, the US is exhibiting the greatest distrust and dissatisfaction with arms control, and is demonstrating the greatest eagerness to compensate for arms control deficiencies through military-technological means which at least three of the other NWS - China, France and Russia - find destabilising.

This limited tolerance for vulnerability is not a new phenomenon. Small constraints on military power have traditionally been difficult for the US to accept. The United States has historically been slow in signing and ratifying the protocols to a number of nuclear-weapon-free-zones in existence. These protocols generally place limited constraints on US nuclear activities abroad or address security assurances. The commitments required, however, are relatively inconsequential when compared to disarmament efforts that are being demanded by an increasing number of nations.

The US Arms Control Experience

In understanding US behaviour, one also needs to consider that the United States has a distinct historical experience with international arms control arrangements compared to much of the world. For much of the Cold War, the US experience of international arms control has been drawn from the NPT and IAEA inspections. The United States, as one of the official NWS, was placed in a strategically advantageous position because it was permitted to retain its nuclear weapons - at least over the medium term. In many respects, the NPT satisfied America's imbalanced security requirements by erecting significant barriers to nuclear proliferation without forcing it to make some difficult sacrifices in terms of disarmament and inspection. Inspections of NWS facilities are conducted under voluntary agreements. Although the United States has offered to open up all of its commercial facilities for inspection, only a limited number are actually inspected as the IAEA has placed priority on verifying those states which have pledged to give up nuclear weapons. However, the long-term viability of the NPT or a new comprehensive nuclear-weapon-free world regime depends upon the progressive evolution of a framework facilitating the elimination of all nuclear weapons, a long-term process requiring increasing degrees of transparency and establishing equality among states.

The days of the NPT-style bargains and have/have-not arrangements are over, but US policy and diplomacy has yet to settle into the new era. The negotiations of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) were a case in point.7 There is no such thing as a chemical-weapons state. The conditional Senate ratification of the CWC demonstrates how US leaders have failed to recognise that special rights and privileges for one state party to an accord contravenes the basic spirit and orientation of multilateralism. This is reflected in another understanding attached to the CWC ratification by Congress that required samples to be analysed on US territory.8 When making such requirements, Congress needs to consider if the United States would want other states, especially those with whom it has difficult relations, to adopt the same practices.

There is another important symptom of the allergy to vulnerability lying behind the US, and particularly Congressional, distrust of international arms control. Even though states may sign arms control treaties, the implications of the technology revolution are that a majority of states can acquire a virtual capability. Japan may announce its peaceful intentions to the world, but the fact remains that it possesses high stockpiles of plutonium and has a space launch capability. In the event that Japan should change its views on nuclear weapons, it has a virtual nuclear arsenal at its disposal. As the many states that are signed up to international arms control agreements become increasingly developed, they too may seek to become like Japan - virtual WMD states. The United States perceives arms control as becoming risky since it does not protect against virtual threats.

As the examples of Iraq and North Korea show, states must factor in the enforcement problem when they evaluate arms control. Any serious movement towards a nuclear-weapon-free world brings with it increasingly serious consequences of non-compliance. Yet without such a movement, the NPT not only remains a bad bargain for the NNWS but also becomes an increasingly unacceptable arrangement, the potential collapse of which 'has' (according to the military logic of worst-case planning) to be hedged against by acquisition of a virtual WMD capacity. This prospect in turn makes the United States still more wary of moving towards a NWFW, and so the vicious circle turns again.


The United States is at crossroads and the choices it is making now will have serious ramifications for the long-term. The situation is becoming critical as the United States is being bypassed by states that are moving to set new arms control precedents for a new millennium. In spite of US opposition, for example, in 1997 a large group of states successfully negotiated the Anti-Personnel Landmine (Ottawa) Convention which has subsequently enjoyed a great deal of support with 137 signatories and 91 ratifications. The United States became involved too late to negotiate effectively and its positions were too far from the mainstream. 9

The US approach to its own security is reducing its ability to be effective in foreign policy. 'Fortress America' is putting at risk its political and moral authority on arms control. This is most unfortunate as US leadership has made important contributions to the establishment of arms control arrangements over the past 40 years. US leaders must also remember that it was this authority in arms control that aided its efforts to convince other states not to acquire WMD. It needs to accept that certain arms control measures, which are not to its liking, are necessary to serve the needs of other members in the global community.

Before the United States makes a decision on NMD deployment, it needs to comprehensively review its policies on how arms control should be shaped in the future, what role arms control should play in managing international threats and how the United States should define its security.

America has had a long history of exporting and supporting its model of democracy. Its success is now coming back to haunt it. Just as the rhetoric of the 'rogue state' can, in the light of events such as the Senate's rejection of the test ban, become a rod for Washington's own back, so can the demands of states to be treated as equal members of a democratic global community leave America - in the context of its insistence on special rights and its drive for unrivalled security - looking hypocritical and two-faced.

The United States needs to adjust to a new era in arms control that demands intrusiveness and greater trust in the ability of international treaty organisations to properly handle information acquired through inspection. If the United States is unable to rely on these organisations to implement disarmament, or is uncomfortable with the level of intrusiveness that these organisations require to do their job, then maybe it needs to co-operate with them on a much greater scale than it has in the past to ensure that its concerns are being met.

The United States government needs to broaden its vision to see that it is part of a community and face the reality that it is impossible to achieve security through military-technological superiority. It needs to understand that fundamentally there are two bases upon which it can build its future. Either it can seek to build a world based on internationally defined and verified military restraint, or it can reject global approaches and chose to live by the massively destructive sword of deterrence in a highly armed and in some respects more unstable world than experienced during the Cold War. As many countries are increasing their support for arms control, an America that chooses the latter path may become is an isolated, international bedfellow with today's rogues in a race to build deadly weapons.

Notes and References

1.Speech by Al Gore, International Press Institute, Boston, April 30, 2000; http://www.algore2000.com/speeches/sp_fp_boston_04302000.html.

2.Correspondence with Sean Howard, 5 May 2000.

3.'A Period of Consequences,' speech by George W. Bush, September 23, 1999; http://www.georgewbush.com

4.Sean Howard, op cit..

5. Senator Biden, Foreword to Pushing the Limits: The Decision on National Missile Defense, Council for a Livable World/Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, April 2000; http://www.clw.org/coalition/nmdbook00biden.htm.

6. In fact, even if the US negotiating strategy with Russia over NMD/ABM issues were to succeed it might do so only at the expense of the NPT regime. As recently reported, the US is effectively inviting Russia to maintain a strategic arsenal of at least 1,500 warheads long into the future, sufficient to guarantee that it would overwhelm US missile defences. High force level would presumably be required as long as any 'rogues' possessed missiles that could hit any part of the United States. Such a schema is incommensurate with the good faith disarmament obligations set out in Article VI of the NPT. For details of the US proposals, see The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June 2000; http://www.bullatomsci.org/issues/2000/mj00/mj00schwartz.html.

7. The United States played a positive and supportive role in the early years of the CWC. However, its ratification came only five days before the cut-off date for becoming an original signatory. The United States may have adopted the CWC, but it attached several understandings that have been viewed by international and domestic observers with dismay. One understanding accorded the US President the right to veto a special inspection in the event that the inspection posed a threat to national security. This understanding was lodged in spite of precautions that were included in the Treaty. Among these is the right for parties to shroud critical access through managed inspection mechanisms, and the right to have a request of special inspection reviewed by the CWC Board. If two-thirds of the body vote that the request is abusive, the inspection is cancelled. This understanding goes against the trend that nations are becoming increasingly willing to offer transparency in an effort to enhance stability in a situation when serious questions are raised about their peaceful intentions. The strong measures necessary to assure the United States that no clandestine activities are taking place require equal sacrifices on its own part in order to promote the security of other states, as well as general global stability. If a situation arises in which two-thirds of the members of the CWC Board (which consists of international representatives from every major continent) feel that an inspection is not abusive, logically, this should trigger a re-evaluation of US policies. In addition, the United States has also struggled with implementation of the Treaty. Initial industry declarations for the United States were due in July 1997. However, declarations could not be made because implementing legislation was not signed by the Clinton Administration until October 1998, and an executive order requiring US agencies to draft implementing regulations was not issued until June 1999. As a result, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had to reschedule its inspections of US industry. Consequently, other states raised objections that their industries were subject to greater inspections than those in the United States (see Seth Brugger, "US Issues Chemical Industry Regulations", Arms Control Today, Vol. 30, No. 1, January/February 2000, p. 25).

8. For further analysis of the US Congressional understandings see "Implications of the US Resolution of Ratification", Amy Gordon, The CBW Conventions Bulletin, No. 38, December 1997, pp. 1-6.

9. The United States became fully engaged in the Convention's negotiations only after most of it was negotiated. When it became involved, Washington insisted on several substantive changes. It withdrew from the negotiations as it could not create a mechanism to allow its continued use of anti-personnel mines on the Korean border and a revision of the definition of a mine to enable the United States to use some anti-tank weapons that incorporated anti-personnel capabilities. These changes were rejected by the negotiating states as they felt that the time had come to relinquish the very limited strategic advantages of employing anti-personnel landmines in view of the horrific civilian casualties that they generate.

Deborah Ozga is currently a Senior National Security Analyst at DynMeridian Corporation http://www.dynmeridian.com, a professional services firm working with industry and US Federal Government agencies including the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) in the Department of Defense. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Southampton, and has also served as a consultant to the IAEA and the UKAEA. The views expressed in this paper are the author's own and do not reflect those of DynMeridian Corporation.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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