The Bush Doctrine: American exceptionalism in a revolutionary age

Nicholas Wheeler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article considers whether the Bush Doctrine seeks to establish a new rule for the preventitive use of force against states and terrorist groups armed with weapons of mass destruction. Alternatively, does the Doctrine aim to carve out an exceptional right of intervention that is restricted to America alone? After emphasizing the dangers of changing the general rules on the use of force, I argue that the Bush Doctrine is not seeking such a modification. Instead, the new strategy should be viewed in the context of American exceptionalism. This has two sources: the long-standing belief of successive American governments that is a carrier of universal values, which the United States has a historic responsibility to protect: and the administration's belief that the United States is uniquely threatened after 9/11, and thus is justified in exempting itself from the ordinary legal rules. The article highlights the dangers of this type of thinking. It also considers whether it is possible to ameliorate U.S. unilateralism by devising new collective approaches to the threat posed by the spread of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-216
Number of pages34
JournalAsian Perspective
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • Bush Doctrine
  • international order
  • weapons of mass destruction
  • sovereignty
  • American exceptionalism


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