The term ‘Wolfowitz Doctrine’ informally refers to the initial Defense Planning Guidance for the fiscal years 1994-1999, drafted by Paul Wolfowitz, the then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, and his deputy, Scooter Libby, on February 18, 1992. This document, which was not meant for public disclosure, ended up in the public sphere when it was leaked to the New York Times on March 7, 1992, leading to significant debate concerning U.S. defense and foreign policy. The strategy described in the document was predominantly seen as imperialistic as it proposed a policy of unilateralism and pre-emptive military engagement aimed at thwarting potential threats from other countries and averting the rise of any other superpower.
The primary goal of the doctrine was to ensure that no other country could rise to challenge the supremacy of the United States. At the time of the doctrine’s creation, the United States was the sole superpower in the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The doctrine asserted that the United States should use its unrivaled power to shape and control the post-Cold War world.
The doctrine advocated for an aggressive stance towards any nation perceived as a threat to the U.S. This included potential threats not just to U.S. security, but to the world order as well, and emphasized pre-emptive action. It also stated that the U.S. should be prepared to act alone, if necessary, to address these threats. This represented a significant departure from the Cold War-era policy of deterrence and containment.
The Wolfowitz Doctrine was met with controversy both domestically and internationally. Critics argued it was a strategy for maintaining American imperialism by preventing the rise of any potential competitors. Supporters, however, claimed that the doctrine was necessary for maintaining world peace and stability, arguing that a balance of power strategy could lead to a return of the destructive great power rivalries of the past.
Despite the controversy, elements of the Wolfowitz Doctrine continue to influence U.S. foreign policy. This is particularly evident in the American response to perceived threats, where there is a clear preference for pre-emptive action and the willingness to act unilaterally, if necessary. However, the doctrine also highlights the ongoing debate about the role of American power in the post-Cold War world, a debate that continues to shape U.S. foreign policy decisions.