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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 13:01 GMT
Analysis: Bush policy uncertain
President Bush between Vice President Dick Cheney (L) and Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert
Mr Bush's speech was strong on rhetoric
Jonathan Marcus

President George Bush has warned that the proliferation of long-range missiles is as great a danger to the US as terrorism.

He described three countries known to be developing such systems - Iraq, Iran and North Korea - as an "axis of evil".

Those countries used to be called "rogue states" by US officials. The term had fallen out of fashion - the characterisation was often seen as an obstacle to any sort of constructive engagement with these countries.

Clarion call

Now though, President Bush has increased the rhetorical stakes with his new description.

Son of Star Wars plan
A missile protection system for the US is still on the drawing board

President Bush was sounding both a warning - about the dangers of missile proliferation - and issuing a clarion call for action.

America, he seemed to be saying, would not stand idle and watch as countries acquired or developed the means of striking the United States from afar.

But while the State of the Union address was strong on rhetoric, the policy implications of what seems like a hardening of the US position seem uncertain.

This administration has no clear idea of how to deal with Iraq.

Unilateralist

It has largely put on hold the diplomatic opening towards Pyongyang pursued by the previous Clinton administration.

And it seems equally uncertain as to how to approach Iran - a country that is certainly developing a long-range missile force, but one that in the short-term is also very much an actor in the current Afghan crisis and whose views do matter.

Mr Bush's rhetoric may cause some unease among his allies. His tone at least sounded strongly unilateralist - America would act if and when necessary - to ensure its own safety.

In the world that has emerged in the wake of 11 September there are also strong pressures pushing the United States to work in concert with its friends around the world.

And in practical terms Mr Bush's speech provided little clue as to how his administration intends to resolve these sometimes conflicting requirements.

See also:

12 Dec 01 | Americas
Analysis: ABM treaty withdrawal
12 Dec 01 | World
Analysis: The new bogeymen
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