Striking First: Efficacy, Legitimacy and Morality of Preemptive and Preventive Acts of State
DeFalco, Ralph L., III
Preemptive and preventive acts of state often decide the issue of peace or war--basic human values are risked on the outcome. The current debate about preemption and prevention, however, is sometimes marred by partisanship and biased inquiries. Moreover, often-times contemporary works on preemption and prevention focus only on the use of armed force and ignore any meaningful discussion of how other instruments of national power can be used. The discussions also sometimes eschew assessments of actual acts of state thus making the arguments academic when stripped of their historic context. This work addresses the efficacy, legitimacy and morality of preemptive and preventive acts and the ways in which those factors bear on policy- and decision-making. It is, by design and by necessity, an inter-disciplinary work that relies on decision analysis, history, law, military history, morality, philosophy, and political theory to put these actions in their complete context. Preemption and prevention are distinctly different strategic responses to threats of harm to a state or its people. Preemption and prevention occur across `a spectrum of anticipation.' Along this spectrum, states respond to threats with various strategic means: diplomatic, informational, military and economic. There is a moral quotient to these means. Moreover, there is an evolving theory in the works of the canonical, early modern and modern authors of the Just War Tradition of the morality of preemptive and preventive use of force in self-defense. This defense, however, is only legitimate in exceptional cases where failure to act would result in grievous harm to a state or to its people. Preventive action, to include the use of force, has been a staple feature of American political strategies since the founding of the nation. Criticisms of the so-called `Bush Doctrine' as misguided doctrine, and as a radical departure from American tradition and history, are unfounded. Preventive and preemptive actions--to include the first use of force--are strategies deliberately chosen by decision makers after a three-phase process of recognition, deliberation and decision. The likelihood of the success, or efficacy, of these actions actuates the decision-making process. In addition, a new international consensus on the use of preventive action is emerging, as is evidenced by both the actions and resolutions of the United Nations. This international norm has, at its roots, Just War criteria that restrict the use of preventive acts to those which are efficacious, legitimate and moral.
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