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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Preemptive and Preventive War--A Perspective

In consideration of the Bush Administration's "preventive" war and subsequent occupation of Iraq, and its contemplated military action against Iran--yet another Carrier Group is being sent to the Persian Gulf--MrKen thinks that this is perhaps an auspicious moment to take a hard look at what the terms 'preventive' and 'preemptive' really mean. A short historical discussion follows. According to a recent Wikipedia entry---

Preventive war
is war launched in anticipation of a future loss of security or strategic advantage. Preventive war is sharply distinct from preemptive war, or anticipatory self-defense. Preventive war is only claimed to prevent a hypothetical attack which might occur in the future; for example, a war launched to prevent an adversary acquiring more powerful weapons. In international law, preventive war has no recognized status as distinct from a war of aggression. Many wars have been characterised as "preventive" in nature, often by both sides of the conflict...

Legal scholars generally agree that preventive war is not legally distinct from aggression, "the supreme crime" in international law. Commentators as diverse as Dwight Eisenhower and Noam Chomsky have argued that accepting one preventive war would open the floodgates to all preventive wars, reducing the world to "the law of the jungle"...

As Noam Chomsky elaborates--

'The grand strategy (of the Bush Administaration) authorises the US to carry out preventive war: preventive, not pre-emptive. Whatever the justifications for pre-emptive war might be, they do not hold for preventive war, particularly as that concept is interpreted by its current enthusiasts: the use of military force to eliminate an invented or imagined threat, so that even the term "preventive" is too charitable. Preventive war is, very simply, the supreme crime that was condemned at Nuremberg.'

MrKen notes that while the Japanese like to think of their attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 as preemptive war, or anticipatory self defense, Wikipedia accurately describes the action as preventive war-or simply an act of aggression--it...

'was motivated by the knowledge that American military power was rapidly increasing, while American policy towards Japan was becoming more adversarial. America was moving battleships and strategic bombers into the Asian theatre, an action which was construed as a long-term potential threat but was not a real or anticipated attack.'

But MrKen observes that the United States actually has a long and bloody history of fighting 'preventive' wars. The genocidal military actions against the millions of 'squatters' in North America (i.e., the American Indians) by the European invaders come immediately to mind. And, as I wrote previously in this blog on Sept. 21, 2006--[The 'Gringo Empire' as Role Model and the 'Moral Low Ground']---

'In the book 'Wetback Nation - the case for Opening the Mexican-American Border' - (2004) - by Peter Laufer, the author writes,'

few Gringos think of their lands from Texas to California as conquered territory.
Such selective memory allowed President Clinton to declare..."

'Americans never fought for empire, for territory, for dominance.' 1

"...In fact that's exactly what Americans fought for when they invaded Mexico in 1846..." 2

"...In addition to the fight along the Texas border, (President) Polk dispatched troops to seize Mexico's northwest--the land from New Mexico out to California..." Ibid.

"It was a war 'unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States', according to a house resolution passed 85 - 81 just before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848, ceding half of Mexico to the United States." Ibid.

"Mexicans agreed to the bad deal and remember it well." Ibid.

Link to MrKen's entire blog entry:


For those readers who desire a more modern opinion on preventive war by a U.S. President, let us turn to the policies of John F. Kennedy, prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

'...In March 1962, the idea that the United States might be prepared to mount a first strike against the Soviet Union was made publicly by President Kennedy himself. The veteran correspondent Stewart Alsop, known to be a personal friend of Kennedy, wrote an article on 'Kennedy's Grand Strategy' for the
Saturday Evening Post on the basis of a long interview with the President. The text and quotations were cleared by the President before publication. The key phrase was: 'Khrushchev must not be certain that, where its vital interests are threatened, the U.S. will never strike first. As Kennedy says, "In some circumstances we might have to take the initiative."' 3

One can only wonder with trepidation what new adventures in preventive war the Bush Administration will undertake in its waning months of power...


President Bill Clinton at a Memorial Day Service at Arlington National Cemetary.
2 'Wetback Nation - the case for Opening the Mexican-American Border' - (2004) - by Peter Laufer.
3 'The Cold War-A History - (1993) - by Martin Walker (Interview with President Kennedy in the Saturday Evening Post 31 March 1962)

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