The United States Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute has published a new monograph that examines the concepts of preemption and prevention in the conduct of modern warfare. The monograph, titled “The Implications of Preemptive and Preventive War Doctrines: A Reconsideration,” was authored by Dr. Colin S. Gray.
The monograph contains definitions, a history of the preventive war option, and a consideration of the arguments made against the concepts of preemption and prevention.
According to Dr. Gray, the definition of preemption is “…to attempt to strike first against an enemy who is in the process of preparing, or is actually launching, an attack against you.” Prevention, by contrast, is “…a decision to wage war, or conduct a strike, so as to prevent a far more dangerous context maturing in the future.” The two concepts, which are often confused with one another, are entirely different according to the monograph. The former deals with an immediate threat while the latter refers to an attempt to stop a future threat or possible danger from materializing.
The presidential administration of George W. Bush has come under constant fire for its support of the two concepts. While the war in Iraq has been characterized as a war of preemption, it is more accurate to describe the conflict as one of prevention based on Iraq’s alleged efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Dr. Gray argues that despite the enormous amount of debate about the legality of preemption and prevention, both concepts of warfare are legally sound. The author cites the charter of the United Nations and its “…recognition of the inherent right of sovereign states to self-defense.” According to the monograph, this internationally recognized right does not have as a precondition the requirement to wait until a nation is attacked.
The monograph concludes with the argument that preventive war is an appropriate option for U.S. strategy, but that great care should be taken to ensure that the option is not employed too liberally.
Dr. Colin Gray is Professor of International Politics and Strategic Studies at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. He served under President Ronald Reagan for five years on the President’s General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament.
The 70-page monograph is available for download free of charge at the web site of the United States Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute.
Source: Strategic Studies Institute, United States Army War College