View Full Version : American Strategy and Pre-emptive War

04-14-2006, 03:01 PM
13 April International Herald Tribune commentary - American Strategy and Pre-emptive War (http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/04/13/opinion/edkiss.php) by Henry Kissinger.

... There has evolved a reluctant recognition that pre-emption may be so built into modern weapons technology that some reconsideration of existing rules is overdue.

Pre-emptive strategy involves an inherent dilemma: When the scope for action is greatest, knowledge is at a minimum. When knowledge is high, the scope for pre-emption has often disappeared.

Had Churchill's early warning been heeded, the Nazi plague could have been destroyed at relatively little cost. A decade later, tens of millions of dead paid the price for the quest for certainty.

But how is the threat to be defined, and through what institutions can resistance to it be implemented?

If each nation claims the right to define its pre-emptive rights, the absence of any rules would spell international chaos. Some universal, generally accepted principles need to be matched with the machinery of their operation.

Of course, the United States, like any other sovereign nation, will, in the end, defend its vital national interests - if necessary, alone. But it also has a national interest to make the definition of national interest of other nations as much parallel its own as it can.

A first step is to recognize that the American strategic doctrine does not really talk about what is commonly defined as pre-emptive action. Pre- emption applies to an adversary possessing a capacity to do great damage coupled with the demonstrated will to do so imminently. The right to use force unilaterally in such circumstances is more or less accepted.

The most obvious targets for pre- emptive strategy are terrorist organizations. These cannot be deterred because they have nothing tangible to lose. Nor can they be dealt with by diplomacy, because their objective generally is not compromise but the destruction of their adversary.

The deeper issue raised by the administration's doctrine concerns preventive use of force: measures to forestall the emergence of a threat capable, at some point in the future, of being overwhelming. Here the issue of proliferation emerges as one of the key tasks of preventive diplomacy.

The United States has an obvious incentive to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, especially of nuclear weapons, into wrong hands. For aspiring great powers, the incentive is precisely the opposite - to acquire weapons of mass destruction as rapidly as possible, either for their own security or as a safety net for assertive or revolutionary policies...