Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Preemptive vs. Preventive War

Former senator Gary Hart has recently published a book on international security entitled The Shield and the Cloak: The Security of the Commons. It makes many of the same points that Dan Caldwell and I make in Seeking Security in an Insecure World, but it focuses more specifically on the security policies of the current administration than Seeking Security does.

Hart writes the following on the distinction between preemptive and preventive war, a topic I took up here many months ago:

Dependence on an ancient right to preemptively forestall an imminent attack is based on several conditions. The first is that we can know when an attack is being prepared. The second is that we can distinguish between a theoretically possible attack and an attack that is threatened imminently. If it is the first, as was not the case in Iraq, then a first strike is not preemptive, it is preventive, an entirely different and considerably more dangerous doctrine. In either case, highly reliable intelligence is required to know which states have weapons of mass destruction and the ability to deliver them and which states have those weapons, the means to deliver them, and the intent to do so within a reasonably foreseeable time period. (63)

The distinction between preemptive and preventive war is one we need consider more carefully in the context of Iran than we did in the context of Iraq.