Why Preemption is Necessary
The President of
the United States has no greater responsibility than protecting the
American people from threats, both foreign and domestic.
As the nature of
the threats to the United States changes, so must the nation's
approach to its defense. In situations where the evidence
demonstrates overwhelmingly that behavioral trends, capability, and
motives all point to imminent threat, it may be necessary for the
President to attack preemptively.
The reality of
international life in the 21st century is that nations or
organizations that wish to challenge America or Western powers
increasingly are seeking weapons of mass destruction to achieve
their political objectives. The only effective response may be to
destroy those capabilities before they are used. The tenet of
traditional, customary international law that allows for this
preventive or preemptive action is "anticipatory self-defense."
United States has asserted its right to anticipatory
- In 1962,
President John Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba during the Cuban
- During the 1980s,
President Ronald Reagan invoked this right at least twice: first,
in 1983, ordering an invasion of Grenada, and again in 1986,
ordering the bombing of terrorist sites in Libya.
Learning From the September 11
Complacency is not
acceptable. U.S. authorities knew of the threat posed by Osama bin
Laden, yet did nothing.
alone is not sufficient to suppress aggression.
- Attacks can
occur with little or no warning. In this world of drastically
shortened time lines, it is essential that the President have the
authority to act decisively, in short order, to defeat aggressors
when a preponderance of information points to a threat of imminent
attack. While the President did not know the September 11 attacks
would happen, there was ample evidence that threats to the United
States would likely emerge from Afghanistan.
- The use of a
weapon of mass destruction is reasonably likely. Hostile
entities increasingly view weapons of mass destruction as political
- A deadly
synergy is created when hostile state and non-state agents
conspire. The reality of the 21st century is that a state like
Iraq can harness its resources to develop a weapon of mass
destruction and collude with non-state actors to deliver that
- The future
envisioned by America's enemies is incompatible with U.S.
security. On September 11, the idea that hostile regimes and
the United States could simultaneously pursue their respective
interests lost all credibility. It was clear that America's enemies
were willing to use unprovoked violence to achieve their
objectives. The United States could no longer postpone acting
against terrorists and nations that support them.
This WebMemo is
excerpted from Jack Spencer's
Authority in the War on Terrorism: Iraq and
Beyond.Full footnotes and analysis are available