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Posted on Apr 25, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

The Strategy of Preventative War and Counter-Terror

By Dennis W. Lid

The strategy of containment employed during the Cold War era is passé and defunct, and, therefore, no longer valid. Times have changed, especially since the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. Superpower America has adopted a new national strategy of preventive war and preemptive strike as proclaimed by the Bush Administration. This new strategy poses some immediate questions: What is its purpose? Is the strategy legally and morally justifiable? What are the primary considerations and concerns regarding the new strategy? What are the possible consequences of invoking this strategy? Is this the best we can do by way of a national strategy? This article will address the most salient points regarding the strategy of preventive war and preemptive strike in an attempt to answer these pertinent questions.
The purpose of the new national strategy centers primarily on the defense of the country, its constitution and its people against all enemies, foreign and domestic, as well as to counter aggression against America and her allies, especially by preventing a devastating “first strike.” Finally, it is to counter terrorism.

The legal and moral justification of employing the new national strategy of preventive war and preemptive strike depend entirely on the specific situation. If it can be proven that a potential enemy is an imminent threat and an immediate danger to our country, a legally and morally justifiable case may be made to launch a preventive war or preemptive strike against the would-be aggressor. Without such proof, the execution of a pre-emptive strike against a sovereign nation is neither legally nor morally justifiable.


Regarding counter terror, however, a preemptive strike must be employed to prevent commission of the act of terror. Terrorists do not constitute a sovereign nation, but rather, a group of extremists, dissidents or fanatics bent on committing the crime of terror to further their cause. As with all criminals, terrorists must be preempted to prevent their commission of the crime by execution of the act of terror.

Counter terror falls under the category of crime prevention. The use of terror as a form of aggression constitutes the lowest, most degraded and heinous type of warfare akin to the crime of murder. The most extreme countermeasure of preemption is, of necessity, the only effective counter terror strategy that can be employed to stop terror and prevent the crime. As such, it is legally and morally justifiable to employ preemption to prevent terror, just as it is to prevent a murder.

Considerations and concerns that apply to the new strategy are legion and provoke a number of questions that need answers. A few of the most important questions along with appropriate answers follow:

– Is it right to employ the new strategy? The particular situation dictates the answer. If the strategy is used against a sovereign nation, even a rogue nation, the conditions of “imminent threat” and “immediate danger” must be met prior to launching a preventive war or first strike. Additionally, the new strategy should be employed only as a last resort and, preferably, with the consensus of world opinion and support (although such consensus and support may not always be forthcoming). Otherwise, a preventive war would not be ethically or morally right. It would be tantamount to outright aggression of the kind America experienced at Pearl Harbor, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. On the other hand, if the new strategy is imposed on terrorists (i.e., criminals), then a preemptive strike is right in all respects and without conditions. Counter terror requires preemption or first strike to prevent the act of terror from being committed.

– Will employing the new strategy set the proper example and precedent for other nations to follow? As the world’s only current superpower, America must be prudent and judicious in its words and actions impacting the international community. Its image and reputation are at stake as is its character. More importantly, America’s words and actions either evoke trust, respect and admiration from other nations or distrust, disrespect and disdain. The true greatness of a nation depends on the principles it upholds and its perseverance in adversity…what the nation stands for and what it is willing to endure to preserve those values. Tolerance, appreciation of differences and justice in the treatment of other nations is incorporated in the idea of greatness as well. A great nation is generous to and considerate of its neighbors and provides an example to be emulated by all nations. It leads by example, and its example sets a precedent. Will employing our new strategy set the right example and establish the appropriate precedent? Would we want other nations to emulate our example? If not, America had best refrain from using the new strategy except as a last resort and under the conditions of imminent threat and immediate danger, as previously discussed.

– What about results? Will employing the new strategy yield the results desired? Preventive war and preemptive strike are almost certain to have initial success. It is their long-term effects that are less certain. As a means of warfare, they are effective; but the end results achieved do not, of themselves, justify the use of these means. Has any past war ever achieved all the results initially desired? On the contrary, and a preventive war may cause even more problems than it purports to solve. Add to that the expense of war, and, even if successful, it may not be worth the cost. Yet, preventive war against a sovereign nation can be successful with its devastating first strike and aggressive follow-through. Tyrants and rogue regimes can be toppled and replaced; sanctions, past agreements and mandates may be enforced; the country can be occupied, disarmed and controlled; and the entire political and economic direction of the occupied country can be re-directed. Any or all of these results of preventive war are possible. Coincidentally, there is no other way to successfully fight and counter terror except through preemptive strike. To be successful in achieving its goals, preemptive first strike against terrorists requires timely and accurate intelligence, detailed prior planning, patience, perseverance, and swift aggressive execution. Preemptive strike is the correct tool to use against terrorists, regardless of the consequences, because it is the only effective tool. Yet, it is the aftermath of the preemptive strike and, especially, of preventive war that causes the greatest concern.

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