Preventive war

From Academic Kids

A preventive war is a war in which one state attacks another under the proclamation of preventive self-defense. Preventive war and preemptive war differ in the certainty of an attack. While a preemptive war concerns an imminent attack, preventive war takes place with no military provocation and is therefore a war of aggression, forbidden by international law. The justification often used by states engaging in preventive war is that another state may attack them in the future – thus an attempt to prevent it.



World War I

Leaders of Imperial Germany were concerned that Russia was becoming more powerful and believed that war was inevitable, so sought to provoke a war with Russia as soon as possible.

World War II

Germany's attacks on some neutral countries in the spring of 1940 are often given as examples of preventive wars aiming at preventing Germany's chief enemy Britain from occupying their territories, which would have harmed Germany:

The Bush doctrine, Iraq and Afghanistan

Preventive war has been described as an important element of the Bush Doctrine, although the US government uses the term preemptive in a way which is partly consistent with international usage. It was argued that Iraqi missiles already threatened the United States, although only biological and chemical weapons were yet ready for use. Based on this justification, which after the war turned out to be incorrect, the 2003 invasion of Iraq should have been an example of a preemptive war. The Iraqi missiles while unable to target the United States directly were in violation of the cease fire agreement following the 1991 Gulf War (see below). Their development was one of many cease fire violations cited in support of resumption of hostilities and therefore do not necessarily fall under either preventive or preemptive war definitions. However, the purported threat of Saddam Hussein possibly handing off chemical or biological weapons to terrorist groups that might use them against the United States would be an example of a reason used for a preventive war.

However, President George W. Bush has claimed, on occasion, that the invasion of Iraq was justified on the grounds that Saddam Hussein may have someday been able to develop nuclear weapons. Based on this justification, the invasion would constitute a preventive war, since there was no impending attack by Iraq. The Bush administration, however, argues that the 1991 Gulf war was never officially finished, and that the invasion was a continuation of that conflict. Of course, many modern wars are never formally declared or finished, and critics of administration policy view this as an attempt to find a legal loophole. However, a cease fire agreement was made after the 1991 Gulf War and certain stipulations were set in place as a condition of that cease fire. If the United Nations Security Council had found continued violation of those stipulations it would have provided a legal basis for resumption of hostilities.

Additionally, some critics of the Bush administration argue that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was another example of preventive war. This is due to the fact that the government of Afghanistan did not actually attack the U.S. Rather, Al-Qaeda is widely believed to be responsible, and the President's policy is to attack any country which is believed to be "harboring terrorists."

Proponents of the invasion argued that the September 11 attacks constituted a sufficient reason for an attack on Afghanistan. In support of this, they assert that Afghanistan's Taliban government was assisting Al-Qaeda and this is equivalent to an act of aggression against the U.S. The intricacies of this argument hinge on one's definition of an attack or act of aggression. The Bush doctrine of preventive war still presents unresolved questions: for example, if applied universally it could mean that the United States government (via support of various groups) actively attacks other states on a regular basis.

Alternatively, some argue that the U.S. did not actually initiate a war at all, but simply supported one side (the Northern Alliance) in a civil war. Critics, however, have responded that Afghanistan was not actually engaged in a civil war.

The United States position towards Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attack by Al Qaeda terrorists was that the government of Afghanistan was harboring the leader of an organization that executed attacks on them. They also asserted that the Taliban, as the current government of Afghanistan, did not prevent and continued to provide the terrorist organization with the freedom to run multiple camps to train more terrorists who whould then be sent to attack the United States. Considering Osama Bin Laden's declaration of war against the United States, the Bush administration considered this support a hostile act in support of Al-Qaeda. From this point of view the war in Afghanistan was neither preventive nor preemptive.

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