You are on page 1of 7

Can the preventive use of force be justified on ethical grounds?

By Daniel Raca
Since the end of the cold war a spirit of unity and peace epitomized the enthusiasm of a generation looking confidently into the future. But after the failure to prevent numerous genocides, increasingly violent civil wars and the growing extremism of terrorism many have become discouraged at the poor state of the international community. The free world still needs to contend with elements of the international community whose self-interested politics continues to threaten peace and security. In the world of international politics, the reality is that the end justifies the means. Nations who intend to establish security above all else to allow for the prospect of peace, respect for human rights and economic development are justified in their means of doing so. And in achieving this goal of security and peace, the preventive use of force is the most effective and morally justified way of doing so. Preventive war is relevant, it takes into account the more elusive nature of obstructive actors in the global community today. It is also dependable and guarantees success due to its ability to admit a high degree of preparation. But this foreign policy tool is not without its difficulties. Making proportional assessments are difficult and requires intense speculation. Preventative warfare is almost politically impossible and can perpetuate insecurity. The ethics of preventative warfare A nation which harbours a deontological outlook, inevitably places ethical ideals above the welfare of others. Such an outlook would only allow the pursuit of moral endeavours if they can be executed in a completely ethical way. Regardless, rules rapidly change and can sometimes create absurd outcomes. Therefore in assessing the use of preventative warfare, it should not hinge upon which ideals or laws it violates, rather a more consequentialist outlook must be utilised. International relations involves many irrational and destructive actors and removing them from power justifies violating international protocols, most notably the ideal of state sovereignty. In today's world state sovereignty has become an illusion, as the world has become interconnected beyond recognition. What may seem like inconsequential action locally can reverberate globally. It is utterly irresponsible to deny the use of such an effective tool at maintaining peace for the sake of a nineteenth century concept. Thomas Hobbes once wrote that the condition of man . is a condition of war (Hobbes, 2002:98). Though many may not share Hobbes' pessimism, he highlights the paramount importance of achieving stability and security. If an authority fails to establish a monopoly on violence, anarchy will result. Only once a stable and secure environment is achieved can peace be cemented through the respect of human rights, economic and social development. Therefore in order for preventative warfare to be ethical its main concern should be

security, which will allow the cementing of peace through nation building. Relevance So then is preventative warfare effective at attaining security and stability? Preventative warfare is adapted to the conditions of the 21st century. This relevance is the best reason for its use as the dynamic of international politics has changed significantly over the last century. The world has become immensely interconnected whether through trade, travel, politics, etc and it is impossible for any nation, regardless of how independent it wishes to remain, to operate in a vacuum. Leaders of today must recognise the increasingly global impact of decisions that appear localised. Though there is no worldwide government, we have become a global nation. Few problems confine themselves to whatever region they occur and we are now so affected by events abroad that we arguably have a mandate to intervene, if not only for our own interests. Nations which have held subversive agendas have been able to use this growing interconnectivity to attain their goals without resorting to war. In recent times nations very rarely institute military action for economic or political gain. Rather subversive tactics are used. No formal declarations of war or clear indications of hostile intent are expressed, rather nations will work through agents to achieve their goals. Two clear examples are Iran and China. Iran has very successfully infiltrated and significantly influenced Lebanon and Iraq without firing a single bullet, rather it uses Hezbollah in Lebanon and various elements in Iraq to grow their influence in the region (Laessing & Hammond, 2009). China has also used the internet to gain economic and military benefit by using hackers to infiltrate secure networks illegally (Swartz, 2007). That is not to say China and Iran need to be attacked. Rather it is important to understand that hostile nations no longer use 19th century declarations of war to elude to their intention, the idea of self defence as a formula to maintain security and encourage peace is simply outdated. Nations must become more proactive in ensuring dangerous elements do not ascend to power and threaten the international community as even the smallest state can have a profound impact on the balance of power. Furthermore, the nature of weapons technology implores the use of prevention, as advancements continue to make weapons deadlier, taking a reactionary approach can have devastating consequences. Since the establishment of Charter of the United Nations have increasingly become in the business of prevention. Peace keeping, economic development and dialogue have become the most effective tools for establishing peace. The preventative use of force is merely a logical extension of that process. Indeed the Charter of the United Nations which forms the underlying principles of the UN even states in its first article that in order to maintain international peace and security it suggests that collective measures for the prevention and

removal of threats to the peace is a legitimate means of achieving that end. The UN charter acknowledges that problems should be dealt with once they arrive, not when they reach a certain intensity. Terrorism also demonstrates how controlling rouge states becomes all the more necessary and demonstrates the utility of preventative force in this era. If gone unchecked oppressive regimes can encourage terrorist movements through either direct support or simply out of opposition to oppressive rule. By not opposing such regimes we can inadvertently create a situation where we indirectly encourage the use of terrorism as a mechanism of the state. Before his collapse Saddam Hussein's regime regularly colluded with terrorist groups. Although no comprehensive links were proven between Saddam's regime and Al-Qaeda, other terrorist groups were supported including Hamas which received US$25,000 in support for every suicide bombers family (BBC, 2003). Between 2000 and 2003 it was estimated that Hamas alone received US$35 million from Iraq (BBC, 2003). This is becoming a common trend amongst the international community. Only until recently has Hugo Chavez ceased financial support of the ruthless terrorist group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (Telegraph, 2008). The advantage preventive warfare has in these scenarios is that it does not rely on enemies acting rationally, as they often don't. The world must now deal with adversaries that are not risk-averse against whom deterrence might work but rather gamblers many of whom embrace martyrdom (Freedman, 2003:113). There are many recourses an aggressive state may have which may not provoke war, but is still severely detrimental to the peace and security of the international community. For this reason a preventive approach is more effective in the long term to stop nations from seriously contributing to terrorist activity. Dependable Another strong advantage to using preventative warfare is the dependability it affords. By taking this approach it is possible to thoroughly assess what nations have demonstrated a potential to severely disrupt international order in the future. Policy makers can analyse and observe nations which have consistently proven to deteriorate in condition and warrant outside intervention. Although the quality of debate may be questionable, in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq the American public and indeed the public of many nations who participated in the Iraq invasion debated the merits of war for over one and a half years. As early as November 2001, Bush signalled Iraq as a serious target for regime change by force (Lester, 2001). Few conflicts are able to be given such thought and consideration before they are embarked upon. Having such an extended time frame to discuss the merits of such an operation would ideally discourage war if it was unnecessary or futile. Preventative warfare also affords a significant amount of time for actual preparation for

warfare, ensuring success and the mitigation of casualties (Freedman, 2003:104). Military forces can properly assess a scenario tactically and ensure a very high probability of success in executing any operations, and discourage war if they are unable to do so. Again to take the 2003 invasion of Iraq example, the time afforded allowed military planners to factor in such specific factors as which weather conditions would be most advantageous to launch an attack in (Bowman, 2003). Both the allowance of careful assessments and preparation means preventative force can ensure appropriate responses and guaranteed success. Proportional assessments A strong difficulty with the use of preventative force is making accurate assessments and responding proportionately. It may not be foreseeable that a nation which has been troubled by political turmoil might experience a sea change in public attitude and reform its government. Proposing the use of preventative force is to approve the violation of the inalienable right to self determination which is a fundamental right in the international arena. Iran highlights this well. After Iraq many neoconservatives were pushing for war with Iran, anxious as to the potential destabilising potential it may have in the future (Fukuyama, 2007). However as the recent election has shown, there is a vigilant democratic movement that in the near future, may seriously impact Iran's often obstructive foreign policies and endeavours. After allegations of vote rigging and inconsistencies in the electoral system, hundreds of thousands of Iranians have been protesting these results, demonstrating that the drive for positive change does not always need to come about through outside intervention (Freeman, 2009). Such willingness of the people to aspire for change is unaccounted for in calculations of preventative force as it fails to recognise the potential for sudden, unexpected improvements in problem states. Another problem with this form of warfare is the difficulty of acquiring and analysing intelligence. No single piece of evidence could justify preventive war, rather a multitude of evidence must exist to properly illuminate a regime's intention. Iraq is a good example of the difficulties of intelligence gathering and analysis. Despite allegations of the contrary, Iraqi stockpiles of weapons were severely depleted and in a poor state then what was initially thought (Tweedie, 2004). The use of preventative warfare is constrained for its inability to factor the possibility that a nation will change and is further hindered by the difficulties associated with intelligence gathering.

Politics Justifying the preventative use of force in domestic politics is immensely difficult, if not impossible. How are the merits of such an action be judged? By whom? As Crawford argues, fear may be the

only considered element in determining whether preventative action should be sought (Crawford, 2003:33). Democratic countries are for the most part reluctant to engage in conflict unless absolutely necessary. Proposing preventative war is to propose what may be seen as unnecessary conflict. It is not considered a class of war internationally recognised as legal (unless authorised by the UN Security Council) and so may face a great deal of opposition within the wider populous. Considering how speculative such conflict is regardless of how much time and thought may be given to assessing its merits, it is after all an exercise in guesswork. In justifying the war in Iraq, the Bush administration strayed away from justifications based upon the long term benefits of discouraging authoritarian regimes but rather emphasised the immediate threat of such regimes to the US and its interests (CNN, 2003). Preventative warfare also faces sever difficulties in the international arena. By creating an environment where regimes are targeted simply due to their potential and nature, rather than an actual action, fear and paranoia can significantly worsen international relations. North Korea provides a good example of this. The US led campaigns in Iraq was initiated with no clear trigger and have created an environment of paranoia within Kim JongIl's regimes to the extent that nuclear weapons are being hastily developed. Even as recently as June 15th experts have warned that North Korea's most recent tests have proven that they have developed nuclear material of an effective yield (Benson, 2009). This climate of fear has only worsened security in the region and has made alternative solutions difficult. Both in a domestic and international context, preventive warfare is an enormously difficult exercise. Conclusion In the world of international politics the ends justifies the means. Nations who intend to establish security above all else to allow for the prospect of peace, respect for human rights and economic development are justified in their means of doing so. In achieving this goal of security and peace, the preventive use of force is the most effective and morally justified way of doing so. Preventive war is relevant, it takes into account the more elusive nature of the obstructive actors to the global community today. It is also dependable and guarantees success due to its ability to admit a high degree of preparation. But this foreign policy tool is not without its difficulties. Making proportional assessments are difficult, and requires it to be intensely speculative. Preventative warfare is almost politically impossible and can perpetuate insecurity. Word Count: 2145

Bibliography Primary Sources Hobbes, T. (2002) Leviathan. Broadview Press. UN (2009) Charter of the United Nations. [electronic source] available at: {accessed 05 June} Secondary Sources Benson, P. (2009) North Koreans have made nuclear progress, experts say. [electronic source] available at: {accessed 09 June} Bowman, T. (2003) Iraq invasion by early March, analysts predict. [electronic source] available at:,1,3986173.story {accessed 09 June} BBC (2003) Palestinians get Saddam Funds. [electronic source] available at: {accessed 09 June} CNN (2003) Bush sends Iraq war letter to Congress. [electronic source] available at: {accessed 12 June} Crawford, N. (2003) The Slippery Slope to Preventative Warfare. Ethics & International Affairs 17, no. 1. Fukuyama, F. (2007) The neocons have learned nothing from five years of catastrophe. [electronic source] available at: {accessed 09 June} Freedman, L. (2003) Prevention, Not Preemption. The Washington Quarterly. pp. 105114.

Spring 2003. Freeman, C. (2009) Iran protest cancelled as leaked election results show Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came third. [electronic source] available at: {accessed 15 June} Laessing, U. & Hammond, A. (2009) Saudis gleeful at Lebanon vote, now look to Iran's. [electronic source] available at: {accessed 09 June} Lester, T. (2001) Bush signals Iraq may be next target. [electronic source] available at: {accessed 13 June} Swartz, J. (2007) Chinese hackers seek U.S. access. [electronic source] available at: {accessed 13 June} Telegraph (2008) Chavez ends support of Farc rebels. [electronic source] available at:{accessed 02 June} Tweedie, N. (2004) Report holds out the possibility that WMD may still be found . . . one day. [electronic source] available at: {accessed 02 June}