The Preventive/preemptive War Doctrine Cannot Justify the Iraq War

By Lawrence, Robert M. | Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

The Preventive/preemptive War Doctrine Cannot Justify the Iraq War


Lawrence, Robert M., Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


I. INTRODUCTION

More than two years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the debate continues about whether the threat from Baghdad warranted abandoning the traditional American national security Nuclear Deterrence and Containment policies in favor of President Bush's new Preventive/Preemptive War doctrine. This essay compares the logic informing the Nuclear Deterrence and Containment policies with the arguments supporting the President's Preventive/Preemptive War doctrine, and concludes that the former should not have been replaced by the latter. This essay then compares what happened in Iraq with a hypothetical scenario wherein Pakistan is a candidate for a Preventive/Preemptive War attack. This hypothetical demonstrates the extent to which the attack on Iraq cannot be justified by the announced parameters of President Bush's Preventive/Preemptive War doctrine.

II. NUCLEAR DETERRENCE AND CONTAINMENT POLICIES AND THE PREVENTIVE/PREEMPTIVE WAR DOCTRINE

Has the world changed so much that President George W. Bush's Preventive/Preemptive War doctrine should replace the Nuclear Deterrence and Containment policies first adopted by President Truman in the 1940s and modified by President Eisenhower in the 1950s? More than two years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, arguments persist whether that war in Iraq can be justified in terms of President Bush's Preventive War/Preemptive War doctrine. Should that doctrine become the model for other twenty-first century conflicts? The Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms defines "Preventive War" as: "A war initiated in the belief that military conflict, while not imminent, is inevitable, and that to delay would involve greater risk." (1) The same source defines "Preemptive Attack" as: "An attack initiated on the basis of incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack is imminent." (2)

To answer these questions, it will be necessary to recall the logic which gave rise to the Nuclear Deterrence and Containment policy, and to compare that long-ago thinking with the rationale set forth by President George W. Bush in statements made prior to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

A. The Logic Supporting U.S. Nuclear Deterrence and Containment Policies.

1. Nuclear Deterrence.

Among the first to envision, although dimly, the deterrent value inherent in nuclear weapons were three Hungarian physicists who fled to America in the late 1930s to escape the Nazi persecution of the Jews. (3) They were Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner. (4) This trio urged Albert Einstein to send his famous October 11, 1939 letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt suggesting the United States investigate the possibility of making an atomic bomb before Hitler's scientists achieved that feat. (5)

Concerning the Hungarian scientists, Richard Rhodes wrote: "From the horrible weapon which they were about to urge the United States to develop, Szilard, Teller and Wigner ... hoped for more than deterrence against German aggression. They also hoped for world government and world peace, conditions they imagined bombs made of uranium might enforce." (6)

Before the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Scientific Director of the American atomic bomb project, J. Robert Oppenheimer; the Danish Nobel Laureate in Physics, Niels Bohr; and the American Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson; also expressed their hope, in differing ways, that nuclear weapons could prevent large scale war in the future. Of course, if a large scale war had occurred, it would have probably been called World War III.

According to Oppenheimer: "[T]he atomic bomb had to be used on a Japanese city, not in another test, because the world needed to know with graphic evidence that warfare had fundamentally changed in such a way as to require international participation in the quest for peace. …

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