Striking First: Preemptive and Preventive Attack in U.S. National Security Policy

Striking First: Preemptive and Preventive Attack in U.S. National Security Policy

Striking First: Preemptive and Preventive Attack in U.S. National Security Policy

Striking First: Preemptive and Preventive Attack in U.S. National Security Policy

Synopsis

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Excerpt

Following the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, preemptive and preventive attack became the subjects of extensive policy attention and debate as the nation embarked on a global campaign against al Qaeda, associated terrorist groups, and their sponsors and supporters. U.S. leaders recast the national security strategy to place greater emphasis on the threats posed by violent nonstate actors and by states from which they might acquire nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, and promised that the United States would take advantage of opportunities to strike at potential adversaries before they attacked.

In response to this shift in policy emphasis, rand Project air force conducted a study, titled “Preemptive and Preventive Military Strategies in U.S. National Security Policy,” to examine the nature and implications of this doctrine of preemption. This study focused on addressing three central questions: First, under what conditions is preemptive or preventive attack worth considering or pursuing as a response to perceived security threats? Second, what role should such “first-strike” strategies be expected to play in future U.S. national security policy? Finally, what implications do these conclusions have for planners and policymakers in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and the other armed services as they design military capabilities and strategies to support national policy and deal with emerging security threats in the next decade?

The research reported here was sponsored by the Director of Operational Planning, Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, and conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of rand Project air force.

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