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Preventive War or Preemptive War

"The preemptive war against Iraq broke thenorms of the community of states. International law was degraded in its importance.. The preemptive war against Iraq was primarily an attempt of the US to triumph over the sovereignty of the international community. This disempowerment of international law is a unique dangerous mega-political experiment with unforeseeable consequences." Translated from the German
Preventive War or Preemptive War

Confused thinking. The US wants to use the crusade in Iraq to legitimate a new type of war

By Ulrich Arnswald

[This article originally published in: Freitag 35, August 22, 2003 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.freitag.de/2003/35/03350701.php. Ulrich Arnswald is the founding director of the European Institute for International Affairs in Heidelberg and teaches political philosophy. He is co-editor of the recent book "Die Autonomie des Politischen und die Instrumentalisierung der Ethik", 2002.]

The Iraq war did not fulfill the criteria of a preventive war. America carried out a preemptive war, not a preventive war. What is the difference? Astonishingly one reads nothing about this. However a preventive war is obviously not a preemptive war.

While a preventive war requires the fulfillment of criteria on the immediate danger of the intentional aggression of a state, criteria for a preemptive strike or preemptive war are absolutely unknown. A war would be legimated as a preventive war if "preventive self-defense" occurred according to the Caroline proviso that no other choice of means existed or the possibility of negotiations was exhausted. A preventive war is only conceivable measured by such criteria. There can be no talk of the Iraq war as a preventive war since an armed attack on the United States or on a bordering state of Iraq was not immediately imminent.

An aggression must occur or be imminent for a preventive war. Violence may not be practiced in the international community under any other signs, not even on account of differences in political or religious viewpoints or to overthrow an unpopular dictator through an intervention from the outside. Belligerent acts against a state are illegitimate per se if no immediate danger of war is demonstrated. In general, three basic conditions must be met - to speak of an immediate threat: an active war preparation, a manifest intention of inflicting damage on another state and a situation where waiting instead of fighting increases the risk of becoming a victim of an aggression. A preventive war or preventive strike can only be legitimated when these three criteria are satisfied.

In contrast, a "preemptive war", a war to nip possible dangers in the bud is not included and thus is rejected in international law. In a word, international law doesn't know either preemptive wars or preemptive strikes. "Preemptive military strike" is a new concept that Americans have sought to enforce in international groups since 2002 with the Bush doctrine (National Security Strategy). The 1995 report of the strategic command of the US (STRATCOM) already provided that "reaction" to a threat could be preemptive. However this policy could not be put in effect.

"Preemptive strikes" occurred in the past. An attempted conceptual legitimating followed the Israeli attack on an Iraqi nuclear reactor and the bombardment of a suspected poison gas factory in the Sudan in 1998. While the UN condemned Israel's attack by resolution and the military-strategic highhandedness of Americans with an unknown number of Sudanese dead needs no further comment. The analogous attempt at justifying the Iraq war is very problematic. The war-mongering powers seek to derive a justification for their action relevant to international law from the doctrine of "preemptive strikes".

The argument of many military personnel that the idea of preemptive war is justified by the immediacy - or rapid deployment - of modern weapon delivery systems is controversial in politics. The question is raised how these operations can be legitimated. While border violations, general mobilizations, military alliances or marine blockades can be regarded as threats for preventive wars, justifying reasons for war are not clear for preemptive wars. Rather preemptive strikes are based on potential or presumed dangers.

Intentions and undocumented presumptions of aggression should legitimate preemptive wars, not evidence based on facts. Diffuse reasons can always be misused to wage preventive wars for power interests. No criteria catalogues are known to question and examine the cited reasons for war. Whether and when weapons could be deployed and a preemptive response justified cannot be shown. The Iraq campaign was an example.

The question of the proportionality of means should be decisive for the West in the presentation of evidence. The German standpoint was consistent. Whoever wants to pass from threat to war confrontation owes the Security Council and the world public evidence that all political efforts failed or were hopeless. Iraq seemed less capable of attack before the war than ever. The danger scenarios spread by the secret services of the belligerent governments are still unverified today.

The preemptive war against Iraq broke the norms of the community of states. International law was demonstratively degraded in its importance. What can replace international law is unclear. The preemptive war against Iraq was primarily an attempt of the US to triumph over the sovereignty of the international community. This disempowerment (Enthegung) of international law is a unique dangerous mega-political experiment with unforeseeable consequences that could inflict great damage to US interests. The Iraq war could serve as a precedent for further wars that cannot be legitimated.

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