Preemption: Military Action and Moral Justification.

Author:Cook, Martin
Position:Book review

Preemption: Military Action and Moral Justification, Henry Shue and David Rodin, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 288 pp., $90 cloth, $35 paper.

In modern international law and just war theory there has always been a narrowly drawn category of legitimate preemptive attack or, as the lawyers prefer to phrase it, "anticipatory self-defense." Fear that such a category would be interpreted permissively has caused it to be very narrowly construed--especially in the famous Caroline case criteria, as articulated by then U.S. secretary of state Daniel Webster, which stated that the threat must be extremely imminent and clear. Much of the recent discussion of preemption has taken as its point of departure the formulations of Michael Walzer in Just and Unjust Wars. Walzer stresses the importance of strictly limiting claims of legitimate preemption to the very narrow category of imminence so as to prevent opening permission to preventive wars and indefinite quests for an illusory balance of power. The 2001 attacks on the United States, however, prompted calls to redefine and expand permission to deal with the kinds of covert threats of massive attacks such as those planned by al-Qaeda--most notably and explicitly in the Bush administration's 2002 National Security Strategy. This shift, many have argued, although phrased in terms of an expanded sense of preemption, actually called for a policy of preventive war.

This volume, first published in 2007 and newly available in a paper edition, provides invaluable interdisciplinary perspectives on a range of issues in recent just war thinking, including three key areas: the confusion in terminology arising from the differing usages of terms in the various disciplines; a historical perspective on the change in the concepts through time, especially as they developed in deterrence theory throughout the cold war; and a review of preventive war thinking over the entire span of U.S. history, particularly during the perilous phase of the cold war when the United States possessed massive nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union--a moment of special significance, given that preventing the Soviet Union from achieving nuclear parity might have seemed especially justified in order to avoid an existential threat to the United States.

Important theoretical questions are also explored, particularly in the chapters by Mark Trachtenberg, Suzanne Uniacke, Neta Crawford, and Allen Buchanan. For example, if...

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