The justice of preventive war
Stephenson, Henry Alan
Moran, Daniel J.
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In response to the 9/11 attacks and continuing threats of mass-casualty terrorism, the United States has adopted a new security strategy that emphasizes anticipatory actions including preventive war. Prevention, undertaken in the absence of an act of aggression or an imminent threat, is prohibited by modern conceptions of just war and international law. Many critics of the strategy fear that any legitimization of preventive war would endanger international stability. But an examination of the relevant ethical issues from the perspective of just war doctrine reveals contradictions within a blanket prohibition of preventive war. Preventive "strategic interventions" against illiberal regimes-states that correlate with the threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction-parallel humanitarian interventions in that they have an ethical basis in the relationship between human rights and the right of state sovereignty. A widely-accepted minimum standard of human rights, incorporated into new international institutions and/or an explicit revision of the definition of just war, could serve as an ethical boundary for both preventive wars and humanitarian interventions. The formal qualification of prevention and its merger with humanitarian goals could bring enhanced international legitimacy and support to preventive actions by the United States and its allies.
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