Preemptive wars..

If we preemptivly attack Saddam, that is attack him because he might do something, what’s to stop any other country from doing the same thing with a perceived danger from any other country? I believe we are setting a bad precedent that will come back and bite us.

Aww, everyone got tired of that argument a long time ago :smiley:

Seriously, folks, I don’t think they’re even calling it a pre-emptive strike anymore. Aren’t they pressing the war just to get rid of Saddam and his Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Should we also stop smaller activities of much the same bent, such as outlawing behavior that is only likely to harm instead of actually harming someone? Or do you think this is not an appropriate analogy?

What makes you think that countries, motivated by perceived or real danger, have not attacked other countries in the past?

No precedent will be set here, since it has happened many times in the past.

Think on North Korea, then.

Of course. Relationships between people living in one country are entirely different to relationships between countries. If my neighbour is engaging in behaviour that is very likely to do me harm, I can appeal to an authority (the police/the legal system) to prevent him from engaging in that behaviour and if they feel necessary to punish my neighbour.

However, the international world is different. Each country is autonomous, and there is no authority to appeal to, save for the UN, which certainly doesn’t have the authority the police force or legal system has in a nation.

There is the same authority to appeal to that has been appealed to since recorded history, and the same one the government uses on your neighbor: force.

Personally, I think that Bush’s official reversal of America’s traditional principle (not practice, see Vietnam) of defensive war may end up being one of the worst aspects of his “legacy” whatever that may turn out to be. On this, I agree with Jonathan Schell, excerpted as follows:

The Bush policy of using force to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction met its Waterloo last October, when Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly was informed by Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju of North Korea that his country has a perfect right to possess nuclear weapons. Shortly, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated, “We have to assume that they might have one or two… that’s what our intelligence community has been saying for some time.” (Doubts, however, remain.) Next, North Korea went on to announce that it was terminating the Agreed Framework of 1994, under which it had shut down two reactors that produced plutonium. It ejected the UN inspectors who had been monitoring the agreement and then announced its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, under whose terms it was obligated to remain nuclear-weapon-free. Soon, America stated that North Korea might be moving fuel rods from existing reactors to its plutonium reprocessing plant, and that it possessed an untested missile capable of striking the western United States. “We will not permit…” had been Bush’s words, but North Korea went ahead and apparently produced nuclear weapons anyway. The Administration now discovered that its policy of pre-emptively using overwhelming force had no application against a proliferator with a serious military capability, much less a nuclear power. North Korea’s conventional capacity alone–it has an army of more than a million men and 11,000 artillery pieces capable of striking South Korea’s capital, Seoul–imposed a very high cost; the addition of nuclear arms, in combination with missiles capable of striking not only South Korea but Japan, made it obviously prohibitive.

By any measure, totalitarian North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons is more dangerous than the mere possibility that Iraq is trying to develop them. The North Korean state, which is hard to distinguish from a cult, is also more repressive and disciplined than the Iraqi state, and has caused the death of more of its own people–through starvation. Yet in the weeks that followed the North Korean disclosure, the Administration, in a radical reversal of the President’s earlier assessments, sought to argue that the opposite was true. Administration spokespersons soon declared that the North Korean situation was “not a crisis” and that its policy toward that country was to be one of “dialogue,” leading to “a peaceful multilateral solution,” including the possibility of renewed oil shipments. But if the acquisition by North Korea of nuclear arms was not a crisis, then there never had been any need to warn the world of the danger of nuclear proliferation, or to name an axis of evil, or to deliver an ultimatum to disarm it.

For the North Korean debacle represented not the failure of a good policy but exposure of the futility of one that was impracticable from the start. Nuclear proliferation, when considered as the global emergency that it is, has never been, is not now and never will be stoppable by military force; on the contrary, force can only exacerbate the problem. In announcing its policy, the United States appeared to have forgotten what proliferation is. It is not army divisions or tanks crossing borders; it is above all technical know-how passing from one mind to another. It cannot be stopped by B-2 bombers, or even Predator drones. The case of Iraq had indeed always been an anomaly in the wider picture of nonproliferation. In the 1991 Gulf War, the US-led coalition waged war to end Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. In the process it stumbled on Saddam Hussein’s program for building weapons of mass destruction, and made use of the defeat to impose on him the new obligation to end the program. A war fought for one purpose led to peace terms serving another. It was a historical chain of events unlikely ever to be repeated, and offered no model for dealing with proliferation.

The lesson so far? Exactly the opposite of the intended one: If you want to avoid “regime change” by the United States, build a nuclear arsenal–but be sure to do it quietly and fast. As Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has said, the United States seems to want to teach the world that “if you really want to defend yourself, develop nuclear weapons, because then you get negotiations, and not military action.”

Although the third of the “axis” countries presents no immediate crisis, events there also illustrate the bankruptcy of the Bush policy. With the help of Russia, Iran is building nuclear reactors that are widely believed to double as a nuclear weapons program. American threats against Iraq have failed to dissuade Iran–or for that matter, its supplier, Russia–from proceeding. Just this week, Iran announced that it had begun to mine uranium on its own soil. Iran’s path to acquiring nuclear arms, should it decide to go ahead, is clear. “Regime change” by American military action in that half-authoritarian, half-democratic country is a formula for disaster. Whatever the response of the Iraqi people might be to an American invasion, there is little question that in Iran hard-liners and democrats alike would mount bitter, protracted resistance. Nor is there evidence that democratization in Iraq, even in the unlikely event that it should succeed, would be a sure path to denuclearization. The world’s first nuclear power, after all, was a democracy, and of nine nuclear powers now in the world, six–the United States, England, France, India, Israel and Russia–are also democracies. Iran, within striking range of Israel, lives in an increasingly nuclearized neighborhood. In these circumstances, would the Iranian people be any more likely to rebel against nuclearization than the Indian people did–or more, for that matter, than the American people have done? And if a democratic Iran obtained the bomb, would pre-emption or regime change then be an option for the United States?

The collapse of the overall Bush policy has one more element that may be even more significant than the appearance of North Korea’s arsenal or Iran’s apparently unstoppable discreet march to obtaining the bomb. It has turned out that the supplier of essential information and technology for North Korea’s uranium program was America’s faithful ally in the war on terrorism, Pakistan, which received missile technology from Korea in return. The “father” of Pakistan’s bomb, Ayub Qadeer Khan, has visited North Korea thirteen times. This is the same Pakistan whose nuclear scientist Sultan Bashiruddin Mahood paid a visit to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan a few months before September 11, and whose nuclear establishment even today is riddled with Islamic fundamentalists. The BBC has reported that the Al Qaeda network succeeded at one time in building a “dirty bomb” (which may account for Osama bin Laden’s claim that he possesses nuclear weapons), and Pakistan is the likeliest source for the materials involved, although Russia is also a candidate. Pakistan, in short, has proved itself to be the world’s most dangerous proliferator, having recently acquired nuclear weapons itself and passed on nuclear technology to a state and, possibly, to a terrorist group.

Indeed, an objective ranking of nuclear proliferators in order of menace would place Pakistan (a possessor of the bomb that also purveys the technology to others) first on the list, North Korea second (it peddles missiles but not, so far, bomb technology), Iran (a country of growing political and military power with an active nuclear program) third, and Iraq (a country of shrinking military power that probably has no nuclear program and is currently under international sanctions and an unprecedented inspection regime of indefinite duration) fourth. (Russia, possessor of 150 tons of poorly guarded plutonium, also belongs somewhere on this list.) The Bush Administration ranks them, of course, in exactly the reverse order, placing Iraq, which it plans to attack, first, and Pakistan, which it befriends and coddles, nowhere on the list. It will not be possible, however, to right this pyramid. The reason it is upside down is that it was unworkable right side up. Iraq is being attacked not because it is the worst proliferator but because it is the weakest.

The reductio ad absurdum of the failed American war policy was illustrated by a recent column in the Washington Post by the superhawk Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer wants nothing to do with soft measures; yet he, too, can see that the cost of using force against North Korea would be prohibitive: “Militarily, we are not even in position to bluff.” He rightly understands, too, that in the climate created by pending war in Iraq, “dialogue” is scarcely likely to succeed. He has therefore come up with a new idea. He identifies China as the solution. China must twist the arm of its Communist ally North Korea. “If China and South Korea were to cut off North Korea, it could not survive,” he observes. But to make China do so, the United States must twist China’s arm. How? By encouraging Japan to build nuclear weapons. For “if our nightmare is a nuclear North Korea, China’s is a nuclear Japan.” It irks Krauthammer that the United States alone has to face up to the North Korean threat. Why shouldn’t China shoulder some of the burden? He wants to “share the nightmares.” Indeed. He wants to stop nuclear proliferation with more nuclear proliferation. Here the nuclear age comes full circle. The only nation ever to use the bomb is to push the nation on which it dropped it to build the bomb and threaten others.

As a recommendation for policy, Krauthammer’s suggestion is Strangelovian, but if it were considered as a prediction it would be sound. Nuclear armament by North Korea really will tempt neighboring nations–not only Japan but South Korea and Taiwan–to acquire nuclear weapons. (Japan has an abundant supply of plutonium and all the other technology necessary, and both South Korea and Taiwan have had nuclear programs but were persuaded by the United States to drop them.) In a little-noticed comment, Japan’s foreign minister has already stated that the nuclearization of North Korea would justify a pre-emptive strike against it by Japan. Thus has the Bush plan to stop proliferation already become a powerful force promoting it. The policy of pre-emptive war has led to pre-emptive defeat.