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The Best Defense is a Good Offense: Preemption, Ramifications for the Department of Defense

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Strategy research project

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This paper seeks to identify the implications of the Presidents emerging anticipatory self- defense doctrine for the Department of Defense. Specifically, the paper employs just war theory and strategic military theory to examine decision criteria for preemptive and preventative military actions at the strategic level, while utilizing the ends-ways-means paradigm for strategy analysis. After offering several definitions, the paper explores the theoretical foundations of anticipatory self-defense. A brief survey of historical examples of preventative war, preemptive war and preventative attack sets the stage for analysis. Japans conquest in the Pacific 1941 illustrates a preventative war that was antithetical to American values and while extreme it identifies the risk that rogue nations, inspired by U.S. policy, will use anticipatory self-defense as an excuse for aggression. The last two examples, the Six-Day War 1967 and the Osirak Raid 1982 manifest preemptive and preventative military operations closer to the spirit of the Presidents new policy. The paper proposes decision criteria for anticipatory self-defense and identifies three likely preemption types generic courses of action, or ways. These types are signaled preemptionprevention, unannounced preemptionprevention, and clandestine preemptionprevention. The paper examines means and offers recommendations for the Department of Defense. Threats and risks are addressed throughout. The paper concludes that decision criteria for anticipatory self-defense possess utility and it recommends the Just War Framework as a start point for the development of such criteria. While not intended to defend anticipatory self-defense, the paper concludes that there are instances that justify preemption and prevention. This study contributes to a small body of critical thought on Americas emerging preemptive strategy. Moreover, it may provide a start point for additional studies on the topic.

Subject Categories:

  • Civil Defense
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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