Preemptive War*

Henry Shue

in Fighting Hurt

Published in print March 2016 | ISBN: 9780198767626
Published online March 2016 | e-ISBN: 9780191821486 | DOI:
Preemptive War*

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Thanks to the misuse of language by the Bush Administration, many people now use ‘preemptive war’ to mean preventive war. The assumption that often underlies preventive war, that war is coming anyway, is frequently false; and war is fought needlessly. Americans specifically have historically considered preventive war incompatible with their identity. S. A. Silverstone suggests that the explanation of why preventive attacks seem more appealing today is that the international norm prohibiting preventive war is now being trumped by the newly emergent prohibition against nuclear proliferation, justifying preventive attacks against weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Such a practice could be safe only if it does not lead to the generalized reciprocal fear of surprise attack warned against by Thomas Schelling.

Keywords: international norm; nuclear proliferation; preventive war; S. A. Silverstone; surprise attack; Thomas Schelling; weapons of mass destruction (WMD)

Chapter.  3011 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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