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Paul Gowder

I think what many readers were responding to (I know I was) in criticizing your remarks was the implicit idea that human loss of life can be quantified and compared to similarly quantified factors, like money and property destruction -- the idea that there is some "common denominator" between those values.

As you now state it, less abstractly, a war that kills ten thousand people to save ten million people would of course be justified.

The uncertainty issue, however, goes not only to the risk of an attack but its consequences. It is impossible to know that your hypothetical preemptive war will only kill ten thousand. The current war in Iraq, like Vietnam, like many other wars, amply demonstrates that.

While it is true that "[i]t would be paralyzing to suggest that we should never act unless we can quantify the expected benefits and costs of our acts," don't you agree that we should endeavor to undertake those acts which lead to the most predictable consequences?

I respectfully submit that war is the least predictable of human endeavors. If there are multiple methods to try and achieve a goal, and the expected harm of each is the same, war should be the last chosen simply because war is naturally uncertain, both in its immediate and long-term effects.

The practical application of this comes when considering preemptive war in the terrorist situation as an alternative to sanctions, funding of police, creation of a humane foreign policy that does not provoke terrorism, etc. etc. etc. Because each are more predictable than war, they should be considered first.

scott cunningham

Probably worth mentioning, though this is obviously implicit in everything else that Posner and Becker said, that invasion of Iraq combined with Bush's large margin of victory in the re-election makes the US a credible threat to other nation-states. It most likely is pushing various nation-states who silently sponsor terrorism second-thoughts, which itself is key to disrupting supply. But in those situations, subsequent preventive wars are unnecessary to induce compliance among nation-states.


The cost-benefit analysis or any other attempt at simplifying the decision to go to war still seems like nothing more than post-war rationalization. But perhaps the cost-benefit analysis is useful as one tool in deciding whether a nation SHOULD go to war, assuming that circumstances are such that the war would not be one of aggression.

The threshhold decision is then whether the war would be a war of aggression. I would submit that any war in which the objective of the attacker is to remove an illegitimate government(i.e., one not chosen by the people it governs) and give the people of the nation it attacks the opportunity to exercise their sovereign rights is not a war of aggression, but is a war of liberation (provided, of course, that the attacker actually carries out its promise of enabling self-government by the liberated people). This position may seem extreme upon first examination, but it's actually a more conservative approach than analysis which only considers the existence of a threat and the cost of preventing it by force of arms. I submit that no modern democracies threaten their democratic neighbors in any way that would raise the question of whether "preventive war" is justified, and therefore, the only beneficiaries of a restrictive approach to preventive war are despots. The handwringing over whether a precedent is established by embarking on a preventive war, or whether some nation is being unjustly punished, are purely academic exercises, with no modern examples which would give any legitimate government cause for concern.

The only question left is whether the cost of such a liberation is too much to pay for the benefit. Of course, this question must be considered from the viewpoint of the nation to be liberated as well as from the liberator's viewpoint. By this standard, actions in the Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq are all easily justified, and action in the Sudan almost certainly would be justified, whereas liberating mainland China from its communist government, although a worthy objective, would not be worth the high cost in lives. Removing the North Korean dictatorship or the Iranian one would also probably be too costly, although particularly in the case of Iran, the cost of inaction or deferring action must be carefully considered in light of Iran's efforts to develop or acquire nuclear weapons.


I probably misremember the war in Kosovo, but I do not recall the kind of muddy rationale that we have seen in the push to war in Iraq. Perhaps the question is not whether the war is defensive or offensive or whichever, but rather an issue of clarity.

The rationale behind a defensive war is usually perfectly clear. In Kosovo, the rationale was fairly well-established (if simplistically so) in terms of Mr. Milosevic's behavior -- "The Serbs are exterminating the Kosovars, so we will pound the Serbs until they stop." The stated rationale for war in Iraq, however, was a rhetorical swamp that mutated in a thrashing, spontaneous manner as events unfolded.

In some statements, the war was sold as a preventive war -- "Mr. Hussein was a madman who had the means and intent to strike the US." In other statements, it was sold as a punitive war -- "Mr. Hussein had consistently flouted the authority of the United Nations and its inspectors, and thus had to be removed." And in still other statements, it was sold as a war of liberation -- "Mr. Hussein was exterminating a once-vibrant culture in his brutal efforts to retain power."

In some cases, having so many different arguments might be a strength. Here, it is a considerable weakness. Each argument has its own weaknesses (Did Mr. Hussein actually have WMDs? Does the United Nations have the authority to mandate the overthrow of the government of one of its member states? Did the people of Iraq wish to be liberated in such a manner?) and because the arguments were given haphazardly and never really woven into a single, simple justification for war, there was no real way to judge the weaknesses in each argument against the importance of the overall rationale for war.

Similarly, this mishmash of reasons gives no foothold for argument. If I am favorably disposed to wars of liberation but do not trust the United Nations, do I support the war based on the good it is likely to do, or do I oppose the war in that its stated justifications seem to imply that the UN has powers which I believe it should not? Nowhere is there any indication what type of war this is at its core, and how the various arguments compare with each other in terms of priority and value.

This core rationale is important, because it will determine how the war is fought. A war that is fought purely in the frame of mind of liberation is fought and planned very differently than a punitive war. Wars that are fought for competing or fuzzy reasons become messy, and it becomes unclear how to measure victory.

I realize that I've gotten very wordy and quite far off-topic, so I'll stop here and reiterate that I believe the difference in criticism you are looking for is at least partly grounded in this difference in rhetorical clarity.


[Gentlemen, congratulations on your blog venture and thank you for the interesting discussion.]

War in its most narrow definition is probably possible to assess by cost/benefit analyses, but it is a only tool applied to an environment of infinite complexity. Considering the volatile nature of this environment, the destructive nature of the tool, and the state of technology, its potential maximum costs are to be considered beyond *reasonable* estimate.

I believe this is the primary reason why we do not as easily commit to preemptive or preventative wars as we commit to marriage. Society can live with the projected maximum costs of a failed marriage, but global cold or hot war may be assessed differently by those involved and third parties.


Certainly the potential for destruction inherent in modern technology justifies a rethinking of preventative war. But, as other commenters have pointed out, the calculus (in any "economic" sense) is so far reaching, complicated and subject to the law of unintended consequences that any application of it will necessarily lack even the semblance of rigor. It needs must be based on specific and verifiable factors, the most important of which must be actual possession of WMDs, the will/ability to deploy them against the United States, and connections to terrorist organizations.

Of course, before the invasion of Iraq, arguably these factors were present. We now know the administration exaggerated their evidence with regard to this, but the reasoning is still sound. It is a pity that rational discourse on the nature of preventative war will, for the forseeable future, be viewed (in a practical sense) through the lens of our experience in Iraq.

A broader issue though is uniformity of application of these principles. It need hardly be said that if having WMDs, the ability/will to use them, and terrorist connections is the primary calculus for waging a preventative war, there are easily a dozen other regimes which are even bigger threats than Iraq was. Is one not using a preventative calculus as an excuse for doing what one really wants to do when not equally applied to all candidates? (Call it an international "equal protection" violation.)


Your part about Kosovo is exactly the same topic I mention when arguing with my friends about the whole idea of a preemptive strike!

Peter Konefal

I think Posner has argued very well in the last post. There certainly are circumstances in which a preventative war is viable.

However, I would argue that part of the determination of this viability, ought to happen in an internationally recognized context - the UN (hopefully revised in the future to be more viable as a peace and security keeping institution).

The illegitimacy of the iraq conflict has been attributed to the un-representativeness (globally) of the 'coalition of the willing' - especially in view of the ratio of nations to troops on the ground (the US/UK comprise the vast majority of the troops on the ground, making the term coalition on behalf of almost 50 nations a dubious proposition).

What is to stop any aggrandizing country to assemble its own coalitions and wage pre-emptive war against dictators who just happen to have enormous oil riches? There are many despots on the globe, few of them are invaded or less, given any attention by the West.

While, I hope, nobody disagrees with Posner in terms of the hypothetical value of preventative war - there is a legitimacy in the right, international contexts, I also hope we agree that strongly unilaterally-skewed 'coalition' invasions are a very worrying proposition for the future of war and international invasions.

The Bush Administrations' unwillingness to apolagize thus far, on the failure to find WMDs, is criminal. Their belated justification that there were 'a few Al Qaeda' training camps in Norther Iraq' is similarly unfortunate - along with being most likely untrue (and if true, a contingent and unjustifiable reason for attack).

I think the rest of the world and the better security of Americans deserve better than this misguided foreign policy.

Saddam and other despots deserve to be overthrown, but not outside of the contexts of international law. Yes, the UN needs to be reformed, but I would take a crippled UN over a unilateralist superpower any day.

Michael Walker

The big question is how to deal with the inevitable proliferation of WMD to rogue states and terror groups. Sophisticated geo-strategists point out that preemption, if adopted, will serve as a higher form of deterrence - a kind of pre-deterrence that stops the threat at an earlier, safer stage.

Those against preventive war respond that the problem with preemptive war is that it is easy for any country to use as a fraudulent pretext for aggressive action. Of course there is always some massacre somewhere or some hostage in vile captivity with which to arouse public opinion for preemptive war. Yet we have a system of international law and doctrine where every member nation of the United Nations is obliged to subscribe to the UN Charter that purportedly makes preemptive war illegal unless the U.N. legitimizes the use of preemptive action. Many argue the US doctrine of preemption is unilateralism or really imperialism, signifying a hyper-power that wants to be exempted from Charter rules. Then all nations will desire to be exempted from the UN Charter rules and this could lead to destabilization of the world order and cause more war and loss of life.

On the other hand, those in favor of preventive war argue that a strategic preemption option would create greater stabilization of the world considering the new reality: proliferation of WMD will certainly include increasingly unstable and unbalanced characters. Reliance on strategic deterrence will not work given the reality that such inherently undeterrable terror groups as al Qaeda will in time get these weapons. The result will inevitably be a deeply unstable international structure that promises to break down at myriad points in the future, even the near future.

The better approach is to deny WMD, forcibly if necessary, to very bad actors. The idea of preemption is to deter states not from using WMD but from acquiring them in the first place. If you are merely deterring WMD use in war, it is already too late. You become open to precisely the kind of nuclear blackmail to which North Korea is today subjecting the United States (and Japan and South Korea). Preemption is a kind of pre-deterrence that stops the threat at an earlier, safer stage. Taken together with other nonproliferation measures, such as export controls, preemption can be the most potent deterrent to proliferation.

Peter Konefal

Michael - Good (and well written) analysis of the situation.

The kind of pre-emption that involves denying WMDs is indeed preferable.

But there is also a catch-22 here. The US, by demonstratings its ability to invade Iraq outside of the UN convention, is a rather terrifying spectre to any nation that currently is deemed 'evil' by the always-eloquent Mr. Bush. Nuclear weapons are in this sense a paradox. Each nation that secures nuclear weapons is invulnerable from further attack. Period. However, as Michael so rightly pointed out, each nation that gets WMDs, is potentially unstable and thus increases the threat of catastrophic releases (how this justifies pre-emption I have no idea, since an attack on a nation with suspected WMDs is a prelude to armaggedon).

As Michael argued, and Oppenheimer before him argued, our only hope is to ensure non-proliferation. Pre-emption is a useless doctrine when the object of attack is suspected to have these weapons. What's to stop them from using them, or threatening to, to deter you from attacking them?

The US may well increase the likelyhood of rogue states (besides the US) acquiring more weapons by posturing about the world in such an aggressive and threatening manner.

It also wouldn't hurt, if the US led by example and started to de-commission its thousands of warheads still located around Russia and elsewhere in the world.


I am but a lowly 1L. But I could have sworn that most jurisdictions that allow self-defense bar it if there was a reasonable avenue of retreat...

Michael Walker

Peter: You make a good argument exposing a potential weakness in preemptive strategic theory. "The US may well increase the likelihood of rogue states (besides the US) acquiring more weapons by posturing about the world in such an aggressive and threatening manner."

What is the alternative? Bad actors will attempt to acquire WMD regardless of U.S. policy. We need to create incentives for most nation-states to abstain from WMD. I do not agree the answer is unilateral disarmament as you suggest.

Rob (there are several of us it seems)

"[It] is obviously implicit in everything else that Posner and Becker said, that invasion of Iraq combined with Bush's large margin of victory in the re-election makes the US a credible threat to other nation-states."

I will pass on the "large margin of victory." But do you think that it is still "obviously implicit" that the United States currently serves as a military threat to other countries, seeing as its entire military force will be bogged down for quite some time in Iraq? Do you think your conclusion is "obviously implicit" to, say, Iran?

Peter Konefal


No, you're right, unilateral disarmament is not the answer - in fact, if anything, it just invites an attack. Obviously multilateral disarmament is best, but obviously it has to start somewhere. The US as far as I know has more nuclear weapons than any other nation, and is in a good position from that point of view to lead the disarmament.

My suggestion is that by leading disarmament (not disarming fully) the US can call on Israel, Russia and others, who all have varying degrees of control over their nuclear stockpiles, to do the same.

To some extent, having 10,000 nuclear warheads or 1 is irrelevant. Armaggedon simply requires 1 warhead (provided the amount of fissionable fuel is sufficient, 1 warhead or 'super H bomb' can eliminate half the earth, and nuclear-winterize the rest). Nuclear war and deterrance is a very dangerous kind of stability - but it is a stability. A much more safe stability is to reduce the availability of nuclear weapons, and the incidence of uranium enrichment.

Michael Walker

Peter: What is “multilateral disarmament” and how will that increase stability? If bad actors will attempt to acquire WMD, perhaps “multilateral disarmament” will remove deterrence and make world more vulnerable to WMD attack by terror group or rogue state.

What is the goal?

Paul Gowder

Dear Lowly 1L:

You'll go far. Please continue talking sense.

Peter Konefal

Michael: Good point. Multilateral disarmament, is sort of a term I coined myself; referring more to states than bad actors. Basically, multilateral disarmament is analogous to non-proliferation; i.e. agreements signed by nuclear powers indicating each nations desire to mutually 'disarm'.

But you're right to point out that hypothetically, if nuclear states collectively disarm, then a single rogue actor with a WMD could hold the world hostage since the threat of MAD would ostensibly not exist. This is an unlikely hypothetical, but it illustrates a potentiality which warns against non-proliferation.

It really comes down to game theory; which was developed during the cold war to explain how nuclear powers should act given certain conditions and hypotheticals.

Basically here is what it comes down to. Each power that achieves nuclear weapons is safe. Nobody will attack it for fear of retribution. Each nation that is under threat by the US acts in its best security interests by developing nuclear weapons. If it does so, it is 'safe'. Paradoxically, every nation that does this increases the likelyhood of human error and nuclear conflagration. So the safer a nation is locally, the more unsafe the world is globally.

The logic of the cold war arms race is to maintain this unstable balance. If Russia develops a new bomb, the US follows suit. If the US develops ballistic missile defence, then the balance is broken and there is the risk that the US can bomb Moscow without reprisal. Thus, to keep the balance, Moscow must develop a weapon which is capable of evading ballistic missile defence. And on and on it goes. Incidentally, this is why the US developing ballistic missile defence is a bad idea (it upsets the balance of mutually assured reprisals: keeping the US safe at the expense of global security). And because we all live on the same globe, nuclear instability on any localized area of the world, is global nuclear instability.

Our only way out of this disaster; of having 10,000 super-prepped nuclear warheads pointing at everyone else's capital, is to disarm.

That is the only choice. Once disarmament occurs, the risks of a crazy terrorist finding a weapon is unlikely.

If there are little to no warheads in the world, the only way to make one is to enrich uranium, which is an expensive, costly process and unlikely to occur without the supervision of an international body.

The long and short of it, is, that we won't be safe until we stop pursuing solutions for individual nations. Global security depends on each nation looking beyond its own narrow self interest and realizing that what is safe locally is not safe globally.

Re: Bin Ladin:

Although we like to regard Bin Ladin as the arch-evil of our century, we risk thinking of him in an innacurate way. We think of terrorists as scruffy, dodgy-eyed lunatics running around with AK-47s shooting people and planting bombs at random. Imagine that Bill Gates had a son, who was bequeathed billions of dollars in wealth, and this son ran off and joined a militant arm of the anti-globalization movement. Imagine the loyalty he would conjure just from being someone of such imaginably high status, who stooped to the level of the common person and identified with their cause. This is analogously, who Bin Ladin is. Someone who cannot possibly be accused of acting in their own selfish best interest (unlike say anyone in Washington). Bin Ladin is an extremely intelligent person, has post-graduate degrees from elite Western universities (like most of the 9/11 hijackers) and was motivated to terrorism not out of hatred for 'America's freedom,' but because of perceived violations by the US of the territorial claims of wahhabist islam (i.e. US presence in Saudi arabia, israel/palestine etc). He is ruthlessly violent, but he sees himself as a defender of holy muslims.

Regarding the possibility of how he would act given a nuclear weapon, its entirely possible that he wouldn't use them - given the possibility of retribution against Mecca and other holy cities and sites in the middle east.


Peter --

I find your reasoning curious. We seem to agree with Michael that unilateral disarmament is unwise because to be unarmed invites violence from sociopaths. Yet the idea that the United State disarm any given quantity of nuclear weapons as a first step to encourage others to abandon their weapons entirely flies directly in the fact of the preceding logic. If unilateral disarmament makes no sense for America, why would asymmetrical disarmament ("we'll get rid of some of ours and then you get rid of yours") make sense to Israel, Russia, et. al.? Perhaps I misunderstand -- or think too plainly -- but that would only work in a panglossian world.

But what I find more interesting in this discussion is the legitimacy/reciprocity question. It is vital to differentiate between the two. If I read Posner correctly, reciprocity is the basis of international relations and legitimacy the basis/rationale for domestic governance. When a state agrees to a bi-lateral or multilateral treaty, then it's entering into a contractual reciprocal relationship; on the other hand, a legitimate government rules by mandate or by consent of the governed.

This confusion leads precisely to ideas such as "illegitimacy" and "unrepresentativeness". How on earth could a state act illegitimately? And, what exactly would a state represent, other than itself? A government can be illegitimate, and it can be representative -- but let's not confuse state with government.

All of which makes the desire to be granted legitimacy, well, silly. Even if we said that to be bestowed legitimacy by one's peers -- not subjects -- is desirable, we must acknowledge that one's peers bestow that blessing by virtue of the same status that they derive theirs: by the reciprocal recognition that comes from being your peer. Which is to say, they can't condemn you without calling into question the right by which they condemn you in the first place. Only subjects or constituents judge legitimacy. To say that the US needs to gain legitimacy from other nations is to say that those other nations are subjects -- not peers -- of the US. Curious, isn't it?

Setting that aside, let us examine the UN. Because it is dedicated to collective peace and security, the conditions exist wherein the combined weight of the UN could be used to leave a nation wide-open to attacks by neighbor states, precisely by denying states pre-emptive option, technology transfers, even economic relations. Not many people stop to consider that the reason why Iraq was vulnerable to pre-emptive attack in the first place was precisely because the UN made it weak following the Gulf War. It is ludicrous to argue that states' security situations should be determined by a rogue's gallery of rivals, sociopaths, ne'er-do-well bureaucrats, and Scandinavian Socialists. Self-interested parties can (and will) work to erode one's ability to defend one's self within "the right, international contexts" -- the herd instinct writ large.

Indeed, one could argue that the current appeal of terrorism comes out of a UN shaped world. Non-intervention and the denial of pre-emption sets up the conditions wherein state-sponsored terrorism thrives. A classic example is the Israeli incursion into Lebanon. Even though the Israelis were defending civlians from PLO terrorists by invading, the world rejected the validity of their actions. "Legitimacy" is great -- but if it comes at the cost of dead citizens, the price of international approval is too high.

It's good to know that other people approve of your behavior, but it's not more important than finding the best solution to any given problem that you are faced with. After all, they don't share your problems. Transposing this insight into international relations, a few things become clear. The idea that pre-emptive war must be legitimate grows out of confusion into incoherence and then into full-blown absurdity. That the UN is based on such self-contradictory principles is laughable. It is also why the UN is condemned to a lifetime of dys-functionality.

Michael Walker

Peter: The goal is to substantially reduce the risk of WMD acquisition and attack by bad actors. Although difficult to prevent WMD acquisition by bad actors, preemptive strategies should reduce risk. Measures include preemptive and multilateral non-proliferation strategies. Preemptive military strikes are an imperfect solution but an option.

You take the model of the bipolar late 20th century - two superpowers deterring each other and keeping the peace and apply it to the 21st century. But the 21st century is not bipolar. WMD technology is spreading and coming within the reach of dozens of countries and terror groups. Doesn’t the absence of a bipolar world and convergence of WMD technology and rogue states and terrorist proxies change the basic analysis of the
logic of deterrence?

I fail to see how multilateral disarmament reduces risk of WMD attack and acquisition by bad actors. The motive to acquire and use WMD by bad actors is not self-defense or based on traditional mutually assured destruction theory. The motive is first-use offensive capability. Potentially via terror group subcontractor tactic.

Substantial evidence suggests relationships between certain states and terror groups. See Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, N. Korea et al. A preemptive strategy to disrupt and deter such relationships is prudent. Without state support, it is unlikely terror groups will acquire WMD. The Iraq war created deterrence. Iraq sent a powerful message to the lunocracies of the Middle East: join the world of democracy, freedom, law, and
prosperity or perish trying to destroy it.

Libya’s decision to disable WMD program is evidence that preemptive strategies work. Risk-benefit analysis suggests that preemptive and multilateral non-proliferation strategies reduce risk. On balance, the risk of doing nothing is greater than preemptive and non-proliferation strategic alternatives.

On the other hand, it has not worked with Iran and N. Korea. The counter-argument is that preemptive strategies increase the passion and urgency to acquire WMD. Now Iran presents a problem: what policy reduces the risk of WMD acquisition and attack by Iran? Considering Iran’s extensive relationships with terror groups and increased risk that Iran will provide WMD to terror groups, what is the risk-benefit analysis of a preemptive military strike on Iran’s WMD capabilities? Alternatively, what is the risk-benefit analysis of doing nothing about Iran?


...the 50 million killed and the untold destruction and immiseration caused might be dwarfed by what a small nation or even a terrorist gang--perhaps even a biological Unabomber--could do, if not today, then in the near future.A tenth of a million killed might be in the reach of a terrorist gang (gassing a large stadium, for example) and a million or two killed might be in reach of a small nation (nuking Manhattan, for example) but a number killed that dwarfs 50 million killed would have to be like 500 million killed (almost twice the population of the United States) and even a back of the envelope calculation of the amount of poison gas (or biological agent) that would be required to fill an area almost twice the size of the United States reveals that this assertion is totally ridiculous. And don't even get me started on the resources the would be required to build enough nuclear bombs to kill everyone in an area twice the size of the United States.Of course, if it was known for certain that Bin Laden had the ability to kill 50 million Americans then his demands that the U.S.A. stop messing around in the Middle East might be taken a bit more seriously. Then again, part of what makes Bin Laden so successful that he doesn't link specific acts to specific demands. On September 11th, for example, he wasn't like "OK, people of the United States, I've got a couple passenger airplanes hijacked and circling the World Trade Center and I'm going to crash them into it unless you dismantle your military bases in Saudi Arabia".

Peter Konefal


I meant to describe cold war nuclear relations, not necessarily 'apply' it in the 21st century. Despite the lack of two opposing superpowers in the present context, the relative safety achieved by local powers getting the bomb still applies. There is no way the US can pursue any aggressive policy towards Iran, Syria or any other country if that country succesfully tests an atomic bomb. Its game over for offensive operations against that country.

Also, you downplay the real and existent reality of bipolar (US/Russia or US/China) and multi-polar military tensions between the US and nations such as China and Russia, which have an ambivalent stance towards the US. To the extent that these nations would take action to resurrect mutually-assured-destruction in the event that the US developed ballistic missile defence, the cold war lives; whether between China or Russia is irrelevant.

As far as your strategy for avoiding nuclear war by keeping WMDs out of terrorist hands, then I agree with you completely. That's the best strategy.

In answer to the following:

"I fail to see how multilateral disarmament reduces risk of WMD attack and acquisition by bad actors."

I mean, especially that Russia has thousands of warheads many of which are unaccounted for. If the US decommissions most of its warheads, in exchange for assurances that Russia does the same - then the Russian black market for nuclear warheads is dramatically reduced. I suspect controls on nuclear weapons under Putin has been very much tightened, but that was where my reasoning came from on that.

With the following:

"Substantial evidence suggests relationships between certain states and terror groups. See Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, N. Korea et al. A preemptive strategy to disrupt and deter such relationships is prudent. Without state support, it is unlikely terror groups will acquire WMD. The Iraq war created deterrence. Iraq sent a powerful message to the lunocracies of the Middle East: join the world of democracy, freedom, law, and prosperity or perish trying to destroy it"

Its difficult to know where to begin. I hope you're not implying that by certain relationships between states and terror groups that Iraq funded Al Qaeda; because that's just patently not true.

As for other state-terror sponsorship, I am not qualified to venture a guess, and we enter here into definitions of what 'terror' is, and what constitutes state sponsorship of terror, and whether this list of terror-sponsoring nations can include Western nations.

Some argue that the US has supported state terror. They argue for example that the US and Europe funded and provided chemical and biological weapons and infrastructure for WMDs for Saddam in his fight against the Ayatollah Khomeini from 1980-88 in the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam was no less a violent, ambitious tyrant then.

Some also argue, that according to the UN charter, the invasion of Iraq was illegal, so that brings into serious question the following comment you made:

"Iraq sent a powerful message to the lunocracies of the Middle East: join the world of democracy, freedom, law, and prosperity or perish trying to destroy it"


A rational decision to go to war should be based on a comparison of the costs and benefits (in the largest sense of these terms) to the nation.

Despite all the "logic" and "rationality" associated with this approach, it won't contribute much in the way of justification.

If this condition were to provide justification,
then anyone could say their war was justified.
From Osama, to the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbour.

But since the consensus is that those weren't in any way morally justified, it cannot be that a cost/benefit analysis would provide justification.

A second point is that this analysis cannot be objective. People judge uncertainties in different ways. Thus decisions are made using democrating means. Politics, elections etc.
Then a nation could compromise on a singular outcome of the analysis.

But how do people come to judge those uncertainties? The most likely way to choose between the different values would be to use moral objectives.
But then this situations becomes indistinguishable from the common way of reaching a conclusion based on moral imperatives.

A decision to go to war should be supported by a cost/benefit analysis. But for justification, any actor, including a nation, will use, and be judged by, morality.

And morality is generally captured in rules and laws, not in economic theories.


Very interesting discussion. As an alum of U of C and the 7th Cir., I am happy to see this blog. I will look forward to reading more.

I have not read the full dialog, so I do not feel qualified to add much. My one thought is that the debate about preemptive war is really one of "when" and not "whether." Only the most ardent pacifist believes that a nation may never defend itself by preemptively attacking another. Certainly the allies would have been justified in attacking Hitler at some point before he invaded France, but when exactly? Would it have been justified to execute Hitler as a young child, based on a psychological analysis that he would become a megalomaniac? I doubt many people would say yes, though it would have spared the lives of millions.

That, I think, is where the notion of imminence enters, at least in American criminal law. We can all agree that unjustified killing (whether in war or otherwise) has a negative social utility, because it makes the world less safe for all of us. So if we err on the side of too much killing, we risk creating a violent and chaotic world. On the other hand, if we limit killing to instances where it is absolutely necessary - where a grave wrong will occur without prompt action - the world is less violent as a whole and more pleasant to live in. Thus, war (like killing in self-defense) should be a last option, when no other reasonable choice remains. The question of how that applies to Iraq, of course, can be a matter of much debate.

Michael Walker

I define preventive war and preemptive strategies broadly, not just preemptive military strikes. I define the war in broad terms: to reduce risk of WMD attack and acquisition. Some folks define preventive war narrowly as preemptive military strikes or in overly narrow military and legalistic terms. Thus, broadly defined anticipatory measures include military and non-military preventive strategies.

Those against preventive war, narrowly defined, argue the Bush administration exaggerates the threat of terrorism and WMD and exploiting our fears markets preemptive war solutions that cause killing, violence, death and imperialist aggression.

Those in favor of preventive war, broadly defined, assert the single greatest threat to peace and freedom in our time comes from terrorism and WMD in the hands of terror groups or rogue states. The goal at this time is to prevent WMD acquisition and attack.

The other premise of the new American foreign policy is the larger war we face is a war of ideas - a struggle over modernity and secularism, pluralism and democracy and real economic development. Thus, U.S. policy should promote democracy, freedom, free markets, rule of law, and open society, especially in Arabdom. The U.S. has a responsibility to promote democracy and open society in the Muslim world.

Democracy remains a focal point of American policy today. The National Security Strategy of the U.S. affirms: "America must stand firm for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property."

See http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html


Quoting Michael Walker: "The U.S. has a responsibility to promote democracy and open society in the Muslim world. Democracy remains a focal point of American policy today. The National Security Strategy of the U.S. affirms: "America must stand firm for the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property.""

First of all, why do Americans feel that "exporting" democracy is in the best interest of people in other nations? The only thing that is clear to me is that the U.S. follows a foreign policy only aimed at its own interest. You don’t have the “responsibility to promote democracy”, you simply want to (sometimes). If you are familiar with the School of the Americas (check out: http://www.soaw.org), you know that there was a time when the U.S. felt the responsibility to promote dictatorship, only because it didn’t like the outcome of the democratic process.

Secondly, talking about equal justice: That is certainly something the U.S. seems far away from. I just say gay rights. The same with religious freedom and tolerance. I am being forced to read and hear references to God every day here in the U.S., but I don’t believe in any God. Yet, religion dictates in this country what marriage should be like, being intolerant to people of different “faiths”.

I think before the U.S. tries to export any of its values (that many people abroad are afraid of getting…), people here should try to fix their own country and its own problems.

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