The Logic of Costs and Benefits
If we think about the use of the military for offense, defense, and deterrence, preventive warfare is an offensive action intended to have both a deterrent and defensive effect. It loses the efficient inaction of deterrence, since it requires actual engagement and not just the threat of retaliation; it loses the legitimacy of defense, since it is offensive in the absence of an imminent threat. It presumably has the advantage of removing an anticipated threat entirely, cauterizing it, thus destroying a potentially costly pathway of extended conflict. It was ostensibly this logic that led the United States into Iraq; it was this logic that led Israel to bomb Osirak; it would be this logic that would lead Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear development facilities. The question is, under what conditions will preventive operations be successful enough to balance the costs of military action and international disapprobrium? In other words, preventive attacks should only take place when deterrence is anticipated to fail and when enough is at stake. This chapter will examine what threats meet these criteria, what means may be available to eliminate them, and under what conditions these two categories will overlap.
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