Friday, February 06, 2004

Missing half the picture:

There has been much discusion lately about the problem with intelligence about WMD - was it simply bad or was it manipulated? But don't forget the following point:
None of this would be an issue if Bush hadn't embraced the doctrine of preemption.
The National Security Strategy of the United States of America was issued around September 2002, and has the following in section V: Prevent Our Enemies from Threatening Us, Our Allies, and Our Friends with Weapons of Mass Destruction (emphasis added)
For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of preemption on the existence of an imminent threat—most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and air forces preparing to attack.

We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries. Rogue states and terrorists do not seek to attack us using conventional means. They know such attacks would fail. Instead, they rely on acts of terror and, potentially, the use of weapons of mass destruction—weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered covertly, and used without warning.

The targets of these attacks are our military forces and our civilian population, in direct violation of one of the principal norms of the law of warfare. As was demonstrated by the losses on September 11, 2001, mass civilian casualties is the specific objective of terrorists and these losses would be exponentially more severe if terrorists acquired and used weapons of mass destruction.

The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction— and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.

The United States will not use force in all cases to preempt emerging threats, nor should nations use preemption as a pretext for aggression. Yet in an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather. We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions. To support preemptive options, we will:

  • build better, more integrated intelligence capabilities to provide timely, accurate information on threats, wherever they may emerge;
  • coordinate closely with allies to form a common assessment of the most dangerous threats; and
  • continue to transform our military forces to ensure our ability to conduct rapid and precise operations to achieve decisive results.
The purpose of our actions will always be to eliminate a specific threat to the United States or our allies and friends. The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just.
Couple of quick points: They didn't buikd a better intelligence capability, and the common (world) assessment was that war wasn't justified.

Agree or disagree with preemption, it remains a fact that it's Bush's policy. We happen to think it's a bad policy in general, but even if one favors preemption, you shouldn't adopt it if the intelligence isn't up to the job. Those who defend Bush by saying that "intelligence is murky" - a contestable point - should then explain why they support a policy of preemption that is conjoined with a "murky" process.

NOTE: For fans of the "imminent threat" wordplay, please note that the Bush administration's strategy paper explicitly says: "We must adapt the concept of imminent threat ..." which means that there is the "old" concept of imminent threat ... and a "new" concept of imminent threat - which is the one Bush talked about prior to the war - even if he didn't use those exact words.


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