Targeting Tehran: Assessing the Lawfulness of Preemptive Strikes Against Nuclear Facilities
51 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2008 Last revised: 8 Aug 2008
Date Written: June 22, 2008
In 1981, Israel launched a preemptive attack on the Iraqi Osiraq nuclear reactor. Now a similar strike is being considered against Iranian nuclear facilities. This Note assesses the lawfulness of preemptive strikes generally and a preemptive strike against Iran specifically, focusing on the new threat posed by terrorists' potential acquisition of nuclear material for a "dirty bomb." The Note begins by evaluating preemptive strikes on nuclear facilities against the criteria for self-defense - necessity, immediacy, and proportionality - and then turns to broader criteria for "lawfulness," such as environmental damage and harm to the legal rules governing the use of force. After developing criteria to evaluate the lawfulness of a preemptive strike, the Note concludes that a preemptive strike against Iran at this point would not satisfy the outlined criteria and thus would be unlawful.
Keywords: Preemption, Preemptive Strike, Nuclear Facility, Osiraq, Iran
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation