Preemption, Deterrence, and Self-Defence: A Legal and Historical Assessment
Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 119-135, April 2005
17 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2011 Last revised: 17 Aug 2017
Date Written: 2005
The claim to use force to prevent a rogue state’s development of weapons of mass destruction, asserted in the 2002 US National Security Strategy, is unnecessary and therefore unlawful under customary international law. This conclusion is based on an assessment of the normative reactions of effective actors, primarily the US and the Soviet Union, to China’s development of nuclear weapons during a two-year period between the Cuban Missile Crisis and China’s first test in October 1964. Since a policy of pre-emptive use of force was unnecessary for either state’s self-defence, it would have been unlawful under customary international law. Given that the current strategic scenario of states vis-à-vis rogue states is the same under most circumstances, the proposed claim is also, prima facie, unnecessary to self-defence and unlawful.
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