Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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4 Military pre-emption in foreign policy

In response to 9/11, and the perceived threats of ‘rogue states’, a case for states to engage in military pre-emption has been made. The idea is that states may, in certain circumstances, pursue a ‘just war’ to protect themselves as well as prevent evil, restore peace, ensure justice and secure order.

Activity 8 Defending the West

In an extract from his book Defending the West, James Gow, an academic at King’s College, University of London, refers to the US-led intervention in Iraq that began in March 2003. Please read the extract now.

Click to view Defending the West [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

The notion of a defensive ‘just war’ – one waged ‘to protect the innocent from certain harm’ through ‘proportionate force’ – reflects a long historical tradition. In Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power, Jean Bethke Elshtan argues that 9/11 again demonstrated that it is no longer ‘wise or prudent or even decent to wait for threats to develop fully, courting the potential loss of massive numbers of civilians’ (Elshtan, 2003, p190). In an open letter issued by the Institute for American Values, he argues (alongside many other US academics and intellectuals) that a just war should:

‘... only be fought by a legitimate authority, with responsibility for public order. Violence that is freelance, opportunistic, or individualistic is never morally acceptable. A just war can only ever be waged against persons who are combatants … . Although in some circumstances, and within strict limits, it can be morally justified to undertake military actions that may result in the unintended but foreseeable death or injury of some non combatants, it is not morally acceptable to make the killing of non-combatants the operational objective of a military action.’

(Elshtan, 2003, p201)

In this argument we can see clear reflections of the state sovereignty thesis that you encountered last section.

Activity 9 The opportunity (2)

In this next extract, Richard Haass (whom you encountered last section), recognises the need for states to take pre-emptive action in certain, particular circumstances. However, he also argues that while states need to limit terrorism, they also have to be aware that they will never be able to eliminate it. Now read the second extract from his book.

Click to view The opportunity (2)

The idea of a preventative war, one waged in the face of a ‘clear and present danger’, has been endorsed by the US in recent years, particularly as outlined by the statement of policy issued by the US State Department in 2002 and again in 2006.

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