Thought experiment: If we have what we think is solid "intelligence" that, say, Iraq is building weapons to hit Turkey (a NATO ally), should the USA attack Iraq pre-emptively (perhaps in partnership with Turkey), sending our soldiers (and potentially Turkish ones as well) into harm's way and potentially killing and maiming thousands of Iraqi people to make sure that Turkey is not ever harmed or even feels threatened? After all Turkey is a pal and we think (and the Turks think) Iraq is menacing them.
What if we later discover: "ooops, our intelligence operatives made a boo boo" and the weapons we thought Iraq was building were really construction equipment that looked like missiles and that the threats were just bombast? Is there restitution warranted to the Iraqis or do we just get to act on what we believe the best evidence indicates to us and how we alone judge a consequent threat (i.e. tough luck Iraq, next time don't be so anti-Turkish with your bluster)?
Of course some of this sort of thinking was operative in the Iraq war with WMDs and the menacing of our oil supply. I also see such thinking being actively proposed by Objectivists as well who, it seems, want the USA to execute a shooting war against Iran since it potentially threatens Israel and "supports terror". Given that none of the guys that attacked the USA were Iranian (some were Saudis), it does look like a case of the thought experiment above with Iraq and Turkey. Iran does menace Israel and it appears to me that many in the Objectivist community are certain that almost anything in the defense of Israel is fine even though it is not, officially, a part of the USA.
I'd like to move this to a philosophical level: should a nation fight wars of pre-emption per se ? If so, then carpet bombing all major cities where terrorists have been spotted living in numbers (with local support) could be deemed proper since these nations and cities offer refuge to at least some US hating terrorists. While this would certainly make our point, is there any proportionality principle at play at all here or do we simply "shoot to kill" with vast firepower any perceived threat to us (and/or our friends) before the threat can draw a gun ?
First, I'm no military expert, so I'll have to stick, here, to moral principles, which apply equally to individual defense and national defense.
A war, fundamentally speaking, is a kill-or-be-killed situation.
The object of a war is to end the war by destroying the will of the enemy to fight. This is called victory.
Peace is when your enemies don't want to bother with fighting you.
Any time an enemy demonstrates a will to harm you is a situation where you (as an individual or a nation) have the moral right to defend yourself by doing what is necessary to remove the enemy threat. This is the right of self-defense.
The notion that a response should be proportional is false and evil. It serves only to prolong war and bloodshed. A response needs to be effective at breaking the will of the enemy.
Once the enemy's will is clearly broken, then further damage to him is immoral. One should not lay waste to a nation (or person) which has already given up fighting.
The enemy threat need not be direct. If you know someone is hiring a hit-man to kill you, you need not wait for the hit to occur before calling the police, and the police need not restrain their defensive activity to the hit-man.
Also, it would be immoral not to act to defend a friend who has a hit-man after him, and the defensive action need not be restrained to the hit-man himself. Whoever hires the hit-man is the fundamental threat, and must be dealt with even though his threat is indirect.
Obviously, the above is an analogy to Israel (the friend), Al Qaeda (the hitman), and Iran (those who hire the hitman).
Now, of course, my analogy might not be perfect, but the principle is that pre-emptive strikes are certainly moral given a genuine threat, even if the threat is not immediate and direct.
Nations and individuals are not morally required to live in a perpetual state of war. When an enemy threatens you, you have a right to end that threat. You have a right to live in peace, and you have a right to defend your allies if they are at war.
answered Oct 01 '11 at 11:14
John Paquette ♦