Preemptive and Preventive War: A Preliminary Taxonomy
Barnes, Joe; Stoll, Richard J.
The post-9/11 era has created a number of distinct and demanding national security challenges for the United States. One of the greatest challenges is to decide when and how to use military force. In the debate prior to the invasion of Iraq, policymakers, scholars, and pundits all discussed the concept of preventive war and its applicability to the situation in Iraq. Much of this debate shortchanged the critical differences between preemption and prevention. Our goal is to provide a taxonomy of the different circumstances under which the government of the United States should consider the use of military force prior to being attacked. We see three dimensions that define these circumstances. The first is a matter of national strategy: is the use of force preemptive or preventive? The second dimension is the type of military action: is the contemplated action a strike or a campaign? The third dimension is the type of target: is the potential target a terrorist group or a state? We believe that these three dimensions help to clarify the major considerations that should be placed on the table when the United States is debating the use of military force.