The Problem of Preemption: Israel and Syria
Oct-14-07 10:59 pm
The Osirak Reactor After the 1981 Attack
It is now being widely reported that on September 6th, Israel undertook a "preemptive strike" against a target in Syria alleged to be connected to a potential nuclear program. The New York Times explains:
Israel’s air attack on Syria last month was directed against a site that Israeli and American intelligence analysts judged was a partly constructed nuclear reactor, apparently modeled on one North Korea has used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel, according to American and foreign officials with access to the intelligence reports.
Indeed, the Times notes:
How things have changed. President Reagan's UN Ambassador, our late Georgetown colleague Jeane Kirkpatrick, voted in favor of a Security Council resolution to condemn the attack on the Osirak reactor. Yet, now, with a facility apparently "much further from completion" than Osirak, the Administration is officially silent. Undoubtedly, with the Bush Admnistration's own more permissive view of preemption found in the National Security Strategy of 2002, it would be diffcult to be critical. But, as another Times analysis suggests, the Administration might now realize the problems of a very permissive preemption doctrine:
What has become clear is that the risks of taking pre-emptive action now look a lot greater to Mr. Bush than they did in 2003, when he declared that Iraq’s efforts to build weapons of mass destruction — weapons that famously turned out not to exist — justified military action. In the Syrian case he has steadfastly refused to say anything. In the case of Iran, which has defied the United Nations for a year while it builds a nuclear infrastructure that Washington believes is designed to give it the ability to make bomb fuel, Mr. Bush publicly insists there is still plenty of time for diplomacy.I guess it goes without saying that one of the truths of international law is "what comes goes around comes around." When the US advanced its argument supproting a more permissive approach to the preemptive use of force, it should suprise nobody that other states would likely use that same argument in the future. I am not sure Israel would have acted any differently if the US had not adopted this approach, but it certainly makes it more difficult for the US to question the attack.
(For more on the international legal questions relating to the the pre-emptive use of force, see "International Law and the Premptive Use of Military Force.")
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Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.
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