*War and peace are the black and white of diplomatic relations. Unfortunately it is rare that two countries relate to one another in one of those two contexts; much more likely is the state of gray that encompasses various likes and dislikes, favors and affronts.
The problem with pre-emptive military action is that governments that take part is such actions are assuming a state of war. Certainly there are times when war is imminent, but for the most part when diplomatic relations reside in the grey area between war and peace, pre-emptive military actions become the stimulus to push relations toward war rather than toward peace.
Over the course of its history the United States has engaged in pre-emptive military actions on multiple occasions, many of the wars against Native Americans began in this way. Once the United States established some edict governing relations between citizens and indigenous peoples, anyone not adhering to the guidelines of the edict was subject to military action. But to classify indigenous people who had no voice in creating the guidelines as belligerent, making pre-emptive military action permissible, was short-sighted and undemocratic. In fact it was a lack of voice in legislative matters that spurred the creation of this country, yet a few generations later American decision makers fall into the same mode of operation.
In contemporary America the “war against terror” has given the nation’s leaders the opportunity to engage in pre-emptive war virtually non-stop. After being attacked on September 11, 2001, those in charge came to the dubious conclusion that pre-emptive action against Iraq and Afghanistan were advisable. Initially the justification of the military action revolved around retaliation for September 11th, once that explanation fell through the reason was that these countries supplied and harbored terrorists. Now these explanations are not holding up to scrutiny. These examples illustrate the fact that pre-emptive military actions are difficult to justify; and the ongoing nature of the military occupation of these countries serve as a caveat of the danger of beginning unnecessary missions.
Because nothing happens in a vacuum, pre-emptive military actions create more problems than they solve. Just as the United States engages in nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has created new and solidified old enemies in that region of the world. Furthermore assuming that a nation means the United States harm as a rationale for pre-emptive strikes is one that gives rise to perpetual occupation of one country or another. Under that philosophy the United States could invade Iran and North Korea tomorrow.
Pre-emptive military actions should not be the base line reaction of people in leadership positions. When operating in the wide grey area of international relations, let us pursue a line of action that will lead toward peace rather than one that will be the catalyst for war and create new foes.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War and he maintains a blog called This Seems Familiar. You can reach him at [email protected]