Pre-Emptive Defense – a Security Strategy for the 21st Century

christians and national defense picture

During the Cold War, after the former Soviet Union had successfully tested the atomic bomb, there was one pre-eminent doctrine that served as the cornerstone of American and NATO defense policy, to wit: Mutually Assured Destruction, commonly referred to as “MAD,” the acronym reflecting the insanity of either side inviting nuclear holocaust upon its homeland by initiating a nuclear exchange. President John Kennedy (1963), in stating, subsequent to the Cuban Missile Crisis, that “in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet,” was exceedingly mindful of the futility of using nuclear weapons to accomplish political ends. In short, the use of such weapons by the U.S. or Russia was, for practical purposes, tantamount to committing national suicide; and it was, and is, this inevitability, that has averted war between the U.S. and its allies, and the former Soviet Union, now Russia, for over 50 years.

One of the tenets underlying MAD, which contributed to its strategic effectiveness, was the superseding interests of both sides in preserving their nation, or more poignantly, their citizens lives. Despite approaching the precipice of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Armageddon was averted – precisely because, in the final analysis, neither side was interested in meeting eternity.

Regrettably, and tragically, as a result of rouge nations actively pursuing, and acquiring chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, often referred to as weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the MAD doctrine can no longer, as a singular premise, guarantee national security; or effectively assure that weapons of mass destruction will never be employed against the U.S., its allies, or friends around the globe. Rogue nations, led by brutal dictators, have demonstrated time and again, that they have little regard for life, including the lives of their own citizenry. Most recently for example, Saddam Hussein, the dictatorial leader of Iraq, has not only used his military personnel as cannon fodder in wars with Iran and the U.S., but has murdered thousands of Iraqi citizens through the use of chemical weapons. Under dictatorial regimes, citizens’ lives are expendable for the sake of political expediency, and maintaining and increasing power. It is this dimension of a malevolent dictator’s immoral attitude and diabolical perspective, that undermines the veracity and sustainability of MAD as a viable, stand-alone, national security doctrine. Tyrannical dictators, whether it is today’s Hussein, Bosnia’s Malosevich, Cambodia’s Pol Pot, or Germany’s Adolph Hitler, are in effect “mad” – mad enough to use weapons of mass destruction to attain their political objectives. From their vantage point, the loss of their citizens’ lives in pursuit of their aims, is a nominal cost of doing business.

In view of the nature and scope of the threat posed by the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by power hungry dictatorial regimes, and the possibility that terrorists networks may serve as instruments of such regimes, given today’s state-sponsorship of terrorism, it is at the least, time, if not past time, for the U.S. to adopt and establish the doctrine of Pre-emptive Defense, as an extension to MAD – Pre-emptive Defense thereby becoming a central component of national security policy. That is not to say that the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction is irrelevant; quite the contrary. There are still nations possessing nuclear weapons which represent potential adversaries of the United States. Such nations, for example China, and North Korea, cannot be considered rogue or reckless; yet, they potentially threaten U.S. regional and strategic interests. MAD, given the character and capabilities of these nations, continues to support U.S. national security strategy; and thus is not only relevant but indispensable.

Pre-emptive Defense is the right and moral obligation of the nation to initiate an attack on the source of an impending threat to prevent the prospective adversary from successfully executing a violent and destructive act on the homeland, American citizens, U.S. Armed Forces, and/or other vital national interests. The Federal Government has an unalienable responsibility to defend the Constitution and protect American citizens from hostile acts on the part of those who would bring death and destruction to America; “for it does not bear the sword for nothing” (NASB Rom 13:4). To the extent such acts may be pre-empted by Governmental intervention, the Government is under compulsion to initiate preventive measures, including military action, and would otherwise be negligent and derelict in its duty to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. In short, it cannot be acceptable for destruction to be wrought on the nation, its citizens, or national interests, before the nation can justifiably respond to such hostile intentions and impending violent acts, given the gravity of an attack utilizing weapons of mass destruction. The Government is, and always has been, obligated to defend its citizens by protecting them before they are killed, rather than after lives are lost. Pre-emptive Defense is, on its face, preservation of life – to which there is no moral objection, but rather a moral imperative.

Policymakers may argue that Pre-emptive Defense is a proposition ripe with risks in the sense that offensive military action on the basis of this doctrine may lead to catastrophic mistakes. Pre-emptive action is indeed wholly dependent on accurate intelligence, flawless assessment of hostile intentions, and effective military planning and execution. Although this strategy cannot guarantee error-free decision-making and execution, it minimizes the risks to a level far less than the risks and consequences of inaction. Any target country will have the opportunity to refute any charge that they represent a clear and present threat to U.S. security interests, before such bodies as the United Nations, and similar regional security organizations around the globe. Additionally, the risks of pre-emptive error is further reduced by preparatory intelligence gathering by “eyes on the ground,” and other real-time intelligence gathering resources. Collectively, these measures render the risks of pre-emptive error minute, as compared to the alternative of doing nothing in response to an impending threat involving weapons of mass destruction.

While Pre-emptive Defense may be antithetical to the forbearing spirit of America, it is demanded by the exigencies of today’s new security realities. A moral nation has an inviolable duty to safeguard the well-being of its citizens. Such a nation is no more obligated to wait until attacked before initiating pre-emptive action than a policeman is obligated to withhold fire until shot, and possibly killed, when he is staring down the barrel of a gun.

Pre-emptive Defense is a national security policy that must be embraced by policymakers, if indeed the nation will be positioned to defend the Constitution and “we the people.” The Government is morally obligated to kill the snake, once it has recoiled and is set to strike. Any American President that failed to act under such circumstances would violate the oath of office; the inexorable bond of trust with the American people; and be morally derelict in his duty. In the unfolding American story, may it never be.

Article By Allen Sutton

Kennedy, President John F. (1963). American University, Washington, D.C.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB