Focus: Australia, N. Korea join ‘pre-emptive’ bandwagon: Reserving the right to launch pre-emptive attacks
Yong Tiam Kui

October 26, 2003

Following the lead of the United States, a growing number of nations are reserving the right to launch pre-emptive attacks. This trend has frightening implications for the whole world, writes YONG TIAM KUI.

EVER since the Bush Administration's doctrine of pre-emptive warfare was announced, world leaders and analysts have been warning about its far-reaching implications.

"It could set precedents that result in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force, with or without credible justification," UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in his address to the UN General Assembly on Sept 23.

This has indeed come to pass. Taking the cue from the US, Russia has announced that it, too, will launch pre-emptive attacks if it is in its national interests to do so.

After terrorists bombed a night club in Bali in December, 2002, Australian Prime Minister John Howard declared that he would order pre-emptive strikes against terrorists in another country if he had evidence that they were about to attack Australia.

In February, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said North Korea was entitled to launch a pre-emptive strike against US forces rather than wait until the American military was finished with Iraq.

"The United States says that after Iraq, we are next," said deputy director Ri Pyong-gap, "but we have our own counter-measures. Pre-emptive attacks are not the exclusive right of the US." In April, India argued that Pakistan's nuclear weapons and support for Kashmiri terrorists made Pakistan a more suitable target for a preemptive strike than Iraq.

On May 15, the Japanese Government passed three contingency Bills authorising Japan's Self-Defence Forces to make pre-emptive use of military forces against any party in any part of the world in response to an armed attack or an imminent armed attack.

Sometimes referred to as the "Bush doctrine", the Bush administration's doctrine of pre-emptive warfare is based on the notion that the US has the right to carry out preventive strikes to protect itself against rogue States and terrorist groups armed with weapons of mass destruction.

Warning that his country faced "a threat with no precedent", US President George W. Bush says anticipatory military action is required as a self-defence option because of the emergence of global terrorism and the devastating effects of WMD.

He argues that rogue nations armed with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and "shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend" cannot be deterred by the threat of retaliatory action because of their extreme hatred of the US and their willingness to sacrifice their own lives.

"If we wait for threats to fully materialise, we will have waited too long," says Bush.

In short, Bush is saying that the US has the right to wage war on any country that it claims is producing weapons of mass destruction and do it long before the weapons are produced, used, or are transferred to terrorist groups.

This clearly violates the UN Charter which is binding on all nations. Article 1 of the UN Charter states: "The purposes of the United Nations are to maintain international peace and sovereignty, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace and to bring about by peaceful means.

"And in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace..." Article 2 says that "all members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered...

"All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations." In the case of oil-rich Iraq, there was no WMD threat to pre-empt. Neither UN inspectors nor US and British military forces have been able to find any WMD in Iraq despite months of intensive searching.

And, there was no evidence whatsoever that Iraq had either the intention or the ability to attack the US. According to UN inspectors, 80 per cent of Iraq's weaponry was destroyed during the Gulf War of 1991.

Iraq did not have the financial capability to rebuild its arsenal because it has been paying huge war indemnities to Kuwait and US oil corporations.

The US also claims that Saddam Hussein harboured and supported terrorists even though there is no evidence whatsoever for this assertion.

It should be noted that the doctrine of pre-emptive warfare was first revealed in the Bush Administration's report "The National Security Strategy of the United States" in September 2002.

This blueprint for US global political, economic and military domination states that the US is committed to "dissuading military competition" and preventing any other world entity or union of States "from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equalling the power of the United States".

Not surprisingly, many people come to the conclusion that the US is prepared to wage pre-emptive war on just about any nation that has the potential to threaten its global dominance in the future.