Andrew Roberts: The Case for Pre-Emptive War, From Goliath to the DardanellesRoundup: Historians' Take
tags: Andrew Roberts, pre-emptive war
Mr. Roberts, a historian, is the author, most recently, of "The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War" (Harper, 2011).
When—and it is most probably now a question of when, rather than if—Israel is forced to bomb Iran's uranium enrichment facilities, the Israeli government will immediately face a cacophony of denunciation from the press in America and abroad; the international left; the United Nations General Assembly; 20 secretly delighted but fantastically hypocritical Arab states; some Democratic legislators in Washington, D.C.; and a large assortment of European politicians. Critics will doubtless harp on about international law and claim that no right exists for pre-emptive military action. So it would be wise for friends of Israel to mug up on their ancient and modern history to refute this claim.
The right, indeed the duty, of nations to proactively defend themselves from foes who seek their destruction with new and terrifying weaponry far pre-dates President George W. Bush and Iraq. It goes back earlier than Israel's successful pre-emptive attacks on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 (not to mention other pre-emptive Israeli attacks like the one on the Syrian nuclear program in 2007). It even predates Israel's 1967 pre-emption of massed Arab armies, a move that saved the Jewish state. History is replete with examples when pre-emption was successful, as well as occasions when, because pre-emption wasn't employed, catastrophe struck.
When it became clear that the Emperor Napoleon was about to commandeer the large and formidable Danish navy stationed at Copenhagen in 1807, the British Royal Navy attacked without a declaration of war and either sank, disabled or captured almost the entire fleet. No one screamed about "international law" in those days, of course, any more than statesmen would have cared if they had. Neither did Winston Churchill give any warning to the Ottoman Empire, a German ally, when he ordered the bombardment of the Dardanelles Outer Forts in November 1914, also without a war declaration....
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