Arnold Beichman: The Necessity of Preemption

Roundup: Historians' Take

Arnold Beichman, writing in the Washington Times (Dec. 1, 2003):

On Oct, 25, 1984, then Secretary of State George Shultz laid out what came to be known as the "Shultz Doctrine":

"We must reach a consensus in this country that our responses should go beyond passive defense to consider means of active prevention, pre-emption and retaliation. Our goal must be to prevent and deter future terrorist acts, and experience has taught us over the years that one of the best deterrents to terrorism is the certainty that swift and sure measures will be taken against those who engage in it. We should take steps toward carrying out such measures."

Never was such a consensus more needed than it is today 20 years later. In the shadow of September 11, 2001, pre-emption should now be No. 1 on today's agenda. Legal justification for such military action against the metastasis of terrorism must be considered as an integral part of the right of self-defense outlined by the United Nations charter. Let it not be forgotten that when President Reagan invaded Grenada Oct. 25, 1983, and ousted another Castro-controlled Caribbean regime, he was acting pre-emptively. Should President Reagan have waited for another Cuba to appear?

To Mr. Shultz's words, let me add those of an earlier American statesman, Thomas Jefferson:

"A strict observance of the laws is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence of written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property of all those who are enjoying them with us."

The history of the 20th century is full of examples where pre-emption might have saved millions of lives. Who could have believed that on that Saturday morning of March 7, 1936, when Nazi troops reoccupied the demilitarized Rhineland in violation of the Versailles and Locarno treaties that some 31/2 years later World War II would begin? Had the British and French armies acted pre-emptively against Adolf Hitler's Rhineland coup, how many million lives might have been saved?

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