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2002 December 05 Thursday
Charles Krauthammer On Deterrence Versus Preemption

In an excellent essay Charles Krauthammer argues that preemption is a safer form of deterrence because preemption will deter regimes from trying to get weapons of mass destruction in the first place.

DETERRENCE NOSTALGICS also conveniently forget its debilitating psychological effects. For fifty years, the peace of the world hinged on a balance of terror. As Churchill memorably characterized the central paradox, "Safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation." Terror and paradox are not easy to live with. To rest strategic stability on terror and paradox is to ask a lot of a democratic society.

Sometimes too much. During the now warmly remembered Cold War, ban-the-bomb and disarmament movements erupted with dismaying regularity. They reached their apogee during the nuclear hysteria that swept Western Europe and the United States in the early 1980s. This widespread collapse of the consensus in favor of deterrence saw the largest political demonstration in American history, an anti-nuclear rally that brought over 700,000 protesters to New York City in June 1982. Opinion leaders, academics, physicians' groups, major media, and the Democratic party were so seized by fear of nuclear war that they frantically sought escape by either a ridiculous solution--a nuclear freeze (it passed the House of Representatives 278-149)--or a disastrous one: unilateral disarmament. Indeed, the book that sparked the frenzy, Jonathan Schell's "The Fate of the Earth," perhaps the most celebrated book of the time, was an indictment of deterrence and a manifesto for disarmament.

The question whether to pursue a policy of preemption is the most important foreign policy question of the current era. See my collection of posts on Preemption, Deterrence and Containment for more arguments on this question.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 December 05 12:11 PM  US Foreign Preemption, Deterrence, Containment


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