The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), international terrorism, and their nexus are widely regarded as the gravest threats to peace and stability in the 21st century. To counter these threats, the Bush Administration formulated the National Security Strategy 2002, announcing that the U.S. "will, if necessary, act preemptively" to forestall the proliferation of WMD and their acquisition by terrorists. Its declaration and, subsequent, application against Iraq in 2003, caused much criticism and debate, which has raised a lot of questions regarding America's policy of military preemption.
Johannes Ziegler shows that only states which represent a threat to Washington and its allies and endanger vital American interests run a high risk of launching preventive U.S. military action. Moreover, preventive strikes are only feasible under very favorable conditions. Factors such as the prospects for casualties and the necessity of excellent tactical intelligence limit their applicability. Military force to counter the proliferation of WMD, therefore, can only serve as a compliment to other elements in America's arsenal against WMD proliferation. Yet, though force should always be a means of last resort, preventive strikes are most likely to succeed when applied against weapons programs in their earliest stages. In situations where traditional deterrence would likely be ineffectual, preventive strikes must also be regarded as a "means of first resort."
With WMD-proliferation becoming more pressing in the future and the Iranian nuclear crisis reaching a climax, it is critical to understand the strategy of preemption and to clear it from the fog of war that still surrounds it.