Armed Hostilities

US Preemptive Attacks: Counter-Terrorism Campaign


The events of September 11, 2001, have changed the modern world eternally. The phenomena like terrorism, Islamic extremism, etc. went their way from being pure abstractions to the issues specifically concerning the safety of people all over the world (Azios, 3). After the 9/11 attacks, the United States Government and President Bush Administration started their comprehensive counter-terrorism campaign but the world community perceived the practice of US preemptive attacks on countries allegedly connected with terrorist organizations controversially (Kenny, 2007). While some countries like the United Kingdom supported the idea and admitted the US right to defend its citizens, other countries and the United Nations expressed concern about the aggression against the countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. Needless to say, the supporters of each viewpoint have their own arguments to back up their opinions.

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Right for Preemptive Attack

However, to start the discussion of the effects of the US preemptive policies, it is necessary to consider the dispute that takes place among scholars regarding the very right for preemption, especially in the military sense of the word. The definitions of preemptive attacks and preemptive war differ but the common points in them can be summarized as follows: “Preemptive attack – and attack initiated on the basis of incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack is imminent” (Westphal, 2003, p. 2). Thus, the preemptive attack is a type of self-defense.

But, the latter is allowed by international law and Article 51 of the United Nations Charter only in case if the attack takes place. The UN admits self-defense as an “inherent right of individual and collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security” (Cullinan, 2002). Thus, opponents of the US preemptive policies claim the illegality of the latter based on the fact that no attacks have been committed on the US, and accordingly, there is no need for self-defense.

Preemptive Policy History

Nevertheless, recent history presents examples of other countries using preemptive attacks to defend their citizens. The most notable examples include the Israeli attacks on the Iraqi nuclear bases in 1981, the preemptive measures of the Israeli army against the Palestinian terrorist groups in 2001, 2004, etc. Russia resorted to preemption in 1994 in Chechnya as well (Westphal, 2003, p. 15). The recent examples of the US preemptive actions include the Iraq war and the invasion of Afghanistan that were labeled campaigns for protecting US citizens from terrorist threats abroad. Thus, although legal dispute about the right to preemption is still in progress, numerous countries exercise this right to protect their citizens and the positive effects of the US preemptive policies that such a right should be given to the countries.

Positive Effects of US Preemptive Policies

Fighting Terrorism

Thus, the positive effects of the counter-terrorism campaign started by the Bush Administration can be seen nowadays. The two major areas where they are observed include the state of the process of fighting terrorism and the safety of ordinary people. As for the first area, fighting terrorism is a vital necessity of today and the obvious right of the US because “Terrorist groups are metastasizing all over the globe. Al Qaeda has re-established its bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hizbullah, Hamas and other radical Islamic groups are gaining strength” (Zakaria, 37). The research works by American civilian and sociological organizations prove that the tragedy of September 11, 2001, was the result of the constantly growing threat of terrorist attack that was observed in the world in the late 1990s and early 2000s: “the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terror (MIPT), says that the annual toll of fatalities from terrorism grew 450 percent (!) between 1998 and 2006” (Zakaria, 37). Drawing from these data, counter-terrorism campaigns could be viewed as something natural and self-evident because the lives of people were seriously endangered, and the US Government exercised its right and duty to protect citizens.

Accordingly, when Bush Administration started implementing its National Security Strategy of the United States of America claiming that the US needed to “Strengthen alliances to defeat global terrorism and work to prevent attacks against us and our friends” (NSS, 5), the actual threat of terrorism and rate of deaths from it declined considerably: “In both the START and MIPT data, non-Iraq deaths from terrorism have declined by more than 40 percent since 2001” (Zakaria, 37). Therefore, the main aim of the Bush Administration was achieved as the threat of terrorist attacks was actually decreased, while America proved that it had the right to attack terrorists before they attack America.

Security of People

The effects of the counter-terrorism campaign were positive for ordinary people’s safety as well. One of the major goals of the National Security Strategy of the United States of America was “defending the United States, the American people, and our interests at home and abroad by identifying and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders” (NSS, 6). Drawing from this goal, people and their protection were placed in the focus of the counter-terrorism military campaign as the US Government proclaimed its right for the preemptive attacks on terror for its own security. The results of this for lives of people can be observed not only in the United States but in other, even Islamic, countries: “In Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, where Al Qaeda has based, support for Osama bin Laden plummeted from 70 percent in August 2007 to 4 percent in January 2008” (Zakaria, 37). Accordingly, observing the actions taken by the American government and Military Forces, people acquire a clear understanding of the correctness of those actions and their rightfulness. Citizens of purely Muslim countries express less and less support to terrorists and agree that only strict counter-terrorism measures can ensure their security over years and that countries attacked by terror once have the right to preemptively fight with terror in the global scope.

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Negative Effects of US Preemptive Policies

Lack of Freedom

However, the opponents of the preemptive measures and military attacks carried out by the United States against the countries allegedly connected to terrorist groups claim that such war on terror is more a political than a defensive measure and the US had no right to attack others, especially having no proofs of their having weapons of mass destruction or ties with terrorism. For instance, Harper (2009) argues that “The United States has experienced over 1,350 terrorist attacks since 1970, peaking in the mid-1970s with 120 attacks per year” (Harper, 2009). Surprisingly, none of those attacks received such public attention as September 11 events did. What Harper (2009) sees in it is that the Government tries to limit people’s freedom by threatening the US citizens with terrorism and not exercising its right to protect the citizens.

Moreover, the attempt is made by the Government to distract the public attention from more actual issues like the economy, social initiatives, etc.: “The complex, visceral and increasingly politicized issue of how to combat the terror threat is now leading the mainstream news agenda, even pushing out the economy” (Harper, 2009). People should be focused on fighting with an allegedly existing enemy while the matters that concern them directly, i. e. healthcare, senior citizens’ care, etc., are left without attention. Thus, freedom of thought, speech, and choice is taken away and substituted by the eternal fear of terrorist attacks.

Danger of Invasion

Moreover, the danger of the potential invasion of the US Military Forces into another country thought to have ties with Al Qaeda, Hamas, etc. is another dangerous and strictly negative effect of the Bush Administration counter-terrorism campaign (FCNL, 2006). The latest events in the US political life give the opponents of the Bush war on terror the hope that the situation will change but the threat of the US invasion into Iran, Libya, Northern Korea, etc. are still real according to the messages of the international news agencies and printed media (Peatling, 5).

The situation is complicated, according to FCNL (2006), because irrespective of the numerous deaths of the US soldiers in the Iraq war, Bush Administration still planed further preemptive attacks on other countries (Pace, 2006). The international condemnation of such aggressive policy was also unable to change the firm commitment of George Bush and his Government to start counter-terrorism campaign in other allegedly terrorist countries like Iran, Northern Korea, etc. that were reported to possess weapons of mass destruction and to be able to use them against America and its citizens (FCNL, 2006).

Correctness of Bush’s Doctrine

Having considered all the pros and cons of the counter-terrorism strategy implemented by President Bush and his administration after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it can be observed that the results of the strategy prove that the US has the natural right to respond to attacks by preemptive measures (Pace, 2006). The above reported negative consequences of counter-terrorism preemptive military attacks cannot even be compared to the good they bring. For example, the alleged lack of freedom that Bush opponents stress is nothing but the reluctance of people to focus on several issues at once. It is not forbidden for US citizens to be interested in economic or social issues, but their comprehensive awareness of terror threats adds to their protection against the latter (Pace, 2006). Moreover, the Government feels it to be its right and duty to inform people of the latest advances in the war on terror. As for the possible invasions to other countries, these are not facts but assumptions of certain people or news agencies.

Compared to these negativities, the favorable effects of fighting terrorism cannot be overestimated. Thus, people all around the world feel more secure and protected against terrorist attacks. As well, the overall support of terrorist organizations in the regions where it is traditionally high has been on the decrease over the past two or three years (Pace, 2006). Finally, the figures that showed a 450% increase in terrorist actions occurrence before the counter-terrorism strategy was implemented have been on the steady decrease since 2002. No tragedies like the one on September 11, 2001, have happened to the US or its citizens since that time, and it is the achievement of the Bush Administration and the President’s strategy of fighting terrorism. So are the recently reported improvements in relations between the US and the Muslim world, as the latter have understood that the US fights not Muslims but terrorism irrespective of the religion it worships (Aurora, 2009). As for the preemptive invasion, if the US starts those attacks it would mean that the threat of terrorist attacks becomes evident and the Government actually exercises its right to protect people in America and all over the globe.


Concluding this paper, it is necessary to state that the events of September 11, 2001, have changed the modern world eternally. Terrorism became one of the greatest threats to mankind, and the American Government headed by President Bush took up the struggle with this threat exercising their eternal right to protect the people. Although widely disputed and, according to some scholars, the controversial strategy of the war on terror had both supporters and opponents, its basic positive effect cannot be ignored. Thus, it is obvious that the US has the right to preemptively protect itself from terrorist attacks by fighting the countries accused of sponsoring or supporting terrorism internationally.

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  1. Aurora. “After the chill of the Bush era, ties between America and Islam can only get better—but how much better?” The Economist, 2009: A3.
  2. Azios, T. “’What Makes a Terrorist’ and why the popular theories may be wrong.” Christian Science Monitor, 2007: p. 13.
  3. Cullinan, J. F. “The Preemption Doctrines: On international law.” National Review Online, 2002.
  4. FCNL. “Iraq: The Human Cost of War and Occupation.” Washington Newsletter. 2006: p. 8.
  5. Harper, J. “9/11 ‘misleads’ Americans’ view of terrorism; Analysis shows most attacks small, amateurish, non-lethal.” The Washington Times, 2009: AO5.
  6. Kenny, V. “Muslims and martyrdom.” The Irish Times, 2007: A3.
  7. NSS. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. President of the United States of America. White House, Washington, 2002.
  8. Pace, P. National Military Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Washington, DC 20318, 2006.
  9. Peatling, S. “Labor wages war on language of terrorism; Terms tying Islam to attacks targeted.” The Age (Melbourne, Australia), 2007: p. 5.
  10. Westphal, S. D. “Counterterrorism: Policy of Preemptive Action.” USAWC Strategy Research Project. 2003: pp. i – 32.
  11. Zakaria, F. “The Only Thing We Have To Fear…; If you set aside the war in Iraq, terrorism has in fact gone way down over the past five years.” Newsweek, U.S. Edition. 2008: p. 37.

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