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Preventive War and Its Alternatives: The Lessons of History

Authored by Dr. Dan Reiter.

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Brief Synopsis

The 2002 National Security Strategy suggested preventive attacks, diplomacy, deterrence, and other policies as means of curtailing threats presented by the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons to terrorists and rogue states. The author analyzes which mix of these policies might best and most cost effectively address the NBC threat, with special focus on preventive attacks. The past performances of preventive attacks, diplomacy, deterrence, and other policies as means of curtailing the NBC threat are analyzed. The central findings are that preventive attacks are generally unsuccessful at delaying the spread of NBC weapons; that deterrence, especially nuclear deterrence, is highly successful at preventing the use of NBC weapons by states; and that diplomacy has had moderate and perhaps unappreciated success at curtailing the spread of NBC weapons. The author also discusses how funds spent on preventive wars, which are much more expensive than diplomacy or deterrence, might be better spent to combat threats from terrorism and proliferation, on initiatives such as fissile material recovery, ballistic missile defense, and port security.

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View other pubs in the following categories:

Homeland Security and Defense
Military Strategy and Policy
National Security Strategy
Nonproliferation

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