University of Miami International and Comparative Law Review


The Bush Doctrine, or the proposal that allows the use of military force preventively to address prospective attack from terrorists or involving weapons of mass destruction, has been debated from various normative and legal vantage points. In this article, we introduce the new evaluative criterion that such military action must also produce the desired outcomes of defeating opponents and preventing future attacks. We test the efficacy of preventive military actions over the last two centuries. We conclude that using military force in a preventive fashion provides very limited, if any value, to states that employ this strategy. At best, there is less than an even chance of victory in such circumstances and this requires a full-scale war. The utility of preventive strikes diminishes tremendously in attacks short of war, and indeed the minimal success rate (around 10%) is no better than using coercive diplomacy by merely threatening force rather than actually using it. Preventive actions also did not significantly delay the appearance of new security threats and indeed such actions produce the conditions that enhance the maintenance of international rivalries, rather than contributing to their resolution. Finally, available evidence suggests that preventive strikes are not well-suited to terrorist threats, and states might be reluctant to employ them in any case. Studies of retaliation to terrorist attacks find little value to the former, with no long term deterrent effects.