Oh, What a Wicked Web

At RealClearDefense Crispin Rovere ties himself into a pretzel to define “imminent” as “potential” and “anticipatory self-defense” as anything but preventive in discussing a preventive strike against North Korea:

On one level, war is always immoral. It involves industrialized murder perpetrated by an organized force against fellow human beings. Another Korean war would be horrendously violent, with American forces having to destroy a numerous and motivated enemy. However, the specific ethical arguments made against a military strike fail in critical respects. In sum, a U.S. military strike aimed at neutralizing the threat of a nuclear-tipped ICBM is ethically justified in addition to being strategically correct.

Nowhere does he mention U. S. treaty obligations which prohibit the United States from attacking another country without United Nations Security Council authorization. Don’t those factor into considerations of the ethics of the matter?

An attack by the United States on North Korea would be morally justified if the United States had compelling evidence that an attack by North Korea on the United States, its allies, or its interests was imminent, imminent defined as “about to take place”. What is the limit on Dr. Rovere’s definition of “imminent” i.e. potential? Would an attack on China be morally justified? China definitely has the potential to attack us and has for decades. An attack on Canada?

9 comments… add one
  • Andy

    Another politico and think-tanker without any actual experience much less skin in the game. Clever wordsmithing can’t erase the cold hard and bloody facts of what he’s advocating for.

  • He’s advocating for World War III; Armageddon.

    The Chinese know the difference between an imminent threat and prevention. They can’t tolerate the U. S. engaging in preventive war on their back porch. They’ve said as much and I have no reason to disbelieve them, especially given Xi’s present situation.

  • PD Shaw

    It’s an imminence front; it’s a put on. Everything is imminent in the eyes of God.

  • TastyBits

    I do not agree that morality applies to countries. If a country is forcefully ruled by a single person, that person may be judged against a moral code but not the country.

    Countries must act in their best interest, and the UN and international laws are to be used to further those interests. When the UN or international laws constrain these interests, they are useless. It should be noted that the UN proclamations and international laws can only be enforced by the strongest countries or an aligned group of weaker ones.

    Since the US is stronger than the next lower countries by an order of magnitude, the US can do whatever it wants to do, but that does not mean it should. If other countries do not like it, they can start spending a lot more money on their military, and like India and Pakistan, that is exactly what N. Korea and Iran are doing.

    If morality is applied, why is it moral to restrict their ability to defend themselves, militarily?

    As to a war with N. Korea, the US could easily turn it into a failed state. It would be an Asian Libya, but what is the point? Like Libya, this could be accomplished without using ground troops, but again, what is the point? The “short fat kid” has an incentive to restrict their nuclear knowledge and ability.

    Also, there would not be billions of dead S. Koreans.

    I do not care about any other countries getting nuclear weapons or the ability to use them against the US. I would give them out like candy. If you believe that a well armed society is a polite society, you should want everybody to become well armed as soon as possible.

  • Andy

    Well played PD!

  • Andy


    “Moral” in this context, for me at least, is measured in the potential for spilled blood in pursuit of folly and not opprobrium from the UN.

  • TastyBits:

    Countries as such don’t do much. Mostly they just sit there. People in countries act and morality indubitably applies to them.

  • TastyBits

    In my opinion, countries are like animals, and like animals, applying morality is nonsensical.

    A fighting dog is not immoral for biting anything it can. Anybody who facilitates its being a fighting is immoral, and if it bites anybody, I would include anybody who ‘rescues’ it. Biting anybody excludes anybody who voluntarily interacts with the dog.

    This would apply to any aggressive breed, and any owner who does anything to enhance the aggression or does nothing to control it.

    Since an autocracy or oligarchy is directly responsibility for the actions of the country, morality can be applied to them, but in any democratic type country, morality is amorphous.

    Are all citizens guilty for the government’s immoral activity? Is that immorality passed to subsequent generations? If not, at what point is the country’s immorality extinguished? What about anything resulting from that immorality?

    Is the US still immoral because of slavery? When slavery was abolished, did the pro-slavery people become immoral? If Jim Crow laws were immoral, was the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling immoral? If so, was that Supreme Court immoral? Could an immoral Supreme Court render any moral rulings? If so, how would one distinguish between the moral and immoral rulings?

    Limiting the moral judgements to bloodshed, was the US Civil War moral? If so, what is the moral standard? If it is prevention of future actions, how certain must the certainty be? Furthermore, was it immoral to not shed blood to abolish the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling? If not why?

    The questions are boundless, and using Medieval logic, I could call the infamous Scotsman for each exemption given.

  • Gray Shambler

    “Nowhere does he mention U. S. treaty obligations which prohibit the United States from attacking another country without United Nations Security Council authorization. Don’t those factor into considerations of the ethics of the matter?”

    Would if we were not already engaged in a war with N. Korea which is only in intermission.

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