Striking First pp 167-174 | Cite as

The UN and the Legal Status of Preemptive and Preventive War

  • Roger Coate


The 2002–2003 crisis over Iraq represented a defining moment in United States—United Nations relations as the Bush Administration disregarded the United Nations and the international legal norms on which it is based and launched a preventive—termed by Bush as “preemptive”—war on Iraq on March 19, 2003. Based on the unsubstantiated pretense of countering an Iraqi buildup of weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi support for Al Qaida and other terrorist networks, the Bush Administration attempted to persuade other members of the UN Security Council to legitimize its action. Failing to do so, U.S. officials argued that since Iraq was in material breach of several previous Security Council resolutions, the United States and its “coalition of the willing” had the implicit authority to go to war and even to launch a cruise-missile attack in an attempt to snuff out the Iraqi head of state—despite the fact that this action itself was in violation of international law. In spite of their inability to mount an effective and convincing case in the Security Council for their invasion, U.S. officials continued throughout most of the year to vilify France and other opponents of their “preemptive” war and bemoan the ineffectiveness of the United Nations.1


Member State Security Council International Criminal Court International Peace Governing Council 
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  1. 1.
    For a detailed analysis of the failed U.S. diplomacy in this regard, see James P. Rubin, “Stumbling Into War,” Foreign Affairs, 82, no. 5 (September/October 2003): 46–66.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Gregory A. Raymond and Charles W. Kegley, Jr., “International Norms and Military Preemption: Implications for Global Governance.” Presented at the International Symposium on “International Norms for the 21st Century,” Aix-en-Provence, 11–14 September 2003, 8–9.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    See Shahi Tharoor, “Why America Still Needs the United Nations,” Foreign Affairs, 82, no. 5 (September/October 2003), 67–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 10.
    Ramesh Thakur, “More Relevant NowThan Ever,” The Japan Times, March 23, 2003, 1.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Raymond and Kegley, op. cit., 15, with reference to Stanley Hoffmann, “International Law and the Control of Force,” in The Relevance of International Law, Karl Deutsch and Stanley Hoffmann, eds. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday-Anchor, 1971), 34–66.Google Scholar

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© Betty Glad and Chris J. Dolan 2004

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  • Roger Coate

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