Experts discuss efficacy, history of preemption



A panel of foreign affairs experts discussing “Pre-Emption/Intervention: The Role of Military Force in U.S. Security” drew approximately 160 Yale students, staff, and surrounding community members to the Luce Hall auditorium Wednesday.

The Global Issues Symposium was sponsored by Programs in International Education Recourses at Yale and the University of New Haven, in collaboration with the League of Women Voters and Americans for Informed Democracy. The symposium featured a panel including Yale Diplomat-in-Residence Charles Hill, Yale history professor and military strategy expert Paul Kennedy, and Jonathan Landay, who has worked as a journalist for the Christian Science Monitor with a special focus on international affairs in the Middle East.

Yale Center for International and Area Studies Director Gustav Ranis moderated the panel. Ranis stressed the relevance of the issue in the current global situation. He asked the audience members and presenters to keep three questions in mind.

“How did [the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001] change foreign policy, should we worry in terms of our national security that the word ‘sympathy’ has changed into a disapproval of the United States, and does this doctrine of pre-emptive war transcend to other countries?” he said.

Hill’s argument was rooted in the history of pre-emption in foreign policy.

“Pre-emption is a long recognized concept,” he said. “It goes back to antiquity and the Peloponnesian War.”

He said pre-emption started to lose its popularity as a foreign policy in the 20th century as politicians sought a “moral high ground,” but in the 1950’s and 60’s the creation and use of nuclear weapons changed that outlook and countries started to consider pre-emption again, he said.

“This trend of thought further deepened when outlaw states had those weapons,” he said.

Hill said the problems within the Middle East force the United States to take action.

“This is a Middle Eastern civil war, but if the wrong side wins, we will face a true world war,” he said.

Kennedy disagreed. He stressed the importance of understanding the difference between a preventative action and a pre-emptive action.

“How do we know that in the future other powers will not be saying, ‘We can go to war when we want because the U.S. has a precedent?'” Kennedy said.

Landay condemned the current U.S. administration’s actions.

“So far, the administration’s policies have gotten it into deep trouble — its goals are very elusive,” Landay said. “Trust in the United States has been deeply eroded by the administration’s use of exaggerations and its obstinacy.”

He also questioned the success of American foreign policy in Iraq.

“Does anyone believe that the United States is safer now than before invasion?” he said.

Canadian audience member Michael Wales ’06 said the topic was of critical importance to the U.S.

“I think that the doctrine of pre-emption is a new development for the world and it is hard to stress that enough in a country that has that doctrine,” Wales said.

Matthew Gabbard ’07 was one of many students who said they enjoyed the symposium.

“I feel like the panel presented a variety of perspectives on the issue, each of which was especially interesting because the members of the panel were all involved directly in foreign policy,” he said.

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